I have a couple things I’d like to say before this chapter. I was completely floored by the amazing feedback I got from some of you guys, really humbling stuff. To Jeff!!Your insight and tips were an immeasurable help, so thanks a million.
And lastly, guys please donate to the NIFTY ARCHIVES if possible. They provide an amazing service and I know helped a lot of us realise that we play for the team with all the bats or at least curious lol. So if you can, we want to keep this service running for generations to come.
Copyright ©2013 Black Arrow
The rest of the day shows some semblance of normality and goes off without any more incidents. That is until lunch hour. As I walk up to my mismatched crew of misfits, I realise their awfully excitable as I approach. Now I normally wouldn’t be bothered by this cause let’s be honest, I usually don’t care about whatever teen angst they’re going through but this time Mason saw me first and immediately whispers harshly and the pack quiets down before I even reach our table.
Mason keeps no secrets from me. I know this because in our 12 years of friendship, there was nothing I wanted to do more, than tell him mine. The past before he met me-before the Haynes’.
I guess I should let you know how this all started. How I became a 17 year old killing machine. Well, in all honesty, even I don’t know how it came to being. I just was.
I am part of a top secret intelligence agency, a distant descendent of the KGB, so off the grid that very few of the topmost officials knew of its existence. The Agency was a collusion of a couple renegade organisations of international security, whose sole purpose was to overthrow the US government and its expansive empire.
We were injected with a serum that couldn’t be given to adult agents because their immunization had fully formed and their tissues had long undergone cell differentiation.
The synthesis of the drug and the host cell would soon after merging become unstable and progressively hostile. This would result in the body eventually rejecting the enhancing drug. The serums’ function was to heighten the senses and reflexes of the subjects.
Unfortunately for the researchers, anti-bodies would always mount an attack against the invader substance and since the serum binds with the host cells, the subjects’ body would attack itself. This biological defence would manifest as an ugly, more aggressive form of autoimmune disease that kills the victim in no more than a week.
In testing, the scientists would observe clear signs of success: faster reflexes, greater pain tolerance and a higher resistance to disease but a few days into the trials the individual would wither rapidly and die. This outcome was unavoidable for all their adult test subjects. A dead-end to their project. The doctors couldn’t find a way to counteract this inappropriate response to the body’s own tissue and organs.
The experiments did however show that subjects really were: stronger, faster and immune to most kinds of pathogens injected into the blood stream. In other words, they had created the perfect soldier.
So evidently the ultimate killing machine was possible. But couldn’t be transformed at such a late stage in development but maybe they could be bred. That’s how LoneStar came to being.
My earliest memories include a dark under-ground society. There was a lot of rock and steel-very little light, except in the laboratory where they conducted all the tests. The lab setup was typical with blinding lights, several monitors and many cloaked personnel with either clipboards or medical equipment in hand.
They never spoke to us directly, just between themselves. They didn’t treat us like a doctor would his patient but as mere objects. I guess that’s what we were to them. We had no idea what human affection even looked like since we’d never witnessed anything remotely akin to it. This place was all that we knew .This set the precedence for all human interaction in our minds.
They would routinely check progress, synthesis and then inject you with an enabler, like a catalyst to the original shot. This booster shot would send a searing heat all through your body like you were being burned from the inside out. The pain would have you writhing and wrecking against the examination table. You were lucky if you past out from it.
I was among the 50 odd children in this “home”. I use the word home for lack of a better word. We had no sense of individualism besides our phenotypic differences. We all had shaved heads and wore white linens at all times. We were never to be addressed by our birth names probably because we never had any. Legally no government had record of any of our births so we were literally ghosts within the system.
That’s the fact that the entire success of the agency hinges on: that we do not exist, undetectable and untraceable. Nothing we did could ever be followed back to the LoneStar HQ.
Every day was the same yet so much harder than the previous one, it would drive you insane. It actually did turn some kids into foaming lunatics and the weak always got the same treatment-execution.
If the chemicals being poured into us didn’t kill you or the rigorous training regimen, then you had only one other factor to worry about. Each other. We had no regard for human life so a simple misgiving over bed space or toys would be sorted out by a duel to the death. This was so customary it hardly drew any attention from the rest who were going about their daily activity outside of combat training. The wardens, our guardians, used to bet on who would win and the winner always had to clean up his mess. In other words, dispose of your opponent’s body and clean up what blood was spilt.
