It was an afternoon of celebration for Jason McKay. After six months of unemployment, he had received an offer for a job, good money, and a certain future. Clearly, it was a fantastic time to head out, paint the town red, lose inhibitions, and generally make an absolute nuisance of himself. Besides, the Giants were playing, and a bar was a much better place to watch the game than his cramped apartment. He was in the city, and there were plenty of places to head out for a nip.
One drink turned into two, then three, then four. What the hell, it was Friday afternoon, and as long as he drank enough water after the fact, his body wouldn’t complain too much. So, he drank, his inhibitions loosened, not noticing the packet of powder that was slipped into his pint glass while his attention was fixed on the ball game.
He took a swig. It tasted a bit off; a bit too bitter, even for an IPA. The notion was quickly disregarded, though. Come on, Jay, you’re a man, you’re supposed to enjoy good bitter beer. So, he shrugged it off, and continued to watch the game. He shouted at the television when his guys blew easy plays, and celebrated when they would cross home plate. It was a festive afternoon, nothing was going to get into his way.
The minutes passed, his adulterated drink slipping into his bloodstream. His mind clouded, his stomach churned, his system gleefully accepted the poisons, neurons altered their firings, brain gleefully gorging on the depressants. He ruminated over his ailment for a few moments. Only four drinks? He probably just needed a bit of fresh air, to clear out his head and stomach.
So he left, his geek uniform of a black tee shirt with a pithy saying and a pair of blue jeans made him easy prey. His brain was too cloudy from the Mickey Finn to notice the two gentlemen that followed, their scruffy faces obscured by ball caps, their black jeans held low in accordance with the current urban style, their bright orange Giants tee shirts spotless. Jason didn’t notice as one of them pointed and whispered, “see, told you, nice and easy.” Jason’s perception was cloudy; he found it hard to even stagger.
Jason stumbled around the corner to the alleyway, his stomach churned as it demanded release. He coughed, a splash of vomit escaped, his breath ragged, skin clammy with sweat, head spinning. His thoughts turned to the drink briefly, what the fuck was in that, anyways. He staggered, still trying weakly to stand, to avoid the garbage cans and the vomit and urine scent of the alleyway. He coughed again, a further contribution to the mess around his feet, staggered more, and resigned himself to being ill.
He didn’t notice how the two men, who had cautiously hung back up until that moment, suddenly sprang to action, rushing, feet falling heavily as they dashed into the alleyway. He didn’t notice as one of them pulled out a leather sap, his arm raised high. He finally noticed when he brought the sap down hard, hitting him squarely on the back of the head. His vision exploded in white, his legs gave way. He let out a brief squeal of shock and protest before his world went dark, his body noisily falling against the trash cans, the contents spilling, tearing at his jeans, and staining his clothing.
The thieves worked quickly, one on each side, reaching in, snagging his wallet and telephone before they darted off into the daytime, half a block down in the blink of an eye, around the corner and into anonymity a half a moment later. Jason occasionally twitched, out cold, incapable of noticing the two gentlemen in almost official looking uniforms as they pulled him up to his feet, handcuffed him, and dragged him into a waiting unmarked powder blue van.
The two gentlemen looked at each other as they got in, the driver started up the car and nonchalantly drove away, the passenger pulled out a cell phone, and dialed a number by rote. He waited, punched in a sequence of numbers when the automated phone service prompted him to. He waited again, hearing the phone ring, a voice finally answering.
“James here. Got a white male, about 25, no ID, looks to be in good health,” He said into the telephone.
“Head to the Ingalls drop. They’ll take him off your hands,” the voice returned, belonging to an older male, somewhere in his fifties, “call extension 4387 when you get there.”
“Got it,” the passenger replied, hung up the phone, and relayed the instructions to the driver.
They drove, radio tuned to the Giants game, as their van made its to the drop location. There were scant words said during the drive, both of them too focused on their own little worlds, neither giving much care for the others’ existence. Yeah, jobs like this occasionally gave them a bit of guilt, but fuck, the guys they picked up were just homeless people. Who cares what happened to them, they obviously didn’t. Besides, the pay for something like this was great. Cruise the streets, look for winos in the gutters, drag them in, load them off. After that, they didn’t care if they were sold off to be made into cans of Alpo; they had their money, and the people they picked up were just street trash.
The van arrived at a dirty tan building, its graffiti-laden facade crumbling, in an older part of town where people didn’t care about random vans that came and went at all hours of the night. Their passenger briefly stirred, mumbled something unintelligible before he passed back out again. Guy must have been drinking all day. Fucking alkies. Two burly gentlemen came out, both of them about six foot three, muscular, perfect for manhandling drunks in and out of the network of vans that came into the place. They didn’t care who they were, they weren’t paid to care, just watch the drunks and druggies until someone came to pick them up.
Jason awoke in a cramped cell, six foot by four foot if that, bed barely large enough for him, his head still ringing. He looked around, the room dim vaguely lit by a flickering series of fluorescent bulbs. He squirmed, handcuffed, barely able to get up.
“Hello,” he shouted, his voice echoing through the building. He was confused, this didn’t seem like the descriptions friends had given of what the drunk tank looked like, “anyone there?”
There was no response. He shouted again, “can I at least get these handcuffs off?”
He heard a phone being picked up, a conversation made. Yeah, they should just sedate him. The van to pick him up should be there in a half hour or so. Just some drunk, don’t worry about him.
He shouted again, “I was robbed...my drink was spiked...” he started, the guards not seeming to give him any attention, “can I file a report or something?”
The two gentlemen didn’t care; he was just another bum as far as they were concerned. Everyone in here says it was a mistake. If they were good people, they wouldn’t be here in the first place, they’d be working, or with their families, not passed out in some gutter, stinking of god knows what. They held him, their burly arms easily overpowering him. He was a coder, after all, why did he need to work out? He screamed again, watching the glint of a needle slip into his arm. His lips loosed out a stream of profanities, his mouth lashed; he tried any tools he had left to fend them off. His arm burned, the substance slipped into his bloodstream, mingled with his blood cells. Thoughts became harder and harder, and finally, Jason returned once again to the world of the unconscious.
