Thursday, October 21, 2010

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 3

“This is an unexpected predicament.”

The old man stood before James and smiled with yellowed teeth. To James, his teeth seemed to have grown too long the way his grandfather’s fingernails had before he died. While James was happy that the doctor had given him more personal space than his eye exam had afforded, he could still smell his breathe and the sting of his body odor lingered in James’ nostrils.

James thought that all the time Doctor Caine spent leaning over lab equipment must have left little time to work on his hygiene. Or perhaps the doctor was just so intelligent that he never worried about such things. He remembered hearing such things about Einstein’s wardrobe. Then again, maybe it was just because the Doctor was old.

“Heightened resistance to puncture has rendered me unable to extract a blood sample from the subject,” Doctor Caine spoke into a small recorder he had taken from his pocket. He stood at the foot of the examination table James still sat on.

As James’ legs hung over the end, the doctor turned to his father and dropped the recorder back into his pocket. “I suppose any research worth conducting involves surmounting obstacles.” He flashed a yellow smile and turned back to the table containing various medical instruments.

Every time the old man moved, James could smell the air that stirred around him. To keep his mind occupied and not focused on the fact that he would rather be somewhere other than a cold, musty warehouse, James made a game of identifying the odors that emanated from the doctor.

Doctor Caine had leaned in uncomfortably close to check James’ pupils earlier. He exhaled while practically nose to nose with him.

Coffee. Cheese. Garlic, James thought.

As the doctor walked around him, performing various minor tests, James picked up on more.

Sweat. Mildew (that might be from the walls). Foot odor.

The loose sleeve of the doctor’s lab coat nearly draped over his face as he lay down on the table at one point.

James noticed, Bleach. Formaldehyde. More sweat. And something else. Something…metallic.

“While less than ideal, an alternative should be explored until some measure by which to puncture the subject’s skin can be obtained.” The doctor was speaking into the recorder again. This time, James hadn’t seen him produce it from his pocket. He seemed to take it out and replace it like the action was second nature to him. Like it came as easily to him as breathing or beating his heart.

“The compatibility issues between whole blood and saliva derived DNA samples shall pose a significant setback to the research. All the same, I will collect multiple saliva samples at this time in order to bolster the amount of DNA collected and provide enough such that numerous trials may help correct variations in the data.”

Click, the recorder was off and dropped back into his pocket. Doctor Caine approached James with a box full of glass tubes, each containing a cotton swab on the end of a wooden stick.

“I apologize, son, but I am going to attempt to swab a great deal of saliva from your mouth, so do open wide, please.”

James held his mouth open. One swab at a time, the doctor swiped at the insides of his cheeks. After each, he carefully placed the cotton swab back into the glass tube and sealed it.

“You may close your mouth now, son,” the doctor smiled and said to James as he capped the last of the tubes. “Impenetrable skin, while quite impressive, causes me some amount of inconvenience, I must confess.”

“Luke Cage,” James said, mostly to himself.

“Pardon?” asked the doctor.

“One of the Avengers. Luke Cage. He has unbreakable skin.”

“Comic books again,” James’ father spoke up from the chair he sat silently in most of the examination. Then he added, in a frustrated tone, “He thinks he’s going to learn more about himself by reading comic books. Super heroes running around in tights.”

Doctor Caine chuckled. “Be just as careful about how quickly you dismiss a potential source of information as you would be to trust it implicitly,” he said to James’ father. “Often nuggets of wisdom, absolute gems of truth, can be discovered hidden deep within the most seemingly outrageous works of fiction. I’ve often believed that these super hero tales may have originated by someone who had at least heard stories passed via word of mouth about somebody much like you and your son, Samuel.”

James stared at his father. When they made eye contact, James did his best to say, “I told you so,” with his facial expression.

“Of course, it is unlikely that anyone ever became an enhanced human after the bite of a radioactive spider. We know now that radioactivity does not alter DNA, but perhaps there was something to the bite. And perhaps it was not a spider, but some other animal and perhaps the effects were not so extreme, but some DNA transference may have taken place. We do not know. But there may be something there and the rest was filled in by someone looking to entertain us.”

“I doubt there’s a word of truth to any of it,” James’ father said with a face like stone.

“Samuel, you need only look at the history text you read as a child and compare it to the one your son learns from now to see how the details of history become filled in by those who write the books.” Doctor Caine had been marking the label on each glass tube with a black permanent marker as he spoke. Meticulously, he wrote, James – Generation 5 Sample #1…Sample #2…Sample #3. Twenty-four in all.

“I commend young James for seeking enlightenment, regardless of the origins,” Doctor Caine said as he picked up the box now full of saliva samples and carried it to the refrigerator. “But do be careful how much stock you put in those stories,” he warned James and opened the refrigerator door.