We were constantly going in and out of tutoring lessons, in cognitive thought, recollection, languages, anatomy, Kyusho Jitsu (pressure points) and the doozy -impulse response. Sort of like the spies lie detector, we had these tests once a week. They would read you a story and tell you that this was your life and for that hour, you needed to believe it because you were about to take a lie detector test on the fictional life you were given.
Forget academy award recognition, we were expected to perfect the art of duplicity early on. A fail meant solitary and a grotesque form of torture that I still have trouble revisiting.
It was our last year of ‘conditioning’ that I remember the most. We were trained to be ruthless, unfeeling soldiers long before I even knew what life was- I knew how to end one. I was 5 when I first killed. By the time we first saw daylight outside of the fortress, only 7 of the strongest remained and I was shipped off for adoption.
You should know that there are several sleeper agents’ present within the United States and its affiliates. Besides the seven that were part of my division there are others in various levels of government, media and as civilians. All trained and awaiting their orders.
We were taught in over 5 of the world’s most spoken dialects in our extensive tutoring sessions. So we could pass off as any nationality when the time came. We picked up the accents easily because of our young minds and innate ability to pick up inflections, changes in tone and hitches most people would miss.
Friday was game night. We had no attachments to society so the things most would consider unfitting for our age, was the norm for us. We had a thirst for violence. And even stronger than that was our competitive edge, we were always pitted against each other, you’d always want to win. Out do the rest and prove you worth.
Those nights we were allowed to play with our favourite toy. An old Colt Dragoon Revolver and play a very dangerous, very real round of Russian roulette. The wardens loaded the gun, sometimes there was a bullet. Sometime if you were lucky, the barrels were completely empty. And on really special occasions, they would be more than one bullet in the gun.
We didn’t fear death, mostly because we were never really alive to begin with. If you chose not to play, you would have a tough time in the dorms once the game was through. You’d immediately be labelled as weak. That was a very dangerous label to wear in a room filled with remorseless predators. Like I said, if the system didn’t kill you, one of us would have.
You’re gonna love me, even if it kills me
My mother and Mason’s are old college roommates, actually sorority sisters from the good old Chi Beta house. Don’t judge me; you don’t get to pick your parents! Even if you’re adopted.
They later lived together after graduation in an apartment here in the city and la di dah met their future husbands.
Mom and dad got hitched and had Victoria and Justin a year before the Crawford’s had their first born, Mason. Naturally, the mother’s wanted their children to grow up as best friends, if not as family. The whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ motto was not a myth among these folks.
They shared parental duties from the very beginning. Whatever kindergarten and later elementary school the twins went to, Mason would follow right behind. This system would have worked perfectly had mom not enlisted for ‘Doctors Without Boarders’ and saw the after math of nations in war in Northern Africa.
Before she left on a flight back to the US she was informed of a boy who’d come down with his parents who were reporters from California. The couple was held by a rebel group before being killed execution style in front of their 7 year old son. The Nato troops came down on the camp far too late.
She made the mistake of letting her feelings get the better of her while working and asked to see me. That was all it took. She looked into my hazel eyes and decided then to take me back with her, before even consulting dad.
To say she expected PTSD was an understatement. She always warned the twins not to play roughly with me. The instruction was more directed at Justin than the well-mannered Victoria. I took the lead from her, that it was okay for me not to be ‘present’ and to act asocial. It was only natural from such trauma. See my objective was long engrained in my mind, unlike her, I wouldn’t get attached. The family was my cover. That was all.
The whole rebel group hostage -fiasco was all a set up. It was my in.
What was highly annoying after moving into this new family was how cramped it was. Not space wise, the home was a large two stories and had an expansive backyard. It’s the number of kids wanting me to play and the double set of parents that was an inconvenience. I knew then that something was wrong, surely Master wouldn’t test me like this.
He promised me an affluent couple that had more money than they needed and more importantly commitment to their jobs, so I would be undetected when I have my missions to get to, no one to question me or my where-a-bouts.
What proved to be the greater test however, was getting the 7 year old Mason to leave me alone. I guess maybe he felt left out of the whole Justin-Tori twin dynamic they had going on at the time and he probably wanted to have the same vibe with me since we were the same age. He thought wrong.
I figured, if I showed enough disinterest and ignored him completely he’d eventually back off. I thought wrong.