Jason’s next rendezvous with consciousness was in a different cell, brighter, with a small slit of a window that allowed the outside world to stream into his cell, sun low on the horizon. Sunset, he figured. His head still rang, his arm reached up to nurse it. Well, if it’s anything, he at least was not handcuffed this time. He stood, feet wobbly, his clothes stripped away, replaced with a cheap paper examination gown, both of his arms pocked with the tell-tale sign of recent injections. Wait, two injections? When did he get the second? He wondered briefly, his head pounding, then wandered to the cell window.
He was on the ground floor of some sort of building, in the middle of nowhere. He could see hills, oak trees, and tall golden grass. So, he couldn’t have gotten too far. He blinked, still trying to balance. He stumbled towards the thick metal door of his bare cinder block cell. His footing was unsure, but was slowly beginning to return..
“Hello,” he said, voice a bit weak, his headache worsened when he spoke. The pain receded back to its dull throbbing when he stopped speaking, “don’t I get a phone call or something?”
“Good morning,” a voice crackled from an unseen loudspeaker. It belonged to a male, clinically calm, trying to soothe Jason, but not doing a good job at it, “you’ve been selected by the Powers That Be to assist in pursuits that your class of people are well suited for.”
“The powers that be?” Jason asked, even more confused now. Morning, had he really been out for that long? He was confused, his headache not helping matters, “the government, you mean, right?”
“No, not the government,” the voice said.
“The Powers. We don’t deign to give our names to our guests.”
“Then why should I help you?”
“Because, as you’ll quickly discover, you will have no choice in the matter.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then there will be consequences. Severe consequences.”
“I have rights,” Jason said, angered, his fists balling up, “I’m a citizen, a human being.”
“We’ll see about that,” the voice responded with a chuckle. This one was a fireball, “but for now, breakfast is here. I can assure you that it is not adulterated in any manner, and is in fact, quite delicious. Bon Appetit.”
Jason shouted in rage for a moment longer as he demanded his rights, demanded a lawyer, demanded a face. The voice calmly denied their mere existence to him. He was theirs now. A Selectee. He would see what they wanted to see, do what they wanted to do. There simply could be no other way.
Jason looked at the door, the center marked with a box, about two feet on either side. He peeked in and saw some sort of tray mechanism, like that of a bank teller or a gas station. After a moment, he heard a heavy clunk, breakfast delivered to him, Eggs, pancakes, bacon, aspirin. His unsettled stomach and pounding head processed this information, both of which were telling his protesting mind to dig in. He struggled, his hands trembled, wanting to protest this behavior, to register complaints any way he could. His fingers betrayed him though, the pills swallowed, the eggs and pancakes devoured, as if he hadn’t eaten in years. His plate was reduced to scant crumbs in the tray in the merest of moments.
“Okay, I’ve eaten, now what,” Jason said, his voice directed towards his unseen captor.
“Now, you sit there, and be a Good Boy,” the voice said, “We will be performing an examination a bit later, but until then, just try not to cause too much trouble in there.”
“Can you at least call me by my name,” Jason replied, feeling an odd pleasurable tingle in the back of his head when the gentleman called him a Good Boy, “I’m Jason Mc...”
“From now on, your name is 65-A,” he replied, voice stern, “you never had any other.”
“You don’t seem to grasp the situation, do you,” the voice replied, “you have been selected for a great honor, for assisting us in pursuing our goals. Your old life, as little and as meaningless as it was, is over. The trash cans you puked in won’t mourn for you, neither will the liquor store owner that you bought your cheap wine from.”
“But I had a life, I had an apartment, and a job...”
“Lies and irrelevance. You’re what we say you are, 65-A.”
“My name is Jason!” he shouted, defiantly.
“We will speak later, 65-A,” the voice said. The intercom crackled briefly, then turned silent.
Jason staggered, back to his cot. They couldn’t treat him like this, could they? He wasn’t a prisoner, he didn’t agree to any of this. He was a human being, he had rights, he had needs, he had a fucking name. He looked around, his headache slowly cleared, even if his frustrations didn’t. He had a mirror, a sink, a toilet, a shower head, and a bed, all shiny metal, rounded corners, securely bolted to the room. No way of injuring himself, no way of hiding. Hell, his bed didn’t even have a sheet to block out the room’s chill.
Jason sat there, alone in his thoughts. Why him, who were they, where was he. All he knew was he was in the middle of nowhere, with no clothes, no phone, nothing. He was damn sure that he wasn’t going to be called 65-A; he was a human being, not some research assignment. He sighed, tears rolling down his cheeks. Life was looking up for him, why the fuck now, why the fuck when he was on the cusp of actually making it.
He sat there, head in hands for an hour, two hours, trying to make sense of it, occasionally shouting at the world, disgusted. He stood on occasion, trembling with anger, sweating, hairs prickled, punching the wall, infuriated with the situation, his rapidly dwindling hope escaped with each sob. Someone had to come to stop this, right?
“Stand up,” the Voice crackled on the intercom after some time of being lost in thoughts, Jason startled out of his moping, “arms and legs spread. Time for your physical.”
“Time is of the essence, 65-A,” the Voice sternly stated, “There are in fact, multiple ways of doing this, and I think you’d much prefer cooperation. You don’t seem to be the type who could handle the other ways of doing this.”
He stood, arms and legs out, defenseless, the hospital gown barely availing him any sort of privacy. He listened as two figures entered, their faces covered with mirrored shield plates, their bright orange bio suits hung loosely on their bodies, sapping any sort of recognition from either of them. He figured one was about his height, about six feet tall though much more burly, the other about five and a half feet tall, slender, with a small examination kit carried in one hand. Medicine and muscle, obviously.
