The neon lights glare harshly as I slide into the booth of the diner opposite the man I’ve been trying to track down for some time now.
“Viidith? John Viidith?” I ask him.
The man’s eyes are bloodshot and wild, hair unkempt as he glances furtively around me towards the door. For a brief moment I’m concerned I’ve mistaken a homeless vagrant for my quarry, but when he speaks I instantly recognize the deep bass I’ve become familiar with over the handful of phone conversations I’ve managed to conduct with him.
“You weren’t followed?”
“No, Dr. Viidith. I took precautions.”
I notice a nervous twitch at the corner of his right eye, the muscles along his jawline clenching involuntarily.
“I’m sure you think you did. Won’t do any good. No, no, no good at all. Not if he knows you were coming to meet with me.”
My head tilts slightly. “He? You mean the man you’ve hinted at during our previous conversations? The one who killed your fellow scientists?”
A small smile threatens to break across his lips. “I don’t know that I’d classify him as a man any longer, Mr. Cooper. Not after what has been done to him.”
I remove the notebook from my inside coat pocket and pull out the nice fountain pen I perpetually keep alongside it, a gift from my wife.
“Why don’t you start from the beginning, doctor.”
He smiles fully now. “The beginning, Mr. Cooper? Very well. A fitting place to start the tale of Project: Genesis. So…”
My pen flies across the page as Dr. Viidith proceeds to speak.
In the beginning, there was the darkness of the void. And the Lord said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. I’m paraphrasing of course, Mr. Cooper, but skipping ahead a bit we come to the time when God created mankind and all his imperfections. Now, fast forward several more millennia to the year 1985 and you will find myself, a young psychology postgraduate student just having been cleared for a top secret military clearance before embarking on a position at Fort Meade, Maryland. Tell me, Mr. Cooper, have you ever heard of Project: Stargate? I take it from your expression that you have not.
At the height of the Cold War, the United States sought to gain any advantage possible over our communist foes, even through methods typically considered wholly unconventional. Project: Stargate was one such program, seeking to unlock the mental potential of our test subjects in an effort to make a kind of psychic super soldier. The project began in 1978, well before I was brought in, and was finally discontinued and unclassified in 1995, the official report stating that there had been no progress in almost two decades of research. This was not wholly accurate.
The truth of the matter was that there had been one, partial success. In the spring of 1995, a twenty year old male, Seamus Wilder, undergoing treatment of a particular combination of psychotropic compounds and neural stimulation, spontaneously manifested telekinetic and pyrokinetic abilities for a brief period of two minutes and eighteen seconds before fatally succumbing to massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Mr. Wilder was redesignated as Subject 1.
For operational security, Project: Stargate was cancelled and the misinformation of its failure disseminated in an attempt to deceive our current political adversaries, the Soviet Union having already collapsed. I had acquitted myself well over my ten years on the project and was selected as the lead on Stargate’s successor, Project: Genesis.
Genesis officially began in October of 1997 based out of a small research valley hidden deep in the heart of the Hudson Valley. We proceeded slowly, only focusing on one subject at a time, carefully refining the same cocktail that had been used successfully with Mr. Wilder. Initially only a handful of the subjects exhibited any extrasensory phenomena, none of them anywhere near as definitively as with that first success. All of the subjects died following the administration of the trial.
After years of failure it at last struck me what the missing ingredient had been with regard to young Seamus: tragedy. You see, Mr. Wilder came from a broken home, his father a drunk who regularly beat his embattled wife and children. It was this psychological trauma, I postulated, that had unintentionally heightened Seamus’s latent abilities enough that our treatment was able to bring them to the forefront, if only briefly.
We now sought to acquire test subjects who had undergone experiences of great psychological and emotional pain. Immediately we saw an uptick in results. Subject 16, a Hispanic immigrant whose parents and five year old sister had been beheaded by the Mexican cartel while he hid under his bed, exhibited telepathic image projection capabilities for a full twenty-five minutes before perishing. I now knew that we were on the right tack.
Due to the fact that I was project lead, and that it was my idea that had cracked the code, so to speak, my colleague Elizabeth Bristow observed that in a way the subjects were like my own scientific offspring. She suggested that we seek to rehumanize the subjects by branding them with the name of their ‘father,’ thus redesignating Subject 16 to Viidith 16. To my horror, the rest of our research team thought it was a brilliant idea and, despite my protestations, proceeded with this new naming convention.
As we continued to refine our formula, the success and repeatability of the tests gradually increased as we moved through further subjects, the one nagging side effect that every individual ultimately died due to the same massive brain bleed that had afflicted Mr. Wilder. Until Viidith 22.