He would offer me his favourite toys and I’d either throw them at him, literally, or break them. The kid would make excuses for my reaction like ‘yeah you’re right it is a stupid action figure’ or ‘I’ll ask mom to buy me a better one, then we can play’. Wrong sport, you play there-away from me.
He’d find me sitting under the huge oak in our yard and sit next to me. I’d naturally get up to leave until I came up with sinister idea. If I climb up the tree, he’d be sure to follow and if I climbed just high enough he’d get stuck. Then I’d be left alone and so that’s what I would do.
This back and forth went on for a long while, I can’t tell you how many times the fire department was sent over to retrieve the boy from that tree. I always led him up and would leap with the agility of a cat to get down, never looking back.
The thing that started to gnaw at my mind though, was how after the sixth time, he still never sold me out. It would always be his fault and that’s that.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Several unfortunate things would befall Mason at my hands over the years. He’d never tell. I take credit for breaking his nose when we were 7, a fractured rib a year later and finally breaking his arm at 9. Not once did he alert the parents that these accidents were not all that accidental. He would always take the blame and provide iffy details as to how he incurred the injuries. Truth be told, he was partly to blame. He was hurt either by invading my space or grabbing me in an attempt to play or by touching MY STUFF.
I realised then that I needed to stop, or the next step is to kill the bugger because he was certainly not giving up on me. He was always happy to see me, even though I was his potential death trap. He dubbed me his best friend and would always have these grand tales to tell people of what we did in the afternoon. Whereas the truth was, he was playing while I was avoiding him.
Hide and go seek was my favourite since I’d always make him hide and go read a book instead. It would guarantee a Mason-free environment for at least another 3 hours. Or hide so well in one of my several secret hide outs that he wouldn’t be able to find me even if he had the FBI on his side.
So I started exercising some serious restraint around him. Only to use some mild arm twisting or jabs to the side if he got over eager .He’d pick up on that and back off. It was our special form of communication. He could do whatever he liked and if I didn’t shake my head, it meant that it was okay. If he didn’t heed that warning, the arm twisting usually cleared his head of all that dust.
That was the beginning of me tolerating him. The beginning of my affection towards him was in the second grade. Kids were making fun of me because of my ‘strange’ eye colour; saying I was some strange sea monster that eats boogers or something to that effect. Naturally I couldn’t care less but what I didn’t know was that it was bothering Mason- a lot.
One day after school, I was waiting with some other kids at the bus stop but Mason didn’t show. Annoyed that if I left without him, I’d have to explain why I was home and he wasn’t. I had to go out looking for him.
I saw a bunch of kids in a circle before a teacher spotted them too and shouted for them to break it up. The group quickly dispersed leaving a dishevelled Mason with a bloody nose.
I walked up him and asked what happened, he wouldn’t budge. That’s until I threatened to hold his Buzz Lightyear lunchbox hostage. He finally spilled.
“They were making fun of you again and I told ‘em to stop it” he said.
Long story short, they didn’t and he thought he was tough enough to take all three of them on. I wasn’t concerned at all by what kids my age were doing but the fact that he’d go out and risked his neck for me really struck a chord.
That day on the late bus home Tori helped me as we cleaned him up. We hid the incident from the parents because even back then, Mason was ‘such’ a tough guy. Idiot.
The next day I followed the group to the bathroom, switched off the lights so they wouldn’t see who it was. Then I proceeded to beat the living daylights out of them. I later realised that most kids my age, did not have the same pain tolerance as me. They were rushed to the ER once a cleaner found them on the floor .The locals believed it was part of gang activity that had been invading NY schools of late. What else would explain a violent attack on such young children?
For a second there, I wondered I’d taken it too far. The worst of them took 4 months before returning to school with his cast still intact. Needless to say, the group at their young age developed some serious fear of the dark and some PTSD of their own to deal with-no time to be bullying others. They’ll probably always carry those emotional scars deep into their adulthood because they told police it must’ve been some wild animal. Like a werewolf -too viscous to be human.
The second moved to another state not long after to get better psychiatric help. The last ended up in a juvenile detention facility by the 6th grade and the leader…his drug addiction got him into trouble with some real gangsters by the 8th.
I grew heartily affectionate of this show off of mine back then already and for the longest he was the only one who could get a full smile out of me.
That is until my parents had Mathew, although he was an accident. 10 years younger than me and clearly unaware of all the barriers I had. Luckily for him, Mason was a pioneer. He paved the way for a safer transition for my bubbly younger brother. I had already worked out my kinks by then.
