Chapter 1: Enter Zenapharr
"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 really know. I've never really thought about it but...It's almost as if...as if it's ingrained in me. It's complex ...I don't kill because I feel I need to. I think I kill...I think I kill because I need to feel it."
"What do you mean, exactly?" The doctor leaned in, his brow furrowing in curiosity.
"Well, you're the psychologist. You tell me."
"When you need to feel, does that mean you normally don't feel anything?"
"I suppose not...I don't feel much of anything. It's like I'm a zombie, wandering about and feeding, yet I'm never quite full. When I kill...it's like I actually feel full. A little less empty, a little more...full of life. It's almost as if when the light that leaves their eyes...it becomes me for a moment. I suppose you don't relate."
"No, I don't Zenapharr, I don't at all. What you've just described is a very abnormal feeling." The proclaimed doctor looked down at his notepad and began jotting things down, pushing his glasses on his nose. He looked over at Zenapharr for response, noting how unusually comfortable Zenapharr looked for someone in a straight jacket and chains.
"Yes, I supposed that it is. Most people probably feel the opposite, I'd imagine. I still don't understand this laughter nonsense i see you humans do."
"It's an expression of joy and feeling good. You are an elf, and many elves also laugh. It's not just humans."
know this, and I know what laughter means, good doctor. I just don't understand
it. That noise. It doesn't make sense to me. It's unnecessary and ridiculous.
One more reason that you label me a monster, I take it. Isn't that what the reports
said? A monster among us?"
"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 killing people outside of your mission parameters. Not until as of late, and we employed Sade to find you after you went missing after your last mission."
"I surmised as much. It makes sense to me why I would want to know the reasoning behind this, but why are you so interested to know? 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 the plan?"
"Mr. Zenapharr, we at Minerva are not a military organization of brutal and outlandish murderers...we're here to keep order to this planet. Those who pose a threat to society must be neutralized to keep balance in the 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 I'm convinced." For someone who didn't understand laughter, Zenapharr wore a smile in that moment, but perhaps a smirk would more accurately describe it. It was a cocky sort of smile, one that contained a sort of dark mirth that put you on edge. As if he had something more behind it, waiting to spring a trap at just the right moment.
"Well...alright then. I'm a public relations representative for Minerva. I wanted to get a first hand account and speak with you. Be able to tell the public first hand 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, can we? Plus, I wanted the exclusive chance to talk about the world's most famous assassin."
"If I could laugh, Mr....what was your name again?" The comment was backhanded and meant as a specific insult, being that Zenapharr's memory was excellent. He was trying to make a point.
"Ostrand. Wililam Ostrand.”
“Okay William, thank you for remind me. Using your last name implies merit so...if I could laugh at you right now William, I would. The very idea that you think you have me under control right now is quite 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."
code? Zenapharr, I think that I should laugh now! You're a serial killer,
nothing more and nothing less. I'm not even a real psychologist, and I can see
already 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 would reach across this table and kill you before you could cry out for help. I would 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 delightful as taking others' life since I enjoy a challenge." This unsettled William a bit, but he fought to regain his confidence.
"You would do this for such a simple thing? Surely, you must jest!" Zenapharr leaned forward and glared at him with an intensity that seemed to quiet the room despite the lack of noise, and William's blood ran cold. There was sincerity in his eyes, and he feared for a moment he may do it right then and there.
"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 it, and will tell you as soon we know more. We are hoping there may be something biologically there that will tell us something. In the meantime, I would like to know everything 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 is spotty at best. Since there was no need previously to talk about your emotions, or lack thereof, and your memories-- we feel it's important to understand them better before 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 your earliest memory, Zenapharr. Think back as far as you can remember, and tell us how you came to be here today."
"Well, if you insist, I have nothing better to do. With no mission or objective, I'll simply pretend this is. My earliest memory is about my mother."
"Really? Well, that is sweet isn't it?"
"Not exactly, William. Not exactly.