“Left arm out, 65-A” the shorter one, voice female said, muffled through a respirator. What were they worried about here? He was in fine health, and they were treating him like he had Ebola or something.
“The name’s Jason,” he said, though obediently putting his arm out. Maybe if he went through their little dog and pony show, he’d get more answers.
The shorter one paid him no attention as she strapped the cuff to his arm. She squeezed the bulb, as the cuff inflated, and she carefully noted its behavior, “Subject 65-A blood pressure at 135 over 85. Probable stress response. Pulse at 75.”
She put the blood pressure cuff away and pulled out a syringe and a series of collection tubes, “okay, 65-A, sit, arm out”
Jason obeyed, not wanting to anger the second gentleman, or what he assumed was a gentleman. He could only guess, the person not having spoken a word; anything he needed to say was done so by his superior muscles. He watched, the needle plunged in, his blood filled one collection tube, then another, then another. She taped up his arm, then nodded.
“I guess you were mostly cooperative, 65-A. I will be certain to write that in my report,” she said before she exited with the brutish gentleman, “have a nice day.”
Nice day? Good luck. Jason looked around again. Back to his thoughts, and they were getting old fast. What the hell was he supposed to do? Just sit there as he was poked and prodded, and allow them to call him some inhuman identifier. To be at the whims of people that planned to do god knows what to him? Unless they already did god knows what. He shuddered, coughed, and sat motionless on the cot.
He sat there, listening as a distant door slammed, then another, and another. He made his way to the door and tried to wriggle his hands into a position where he could get some sort of peek into the outside world. Nothing. Defeated, he returned to to his cot, though was soon interrupted by the intercom he was rapidly beginning to loathe.
“65-A, as a reward for being a Good Boy in your physical examination, we are providing you a period of physical exercise. Please put on the clothes we will be providing you, and step through the doorway into the courtyard,” the voice crackled, the same one as prior.
Jason felt another odd tingle of pleasure with that statement. Any joy, though, was quickly washed away by the rest of his mood. This wasn’t a reward. Unless he was going to get reading material or something at the end of it, he knew he would go nuts. His brain was too busy, he needed puzzles and projects to keep from tearing at the walls. Then again, maybe they wanted him to lose his mind.
But, he was obedient and put on the tight cotton shirt, tight blue sweat shorts and thin running sandals, and entered the courtyard, the sun high in the sky, the air the same temperature as in the cell. He was curious for a moment, before he noticed the glare of a window. Someone didn’t want anyone getting in. Or more likely out, he thought, his desperation kicking in. It was hard not getting desperate, and Jason was failing miserably at that battle.
“Now, 65-A,” the Voice said, same one as before, “as part of your service to the Powers That Be, you are to begin physical training. Please start with twenty laps around the edge of the courtyard. Please note that any dissent will be met with suitable punishment, and obedience will be appropriately rewarded. Begin.”
Jason paused, his thoughts disrupted by the register of a pistol, “65-A, we will reiterate what you are. You are not irreplaceable, you are not unique. If you hesitate in any further manner, there will be punishments. If you attempt to flee, or resist, your experiment will be terminated. Is this understood?”
Jason meekly nodded, then began to run. Down the side of the courtyard, past one metal door like the one on his cell, then another, then another. He turned the corner, past two more doors before a window. Mirrored glass, observation room, probably. He turned another corner, down the far side of the courtyard, another set of mirrored windows. Another turn, more windows, before he returned to the original wall.
He ran, around and around, breath becoming more and more of a wheeze as he did so. He clutched his knees for the last lap, his breath a pant, his chest heaved in and out. Couldn’t have been that far, maybe a mile at most. But he was scared, and he definitely didn’t want to hear another one of those gunshots. He coughed, collected himself, then looked up to signal his completion.
“Terrible,” the voice said. “But you’ll do better next time. Now, push ups. Twenty of them, now.”
He obeyed, and was chided as before for his horrible form and lack of physical fitness. He was a programmer, he never had to worry about any of this stuff. But, he knew he had to behave, that his choices otherwise were more than a bit limited. He coughed again, his breath trying to escape him, before he was ordered to do sit ups, lunges, and other exercises he hadn’t done since high school, his heart beating heavy in his ears, before finally ordered to do another five laps and then dismissed.
He returned to the cell, winded, hearing doors open and shut, remote-triggered latches clanking as his own cell resealed itself. He looked around again, and sighed. Boot camp? Why the hell was he in boot camp? Certainly there were a lot of people willing to do horrid things for these powers that be. But then he thought again. Experiment. It left a horrid feeling on his tongue when he thought it. Experiment.
“65-A,” the Voice crackled, barely a moment after he returned, “we are delivering learning materials to your room. You are read them diligently. You will be assessed based on your performance answering future tests based upon the material.”
Jason sighed. Something told him that this was going to be more backwards and sideways learning materials. Pseudo-militaristic tripe, probably. He heard the door open again, a tray slid in with a stack of instruction booklets, before it shut again.
He looked them over, disappointed at being correct. Military manuals without department insignias, training on hand to hand combat, manuals of proper behavior and obedience. He briefly entertained the thought of disobedience; surely whatever afterlife, even if it were eternal nothingness, was better than this. The rigid voice of survival would have none of that thought, though, resistance overruled by that antique drive for existence.
The manuals were confusing, not in their statements, but in their omissions. There were no mentions of inferiors, of ranks or anything of the like; there were merely orders, regulations, exercises and sign language. He wondered for a moment. Why sign language? But that made about as much sense as anything else he was reading, so why the hell not? He’d be a fucked up soldier that knew sign language.
He thought more. Maybe this was a social experiment. See how far he was willing to be pushed. If that were the case, then, why the drugging? Maybe it was an alternate reality game gone awry? But again, the question was brought back to the drugging. It didn't make sense, any of it.
