“Why the hell can I read this?”
I asked myself that question while standing in the middle of an unoccupied hall, staring at a door with a label for Cleaning Supplies printed across it in white hand-printed paint. It very obviously says Cleaning Supplies… but not in English, or any other language I’d ever seen or heard of. Hence my asking that question, because I could read and understand the words before me.
I also knew that the door’s label was spelled using a language that had a 34 letter alphabet that contained all the same sounds from the latin alphabet, but where the letter for C does double duty to cover the sound for K, and many of the extra letters were combinations of letters to cover sounds like SH and GR like how the A and E of aether gets pulled into a single combined letter in popular fantasy entertainment that is trying to convey a sense of magical wonder.
I even understood the grammatical rules of this damn language that I didn’t even know the name of, and I could probably write a thesis with flawless sentence structure in it. My penmanship would probably be second grader level, though, since I’d never spent a day in my life learning to write with the characters.
“Why. The HELL. Can I read this?”
My brain was vapor locked. Completely impossible. Damn it. Impossible.
Fuck it. Leave brain-busters for later, just find the way out.
It’d been about two minutes since I stole out into the hall looking for the exit, and I’d yet to pass by anyone in the halls. I’d seen people of both genders walking through intersections or idling from far away, but whatever this place was it wasn’t very populated. Understaffed in my opinion. I chose the word understaffed because the entire place has a vaguely military feel about it. Blank walls, straight lines everywhere, and no attempts at spending anything more than bare bottom dollar to construct anything. It had a soulless feeling that I hadn’t felt since walking through the halls of my old high school, and at least that had shitty murals every once in awhile to at least try and keep the students from killing themselves out of despair. And every one of the people I saw from a distance had the same outfit I was wearing, meaning it’s a uniform or ceremonial garb of some kind.
And since all the wacko religions and killer cults I’d heard of had a modicum of interior design that trended towards propaganda, that left military. Which brought me back to the dead end question of why would someone, military especially, want to kidnap me?
Aaaaand I pushed that question aside as well as I went back to looking for a way out. At about the time I turned a corner and found a rather promising set of reinforced double doors at the end of another long and vacant hallway I heard some screaming. No, some screaming was an understatement. Hearing those screams reminded me of that scene in The Princess Bride, where the screams of the hero’s suffering could be heard across the entire countryside, leaving the entire populace stunned by it’s sheer animalistic agony. And then I recalled, with a shiver, the pain that bleached my brain white no more than a few hours ago.
Shit. And I was doing such a good job of repressing that memory by concentrating on my own mortal peril.
It was at this moment that I thought of my father. He was a police officer in a medium sized town for the best part of thirty years. He’d shot at and been shot at. He’d seen things that would make people vomit and flesh crawl. He’d seen three day old heroin OD corpses in hot tubs, made jokes about them, and went home to be a loving husband and father to a kid that was as unalike him as humanly possible. My father made a lot of attempts to find common ground with me. He’d spent my entire life trying to teach me and instill values in me, some with better results than others. One thing he instilled in me was having my Fight or Flight reflex default to Fight 100% of the time.
Thanks a lot, dad. /sarcasm
Abandoning my potential escape, I started hunting for the source of the screaming. It was rather easy, really. All the right angles, narrow halls, and straight edges kept echos to a minimum. As I was closing in I passed right by one of the people who might be a soldier, but I slipped past unnoticed because he was holding both his ears as he put distance between him and the source of the screaming. I did not find the source quickly. It took several minutes to track down. But the screaming never ended but for brief pauses for breath, and only increased in it’s tone of fathomless agony.
By the time I reached the deepest part of the base my back was cold from sweat and I was clamping my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering. Standing before a pair of flimsy double doors with simple knobs, I took a deep breath, opened one, slipped inside with the quietest movement I could make, and closed the door behind me.
I entered a large chamber, with walls formed from brown rock denoting a natural chamber that had had a floor and a ceiling installed to make it serviceable for whatever the hell was happening. Inside the grand open chamber there were five people aside from myself. One was the brunette in the lab coat, standing amidst three men wearing their uniforms. One of the three seemed to be Lumpy, the other two I didn’t know. Honestly, I only noticed that group from the periphery of my vision, because almost the whole of my attention was taken up by the center of the great chamber.
There was a pair of circles etched into stone tiles set in the ground and ceiling, with detailing I could not make out from my current position. The circles were at least thirty feet in diameter, and within that diameter was a cylinder of swirling, jumbling, blending, bending, jumping, thumping, rumbling, twisting, caressing, assaulting, roaring, soaring lights of every different color that has or never will exist.
The fifth person in the room was floating inside that mass of… light. She was screaming her guts out. I might not have meant that metaphorically.
As the lights struck, caressed, assailed… no, no more adjectives. As the lights and colors connected with her, the woman, or girl? How old was she? Her body’s shape would distort like an image in curved glass, but often with sharper angles. She was not wholly there, either. Many sections of her were not wholly opaque, I felt. Parts were translucent, or see through. As if she was there, but not really there, and those places of her body changed like the flowing of a wave on an otherwise calm sheet of water. It was as if a tug of war was being played between two different spatial points, and her body was the rope.
