Anton sighed in frustration as the alert-tone began to chime on his comm unit. He knew what this was going to be about. Glancing quickly over at his computer terminal, his thumb hit the call switch.
"Doctor Corval here."
"Anton, what the hell is going on down there?", the Director's voice fairly boomed over the comm unit. "The Commandant will be here within the hour. I need the latest batch of test results. Now!"
"Yes Director. The computer is collating the final results now, sir. I'll have them to you in ten minutes, Director. Sir."
"You'll have them to me in five, Anton. Or you'll be the one to explain to the Commandant why his project is behind schedule!"
"Yes Director. You'll have the reports immediately, sir."
The comm line went dead and Anton swore loudly. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine as he glanced nervously at the comm to make sure it was actually off. Shaking his head, Anton jabbed angrily at the PRINT key as he scanned the latest test results on-screen.
One line in particular caught his eye and he couldn't stop the sigh that escaped his lips.
Anton stood silently before the Director's desk as he waited to be acknowledged. Finally, the Director handed the stack of papers back to Anton before locking his steely gaze onto the doctor.
"Give me your summary of these results, Doctor Corval. I don't have time to study them before the Commandant arrives."
Shuffling his feet nervously, Anton rifled through the pages in his hands before beginning his report.
"Sir, Project PyroGenesis- Beta Strain continues apace with the schedule proscribed by yourself and the Commandant. All twenty-one subjects have undergone the nanite infusion and their genetic architecture has been restructured to conform with the target genome model.
Average boost to physical strength above the Alpha Strain is 7.3%. Test subject agility has seen an average increase of 4.9% and aggression factors have improved by 9.6%.
Further, the newer nanoforms have improved the Pyro Control potential of each subject by nearly 13%."
Anton cleared his throat as he pulled a singular page from the stack of test results.
"There has, however, been another...anomaly. As with the Alpha Strain, one subject appears to have been unable to successfully complete the procedures with the desired results. You may recall, Director, that the anomaly with the Alpha Strain subject proved to be fatal. His Pyro Control was insufficient to meet with our criteria and the subject ultimately self-terminated, taking two of our technicians with him in the ensuing conflagration."
Seeing no visible reaction in the Director, Dr. Corval continued his report.
"We have determined the Beta Strain anomaly to be a fatal one as well. Subject Beta-19 meets all physical requirements set forth by yourself and the Commandant in the PyroGenesis Protocols. Further, subject Beta-19 has displayed a level of mental acuity that thus far exceeds all previous test subjects to date. This has resulted in subject Beta-19 resisting the mental programming that all other subjects have accepted readily. We believe subject Beta-19 will become self-aware within the next week."
"Because of this, Beta-19 has not been able to properly integrate the nanite infusion and his control of the Pyrokinesis is dangerously unstable. The subject in question has, as of last night, completely self-immolated his own flesh on two occasions. Our regeneration tanks have kept subject Beta-19 in viable condition, but it will take extensive training for him to learn proper control of his Pyrokinetic element. This, of course, falls outside the criteria for Project PyroGenesis."
"My recommendation is that subject Beta-19 be terminated and the nanoforms harvested for use in future Strains."
The Director leaned forward in his seat before speaking, "Do we have any data on what is causing these anomalies?"
"No, Director. All investigations into the matter have been inconclusive. By all accounts, they should not be happening."
"Very well, Doctor. I will see to it the Commandant knows that these...failures, are not happening, because you cannot determine that they should be. I am certain he will be understanding. You may return to your duties."
Anton's knees began to grow weak as he turned to leave the office. The Director's smile had been genuine. Never a good sign.
"I hate my job", Anton thought.
Searing, mind shattering pain. A world of intense violet light. Raging screams of anguished silence. Finally, a meandering return to semi-coherent consciousness.
Painfully, regretfully, I open my eyes. The intense violet haze that comprised my world now sharpens into a series of blurry images filtered through the viscous fluid that fills my glass cage. My scarred hand briefly touches the surface of my prison, finding no purchase on the smooth inner wall. Movement is slow and ponderous in the thick liquid that has somehow forestalled my death while doing nothing to stop the pain.