The 21st and final test subject of Project: Genesis was a uniquely disturbed individual. The son of a sixteen year old who overdosed on heroin before his sixth birthday, the boy was moved to a foster home where, as further proof of an unbelievably cruel world, his lot in life only became worse. Forced to stay for days at a time in the small broom closet his caretakers afforded as his room, he was fed irregularly and insufficiently. The court records from after child protective services finally intervened speculated that his foster parents may have begun prostituting the child to pedophiles from an age as young as nine. When the boy’s case came across my desk, I knew that I had my ideal subject.
Now aged nineteen, when he arrived at the facility I had an inherent feeling that Viidith 22 would be our masterpiece. In a fit of inspiration, I thought to construct a mask of pure tungsten for the subject in an attempt to prevent his death. The mask a blank dull gray but for two small eye holes, tungsten had shown in several earlier tests to heighten yet focus the ambient psychic energy projected by the subjects. I had no way of predicting how unbelievably well it would work.
The test began in a way now wholly familiar to me. At the time there were three of my colleagues and a single armed guard on the floor of the testing chamber. Viidith 22 was slowly lowered into a salient bath and gradually injected with our refined series of chemical cocktails while varying grades of electrical charge were passed through his neural web at graded intervals. From where I sat watching in the observation booth, the subject’s newly designed mask gave him a cold, alien look.
Each of the successful subjects before him had exhibited varying psychic abilities as I have described to you already; telekinesis, pyrokinesis, image projection, and some low grade telepathy. In those previous experiments it was at times difficult to capture the precise moment when their abilities were achieved, as they were so miniscule as to be almost undetectable. Not so for Viidith 22, as thirty five minutes into the test, the devil was unleashed upon the chamber. We were wholly unprepared.
The guard, Mr. Fowler, was the first victim. In horror I watched as he struggled to keep his hand from raising his loaded pistol to his mouth, the barrel shoved so far down his throat that he began to choke before his finger finally pulled the trigger. From there Viidith 22 turned his telepathic control to my colleagues.
As I mentioned there were three of them. Dr. Bristow went first, the industrial acid splashing and burning her lower face as she swallowed mouthful after mouthful from the quart sized beaker she held. Dr. Friedenberg was next, grey ropes of intestines spilling from where he’d made a cut across his belly with a razor sharp scalpel. Perhaps the most horrific part of the exchange was that Viidith 22 mentally trapped them, forced them to remain stock still as he puppeted each of them to dispatch themselves in turn. By the time he at last focused his psychic administrations upon Dr. Barry, the man had involuntarily pissed himself, a pool of urine rapidly forming from where the stream flowed out of his pant leg, before he took a power drill fitted with a quarter inch spade bit to his own skull.
Throughout the entire episode I stood in the observation booth, mentally frozen just as my colleagues had been, my hand halted mere inches above the button that would have flooded Viidith 22’s chemical bath with a deadly nerve agent. I continued to fight his control, hoping and praying that the same embolism that had killed the previous twenty-one subjects would take just one more. But it was not to be.
Having murdered my colleagues, Viidith 22 manifested a heretofore unobserved psychic phenomenon: molecular dissociation and reintegration. That is, he teleported from his test tube and rematerialized next to me in the observation chamber. He looked at me for what seemed like a very long time, as if contemplating what to do with me, as I remained, all the while, frozen and helpless, his expression unreadable behind that blank, gray mask. Suddenly, in my head, I heard his voice silently speak to me, “Goodbye, father.” And with that he was gone.
I look up from my notebook to where Dr. Viidith sits slumped in the booth across from me.
“That was two years ago, Mr. Cooper. And I’ve been on the run ever since. From the government who wants answers they won’t believe, and the monster I created I know I can’t hide from.”
I sit back. “Then why come to me, doctor?”
The man sighs sadly. “I’m tired, Mr. Cooper. So tired. Perhaps I hope that…”
Abruptly, he reaches across the table and grabs the fountain pen from my hand before, brutally, plunging it through his eye and deep into his brain. He collapses across the table, and as the life bleeds out of him I see the barest smile play across his lips. My head snaps to the front window. Outside, in the moonless dark, the same glaring neon lights that struck me as I entered the diner are just enough to illuminate a shape wearing a dull, expressionless mask peering through the glass at where I sit. Before my eyes Viidith 22 fades away, the empty night air betraying no hint that he was ever there.
Written by Shadowswimmer77
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