The urge to vomit was nearly overpowering, and the acrid sensation of bile stung the tongue that had only been tasting the bitterness of adrenaline for a while now. When I had finished struggling to swallow my sickness the colors of the circle snapped into a single shade of dark purple, and the woman’s form became wholly solid and her figure was no longer bent. But her screaming reached a new crescendo as if something that had been causing her lasting pain had suddenly been torn away, causing a new and greater agony in that fraction of a second that bled into a lasting aftereffect even when the pain should have already ended. Then the woman floated lightly to the ground, face up, unmoving, vacant eyes staring at the ceiling, and the colored light about her vanished.
The two anonymous soldiers cantered up to the woman on the stone floor, one of them holding some kind of chains and shackles. Then they grabbed the woman and chained her neck and hands up before grabbing her legs to drag her along the ground.
Like I said before, my reflex defaults to Fight.
“Get the fuck off her,” I shouted in my adrenaline blasted lapse of judgement. I instantly regretted it, without actually regretting it. Every fiber of my being wanted to smash some people’s faces in, and this was a very good reason to do so.
Four sets of eyes turned to me, three hostile, the last quizzical. That last pair belonged to the lab coat woman, who, after a moment, cut off the lumpy faced goon who was asking who the hell I was. She pretty much answered the question by saying, “He’s test subject one forty seven! Incredible, I was certain he was dead!”
With only a twitch of the eyebrows, a flick of the eye, and a grimace of aggression, Lumpy ordered his men to “Secure him!” The soldiers pulled the swords at their waists free of their scabbards and swiftly advanced on me, full of confidence that I’d either run like a little girl or put up a meager resistance. After all, they had seen the muscles of my body that could only be called “serviceable.”
As the first of the two soldiers closed the last few paces to me, the lab coat lady cried out, “Do not hurt him, he’s a valuable specimen!”
Her words were overshadowed by the pain filled screaming of the soldier that attacked me first.
By the time he got into range, I already had my own short sword free and gripped like a novice in my right hand. I had no idea how swordplay actually worked outside of theory from video games and movies, so I only used it to block the soldier’s attack and change the position of his sword from his right to his left side. That gave me a clear shot to thrust the first two knuckles of my left hand directly into his windpipe. It wasn’t a jab, though the movement was just as sharp, and the fingers never clenched into a fist. It wasn’t a chop, as the wrist was turned about thirty degrees instead of being held straight. What it was, was one of the moves I had learned from the five years of martial arts training my father forced me to take as a kid.
It was one of the moves I held onto tightly as I aged, shadowboxing with it in empty rooms at random to keep the feeling in my body, just in case, as it did not require trained muscles in order to hurt or incapacitate an assailant. And this guy was definitely hurt by it. His eyes teared in an instant and he choked on his own breath. The strength in his sword arm wavered just enough for me to shift my center of gravity without breaking from the sword deadlock, bring my right foot up past my left knee, and then drive it down into the soldier’s left knee like I was impaling it with a spear.
I’m sure everyone has seen that move in TV and the movies. The hero kicks some guy’s knee, causing it to bend and the guy to kneel in the dirt. That’s not how it works in reality, when the recipient is someone other than a trained stuntman expecting the hit. This soldier’s knee broke. It caved under the weight of my kick and bent backwards, causing the soldier to howl in pain interspersed with fits of coughing as he didn’t know which part of his body to cradle first, his windpipe or his shattered knee. He’d probably never walk without a limp, but seeing as how he pulled a weapon on me, I didn’t actually give a damn.
The second guy was only a few paces after the first, his eyes went wide for a moment before he gripped his sword with both hands to put killing force behind his strike. Seeing what I’d done, he wasn’t about to go easy on me for a second. I wasn’t about to eat an attack from that guy with my puny arm muscles, so I stepped back, spun on my right leg, and dropped a spinning axe kick down on his left shoulder (though I was aiming for the head), breaking the collarbone, interrupting the swing he’d readjusted so as to compensate for my back step, destroying his posture while clouding his mind with the intense pain that only comes from a broken bone. The soldier dropped to his knee from the weight of the pain and my leg strength. While my upper body was wimpy, I’d always been proud of my lower body strength, and concentrated only on keeping that up to snuff as I aged.
I worked out three times a week in the campus fitness room, on cycling machines, treadmills, and leg presses, making sure that if I ever needed them, for walking, fleeing, or fighting, my legs would be up to the challenge. And to have a nice ass, that’s another perk. Unlike upper body strength, the leg muscles helped me out on a practical level every day, even though they’re not as visible as juiced out pecs or pointlessly ripped biceps. As a result, no one could tell at a glance that I was fighting fit, not even these guys who’d dragged me about like a random corpse. They probably never thought to check under the purple sweat pants, after all.
That might explain the sense of surprise I could see mixed with unconcealed pain in the second soldier’s eyes as I brought the pommel of the sword in my hand down on his temple. The blow either knocked him out by concussing his brain, or shattered the bone, driving splinters into the grey matter, which would have killed him instantly. I didn’t really care, as he attacked me with the intent to kill.
