As promised, episode 11 of “The Executioner”. Stay tuned next Friday for episode 12, and every week for much more.
When she meets heartthrob Damian Novac, shy student Alice develops a heavy crush against her best wishes. Hoping to get close to him, she joins Damian and friends on a winter trip in the Carpathian Mountains – a choice that will change her life abruptly.
When the train derails in high snow, they seek refuge at an abandoned cottage, but soon people of their group start losing their minds and dying. Alice barely escapes with Damian and some of their friends, only to realize she’s far from safe even back home. A shady corporation that conducts experiments on humans and which had ‘engineered’ Damian into something monstrous many years before is on their trail.
A man of secrets and obscure powers, Damian might be a villain or a hero. Though aware of the danger he poses, she can’t fight the obsession that draws her ever deeper. Will Damian become her lover or her executioner?
Rux nodded, neck long and face drawn in mock-refinement. “Words put to paper in your dear philosophic period. Freshman year, wasn’t it? When you were still tactless and fearless. Why play pretense now, Alice? You know that what most if not all women want above all else is to be beautiful and desirable. Fuckable.” She sneered the last word in my ear, Marlene Dietrichish enough to set us both laughing.
“I did say that, didn’t I?”
Twisting a strand of my hair on her finger, “You must’ve read it somewhere.”
“Most probably some philosopher.”
“Maybe Schopenhauer the Misogynic.”
“Maybe Nietzsche. I’d expect such impertinence of him, too. Wouldn’t hurry to ascribe it, though, it was a while back.”
“Well, you know what they say. We forget names and titles but the content shapes us. Do you still believe in the thesis?”
I pondered and, for the first time ever since Tony had stood and left me crying at a corner table, I spoke with the ugliest of truths, fished right out of the pond of mud and shit deep down.
Ruxandra smiled. “Then hear and savor: You returned home different tonight. It must be the adrenaline Novac makes boil in your blood. You’re still the sweet Lolita with baby blue eyes and creamy caramel locks but somehow more . . . glamorous. Striking even.”
“But still Lolita,” I whispered, then changed the uncomfortable subject. “What’s up with George? Why has he been so restless without you today?”
Ruxandra dropped back on the bed, hand already reaching to turn off the reading lamp. I jumped on the mattress next to her and caught it.
She rolled on her back, eyes to ceiling. When she spoke, she did so as if she were talking to herself. “All he wants to do is cling to my chest and snivel. The entire time. Among sobs he might repeat apologies, although I dread it when he does.”
“He feels guilty for having been violent with me up in . . . up there. He fears he might’ve done with me what he did with . . . that guy.”
A heavy silence fell over us. What was I supposed to tell her? Oh, honey, everything’s gonna be all right? Overused and arid of meaning. I let go of her hand and lay down by her side. She turned off the light, and for minutes both Ruxandra and I stared upwards in the darkness.
“You think he would’ve done it, Alice?”
The question I feared. I squeezed her hand, my voice faint. “Yes.”
Further moments of silence, even though we were both wide awake and haunted. I decided that, since we were speaking with the dirtiest of truths again, we might as well do it all the way. Plus, this particular truth might just have made her feel better.
“You would’ve done it, too, Rux.”
The sheets rustled as she rolled to face me. I didn’t do the same, but kept staring upwards, eyes darting all over the ceiling in search of words.
“The gas, it rose our adrenaline to a specific level that stripped us of everything to sheer instinct. We were . . .”
“Killing machines,” she breathed.
“Every one of us was ready, willing, if not eager to spill blood.”
“Not every one. You weren’t.”
I couldn’t keep back a bitter laugh. The memory of the peasant in rubber boots, his bad-smelling grin, the wrinkled, bloodshot eyes that my fingers had clawed into, all of it played before me like a movie on fast-forward.
“Oh, yes, Rux, me too.”
She squeezed my hand harder. “That was different. It was self defense.”
“You call it self defense when you don’t have a choice,” I snapped. “But I overpowered him, Rux. I scratched his eyes, he couldn’t have followed if I’d used the chance and run away. But no, I wanted to finish him.”
A while later I was calm enough to add, “Malice is in all of us, I guess. When stripped of the glazing of civilization and given the proper chemical input, we’re all just instinct. We’d never guess who we really are until we get down there, to the most base of levels.”
Another few moments of silence, grotesque memories sucking us both in. When Rux talked again, I heard her as if through static.
“I don’t know, but base isn’t how I felt.”
Now it was my turn to be curious and surprised. “How did you feel?”
The mattress wobbled as she rolled on the other side. She cried herself to sleep that night. The bed was a vibrating cradle, one that cast me into dark thoughts in the silence. For hours I thought about what she meant by superior. How could anybody feel like that in the state we’d been? We’d been animals. Stronger than in our civilization-coated environment where most of us are lost to apathy, but still base.
Maybe indeed better than merely human in some sense. In the sense of tougher, maybe more efficient. All due to the gas that had turned our bodies into some kind of high-performance machines. I’d even recovered from multiple fractures and God knows what else before I’d woken up. The realization gave me the chills.
But if the gas alone could do that, resulting in blood tests that baffled doctors, then what had BioDhrome done a whole year with Damian Novac? I shuddered at the idea of him lying on a metal table, needles sticking out of his body, his eyes half-closed and mouth open, a tube snaking down his throat.
Then I thought about Giant. That he was so large he could’ve easily won Mr. Olympia could be ascribed to steroids, the brightness in his eyes to the gas, but combined? In the context of Damian’s and BioDhrome’s story?
With his breathtaking looks that bordered on inhuman Damian seemed to be of the same outlandish league as Giant, so the latter was surely one of BioDhrome’s experiments, too. An agent, Damian had said. Then it hit me.
A genetically modified organism.
I sat up in a flash. This is it! This was the result of everything linked together: BioDhrome conducting medical experiments, the R.I.S.’ chase for them, my Dad’s part in it as a geneticist, the weird Giant and the striking Damian, all of it led to one conclusion: BioDhrome agents were genetically engineered killers.
I felt a consuming urge to find out exactly what they’d done with Damian and what made him “unable to live among people”. “An Upgrade is as doomed as a target,” Dad’s words came to mind. Yes, that’s what they must be called, Damian and Giant. Upgrades. More than ‘normal men’. Superior, as Ruxandra had put it.
For hours I strolled in circles around the room. Barefoot and gnawing at my partly nailless fingers, there was little difference left between me and an asylum lunatic. When Ruxandra shook me awake from the chaise longue in the morning, my eyelids were swollen and heavy.
“What are you doing, curled up there?” she inquired, black hair messy, eyebrows raised, eyes bitter chocolate.
“I’ve got it, Rux. I’ve got it,” I grumbled.
To be continued
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