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Project XIII Part 1
I remember things I shouldn’t. My first steps… my first words… even my birth. My past is not one I’m proud of, but also one I had no choice in. I am the ultimate soldier. Fast, strong, intelligent… and formerly obedient. I didn’t get that way by myself. I had… help.
From the time before I was born I was destined for a life that no one deserves. I never had a childhood. I never went to school. I never had friends. I never even knew my father and I only have a vague memory of my mother. The closest thing I had to a real parent was the man who turned me into what I am today. Immediately after I was born the experiments began. I was poked and prodded with so many needles, but I never made a sound… or, if I did, I couldn’t hear myself over the screams of the woman who gave birth to me. Apparently, since I was born, she’d served her purpose and was no longer needed… I think the only reason I even remember those few moments was that, for the next two decades, I was barely conscious enough to make memories.
I spent the first two decades of my life trapped inside of a glass tube, submerged in a special liquid that kept me alive. I had plastic tubes shoved down my throat to give me oxygen, nutrients, and specialized drugs that would bring me to the peak of physical fitness and mental power by the time I was let out. Twenty long years of dreamless sleep… and then the day came. I don’t know what, but something just caused me to open my eyes for the first time. That’s when I saw him for the first time. Professor Ivan Zaroff. The liquid that surrounded me blurred my vision, but I could clearly make out a man in a white lab coat about two feet shorter than myself. I knew instantly that I would come to hate this man, but I didn’t know how much.
The liquid in my tube drained through a grate in the floor, leaving me standing there soaking wet with my never before cut hair matted down over my face. The tubes in my throat withdrew from my mouth, a little painful but tolerable… well, for me. But I’m not exactly human. I’m sure anyone else would’ve been screaming in pain. It was then that I caught my refection. I was tall and at the peak of physical fitness, muscular but still slim enough to move quickly. I had semi long raven black hair that hung down over my left eye. Then the glass around me rose into the ceiling, freeing me... or so I though. In reality, it was simply the beginning of a new era of oppression. I took a few steps forward, stopping in front of Zaroff. I was right about the lab coat and his height and now I could see clearly his head was either bald or shaved and he wore round-rimmed glasses. The room around me was more of a hallway, long and narrow. Bright florescent lights ran down the length of the ceiling. Tubes identical to my own lined one wall while the opposite one was simple painted white. Only one tube was occupied, the one next to my own to my left.
“Where am I?” I asked. Zaroff simply smiled and motioned for me to follow him. I was tempted not to. Temped to just run the opposite way and escape this place. But I didn’t. I knew I wouldn’t get far with no clothing or knowledge of the outside world. I willingly obeyed the man and he led me down the hall and into a small chamber where I was processed. He left me there and moved into the room beyond. The one I remained in was small, about four feet by four feet, and white just like the hall. There was a small gray circle on one wall which only took a moment to flash red.
“Welcome.” The voice sounded through the small chamber but I couldn’t tell where it came from. It sounded strange… inhuman. There was no emotion to it. “Please place your hand on the sensor.” It continued. I suspected it meant the red light, so I did as asked and then it continued speaking. “Confirmation. Project: War; experiment number thirteen present.”
Then the voice changed, deeper, this time sounding more real, more human. “Hello, Project XIII.” Something in my mind told me that this was the voice of Ivan Zaroff. “You know, it’s going to be strange addressing you that way, isn’t it. Why don’t we give you a name?” He paused briefly, thinking it over, then spoke again. “All right. From now on your name is going to be Hector. How does that sound?”
I didn’t answer him, but in all honesty I liked it. It sounded strong, intelligent, and courageous. It was perfect for me.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Zaroff continued. “Now, please place your hand on the scanner again. We’re going to need a sample of your DNA for identification purposes.” Again, I did as ordered. I didn’t know why I was being so obedient. It seemed like I had no choice. It was like whatever this man willed me to do; I was doomed to do it.
After they’d sampled my DNA, Zaroff let me out of the room and tossed me a plain white bathrobe. “Make yourself decent.” He said. “We wouldn’t want to embarrass Helen and Odysseus has enough to laugh about.”
“Helen and Odysseus?” I didn’t know it then, but those names would come to mean more to me than life itself.
I was given a tour of the labs, or at least the areas I was allowed to access. A gymnasium to keep up my physical strength, a cafeteria, lavatories, a recreation area I was allowed to spend three hours a day in, and a sort of arena where I would spend most of my time… probably training for whatever Zaroff had in store for me. Then he took me to where I would spend my nights. Like where I’d awoken, he’d taken me to a long plain hallway, both walls lined with at least a dozen doors each. He took me to the second door on the right and placed his hand on the scanner next to it. The door slid open, revealing the small chamber inside. All that was inside was a small bed, a closet, and another door I suspected led to another bathroom.
“You will sleep here.” Zaroff instructed. “You are free to come and go from here as you please during your hours here, but during your training hours this area is prohibited. If you have any further questions then ask Helen. Her room is the one next to yours… your training begins tomorrow… I suppose Achilles will wake you, whether he means to or not.”
“You’ll know him soon enough. I suppose he’ll hate being overshadowed by the new guy.” Zaroff said with a grin before leaving. The door slid closed behind him, leaving me alone in the darkness of my chambers. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went to the closet, pulled on a pair of short pants and crawled under the blankets of my bed.
I had slept for the first twenty years of my life. But on that night, I dreamt for the first time. That night, visions of a bloody war went through my head. Zaroff stood at the head of one army while his soldiers slaughtered the other, many people from all corners of the world. I simply stood on the sidelines and watched. If I was the ultimate soldier then why was I not battling… perhaps it had a deeper meaning than the literal… Maybe I wasn’t all that Zaroff thought I was.