But, Jason continued to read. He performed exercises when the book said to stop and do them, he practiced signing when the book said to. He'd read some, then take breaks, before he would re-open a book to read again, the intercom goading him when he relaxed just a moment too long. There had to be a camera in there, probably in the door or behind the mirror or something. But damned if he could find it.
His studies were stopped, briefly, when another tray was slid in. Dinner. Steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables. All of it bland. Least he wasn't going to starve in there. Yet, anyways. Maybe this was another part of their experiment.
He coughed, a small blob of mucus released from the back of his throat, before he got back to studying. The course books all emphasized that this was all he was to do. Seventeen hours a day, with seven hours of sleep. The book emphasized the need for sleep; neither his mind nor body would function on less. His mind again registered its confusion. He'd heard from his friends in the army that boot camp tended to use sleep deprivation as a tool for obedience, that four or fewer hours of sleep being fairly standard. He shrugged, then returned to his work. This whole situation was crooked, why would sleep be any different?
The second day, and the third and fourth for that matter continued much the same as that first. He would be woken up, have breakfast slid in, he would stand for having his vitals taken, get ordered out for exercise, then he would return to his cell for study. He chided himself for getting so caught up in the routine. He wasn't an experiment, he was a human fucking being, and he should shout and complain. But at the same time, a dull complacency was developing. Disobedience was death and punishment. Obedience was rewarded. Better tasting food, actual break periods, odd tingles from just simple phrases.
The focus on his worries seemed to be more on the cough he seemed to have developed, especially when stressed. Nagging, bits of mucus being expelled. It didn't seem to slow him down, though, his lungs seemed to have acclimated to whatever allergen or ailment was causing it. The nurse sent for the daily examination didn't seem to give it any heed, either. They would take his blood pressure, and would note its normalcy to the intercom, take his temperature, reading it and then resetting it without revealing the value, and then leave him to the world. He would perform his exercises, receiving actual bits of encouragement on occasion. 65-A is doing very well they would say. He would nod in appreciation. A sense of duty was building in his head. What else was there to do, anyway. He wasn't in a place to register a grievance.
The Powers That Be watched over Jason in anticipation and concern, not for such pettiness as general health and welfare, but for their own desires and lusts. The project was behind schedule, the backers wanted something to see for their efforts other than another series of incinerated bodies. Already there were whispers about termination; this project had been going on for the past fifteen years and their successes had been limited to primates at best.
Thus, 65-A, or Jason as he stubbornly referred to himself, was pushed, driven towards their goal. He would occasionally catch glimpses of their shadowy forms when he ran past their windows. Nondescript white males, nearly all of them, fourties to fifties in age, all of whom would turn the other way when they noticed him looking at them. They preferred to be the faceless voyeurs, the shadows that watched him eat, read, and sleep.
The sixth day, Jason woke with a scream, his legs afire. He stumbled, pain blinding him, deafening him. He shouted for help, mewling, whimpering at his body, arms rubbed up and down his legs, trying to nurse the injured bones and muscles. It wasn’t a sprain, this was something different. He whined, fell to the floor, helpless.
“Can I get help,” he whimpered, “my legs feel broken or something.”
“We’ll send someone in,” the voice responded, the same one as always.
They came in, clad in the same protective gear as always, this time wheeling in a gurney. Jason still couldn’t figure it out. Was he contagious or something. Shouldn’t there be uniforms and signs of rank? All he’d heard so far was submit, submit, submit, but there was nothing to acquiesce to.
“65-A, arm out,” the voice said, male this time, both attendants looked to be about the same degree of muscularity and burliness, his height, but much stronger, arms a good twice the diameter of his.
Jason obeyed and winced as the needle plunged in. It injected its payload, a clear substance into his arm, the area around it numbing for a moment. The pain slowly eased, his head clouded, his toes curled. He looked up, whimpered, “what was that?” he whimpered, looking up.
“Just a mild sedative,” he replied, “health and safety precaution.”
Jason whined. Drugged, again. He looked briefly up at his betrayers as they picked them up, placed a respirator over his face, and manhandled him up onto the bed. Jason briefly tried to shout one more profanity, his mouth too weak, his eyes glazed.
He awoke some time later, still in his cell as far as he could tell. His legs hurt less, at least, and toes all wiggled, so he thought ever so grimly that he should be glad that they didn’t decide to just lop his ailing limbs off. He whined though, looking around.
“Wakey, wakey, 65-A,” Jason’s familiar tormentor said, “we ran tests, and must say, we are pleasantly surprised. Your body is accepting treatment exceptionally well. We figure that you will soon begin to show proper signs of success.”
Jason knew better than to ask. The last three times he did, he got no further answer. Why give them the pleasure of another opportunity to scorn him. He stood up though, wobbly, looked over the books, and down at his rumbling stomach.
“There’s a Good Boy,” the voice replied, Jason feeling an odd tingle of pleasure again, his body betraying his urges to get upset at this patronization, “we’ll make something out of you yet. Now, for other issues. It is time we began seeing you put your training to use. You’re still in horrid shape, but getting better. However, it is time you started communicating properly.”
“From now on, any communication is to be via sign language,” the voice continued, Jason’s mouth agape, “you are to be a good product and not speak. Your voice, as far as you are concerned is gone.”
“Why,” Jason said, blinking, then looking over at the sign language book.
“We will ignore your slight against us, just this once. We have reasons that will become apparent, even to you. Now, are there any other questions?”
Jason shook his head, his hands fumbling with the sign for no.
“Good Boy,” they replied again. Now, get to your exercises.
Jason felt another tingle, confused. They didn’t say those words often, but whenever they did, it seemed to do something to him. It was a rush, almost sexual in nature, shaking him from his crotch to his head. He whimpered, looked around. Dammit, he was a human being, he wasn’t some mutt for them to train. Fuck, even mutts got better treatment than this.