I took to him instantly and would often be left alone to babysit him. Dad was cautious of it at first. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust me. It was the fact that I had been such an enigma for the longest and I was only recently showing affection to both my parents and siblings that a baby might set me back.
Quite the opposite really, for once I learned to look after another and care for their well- being. This helped me understand how a family really works and I began to notice all the little things that my older siblings had been doing for me since day one- to protect me.
Back in the cafeteria I still feel uneasy about their change in energy.
“Okay guys, let’s have it” I say.
The guys shift uncomfortably which only aids my increasing paranoia. Jenny comes to the rescue because unlike them, she isn’t confined by such trivial male relations.
“Mason has a date tonight!” she says with just a bit more bite than I think she intended to put in that message.
I feel a cold sweat break out down my back and a resulting falter in my heart beat. I try for all I am not to let the change show on my face.
“You didn’t tell me” I say addressing Mason directly for the first time. Somehow convincing myself that the others have it all wrong, Mason doesn’t do dates. I’m his best friend, I would know.
But the look of discomfort on his face says it all.
“Yeah, uhm sorta, Amber was really persistent and…” he stammered. Like I said, the new dynamic between Mason and I just made this situation; which would normally be dismissed, rather dramatic. We stare at each other for a while like the others aren’t at the table with us.
Honestly, I wasn’t staring him down. In actual fact, I was fighting the raging war within me. A conflict of emotions that was unwarranted. I have no claim to him. We’re JUST friends, so I should be happy for him right?
The answer is NO. I didn’t know how I felt but happy was not part of the equation.
He looks at me like someone who’s begging you to take them out of their misery. As if I was the cause of this. What did he want me to do, say ‘no don’t go’. Believe me; I wanted to but then what? Mason and I are creepy close; the only human that could dethrone him was my little brother. I could not be that selfish.
“Jeez Mase, man you don’t have to explain yourself, it’s not like you two are a thing” says Damon.
“Come on, D “says Ziggy admonishing his overt hostility.
I must explain, it’s not that Damon doesn’t like me or anything. But he was Mason’s friend first and hadn’t made it a secret that he believed I’m to blame for Mason’s non-existent love life. At first I didn’t get it and thought he was delusional, but now sitting at this table; I realise it might not be as farfetched as I’d thought.
If I told Mason no that I wasn’t okay with him seeing Amber. Even if I didn’t give him a decent enough reason. Some ludicrous drivel about it causing me to break out into hives. He’d sacrifice his happiness for me, I knew that. He wanted me to. He promised he’d always be there for me and he was yet to break a single one in our 10 years of friendship.
I decided I needed to stop being selfish. He deserved to be happy. He was a great person, even better friend. He sacrifices so much for me without my knowledge so it was time I sacrificed my pride for him.
With a deep breath I look him in the eye and say.
“That’s great Mase” knowing it was utter bull.
Jenny breathes out completely exasperated and not hiding her frustration at us. So to ease the tension- as always, Ziggy changes the subject. Talks of his latest online-computer game commence.
“No! one day you’re going to lose a bet so large you’ll be living of the streets and besides no one wants to hear about it….”argues Jenny.
“I’m bound to make bank this time though”.Ziggy defends.
Their back and forth morality versus techno-geek fortitude carries on. They carry the conversation for the entire lunch period.
I should probably explain why I said I only have one friend yet spend lunch with three other people. They’re more Mason’s friends than mine. I seriously doubt they’d stick around if he inexplicably vanished.
Mason and I were naturally inseparable all through elementary school. In middle school he started playing baseball and became instant friends with a teammate of his named Damon Sibthorpe. Later that semester in our biology class we met Jenny. She spotted us and since our bunk had the only available seat left she had no choice but to be our third wheel. It didn’t take her and Mason long to hit it off and before long she was following us out of class.
I surprisingly recruited the last member of our group, unintentionally of course. I had to join a club and because I wasn’t a people’s person I wanted to join one with as little human interaction as possible. I figured the Mathletes was my biggest shot. A bunch of antisocial, awkward teenagers who loved math, easy right?
Ziggy was in there, he joined because he genuinely loves math. But he had this sad delusion that he was way cooler than all the other kids that frequented these sorts of clubs. So you can imagine his delight when I walked into the room, broad shouldered, striking eyes, universally attractive. Bingo, friend.