The next morning, as Zaroff had said, I was rudely awakened. Something crashed against my door, making a loud thud. I quickly got up and looked outside to find a tall, muscular man with shaggy brown hair staggering away, swaying slightly. He wore a strange red cloak. “Must be Achilles.” I said quietly.
“There’s a reason he was given that name.”
I looked to my left to find a young woman standing in the doorway next to mine. She had straight, dark brown hair cut off just above her shoulders. Her tight white cloak hugged her slim figure quite nicely. I figured this must’ve been Helen. “In ancient Greek mythology, Achilles was the world’s greatest worrier.” She continued. “He was undefeatable and became the cornerstone of the Greek army when they went to war with Troy. He was the greatest warrior in the world, but in the end he succumbed to a mere arrow to the heel… his only weakness.” She paused, allowing this to sink into my mind. “He was given that name because, much like the legendary hero, he is seemingly undefeatable, but he has his weaknesses.”
“And what might his Achilles heel be…” I questioned.
Helen just smirked. “His ego.”
I went back into my room and checked the closet. It was full of cloaks like Achilles’ and Helen’s, only mine were black. I quickly pulled on one and went back outside to find Helen banging her fist on the door across from hers. “Wake up, you lazy idiot!” she ordered. “You know how Zaroff gets when we’re late.”
The door slid open, revealing the still half asleep man inside. “Do you have to be so loud?” he chuckled, pulling a pair of dark eye glasses on. His dark hair was short and spiked up and, like the rest of us, he wore a cloak only his was gray. “You know I can’t sleep with you screaming like that.”
“It’s time to wake up, nitwit.” Helen scolded. “Don’t you remember what happened the last time you were late.”
“As I recall, I got a very stern talking to.” He joked, obviously making it seem better than it was.
“He threw you into the arena with that deranged monster.” Helen reminded him. “And as I recall, you nearly died, Odysseus.”
“Can I help it if that maniac has a brain the size of a walnut?” Odysseus laughed. It was then that he noticed me. “Hey! Fresh meat! Achilles is going to have fun today. So what’s your name, new guy?”
Odysseus nodded. “Well, let’s go then. Wouldn’t want to be late the new guy’s initiation.”
Odysseus and Helen started in the same direction Achilles had left and I followed after them. “Initiation?” I asked Helen.
“Don’t worry.” She reassured me. “If you are what Zaroff thinks you are, then you’ll survive easily.”
As I suspected, they lead me straight to the arena Zaroff had shown me the day before. Achilles was already there by the time Helen, Odysseus and I arrived. It was a large, circular area with sand and gravel covering the floor. A tall, thick steel wall surrounded it. There were long straight crevices in rectangular shapes going around the base, possible doors to conceal hidden challenges. Up towards the ceiling there was a window where Zaroff and other scientists stood watching us.
“You’re all here on time.” Zaroff’s voice sounded through the room. “Excellent. Let’s get started then.”
As I suspected, the crevices turned out to be sliding panels in the walls. One close to me slid into the floor, revealing a sort of weapon case. Inside were twelve short metal poles which, as I would soon find out, combined into four longer staffs. Each of the four of us grabbed three, quickly put them together, and waited for Zaroff's orders. “Now, it’s Hectors first day so we don’t want anything too difficult.” the scientist continued.
Odysseus started clapping. “Yeah! Woo! Let’s hear it for the new guy! Get us an easy workout today!”
“That’s enough, Odysseus.” Zaroff snapped.
“Yeah, Odie.” Achilles growled. “Shut it before I shut it for you.”
“Hey, how many times have I told you not to call me Odie?” Odysseus said.
“You wanna find out how many more time’s it’s going to take to make me stop?” Achilles growled, glaring and shaking his fist at Odysseus. “Because you’re nowhere near close.”
“If you two are going to start a fight then we might as well make it official!” Zaroff suddenly said, the microphone he was speaking into making a sudden screeching sound. “Set it up.” He said to one of the other scientists.
“What’s going on?” I questioned.
“This is what we do.” Helen explained. “We spend most of our days training in here, fighting each other, among other things, to strengthen our skills. Zaroff and the others study us, identify our flaws, and then eliminate said flaws from the next generation… namely you.”
The next thing I knew there was a red light coming from above us. I looked up to find a kind of score board hovering just below the high ceiling. But there was nothing holding up the numbers and words. It was simply light forming shapes in midair.
“Battle number one: Achilles vs. Odysseus. Battle number two: Helen vs. Hector.” A computerized voice said. “Begin!”
I wasn’t really paying attention, intrigued by the floating lights, and barely noticed Helen running at me, ready to smack her metal staff over my head. I barely managed to block her in time with my own and push her away. She skidded across the sandy floor before coming at me again. This time I went on the offensive and charged back at her. We swung our staffs at each other simultaneously and a metallic clang rang out when the made contact. Before I could make another move Helen pulled back and swung her staff low, knocking my feet out from beneath me. I fell onto my back and rolled out of the way as she attacked again, her staff crashing into the sand next to my head.
Thinking quickly, I grabbed onto her staff with my free and twisted. I’d planned on ripping it out of her hand, but she had a firm grip on it. So instead of taking it from her, I only succeeded in pulling her onto the ground with me. I then jumped back to my feet and was ready to finish her off with a final blow, but I stopped at the last second. She was defeated, why was I going any further? I tossed my staff aside and bent over, offering her my hand to help her up. She seemed confused, almost shocked that I was showing mercy. Nonetheless, she took my hand and I helped her to her feet.
“Why didn’t you knock me out?” she asked.
“You were defeated.” I said sincerely. “There was no point in going any further.”
She just nodded awkwardly. “Thank you.”
I smiled at her. “No problem.”
To be continued…