Vague, indescribable movements are visible outside my world. Muffled sounds reach my disfigured ears, but defy any attempt at interpretation. I recognize that these are the signs of life, of a nature far more unrestrained than my own. What is this place? And who are these people who can move freely about while I remain suspended in my liquid prison?
Then I understand that these questions mean nothing, as one of more importance occurs to me. Who am I?
Slowly a blanket of darkness begins to envelope my mind. In the center of that darkness I can sense a core of red intensity. This I recognize. This I have come to know well over my indeterminate life span. It is anger. It is raw, unmitigated rage and it will consume me. It will devour my mind and when it does the flames will consume my body from within once more.
Then something else pierces the darkness. New sounds seek me out within my world. These sounds, I soon realize, are voices. Speaking words that I can understand without understanding HOW I know them. The sounds come from two figures standing outside of my glass cylinder and the rage subsides momentarily as I turn my attention to them...
"...subject Beta-19, Commandant. This is the fatal anomaly I spoke to you about in my briefing. He's currently in regeneration stasis following his most recent...failure in controlling the Pyrokinetic nanoforms."
The Commandant commanded a ghastly presence even though fully concealed within the leather cloak draped about his form. His flesh, when one could catch a glimpse of it, was pale and had the appearance of death. Broken glass scraped over granite had a more pleasant sound than the sibilant hiss that issued forth when he spoke.
"This one interests me, Director. You tell me he has nearly incinerated himself on two occasions. Yet, other than his scarred flesh, he appears healthy and alert. Indeed, it would seem he has taken an interest in our presence here now. Tell me, Director, can he hear us?"
"Most likely he can, Commandant. However, as I stated before, his mind rejected the programming procedure. He is, essentially, a blank slate. Even though he hears us, he comprehends nothing. Doctor Corval has exressed his belief that the fatal anomaly will not become self-aware for at least another week."
"Not a blank slate, Director. An erased slate, perhaps. A subtle but significant distinction."
"As you say, Commandant. In any event, he is scheduled for termination and disposal tomorrow morning. We'll retreive the nanoforms for use in future tests. They are very valuable, as you know."
"Very well, Director. I'll expect a full report when the process is complete. In the mean time, I have another issue to address with you. This afternoon a detachment of my personal guard will arrive at this facility. At that time your own security personnel will be relieved of duty and all remaining staff will defer to the orders of my men."
"Commandant? I do not understand. My men were hand-picked for this duty and have had exemplary service records. Might I ask the reasoning for this?"
The Commandant turned a baleful stare on his underling before answering.
"As you know, Director, the Sky Raiders do not take well to being double-crossed. No doubt by now they have realized that we duped them in order to fund this little project of ours. Furthermore, I have reason to believe they may have discovered the existence of this facility and its location. It is imperative that they not be allowed to interfere in our work here. To this end, I have made the neccessary arrangements to protect our interests."
The Director paled visibly, "Yes Commandant. It will be as you say. I have also issued the orders you gave me concerning the remaining Alpha Strain subjects. They will be transported to the location you specified at 0200 hours."
At this the pair turned and made their way from the room, a single set of bootsteps echoing hollowly on the stonework floor.
"Now then, about this Dr. Anton Corval..."
They had been talking about me. I knew that as surely as I knew that the rage building inside me would soon explode violently outward.
"Scheduled for termination and disposal." I understood the words and their meaning. I studied them with the detachment that one might feel when discussing the weather in some fictional land. They meant to kill me. Beta-19, I am called. I'm nothing more than a number in a sequence of numbers. And they mean to kill me.
Without warning the unreasoning anger within me surged forward. Cognitive thought became a thing of fiction within the maelstrom of hatred that my soul had become. I could feel the heat rising through my body. I felt my skin become brittle and feverish as I began to slip into blissful nothingness. The last thing I am able to recognize is the violet fluid in which I'm suspended beginning to boil angrily around me.
The guardsman slung his assault weapon over his shoulder as he walked from his post. These replacement units struck a chord in him that made him feel uneasy. Something wasn't right about them, but he couldn't quite place what it was. But then, if the Commandant had chosen them as his personal guard, there was probably something odd about them in the first place. Finally he just chalked it up to the frustration he felt over being removed from duty. Shaking his head as he moved to return to his quarters, he failed to notice the unusual items being unloaded from the crate behind him.