The door opened and light flooded into the room. Time for exercises. Regardless of how sore he was, or what he was thinking, he had to do them. He’d get chided otherwise, of course. He ran, did sit ups, everything. His breath was a bit less ragged even. Getting in better shape, at the very least, he thought. Yeah, but your apartment’s gone, Jason, job, everything. Face it, this is the only shit you’ve got now. For better, or for worse. The first chance they get, they’ll murder you, he thought. Better be a Good Boy.
He was driven after that in everything. Running, reading, training, it didn’t matter. Their little games were silly, but it was obvious he was there for something other than physical training and to learn sign language, and maybe if he did behave, he’d get to live just a bit longer. He still fought with himself, but his battles were fewer and fewer. He was going to be a Good Boy, even if it meant stripping the vestiges of dignity he had left.
Of course, The Powers That Be had plans for him far beyond a simple soldier. Those were cheap, easy to find. They had a dozen dozen front companies for those sorts of things, mercenaries, zealots, disposable men fighting both sides of their own dirty little games. Things were getting expensive though; mercenaries were starting to insist on things like sufficient pay, free time, and decent work environments. Jason, on the other hand, would soon neither want, nor need, any of those things. At least they hoped, anyways.
Their pliant little toy worked his ass off to obey. 65-A ran, he studied, he read, his body strengthened, his mind did everything it could to hear those little words of Good Boy. He was addicted to those words; they were a drug, it made everything better, if just a moment. He still had his cough, though, with his urges to do so to coming at times when he was stressed, or angry. If anything, those coughs had gotten worse in their productivity; shot glass sized blobs of green mucus which burned his mouth as they were released. The doctors thought nothing of them, though. He was fine, as far as they were concerned. He just was instructed that it was preferable not to cough on them.
It was a morning like any other for Jason. He received his wake up call at some time in the morning, received breakfast, obediently had blood drawn. The doctors carefully noted a few new bruises they saw on his body. Probably nothing, hopefully something. They then left him, a few moments later letting him emerge for his daily exercises. He ran, like usual, sprinting down one side, then another, his body craved speed of late, of running, and he certainly wasn’t going to deny it. Speed got him called Good Boy, and Good Boy made him feel all tingly. He ran, strides long, on his toes to spring, before landing, spending as little time on the balls of his feet as possible. He bounded, landing, about ready to complete when one ankle, than the other, exploded in pain, sending him tumbling. He bellowed an almost inhuman, cry of pain, body still rolling as endorphins started to flood into his body, slowly soothing him. He looked down, and whimpered again.
They were broken, as far as he could tell. Spurs of bone extended from his ankles, one on each side, white, shiny, skin gathered around the edges. He writhed, signed up for a doctor to aid him, observing the bones, his mind rendered curious by shock. As far as he could tell, this was possibly the most photogenic compound fracture ever. The bones extended perfectly from his ankles, looking like they belonged there, like a platypus’ poison spines or something. His pain was subsiding, probably just adrenaline flooding him, those ancient instincts trying to afford him an escape.
He looked around, unsure. Where would they come from, what would they do. They’d keep him alive, right? If this was it, certainly they wouldn’t waste thiopental on him if they were just going to put him down. Bullets are cheaper for whatever they called him, right? Then again, they could be deliberating, arguing what to do, and how to do it. Regardless, he dared not move, his burning limbs saw to that. He waited, repeated his signs that he was injured, even if his pain was subsiding.
He was confused, his ankles were broken, right? But the pain was almost gone, replaced by a growing curiosity. Those were two of the spots he had had lumps and bruises. Was the rest of his body ready to explode into pieces like his ankles did? Was this some sort of test where he was pumped full of discipline and pomp to see if he would continue even if he knew he was ruining his body? He looked up, stationary, still waiting, patient, as a pair of medics came to his sides.
“You said you think you broke your ankles?” the one on the right said, female. Jason remembered her voice. She was the one who treated him that first day.
Jason nodded, pointing to them. They felt fine now though. If anything, the stiffness he had felt in the ankles in the prior days was gone. As if the pressure building inside had been released in one final burst. He felt them prod and poke over him nonchalantly, without any sort of sense of urgency. They looked over, nodded, before they both stood, treatment over.
“You’re fine,” the female voice said again, “Get up, get back to your quarters.”
“But my ankles,” he signed again, “bone isn’t supposed to do that.”
“Up,” she repeated, voice stern, commanding.
Jason obliged, expecting to collapse in a heap on the ground. He was shocked though, his ankles were fine. He in fact did a few small jumps, trying to test his assumption. Nope, no pain at all. As far as he could tell, they were in better shape than they had been even a week prior. He looked around, then at the metal door, and walked through it, mind still reeling.
“Good Boy,” she said, the door closing behind her.
He shuddered in pleasure, hearing those words, those fantastic words sent shivers through his body. He sat down on the bench to spend more time examining his ankle spurs in horrified awe. The were sharp, a thin ridge of bone obviously designed to pierce and cut. They looked something out of a National Geographic piece. “The 65-A has ankle spurs designed to clutch onto its mate during copulation.” He shuddered. Is that what he was becoming? He couldn’t talk anymore, and he now had bone spurs that instantly precluded luxuries such as shoes. He glared at the window, signing.
“Answers. Now,” he motioned at the window, arms and fingers angry in intonation.
“65-A, I’m shocked at you. You know as much as you need to. Now be a Good Boy and get back to your studies.”
Jason shuddered in pleasure for a moment before he signed again, “Answers.”
“65-A. Behave. This is not how we deal with things.”
Jason looked at the mirror, his mouth opening, an instinctive cough releasing its acidic mucus, the lump landing on the mirror, “Answers.”
“65-A, I thought you were more intelligent than that. Ask yourself what the answers are. Even your inferior mind should be able to put things together..”