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. Minerva did all they could, but all they could do was not 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 Minerva. She was young, and didn't have the skills or means to care for a second child. So we were cared for and essentially considered almost as property to Minvera.
"Living in the southern continent of Latheria, she was essentially shunned for her way of life which was perceived as "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, but 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 the northern continent of Nostromus, where she learned of the program and that was the decision she made to ensure our survival. We had to sacrifice many freedoms, but many would sacrifice freedom for security, especially for their young.
"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 Skye. Of all the mistakes in my life, you two were the only thing I felt I did right. Being a mother gave me so much more joy than any romantic love that I had with your father. His love was...with its limits. But for you and Skye, it was unconditional. You're only 11, but I can see already that you're growing fast. You're smart, and you're going to go to military school soon. You're going to have a great life ahead of you. Think carefully when you make decisions, don't just rely on your emotions. I won't be around to...’
'Stop!' I said. '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...'
'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 called 'Mist of the Valley,' 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 was caught 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 William was floored because for a moment it looked like the assassin was going to cry. His face was stone, but there was something in his eyes that changed. They seemed to soften as if something was being penetrated deep within him.
"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 I wept like I'd never wept before. I was alone...though not physically...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.
"That's 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 , anyway."
"Yes, you're right. I just had nothing more to say," Zenapharr said with his head down, seeming unsure of his reasoning himself. William pressed a button on the desk, and said, "I'm done talking to him now. He can go back to his cell." A guard came in and carefully led him away to his cell. William sat in silence for a moment, and a man in a labcoat 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 before William spoke up.
"So, Dr. Pennington...are you ever 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 waiting for blood test results, especially if he finds out you already knew years ago...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 Minerva. If he were to find out, he would question everything about us and that can't happen. He's simply too powerful, and if he knows too much about himself that could cause more problems. That's why we've destroyed all the files on his past, experiments, lineage, and everything. We're here simply to fabricate any reason we can for his homicidal feelings, and that can simply be explained as a psychological imbalance, something he's born with. We'll keep him here on the pretense of him getting better, the fact that he is interested in the reason for his actions will make that easy, and if the therapy works we can release him back into the field, doing what he does best. If not, we'll simply tell him that he's sick and needs to get better."
"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? 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 therapy doesn't work we can just brainwash him if we have to, but we'd prefer not to. Him willingly participating in the kill contracts will prove much better, and will feel natural to him."
"I see, so you'll just use him instead."
"For the greater good, William. For science, he will prove as the greatest subject for advancement, as well as the greater good of society. 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 on this! 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 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. I'm surprised you didn't ask before. Well, you see...right now Zenapharr is not exactly trusting of Minerva. He found something out...I don't know exactly what but he knows something that he's not telling us. As blank and expressionless as he is, I could see something behind that smirk of his. And it's something to do with us and his past, so I'm afraid someone connected too much to his past may make him more suspicious. He would pick up on the fact that we're trying with someone close to get more out of him. And this first session was excellent, keep up the good work Mr. Ostrand."
"I see, that does make some sense...and another thing. For a moment there, he seemed genuinely hurt. His mother's death really affected him. You think there's still a human being left in him after all?"
"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 whenever Zenapharr was an emotional being, it died with him after his Injection. Perhaps it was a combination of that with his mother's death, I do not know. You must remember that Zenapharr is not only strong of body but also of mind. Part of his training was the art of deception...never forget that."
"That is 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 kept in check. His desire to kill was a very dull ache in the back of his mind, lying dormant and resting. He would let the sleeping dog 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. Focusing hard on the piece of paper, a small light appeared and zapped it, blasting it into pieces so small it couldn't be seen with the naked eye. 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 and over on 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 to do.
He vaguely remembered feeling emotion back then, perceiving this emotion everyone referred to as "pain." Now, he just couldn't seem to fathom it, as if it were a distant dream. Thirty minutes later, his mind shut off and he feel into a deep sleep. Unknown to him in his sleep, a small tear trickled down his face and dropped to the floor.