He was completely content with talking to himself around me. One day after a meeting he followed me to our lunch table and never left.
Wednesday afternoon before practice I needed to take Tori’s car to practice and she would catch a ride back home with either Justin or her boyfriend Scott.
Before I could drive off downtown to my gym, I notice she left her laptop in the backseat. She’s going to need that to function the rest of the afternoon. See, Victoria is the editor of our school paper and writes a weekly column of her own, so you can see how this would have been a problem. She pours a lot of her time into the paper, it’s a shame that most of the school only reads it for the gossip section aptly named ‘Psssst… ‘.
Making my way to the east wing of the school where their ‘office’ is located I start thinking. Tori isn’t a forgetful person. Even more so, she wouldn’t forget her laptop on the day she was having an after school meeting with her troops. She did this on purpose, I’m being lured there. The question is why?
Or I’m just being absurd and suspicious of everything -occupational hazard. I walk into the busy room with over a dozen other students to find my sister. In the back by the big desk looking all the part of an editor. She opted for her glasses instead of contacts and her hair is pulled back into a messy bun. She’s wearing a white button up shirt and has it tucked into a pair of khaki high-waste short-shorts. I think that was her being edgy.
She looks up and spots me and her eyes immediately dart around the room as if she was expecting someone else.
“Aw Hunter, is that my laptop” she coos. As if she didn’t know.
“Yeah I almost left with it” I say as I put it down on her desk and turn to leave.
“Wait!...I mean you’re not in a hurry, practice only starts in an hour” she says acting very funny. As if she’s stalling.
“Tori I have those stills of our last year’s camping trip you asked for” says a strangely familiar voice. Yet I still can’t place it until I turn around and face the source.
Creepy camera guy.
“Oh Ryan, I just realised I’d rather hold off that piece until we have more recent pictures of the team” she says over my shoulder.
“Fancy meeting you here” Ryan says.
“Yeah…”I say awkwardly as I realise what I was bamboozled into.
“So Tori tells me you’re a gymnast, like Olympic good” he says running his hands down his jeans as if to wipe them. Why are his palms sweaty, it’s not that hot out? Is it because of me?
“She’s exaggerating” I say shortly. A Typical trait of mine in conversation. I’m sure Tori told him about that too since I’m clearly subject matter between them two.
“Oh stop being modest Hunter, he’s already being approached by colleges to compete for them” she says shoving me in a manner that says ‘participate’. No way lady, you want him here, you entertain him.
After a few moments of chilling silence which I wasn’t bothered by but clearly the other two were, Ryan says he has to leave.
“I’ll email the cover photos by Friday night latest” he says addressing Tori. So there goes the mystery, she knows him because he’s the photographer for the paper.
“It was nice seeing you again, Hunter” he says to me almost in a whisper. Like he’d suddenly lost his voice in midsentence.
“So…?” says Tori looking very proud of herself.
“I have to go, Mihai hates me being late” I say as a way to exit this conversation.
“You’re never late and it will only take you 45 minutes to get to the gym. You have at least 10 to spare for your favourite sister” she says sitting on her desk fixing her gaze on me.
With my driving I can get there in 20 but I’d much rather have a super long warm up than have this discussion.
“What do you want to know?” I ask with a sigh. The other students are working like a beehive. They are so busy milling about their tasks that they couldn’t be bothered by what their editor and her younger brother were talking about.
“Do you think he’s cute? I mean, you have to be blind not to see that right?” she says. Then why ask me?
“I guess” I answer as I finger my hair.
“Would you date him?” she asks. Whoa! Slow down. Who said anything about dating? I thought this was one of our mindless talks where she tries to suss out what my type is. Which up to this point, has amounted to no one on this side of the galaxy.
I just give her a scrunched up expression and she goes for her plea.
“He’s such a nice guy Hunt. I could tell on Monday already, even when you went all ninja on him that he likes you. It’s so cute, he asked me about you in History and over email last night”.
I say nothing. Just stare at her with a blank expression. Yeah he’s cute but I don’t date- can’t date. That means I’d have to get emotionally attached. I can’t do that, I’m a walking cyborg, come on.
“That’s great, let him down easy” I say as I exit the room.
“We’re not done!” she shouts after me.
Thank you to everyone who wrote to me with encouraging words about this story. It’s a new thing for me so I’m working it out as I go along but finding it fun. Of course more feedback is always appreciated, like to know if there is interest! Reach me firstname.lastname@example.org