Chapter 1 (edited)
“Well, Dr. Ostrand…to answer your question, I’m not sure when I first killed someone. That is, when I wasn’t supposed to, anyway. And I know you’re going to ask me why, and to be honest I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. It’s almost as if it’s ingrained in me. It’s complex …I think I kill…because I need to feel something.”
At this, the doctor taking notes lifted an eyebrow and scribbled furiously at the last comment. Both men sat facing each other in a cramped space that resembled an interrogation room. The one being questioned, by name of Zenapharr Meridian, wore a straightjacket tightly fastened with the additional of three chains.
“So…what you’re saying is that you normally don’t feel anything?”
“Well, quite the acute psychologist I see! But as I said before, I’d never given it much thought. I suppose I don’t feel much of anything. Maybe I’m a zombie, wandering about and feeding, yet never quite full. When I kill...it’s as I feel more complete, somehow. Well, maybe not ‘complete,’ but moreso….less empty. You know…there is that moment…”
“When someone dies. There’s a sort of light that leaves their eyes…it’s really quite beautiful.”
Zenapharr took on a malevolent grin as he bore his piercing green eyes into the doctor’s. The psychologist shifted about in his chair, looking away from the gaze.
“I like to pretend that the light that leaves them becomes me for a moment. I suppose you don’t relate.”
“No, I can’t say I do Zenapharr. What you’ve just described is a very abnormal feeling.” Zenapharr’s grin turned back into the blank stare from earlier. The proclaimed doctor uncomfortably looked down at his notepad and began jotting more down, pushing his glasses further onto his nose.
“Yes, I supposed that is uncommon. One reason that you label me a monster. Isn’t that what the reports said? ‘A monster among us?’ Dramatic, but catchy. I’ll give them that much.”
“That is what they’ve written, but that is why I’m here. I want to understand you and your nature. I think that is what you’re searching for, is it not? Wanting to learn who you are...maybe even what you are. You’ve demonstrated abnormal abilities. Incredible strength, agility, and the most gifted swordsman anyone has ever seen. And the magical abilities that you possess...”
“Which is why you’ve restrained me here, is it not? And the magical wards you’ve placed on this building. I know this already. Do you have information for me, or do you not?”
“We’re still looking into it. Zenapharr, we’ve always known your natural capacity for violence and aggression. That much was obvious from your days in military school. Yet, we were never aware that you were murdering people outside of your mission parameters. Not until this year, and we employed Sade to find you after you went AWOL on your last mission.”
“I surmised as much. It makes sense why I would want to know the reasoning behind my behavior, but why are you so interested? It’s not that their lives are important, this world is simply one of survival. We are in the business of killing, so why does that it matter if I take extra lives with me? Isn’t it a bit hypocritical? Is it the fact that it’s not part of my organization’s plan?”
“I’m sorry….Zenapharr, Minerva is not a military organization for brutal and outlandish murder. We’re here to keep order to this planet. Those who pose a threat to society must be neutralized to keep the balance in this world.”
“Interesting choice of words for a doctor. Why don’t you tell me the true nature of your profession, and end this false pretense? I can hardly keep pretending that I’m convinced of it.” Zenapharr smirked, with just the right dab of dark mirth to put anyone on edge--as if he were ready to spring a trap at any moment.
“Well...alright then. I’m a public relations representative for Minerva and NOSRAD (the Northern Organization of Scientific Research and Development). I wanted to get your account of things by speaking with you personally. We can tell the public that Minerva has the situation in hand and that the people are indeed quite safe. We can’t have the public thinking that the North has a rogue agent going around killing people at will and there’s nothing we can do about it? Plus, who would pass up the exclusive chance to talk to the world’s most famous assassin?”
“Mr…what was your name again?” The comment was backhanded as Zenapharr’s memory was excellent.
“Ostrand. William Ostrand.”
“Ah, thank you for reminding me. Using your last name would imply merit, so I’ll just stick to William. The very idea of me being under control right now is ridiculous, more so than the notion that your publications contain fact. Your propaganda and lies will be your undoing, and beside the fact that I’ve killed countless people who haven’t even been found or accounted for, I have my own sense of moral code. Whether you choose to believe that or not, is your choice.”
“Moral code? Zenapharr, come now! You’re a serial killer, nothing more and nothing less. I’m not even a real psychologist, and I can easily see you’re a text-book definition of a psychopath! How does it make sense that you have a moral code?”
“William, you’re a killer of something far worse...the truth. You lied to me the moment you stepped in here and told me you were a psychologist. If I wanted to right now, I could reach across this table and end you. But before I did, I’d take a moment to delight in your increased heart rate, listen to your ragged breathing as I held your pathetic form within my grasp and snap your neck like a twig. The only regret I would have in taking your life is that it wouldn’t be as challenging as killing someone else..”
William smiled nervously, but Zenapharr maintained his cold stare. Shifting uncomfortably, the reporter fought hard to regain his confidence.
“You would do this for such a simple thing? Surely, you must jest!” Zenapharr leaned forward, and William fought the urge to get up. Despite the lack of noise, the sincerity in Zenapharr’s eyes seemed to make the room a little bit quieter. William’s blood ran cold, and he feared for a moment that Zenapharr may actually kill him.