Stacatto bursts of gunfire punctuated by screams and explosions. The sounds reach me through the crimson curtain shrouding my mind. My body reacts to the sounds the way a newborn reacts to the sound of its mother's voice. The fog of hatred loosens its grasp on me momentarily and I understand that the cacophany of battle is well known to me. Comforting, even.
I don't know how much time has passed but I feel the regenerative fluids boiling furiously around me. Tiny cracks have begun to show on the surface of my glass prison. I am suddenly struck with an overwhelming urge to escape. To free myself...of what? I don't know. I only know that I want to live, to be released from this cruel place. Pounding and railing at the walls of my cell proves to be utterly, ridiculously futile.
Furtive movement from outside my world finally catches my attention, causing me to pause in my impotent assault. I have seen this man before, though I know not who he is. The sounds of battle, or perhaps it is only a slaughter, are much closer now. An explosion lays claim to the corridor outside as the man runs to a maintenance access panel nearby. As he passes me I can see the tag on his lab coat. Dr. Anton Corval.
The name means nothing to me and yet the man is more than passingly familiar. I watch carefully as he opens the panel and slips into the service shaft it reveals. At nearly the same instant an armed man runs into the room and spins to face a trio of pursuers. At the sight of the attackers a name springs unbidden to my mind. Sky Raiders. As with many things since I awoke, I know the facts, but not the source of my knowledge.
One of the men falls under a hail of bullets as their quarry's weapon roars to life. Without ever letting up on the trigger he turns to fire on the remaining two men. But he is not meant to win this fight. Just as his rounds should have found their target an unusual device floats through the doorway, extending a protective energy field over the two attackers. A pair of Sky Raiders raise their weapons as if in slow motion. The lone defender's body begins to convulse madly as a storm of lead tears his flesh to bloody strips. But the Sky Raiders weren't meant to be the victors here, either. They move further into the room to secure the area, not noticing the live grenade that slips from the hand of their latest victim. The resulting explosion flings both men across the room and upends the hovering field generator.
Morbid fascination takes hold of me as I watch the generator spin out of control before slamming into the nearby lab equipment. A secondary explosion engulfs the room, creating a storm of shrapnel and body parts. I begin coughing as the smoke and debris fills the air around me and with that a sudden realization hits. I'm breathing air, not regenerative fluid. My world has suddenly expanded as I look up to see the fragmented remains of my one time prison. Amazingly, my body seems to have escaped the carnage relatively unharmed.
I stagger to my feet, surprised by my own ability to stand and walk. As if waking from a dream I look about myself in a daze, unable to determine what action I should take. Another burst of gunfire in the corridor nearby galvanizes my body and instinct takes over. I run for the maintenance shaft, stooping to grab one of the soldiers as I pass. Dragging the body into the tunnel with me, I turn and close the access panel. Little remains of the soldier's armor and uniform but I take what I can make use of. His helmet is all but destroyed, but the cloth mask he wore underneath is intact and I quickly pull this over my own scarred face. Finally I notice that the man is still clutching his assault rifle even in death. My hand closes over the weapon and a sensation of warmth and comfort floods through my body like the touch of a lover. The weapon fits my hand as if it were made for me. I swiftly check the action and magazine, grabbing a spare pouch of ammunition from the guard's belt. My hands do the work of their own accord, as if I had done it all my life. I don't understand it, but I don't stop to contemplate.
Having equipped myself as best I can, I quickly make my way down the access tunnel, not caring where it might lead. Seconds pass like hours as I work my way through the cluttered shaft in near-total darkness. Occasional bursts of gunfire still shatter the silence around me, but they seem to be growing more sporadic now.
Just as I begin to wonder if the tunnel will ever end I see a movement ahead of me. I cannot make out the form, merely a patch of lighter shadow amid the inky blackness. Quickening my pace, I soon overtake the person who reacts with a startled cry. Spinning around in a panic, the man shines a small pen-light in my face, blinding me for a moment. As I shield my eyes with an upraised arm I catch a glimpse of nametag. Doctor Corval.
"Oh, thank God! One of the guards. I thought I was a dead man!", Anton exclaimed. Taking a moment to look me over, he nearly shouts in surprise, "Jesus, man! You look like you should be dead! Did you take your healing accelerant? Can you continue walking?"