It may seem pretty savage, a computer nerd breaking joints, bones, and potentially crippling parts of the body that life itself depended upon their proper working condition. But that’s what real martial arts are, and that’s what I spent five years learning. I hadn’t used any of it in any of the school yard brawls I got into as a kid, because some dipshit three chairs down from me didn’t deserve to be eating through a tube for the rest of his life. This was the first time I’d used real martial arts, and I didn’t have any feelings about it either way. It was just cold logic. Meet killing intent with killing intent.
And at that moment, I was turning my killing intent on Lumpy.
He obviously wasn’t giving up, and I was glad about that in my heart of hearts. I was furious in a way that rarely happened to me. All thoughts in my mind were washed over by a tide of burning red hatred. The last time this had happened, I nearly snatched up some asshole’s radio and beat him over the head with it because he’d spent an hour mocking me at random to the background noise of shitty country musicians, whining about booze, losing their women, and crashing their cars, without thinking that the three might be interconnected. It takes every single ounce of willpower to keep from beating the living shit out of a guy that pisses me off to that degree, and right then, I wasn’t in the mood to hold back. So when Lumpy pulled out a truncheon not unlike one of those old fashioned police nightsticks that’s just a handle attached to a beating stick, I was glad. So I charged Lumpy, leaving the soldiers on the ground behind me.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I reached him. Maybe swing the sword, do a jump kick to pulverize his rib cage with my entire body weight, or joint lock him and make him give up. I was acting on instincts, not thought. But what I saw him do forced one very specific thought through my head. That thought was, ”Oh, HELL no!”
In accordance to Lumpy holding up his truncheon and saying “Fire,” a sphere of flame the size of a tennis ball appeared, floating in mid air, it’s position very solidly a set distance from the truncheon tip. It took a full second for the ball of fire to form, dipping and quivering back and forth in accordance to the truncheon tip, and in that time some fighting instinct that I’d formed from the dojo and whatever wackado sci-fi entertainment I’d been exposed to in my life told me, through my primeval lizard brain, “Even if you have no fucking idea how this is happening, you know he’s going to throw that like a baseball player. Don’t get hit!”
As Lumpy brought his truncheon down in my direction, more like a lacrosse player than a baseball pitcher, my body made another move that had been drilled into me in my childhood that my body never truly forgot.
As Lumpy said the word “Bolt,” the fireball left the tip of his truncheon, firing straight at me, as expected. I feared I was half a step too late, but tried to dodge it anyway by planting my left foot a little further out than it should have been during a flat out run and pushed against my own velocity to cause my body to spin on my outstretched right leg the moment it landed. It was an old move I’d learned as a running back when I’d tolerated two years of little league football, and had been good enough at using that it’d gotten me more than a couple of touchdowns. This time, it’d gotten me out of the path of a potentially fatal attack.
As my body spun, I felt an intense heat pass by me that I could feel through the layers of metal and cloth the stolen uniform was constructed from, and as I came out of the spin I heard a loud explosion from far behind me where that ball of flame had impacted. The explosion was far louder than I had expected, meaning that whatever that attack was, it would probably have killed me the moment it’d touched me. I couldn’t let Lumpy get a second one of those off.
As I closed the remaining distance I took a two handed grip on the short sword I held, and plunged it through Lumpy’s chest. His eyes had already gone wide when I dodged his attack, but as I plunged the sword through his heart, they nearly bulged out of their sockets. The force of my charge caused the sword to pierce all the way to the hilt, which stopped hard in my hands and caused the rest of my momentum to turn into blunt force, pushing Lumpy a few feet back through the air. I came to something of a stumbling halt as it was only Lumpy’s flesh that had served to check my charge, and it was only a singular act of dexterity that kept me from getting entangled with the dead man as I danced past his limp limbs on the floor as my hands released the hilt of the sword.
As I glanced down at Lumpy, I didn’t really feel anything from having definitely, intentionally, killed a man. If my conscience had needed coaxing, I suppose words like, “Kill or be killed” would have come to mind, but it didn’t and they didn’t. All I knew was that I was still angry. At that time I heard something off to my side, like the surprised hiccup of a small dog. Turning to look, there was the brunette in the lab coat who had ducked behind a control panel of some kind at some point.
She had a naturally pretty face that held no hint of cosmetics. A good bone structure and a complexion without any obvious flaws. She wasn’t beautiful, but the combination of her features made her well put together. And her deep brown hair was tied into a loose bun on the back of her head with long thick wisps of hair framing her features irregularly. It was an artless artistry, an allure brought about by random chaos rather than deliberate negligence. Her emotive brown eyes were opened wide in fear and shock as her thin jaw trembled in the moment we made eye contact, which caused her to turn and run for the exit.
I quickly caught up to her and her untrained legs, grabbed her by the back of her lab coat, pulled her back and threw her to the floor. Her looks didn’t move me. Her choked begging didn’t make me hesitate. Her crawling backwards on the ground didn’t stop my pacing towards her, keeping an even distance between us. All I cared about was that I was still angry.
And she called me a “specimen.”
Anyone have suggestions for a name for the brunette researcher, who may or may not survive the next chapter? If there are any good suggestions, they may be included in the story.