“Before I completely decide to end your life, tell me why Minerva took a sample of my blood. Even for a non-doctor, you must know something.” Mr. Ostrand looked over at the door as if awaiting permission, then continued.
“We’re testing your blood and will tell you as soon we know more. We are hoping there may be something biological that could tell us more about your condition. In the meantime, I would like to know everything that you know. Help us help you put the pieces of this jumbled puzzle together. We know two things...one--as far as we’re concerned you are the world’s best hired sword on the planet, and two--your memory before your Injection procedure is spotty at best. Since there was no need to talk about your memory and emotions before, we feel it’s important to understand them better so we can decide how to proceed with you from here.”
“What is it you’re asking, William? I’m soon to get bored.”
“Tell us about your earliest memory, Zenapharr. Think back as far as you can remember,”
“Well, if you insist then perhaps I’ll humor you. My earliest memory is about my mother.”
“Really? Well, that’s sweet.”
“Not exactly, William. Ten years earlier, I was eleven, and I remember standing beside my mother’s bed. The thing that stood out to me the most was the sound, the incessant beeping of the heart monitor that reminded me how slow her heart rate was getting. And the bright lights of the hospital room, it made me wonder if it was that bright where she was going. Her health had begun to suddenly fade for the past month.
She had contracted some rare disease, only a year after my brother had died from the same. For some reason, I was immune to it…which is perhaps why my blood is so important. Anyway, NOSRAD did all they could, but it still wasn’t enough. When she died....it was the last time I remember truly feeling anything.
“I remember sitting beside her bed, feeling so helpless and only able to watch as she withered away. It was devastating...my brother and I were the only family I had. At a young age, in exchange for food and shelter my pregnant mother signed herself and my older brother into a scientific research program with NOSRAD. She was young, and didn’t have the means to care for us all. So in exchange for our freedom, we were cared for but essentially considered property to NOSRAD.”
“What made her come to Minerva? Didn’t she have friends or family she could go to?”
“No. We lived in the southern continent of Latheria, and as you know they are very judgmental about people’s way of life. She was essentially shunned for her way of life because it was deemed ‘adulterous’ or ‘ungodly.’ When you really took the time to talk to her, she was simply young and naive, allowing herself to fall in love with a man who was nothing less than a brute. She tried to make it work, but our father refused to marry her. He did at least support her. When he became violent she knew it was time to leave. To make matters worse, she was pregnant. So she ended up in here in Nostromus, where she learned of the program. It seemed the best decision to ensure our survival.”
“That must have been hard. To be so far from family and then be a guinea pig.”
“It was but…mother always had the ability to keep everything positive for us. Before she went, she had enough strength to hold one last conversation with me. I’ll never forget it.”
“How did it go, Zenapharr?”
“She said...‘Zenapharr, I love you as much as I ever loved your brother Skye. Of all the mistakes in my life, you two were the few things I did right. Being a mother gave me so much more joy than any romantic love that I had with your father. For you and Skye, the love was unconditional. You were only 11, but I can see already that you’re growing fast. You’re smart, and NOSRAD can help you get to any school you want! You’re going to have a great life ahead of you. I won’t be around to...’
‘Stop!’ I had told her. ‘You’re going to fight through this...you’re strong.’
“Zenapharr...that’s sweet, and I love that you have so much faith in your mother, but...life is hard. And part of that is accepting harsh realities. Zenapharr…you know that I’m dying...you can’t deny it. There’s not much time left for me.′
‘Mother, please don’t say...’
‘But there is something you can do for me. I always loved to hear you sing. I know it seems odd but...could you sing one last time, for me?’
‘Anything...’ I said, and awkwardly, I began to sing her favorite song. It was an old Gaelic tune her mother sang to her, and she sang to us as infants. I loved it, it was...sweet and pure...and it felt like it came from the soul. So I began to sing, and it was odd at first but the more I went on, the more I got caught up in the moment. Just as I got the last verse...her monitor flat-lined.....and that was the moment she died.”
Zenapharr paused for a moment, and at first William thought it simply the end of the story. But when William looked closer at Zenapharr, he was floored to see the assassin was on the verge of breaking down. His face was stone, but his lip quivered ever so slightly. There was also something in Zenapharr’s eyes that changed. They seemed to soften as if something was being penetrated deep within them.
“It was a long time before I let go of her hand. Even as the doctors rushed in to try to revive her, I refused to leave her. I felt her hand grow cold, and before I knew I was more alone than I’d ever been. It was like a part of me died along with her. I’ve never felt the same since. Who do I talk to? Where....” Zenapharr trailed off, and an entire minute went by in silence, but it seemed like forever.
“I think that’ll be enough for now,” William said softly, still in awe of Zenapharr’s reaction. “We can pick this up later. There’s not much more to say about that subject, anyway.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Zenapharr said with his head down.
William pressed a button on the desk, and said, “I’m done talking to him now..” A guard came in and carefully led Zenapharr away to his cell. William sat in silence for a moment, and a man in a lab coat and glasses came in to escort him out. The scientist scanned him out of the room with his card and they walked through a couple of corridors in silence.