Jason looked at the mirror, the mucus scoring and etching it. He looked, coughed again, acid spilling out. He was angry, confused, though suddenly, everything made sense. They were turning him into some sort of goddamn monster. An acid spitting, bony, bellowing monster. He looked down at his ankles, those smooth projections. He could hurt someone with those. Everything he did lately was designed to injure. Running, leaping, punching, even coughing. It made sense. Psychotic sense, but sense nonetheless.
“Why,” he signed, angry, but with a look of hungering knowledge on his face.
“Figure it out, 65-A. You’ve done the hard part. The rest should be easy.”
He cried, bellowed out in anger after a moment, meekly signing, “weapon? Domination?”
“See, I knew you were smart. The Powers That Be will be proud. Now, get back to your studies.”
Jason deflated in the cell. Weapon. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but there he was. He looked over his body, every bruise, every lump of flesh that was ready to spring forth with a new betrayal of his humanity. But what choice did he have at this point? He couldn’t run, he couldn’t fight. All he could do was play their silly game, be their pet.
He continued at that point, broken, those new desires percolating inside of him. Good Boy was what he lived for, that brief pleasure when he did something good for his masters. His punches in martial arts training became more focused, driven to use his natural blades to impart his anger and inhumanity on others. His bellows were louder, that pool of rage that his body was becoming escaping. He was a Good Boy, he was 65-A.
At least, he was when they cared. In his dreams, he was still Jason, still just a guy trying to make it. His core still desired and strove for a quiet, normal life. He was what he was before, a bit pudgy, white skinned, thick haired. He had friends, he had a job, he was somebody, he wasn’t just an arbitrary designation.
Too often though, reality would invade even those last bastions of his desires. His dreamscapes would be invaded by bone spurs, by anonymous doctors, by inhumanly large needles, of a world abandoning him. He would wake up in a sweat or a roar, to be taunted by the anonymous voice of the night watch. He was weak, letting nightmares get the better of him. Some fucking weapon he was.
65-A devoured the daytime, though. He dashed through the course, blood rushing through his body, feral desires flooding his mind and body. He ran as Jason would reel a bit in shock at his occasional urges, and follow through, to lop on all fours. Even his broken mind wasn’t going to let himself slip that far without a fight. But, he did it anyway, howling, his fading humanity slipped further with every dash, every pounce onto the ground.
He’d cough at will now, those shot glass sized projectiles flung out of desire now, not out of instinct. Part of him actively wanted it, that sense of geeky curiosity that drove him prior to this taking odd twists and turns in his warped body. See how far his body would go, what exactly he was becoming. His body urged him in new ways, to keep his fingernails longer and sharper, to tug at his hair, those worthless strands of humanity that clutched to his mind like those attempts to call himself Jason. Maybe if his hair went, those urges to be Jason would go away too. Then there would just be 65-A, and 65-A could be a Good Boy.
65-A would admire himself in the mirror on occasion, amazed at his flesh as it grew coarse in texture, stony grey when he was inside, altering to become a vibrant green on the exercise ground. Again, more curiosity, more flailing at strands from a prior life. He was like a chameleon now, his body worked even more to keep him as invisible as possible.
His mind was, though, filling with new desires. He needed somewhere bigger, somewhere where he could bound. Those hills looked fantastic, to chase, to watch, to properly hunt. His well-honed instincts were urging to be utilized, to show exactly what he had been practicing.
“Sir, when is the next step,” he would sign to the mirror, body straight, nude. He didn’t bother with clothing anymore; there was no purpose. The bone spurs destroyed any outfit he attempted to wear, his body thoroughly androgynous and inhuman, his masculinity having whithered away during its reconfiguration, waste channelled through a single slit, “I’m bored.”
“Soon, 65-A, soon,” the voice returned, “The Powers That Be are quite interested in your progress, and motions have been made in that direction.”
“Thank you, sir,” 65-A responded.
Occasionally Jason would look in the mirror and shudder. What has happened, why did I let myself give up so easy. This wasn’t him anymore, wasn’t his body. He’d tug, feeling his mouth loose, teeth jostled, a pressure from within, uniform, dull. It gave him headaches at times, but he knew better than to complain. Even as teeth were freed from his mouth, he’d set them aside, hiding them from the doctors and from 65-A. Fuck 65-A. He was all that was wrong with him, that weakness that overtook his body and turned him into a lapdog of The Powers That Be. He would cough in rage, filling the sink basin with god only knows what foulness. He cherished those moments, when he could act by himself, without 65-A, without the doctors nudging into him.
He sighed, though, at his body and mind. He was a reptilian monster, better suited for the Weekly World News than this world. He could feel 65-A try to urge otherwise, that he was the future. That he would be the one to bring proper order to this planet. Jason didn’t want that. He just wanted to be a fucking person. He wanted a mouth, not some sort of beak, designed to further alienate him from regular people. He wanted fingernails and smooth skin and hair. 65-A would taunt him for those as he would reconquer their body. Signs of weakness, he would laugh. They’re better than that now. The Sirs even said so.
Jason would hide from himself, his churning body would bloat and distend before 65-A would somehow alleviate the pressure. It didn’t feel like a full bladder, the pressure was felt from somewhere else. Especially odd, because 65-A seemed to enjoy letting Jason handle the needs of defecation. Let him handle those intimate yet base urges. That’s what he was for.
Those moments where Jason could say he was in control were fleeting, though. 65-A was all that got attention, with Jason submerged in their mind for hours and days at a time. All 65-A wanted, more than anything, was to get out there and show off for The Powers That Be. They were close, only a day or two, from giving him that opportunity, to properly show what he was, and who.
65-A woke up at his usual time by the intercom crackling a morning greeting. He sprang to the window, as usual, in search of any sort of prey. There were always vehicles coming and going from the encampment, jeeps, pickup trucks, and the occasional van. 65-A loved spotting them, reporting them to his superiors. He was rewarded for doing so; such actions honed his hunting instincts, and increased his situational awareness. The Powers That Be knew better than to fool around with pseudo-militaristic claptrap such as black helicopters. Those were best left to the fantasies of those slack-jawed yokels who called up Art Bell and the like.