I can only nod woodenly as his words wash over me. My mind is beginning to reel from the sensory overload.
"Good, good. We need to get the hell out of here. The Sky Raiders have rigged this place to blow. God only knows how much time we have left. This shaft leads to the parking level and from there it's just a short sprint to the outside." Anton turned to run, gesturing for me to follow.
I began to run after him, but had only made a few steps when an enormous explosion rocked the ground beneath my feet. A moment later I was knocked to the ground and the air was blasted from my lungs as the shockwave rolled over us. I knew what was coming next. We had to move. Now.
With a speed born of desperation and science I jumped to my feet and ran down the tunnel. I slowed only long enough to grab the doctor's arm, dragging him bodily down the shaft after me. I felt, rather than heard, the ball of flame that was rolling down the tunnel after us. The end of the shaft was in sight now, a ray of artificial light marking the exit location. It was too far away.
The flame rolled over us without mercy, knocking me to the ground mere feet from the safety of the parking garage.
Maybe it was the remains of the armor I wore that saved me. Maybe it was some inherent resistance afforded me by whatever processes had been performed on my body. Or perhaps the fire recognized one of its own and spared me. I don't know how I survived, only that I should not have. The charred stump of an arm in my hand was all that remained of Anton Corval. Proof enough for me that I shouldn't be alive. Minutes passed. Or hours, perhaps. Time seemed meaningless in this place. Eventually I staggered my way out of the tunnel and through the garage. Night was just beginning to spread its blanket of darkness over the city. I had no idea where I was. It really didn't matter anymore. The building behind me was awash in flame, painting the sky in vibrant shades of red and orange. Somewhere in the distance the complaining wail of sirens could be heard. Having nowhere to go, I tucked the weapon in my clothing and began to walk.
A woman's scream tore the night air. I turned in the direction of the sound, wondering what it might mean. A second scream came forth, this time closer. I pulled the assault rifle into a ready position, checking for perhaps the hundredth time to make sure it was still loaded. Seconds later a woman burst from an alleyway to my left, closely followed by two men. They were clearly street punks, dressed in gang colors and wearing masks that concealed their upper faces. I didn't know any of these people. I had no reason to care what happened to any of them. But despite that, I could feel a burning rage building deep within myself. This was a rage that would consume me in its destructive inferno, I knew. If I didn't find a way to control it, it would destroy me.
I shouldered the assault rifle, sighting down the length of its barrel. It felt natural, like I had done it a thousand times before. Squeezing the trigger, my rounds kicked up dirt and chunks of pavement scant inches in front of the lead ganger's boots. Exactly as I had intended. What I had not intended was for the two men to turn and face me in spite of the obvious firepower at my disposal. One of the men drew a pistol, pointing it threateningly in my direction. The other advanced with a wicked blade in his hand.
"You're not needed here, Hero. Best leave before we have to kill you AND the little miss here." The man with the knife was only a few yards away now.
The hatred had reached its boiling point inside of me. My clothes began to smoulder and my vision wavered. So I did the only thing I could. I channeled the hatred, letting it flow through me. I acted as its conduit rather than its fuel. And I directed it, focused it to a single point and released it, all at once.
The man aiming his pistol at me burst into flame, his screams reverberating off the nearby buildings. The pavement around him melted and ignited as well, trapping the man in its fiery embrace.
His companion charged at me with the knife, yelling his defiance. He never stood a chance. My first burst took him in the chest, stopping him in his tracks. The second struck him high in the shoulder, spinning him to the pavement. He didn't get up.
The woman ran up to me a few moments later, seemingly unconcerned about the carnage around her. "Thank god you saved me!", she proclaimed. "Tell me hero, what is your name?"
I was taken aback. "My name?", I asked, surprised to hear my own voice. It was both familiar and alien to me at once. I stared at her a moment, uncertain how to answer. Who am I? I had forgotten that question, asked by myself not so long ago. I turned, scanning the night sky, imagining I could still see the flames towering above the city. Whoever I was, I had lost any chance of discovering that, now. Whoever I was, that person was dead now, appropriately lost in the raging fires. So, who am I? That question remained to be answered, I surmised. Only the future could reveal that.
I turned back to the woman, still waiting for my response.
"Call me...Fatal Anomaly."
by Craig Fish