James noticed several shelves of in the refrigerator, all filled. As Doctor Caine carefully moved aside several trays of vials to make room for the saliva samples he had just collected, James realized what he had smelled on the doctor’s sleeve.

It had been blood.

“A warehouse?”

“I guess he owns it, used to have some kind of business there and it’s like a secret location, you know?”

“A warehouse. A big, abandoned warehouse?”

“It was big and it was abandoned.”

“Just seems…creepy.” Dave stirred the tapioca around in its plastic cup and when it dawned on him no amount of stirring was going to make it any more appetizing, he pushed it to the corner of the lunch tray where it belonged and picked at what was left of his cold fries.

“It was creepy,” James replied. “And smelly.”

“If this guy’s a reputable doctor, why doesn’t he have an office where he can see you like a normal patient?” Dave questioned.

“I don’t know? I don’t think he’s that kind of doctor. I think he’s more like a scientist, like a research kind of doctor. Besides, the guy’s like ninety years old. There’s no way he could still be practicing anyway.”

Dave shook his head. “I don’t like it. Old doctor who does business in an abandoned warehouse. Being a doctor doesn’t mean you’re all about healing and helping your fellow man, you know. Look at Doctor Doom and Doctor Octopus.”

“Were either of them actual doctors?”

“You’re not sure this guy is either!” Dave almost shouted.

James shrugged, “Touché.”

“Wassup, ladies!” Jerry Hart called as he slapped Dave on the back and sat down next to him.

“Eh,” Dave sneered.

“Hey, Jerry,” James said. Despite a near crippling blow to the crotch during a dodgeball match several years back, Jerry Hart had forgiven James and taken quite a liking to him. They now played football together and Jerry, though larger and more squared in body style than James, seemed to look up to James’ natural ability. Because he liked James, he tolerated Dave, despite his non-athlete status, which went against his standard principles.

“So, Jimmy, wanna lift after school?”

“Okay,” James nodded. “Sounds good.”

With the bulk of their normal conversation already behind them, Jerry nodded and looked around the table, mouth agape, from James to Dave and back again. They both figured Jerry would eventually become bored and walk away.

“So what are you homos talkin’ about?” Jerry asked instead.

“Comic books,” James replied and Jerry laughed.

This upset Dave. For as much as Jerry Hart annoyed him, a part deep inside felt the need to impress him. Dave didn’t want to be categorized as the geek of the group. He knew he wasn’t going to play an organized sport anytime soon, but he had his manhood to protect nonetheless.

“Yeah, we were talking about which super hero you’d most want to bang,” Dave said in his best jock voice, which didn’t sound natural on him, “Ms. Marvel, Spider Woman or the Scarlet Witch.”

James laughed inside at how ridiculous Dave sounded. “I wanted She-Hulk included as an option, but Dave refused,” he secretly mocked.

“Whatever,” Jerry said. “Aren’t all the comic book chicks drawn the exact same way, just with different color hair?” Then he stood up from the table and walked off. “Later. After school, Jimmy, don’t forget.”

Dave looked sullenly down into his tray. Soon, he began picking up fries and stabbing them violently into the tapioca.

“I’ll say one thing,” James said. “He just made a pretty good point. Especially for Jerry.”

“What does he know,” Dave said without looking up. “Ms. Marvel obviously has a more muscular and athletic build. You need to seriously do something about the man crush he’s developed on you. It’s starting to annoy me. Anyway, we were talking about important shit before the mongoloid showed up.”

“Yeah, so important I can’t remember what it was.”

“About this doctor dude. What’s his story?”

“I don’t know, Dave,” James sighed. “My dad trusts him, so I guess I shouldn’t be so creeped out by him. He’s just old. Besides, he agrees with you.”

“With me? Who?”

“Doctor Caine. He thinks comic books are partly true, too. You should’ve seen the look on my dad’s face.”

Dave nodded thoughtfully. “Doctor Strange was always wise and insightful. And I suppose Doc Samson tried to help the Hulk. Captain America always looked up to Doctor Erskine and the X-Men had Professor Xavier who practically saved them all. Maybe this guy could be a good mentor for you.”

“I’m glad you suddenly approve,” James laughed. “Now, I want to know who you would pick.”

“Scarlet Witch,” Dave replied immediately. “Crazy chicks just do something for me.”


(Europe, Summer 1934)

In the cellar of a tavern, as muffled noise from the patrons above could be heard, a man in a sharply pressed grey suit sat alone at a table with a glass of brandy. He stared straight ahead at the wall before him and waited for his guest to arrive.