He stood, body rigid, signing to the mirror, “I see vehicles, sir, off in the distance.”
“Yes,” the Voice responded, “The Powers That Be have decided to reward you for being such a Good Boy. They want a demonstration, to see if you are ready for what they have planned.”
“What sort of demonstration?”
“You will be going outside. That is all I know for right now.”
65-A felt glee. Outside. He was going to have a chance to hunt properly. He looked in the mirror at his angular face, his two slits of a nose, his black, featureless eyes. He was a hunter, he was ready to run, to chase, to pounce. Maybe Jason would go away permanently if he did a good enough job for them. Fuck Jason. Jason got him ridiculed. Jason carelessly flushed their eggs down the toilet. Jason was bad.
He waited, performed exercises in the mirror, finally hearing the door click open, a corridor open for him. He followed the path, into where the Sirs worked, past cubicles, computers and corridors. Past personnel and printers. He coughed more than once in nervousness, looking around, surrounded by people without biosuits for the first time in months. His mucus splashed to the ground, generating looks of disgust from those around him. Someone was going to have to clean up after Lizard Boy. Good thing he wasn’t contagious anymore.
65-A felt a warm breeze from the west as he walked outside. He blinked, eyes adjusting to the light, his skin slowly lightened to the gold color of the surrounding hills. It was summer in California, the air was warm around him, charging him, his body energetic as ever. He looked around, noted a pair of shiny metallic grey limousines and a white cargo van as gentlemen in suits eyed him curiously. His awe at the outside world quickly subsided as his training returned, his back stiffened, his arm sprang into a crisp salute.
“At ease,” the Voice said. For the first time, 65-A could see who it was connected to. It was a gentleman, about 48 years old, hair losing the battle of greying, facial hair cropped into a neat beard. He, much like everyone else, was clad in a perfect-fitting business suit, pure silk, of course.
65-A’s hand lowered, to his side, eyes still planted straight ahead. He stood there, eyes locked, noticing birds as they passed by. He breathed in deep, nostrils filled with cologne and nervousness and excitement from those around him. 65-A felt a pride too at that. He was theirs, and they were glad to see them. He was infinitely obedient, even if he heard whispers from Jason calling them motherfuckers.
“What is your name,” the Voice said, crisp, clearly.
“J...,” 65-A began, before quickly chiding himself, “sorry, 65-A”
“Excellent. Now then, is there anything you Gentlemen would like to see from him?”
The men nodded at the driver of the cargo van, one more person emerging, equally as important to this operation as 65-A. He was lanky, his clothes fit poorly on him, over-sized on his undernourished body. His dirty blond hair was matted with the dirt of living on the streets. A small black bracelet was clasped to one arm, the man’s vital statistics broadcast into the aether. He blinked, looked around before he yelped in fear at 65-A. What the fuck was that thing. The small crowd snorted in disgust; this being, certainly not a person, had no purpose in this world. He would be perfect for their test.
The Gentlemen nodded, then released their prisoner from the handcuffs, “the test is simple, really. 65-A is to hunt, and execute, this worthless creature.”
The unwashed man blinked, trembling in fear, “I’m a fucking human being. I have rights, you pigs.”
“No you don’t. No one’s going to miss you. Rights only belong to those who matter. Now, we’re going to be sporting and give you a five minute head start. We suggest you use that time to make your peace, because 65-A here looks hungry.”
With that, the man darted off, through the tall grass. He felt his skin torn by weeds and bushes, his lungs burned as primal instinct coursed through him. This fucking thing was going to kill him, then eat him. This wasn’t fucking right, it looked like something from a horror movie or something. He ran, crested the hill, down into the next canyon. He panted, clutched his knees, looked for something, anything, to defend himself with.
65-A looked calmly up the hill, waited for the signal, his well-refined body preparing itself, predatory instincts champed at the bit. He was going to show them what he was. He was going to show Jason that he was a Good Boy. He readied himself, stretched, felt the sun beat down upon him. He looked, obedient, waiting.
“Return immediately once your task is complete,” the Voice said, “we’ll know when you have finished. Now go, and show us proud.”
65-A nodded, and dashed off. He bounded through brambles and bushes effortlessly, thorns failing to puncture his thick hide. He sprang on all fours up the hill, rapidly disappearing. He bellowed loudly; there was no escape. There was only him, and the inevitability of death.
He caught up quickly. A blob of mucus was released, his prey screaming as he was burned. A clawed hand swiped out and left a trail of viscera in its wake, the man’s ankle dissected, tendon sliced. He was crippled, helpless. He tumbled, rolled awkwardly as he looked up at his predator, letting out a scream. 65-A was unfazed, and roared back. Pathetic. He could see why The Powers That Be wanted this man gone. He was weak; he was like Jason. His claw was raised again, again swiping, jugular severed, one last stream of blood, the Prey’s last gurgling breaths quickly subsiding.
Jason screamed, and shattered 65-A’s grasp on their body. He was a murderer. A shadowy creature in the night; he was doomed to be some tale that parents told their children. Behave, or Jason would come for you and eat you. He looked around. No one near. He bellowed again, then sprang. North. There would be someone north. He didn’t care who. They could help him, they could stop the Powers. They had to be able to.
He ran, his mind racing with fear. 65-A tried to stop them, tried to get them to turn back with threats, with pleas. They’d kill him for certain now. No more Good Boy, no more pleasure for them. It was just fear now. Jason didn’t care. The longer they ran, the more of a chance they had that they would just execute him. Frankenstein’s monster had killed, and now needed to be put down. It was the only way.
The Gentlemen were anxious, and began to bark commands. Jeeps were started up, orders made to comb the rugged hillsides. Certainly he couldn’t have gotten far. He’d run out of energy soon. They’d find him, knock him out, then figure where they went wrong. He was too valuable now to put down. They had almost won. 65-A had certainly executed his prey. They could hear the bellow of victory. Now was not the time for rash decisions.