“So, Dr. Pennington...are you planning on telling Zenapharr the truth about his heritage? I mean, don’t you think telling him now rather than later would be easier? If he knows you’re lying to him about the blood test, wouldn’t that set him off?”
“Perhaps it would, but he won’t find out the truth. You have to understand here. Zenapharr is unaware of many things involving him and NOSRAD. If he were to find out, he would lose all trust in us and that can’t happen. He’s simply too powerful, and if he knows too much that would only cause more problems. That’s why we’ve destroyed all the files on his past, experiments, lineage, and everything.”
“Is it true he can get out if he wants?”
“Of course. There’s no way we could gotten him here by force. It’s a mere stroke of luck he turned himself in. Since the news of his murders leaked to the public, we can spin this as some sort of psychological break. We’ll keep him here on the pretense of him getting better, since that’s why he’s interested in being here. If the therapy works we can release him back into the field, doing what he does best again. If not, we’ll simply tell him that he’s sick and needs to stay here to get better until we figure out what to do with him.”
“If he’s so dangerous, why don’t you kill him?”
“Kill him? Why, that’s ridiculous! Do you know how many people we had to kill to find a candidate that was compatible with the Injection procedure? We’ve found one of the greatest discoveries of the century, and you suggest we throw it away? Hardly! We must simply learn to do what we’ve done best, which is to control him. If the therapy doesn’t work we can just brainwash him if we have to, but we’d prefer not to. Having Zenapharr as a willing participant will prove much better..”
“I see…if can’t beat him, have him join you.”
“Of course. Now don’t look so crass about it, it’s for the greater good, William. For science, he will prove as the greatest subject for advancement. Those he’s put in the grave for Minerva has done our realm a great service.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“So glad to see that you’re on our side! Same time tomorrow?”
“Yes, I will. Just one question.”
“Yes, what is that?”
“Why don’t you bring in Sade to speak with him? He’s known Zenapharr for years, and he was the one that actually brought him in. He’s a more trustworthy source to get Zenapharr to talk. I was shocked he said anything to me at all.”
“Yes, I see. Well, you see...right now Zenapharr is not that trusting of Minerva. He found something out...I don’t know exactly what but he knows something that he’s not telling us. It’s something to do with his past I’m sure. I’m afraid someone connected to his past may make him more suspicious. Don’t you worry though, your first session was excellent, keep up the good work Mr. Ostrand.”
“I see. Oh, and another thing. For a moment there, he seemed genuinely hurt. His mother’s death must have really affected him. You think there’s still a human being left in him?”
“William, as much as I would like to say yes, I am a scientist. I work on facts, and the facts I’ve seen so far have shown a history of unnecessary aggression and unchecked murder. I think whatever normal emotional being Zenapharr was, it died with him after his Injection. Perhaps it was a combination of that with his mother’s death, I can’t say for sure. You must remember that Zenapharr is not only strong of body but of mind. Just because his memory may be spotty doesn’t mean he’s stupid. Part of his training was the art of deception...never forget that.”
“Quite true...I will see you tomorrow then.”
“Good day,” the doctor said, holding the door open for the publicist to exit.
Later that night, Zenapharr sat silently in his cell, staring at the padded walls and the large iron door. He smiled, imagining ripping out of his jacket and chains, unleashing a fury upon all the workers, scientists, and burning everything to the ground. He would bury them in the ashes of his rage. But...it would have to wait. He needed to find out more, and for now his bloodlust was in check. The deep desire to kill was a very dull ache in the back of his mind, lying dormant. The sleeping dog would lie...for now.
As the security guard’s shadow passed over his cell, his keen eyes caught a small white rectangle appearing under the doorframe. He tapped into his mind’s psyche, reaching out with it and pulling the slip of paper towards him. To his delight, it was just as he thought. The note read
“I am looking further into your inquiry.
They will not tell you what you need to know.
Just be patient, and cooperate.
It’s easier if they don’t know what you know.
Once I find out what you need, do as you wish.
For now, keep doing as you are now.
Sincerely, A Friend”
“Excellent,” Zenapharr said to himself. He already knew what to do, he just needed confirmation. Balling up the piece of paper, he focused hard and soon a red light appeared through the crevices of his fingers and the paper was incinerated. Things were going exactly as they should...for now.
He sat back against the wall, preparing his mind to rest and fall into the sweet embrace of sleep. For a moment, he pondered over the story of his mother’s death. Rage and anger were the only emotions he could muster for the past ten years, but he was surprised at how well he pretended to be deeply hurt by his mother’s passing. Even the publicist believed him, stopping the session just as he had planned.
He vaguely remembered what other emotions were like back then, but now he wondered if he was truly experiencing pain at the thought of his mother’s death. He shook the thought away, reminding himself that it was all lost after the procedure. It all seemed like some distant dream that faded the more he focused on it.
Thirty minutes later, his mind shut off and he feel into a deep sleep. Unknown to him, a small tear formed and trickled down his face, and quietly dripped to the floor.