Soon, a young man was led down the stairs, each arm held at its elbow by large men who barely let his feet touch more than air. After shoving him against the wall, the two men searched him to their satisfaction. Then one pointed abruptly at the chair across form the solitary man.


He sat. Further satisfied, the large men retreated up the stairs.

The young man sat stiff. He had no idea who the man he sat across from was, but he knew he was the kind of man who you let talk first. So, he waited and watched as he produced a cigarette from a shiny metal case, cupped it in his hands and lit it. He watched as the man took three long drags and made three long plumes of smoke from his mouth as he stared at the wall.

Finally, the man turned to look him in the eyes and said, “Your father tells us that you are our man.”

The young man knew better than to answer an unasked question. He remained silent.

“Coming from anyone else, I would be skeptical. What man does not think his son can handle any job he is tasked with? But from your father, this means something.”

The man’s gaze returned to the wall and he took another long drag from his cigarette.

“Your father,” he continued, “would do anything for his country. If his country asked a service from his son and he thought his son unfit to perform, he would sooner kill you himself than allow you to fail his country and disgrace his family. This is the depth of your father’s loyalty to his country.”

The man looked at the mere boy across the table from him again.

“I know that is not a pleasant thing to hear, that your father would do such a thing, but I assure you it is true. As sure as I sit here, I know it to be so. In time, this is something you will come to respect about your father. But if it upsets you now, I would not think less of you. You are young. Very young.”

He leaned across the table and blew smoke in the young man’s face. “We argued that you were too young, in fact. But your father, your loyal country bound father, insisted that you were our man. Still a boy, certainly, but our man. So it matters not to me if knowing your father would sacrifice you for the glory of our motherland upsets you. It matters only that he has said you are up to the task.”

A long silence hung in the air then. The young man suspected it was a test to see if he would speak out of fear or impatience. He said nothing. His father had, in fact, taught him well.

Furthermore, he was not distressed to learn that his father thought him expendable. On the contrary, he knew all the same things this stranger told him about his own father. Knowing that the task ahead was great and that his father still presented him like a gift to these men was flattering. But this was nothing he need explain to this man. He suspected that he would never see this man again after tonight.

“Do you know what you are to do, boy?”

“No, sir,” he answered promptly, for you do not leave men like this awaiting answers.

The man smiled at his younger counterpart. “Then I will take pleasure in telling you.” The man then took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair before beginning.

“During the years of the Great War, an experiment was underway in Oslo. It was named Project Midgard, as it was designed to bring the gods to Earth. You see, the experiment involved the enhancement of human abilities.

“Even as a young man, to think that people may be willing to partake in such experiments may not surprise you. People have gone to great lengths before to try and enhance themselves. What might surprise you is that this particular venture was successful. I can tell you this because I have seen its results with my own eyes. Men who could run faster than any beast on Earth. Men who could jump onto the roof of a building from two planted feet. Even men who could strike this stone wall and bring this entire building down upon us and then emerge from the rubble, unscathed.

“These men walk among us. They hide among us. They shall be allowed to hide no longer.”

From somewhere next to his chair, the man pulled a paper envelope. He held it up high and allowed the younger man to look at it awhile before dropping it dramatically to the table.

“Contained there is every secret to be told about Project Midgard. Sadly, there are many secrets that have yet to be told. Discovering them is of great interest to us.

“Times are changing quickly and soon your country will be ready to assume its rightful place atop this world. But to do so with confidence, these men, these enhanced men, these…gods on Earth are to be dealt with. Your country needs you to find these men, one by one if necessary. It must be determined where their loyalty lies and if their loyalty may be bought. Should they choose correctly, they will be heroes, assuredly. Should they refuse, they must be destroyed. Any one man possessing such power would pose an immediate threat to your country’s supremacy. Should our enemies or those who would see us denied our rightful place sway any of these men to their cause, it could mean disaster. Do you understand what we are asking of you?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered sharply.

“Your life is not your own anymore, my son. It belongs now to your country as, being your father’s son, I suspect it always has. Your training begins immediately. There is much to learn.”

The man stood quickly and, in a flourish, donned the long coat and hat hanging in the corner. The younger man was about to stand out of respect.

“Remain in your seat,” he was instructed and did so. The standing man smiled broadly. “You have a long road ahead of you and need all the rest you can afford.”

The man walked around the younger man and stood behind his chair, placing a hand on his shoulder. “May you serve your country and assist in its rise to power. And may all the world fear us.”

The man then took the needle he had produced from his sleeve and injected something with it into the young man’s neck. Instantly, his head slumped forward. He then leaned down and placed his mouth next to the ear of the unconscious young man.

“Good luck, Cornelius,” he whispered.

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