Jason ran, bounded off rocks, down cliffs. He was disgusted at how good it felt to be on all fours, but dignity was a secondary concern. He needed to get Away. There was no other worry, no other desire. 65-A screamed at him to stop, that voice becoming easier and easier to ignore. He wasn’t theirs anymore, he’d hide as long as possible, maybe he’d take out a few of them on his way to where inhuman beasts go when they die. He ran, plotted to find civilization, someone, anyone. He didn’t want to be a monster anymore.
He spotted a glint, a vehicle, green, with a white top. Memories stirred. Forest service. He bounded closer, tried to make himself as visible as possible. He growled, watched the vehicle stop, then watched as the driver rolled down the window. Hispanic, dark featured, wearing that tan uniform of a ranger. He bounded closer, panting. The driver looked at him again, confused, shocked. What the fuck was that. Some weird lizard thing. Jason bounded closer, next to the vehicle. He stood, signed. He needed help.
The driver sat in his SUV in shock. This wasn’t in the manuals, not in the field watching guide. He was too awestruck and terror-stricken to lock the door or roll up the window. He gawked, the creature made more gestures with its foreclaws toward him. Wait, sign language. What is a wild animal doing knowing sign language? Jason got closer, frustrated. He just wanted a ride, wanted help. The driver threw open the door, got out, his gun nervously drawn. Instincts kicked in, Jason sprang, easily pounced and disarmed him. The Ranger shouted in pain, arm shattered by Jason’s actions.
The Ranger begged, “please...I’ve got a wife...kids...don’t kill me.”
Jason let out a sigh, “I’m not going to kill you.”
The Ranger trembled, shocked. The creature didn’t finish him off. Jason stepped over him, into the SUV, and drove off. Wait, how did that thing learn how to drive? How is anyone going to believe him? He’d have to lie for certain. This was obviously just a carjacking. It’s happened before. Some guy high on meth deciding to steal a government vehicle. He writhed in pain, as he slowly stood up, stumbled his way behind the SUV, back to the station.
Jason drove, fantail kicked up behind him. He was still too close, too likely to be found by The Powers That Be. He drove more. Needed to get to a city, needed to get home. 65-A whimpered helplessly. This wasn’t the way, this wasn’t being a Good Boy. Jason no longer cared. He had killed, and that was its own punishment. He drove, onto pavement, followed one road into a larger road, onto a larger road. He drove, onto a freeway, northbound,. Shit, he was still in California; he’d be back in San Francisco before long.
He still didn’t know what he’d do once he got there. He had friends, surely one of them won’t go completely nuts on him. He’d hide until they figured something out. He’d be a human being again, he’d be something other than a number.
The research building was somber. It had been three weeks, and other than a park ranger with a broken arm reporting a carjacking, there had been no signs of 65-A. They were ridiculed by The Powers That Be. How the hell do you let that sort of a resource escape. Didn’t they know about tracking collars? But, work was picking up again. They had mostly succeeded, even if they temporarily lost their Asset. 65-A would be back, they were certain.
“Los Angeles,” one rumor monger said, “I’d heard they dispatched a team there, that they had pretty decent reports of something weird. Slaughtered dogs, stolen clothing.”
“Really, I’d heard Fresno,” his partner in gossip said in response, excusing himself after a cough. Allergies, probably. The office banter had slowly been returning. Morale had been on the rise. They had setbacks and reorganizations up to and including the Commissioner being Terminated. Wasn’t unexpected though; he brought that on himself.
“Makes sense, I guess. Who cares about Fresno?”
They were disrupted by the clatter of office equipment. Monitors, keyboards, glassware swept off in the next cubicle. They peeked over, seeing their co-worker, blond-haired, white skinned, furiously upending his equipment.
“What’s wrong,” the first gentleman, a black haired, Asian man asked, short, about five feet tall at most, seeing the commotion.
“Oh nothing. Nothing at all. Where the fuck is that champagne you were saving?”
“Champagne? We were saving that for final acceptance. That’s god only knows how long from now.”
“We succeeded. Trust me, we succeeded. Get it. Now.”
He nodded, darted off. Surely he just needed calmed down, but at the same time, he wasn’t going to decline the not so friendly request. His mind still reeled as he coughed. There have been lots of coughs around the office lately, probably just a cold bug going around or something.
He returned, with a bottle and three plastic cups. Liquid was quickly dispensed, the bottle halfway emptied into the cups. There were awkward looks, the rumor mongers’ eyes demanding to know what was going on.
“You know how we were certain that the retrovirus was supposed to be contagious for only a few days?”
“Yeah, we hadn’t had an issue with virulence since Batch 23.”
“Just got back from the lab. That cough was giving me a funny feeling, so I decided to run a test. We’re all infected.”
“The fuck you’re talking about? This some kind of a joke?”
His face was stern, granite-like. No humor in his voice, “No joke. We’re carriers. All of us.”
“So why the champagne?”
“We’ve been getting reports from San Francisco of a new sort of cold. Nothing solid, at first, but we’ve been getting more of them. Leaves a nagging cough, lots of mucus. Lately, some of the victims have been suffering odd bruising as well.”
“Yep. We did it all right. Soon, The Powers will have their army, whether they like it or not.”
“So, again, why the Champagne?”
“The latest numbers are saying that given its effectiveness, we’re looking at a 98% infection rate.”
“Uh huh, and why the champagne?”
“You don’t get it. By this time next year, most of the US, if not the world, is going to look a lot like our boy 65-A. We’re already seeing it here. Coughs, bruises, everything. Janice over in the lab is in quarantine, little good it’ll do; bone spurs from her elbows. Humanity’s over, and we’re the reason.”
“So...what to we do?”
“At this point, nothing. We’re doomed, our kids are doomed, everything. So, only thing left is to sit back and have a toast. To the end of the world...”