The first chapter of Betrayal – coming October, 2016.
Wyatt Millar sat on a folding chair in a dark corner of a large, windowless room in the basement of an old elementary school. He was waiting for a woman. Sandra had told him – as always – that the ‘subject’ was properly screened, that she was safe. He’d been told that he had to do it, that he needed to transfer the virus, or that he’d get sick again. He’d been told it was the right thing to do. He knew that he didn’t have a choice. It didn’t mean he wanted to do it.
“Is she coming?” he asked.
Hannah was alone with him, on a break from hanging out with her newest boyfriend. She was always with Wyatt when he used his power. Everybody worried about him, but her more than the rest. “Rocky went to get her five minutes ago. Relax, it’ll be over soon.”
He scowled in her direction. She wore a bright and flowing button down shirt over black tights that made her behind look too big. A feather necklace completing the outfit, all things he disliked. She was getting more and more weird as she lived with the Dogs. With a grunted reply, he and sat in silence and waited. No matter how many people were around him, he was always lonely. Nobody understood the burden he carried.
Two minutes later, there was a knock on the door and he pulled the hoodie over his head. The subjects weren’t allowed to see his face, for their protection and his. His enemies looked for people who’d been ‘miraculously’ cured. They followed them, surveilled them and used the police to pull them in for questioning.
Wyatt nodded to Hannah. He was ready.
An old woman entered the room. Her hair was wispy and white, she walked slowly, with Rocky helping her along, holding her by an arm. Halfway through the room, he handed her off to Hannah and left the three of them alone.
Wyatt pulled his gray hoodie lower as she approached. “Hello Marilyn, welcome to my home,” Wyatt said sarcastically, indicating the mostly empty room around him. “You’re here for the cure.”
She sat down, across from him, the second chair the only other adornment. “That’s what they told me. I don’t believe it.”
“But you came anyway.”
“I don’t mind passing if it’s my time, but I’d rather not yet,” she said with good humor.
“You have work left to do.”
“Don’t we all,” he said, feeling tired. He’d done this seventy-eight times in the last three years. “Have they told you about the risks?” he asked, even though he knew they had, they always did. With so little interaction, he dragged these conversations out for a chance at a little human contact.
“The young man with the lived-in face told me there might be side-effects. I’m ready for whatever change comes.”
Was that what Rocky called them? Side-effects, thought Wyatt, that’s one way to describe indiscriminate re-writing of someone’s DNA. How about unplanned and uncontrolled evolution? Who could ever be ready, he wondered.
“Change?” asked Wyatt bitterly. “Do you know that you might grow scales, or skin as hard as rock? Did he say that? How about your eyes shrinking in their sockets? Do you want to see in the dark? Are you ready for that?”
Marilyn looked at him with pity. “You’re angry. All you young men are so furious. Always been like that. Boys like you are the Devils hands, you need busy work, something to do other than sit and wait.”
“Do you want to see the Devils hands?” Wyatt pulled off the glove on his left and showed her the bitter red wound that festered there. Three years had passed since the first infection and it’d never healed. “How’s this?”
She didn’t reply directly. “He told me about what happened to some of the others you’ve healed.”
“And you’re not frightened?”
“I have cancer growing in me. Doctor told me I’ve got six tumors. There is one in my chest is the size of a baseball, and they won’t operate ‘cause I can’t pay the freight. You think I’m afraid? Damn right I am, but not of you.”
Wyatt raised his head slightly and pulled his hood back so he could see her better. He wished he could see into her soul. Was she deserving of life, how was he to tell and who was he to decide? The Red Dogs who’d screened her had said that she was a good woman, and that she had devoted her life to helping others, first as a scientist then as a community worker.
He shrugged and slowly unwrapped his left palm, revealing the wound that he’d carried for the last three years, the one that would never heal. Marylyn gasped. “Give me your hands,” he said.
Instead, she reached out and grasped his, staring intently at his palm. “Does it hurt?”
“I’m used to it.”
“Oh, don’t be manly around me. Does it hurt?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. She turned his hands so they faced up and confidently placed her hands in his.
With his eyes closed, he focused on their connection. How the virus was transmitted was still a mystery, but he it seemed that it would only flow if he wanted it to, and only to a willing recipient. He’d failed a few times, and he recognized that it had happened when he was unsure or unwilling. If he didn’t want to share, the virus wouldn’t transmit.
There was no such issue with the old woman. A surge of adrenaline was followed by electricity that surged through his body. The old woman tensed and he gripped her tighter, and gave a mental push, allowing V32 to move through his hands into her. The air around their hands crackled with blue electricity as a final surge passed between them.
Marilyn gasped and fell back into her chair, pulling him towards her. “My God,” she said.
“God has nothing to do with it, this is all science,” he said. With little else to do, and such a strange affliction, he’d thought a lot about religion over the past three years. “It’s a blank virus created by a machine and my particular genetic make-up allows me to be a host.”
“You do this, and yet, somehow, you don’t believe?”
“Do you imagine that I want this, that this curse would make me a religious nut?”
“We don’t always get what we want. God isn’t Santa Claus. Can’t be bitter at him for letting us live our lives, for good and for bad.”
Wyatt shook his head, “If He doesn’t get involved, why believe?”
“Because life is empty without something greater than yourself. Do you have something to believe in?”
“And yet you do this. You live a miracle and yet you’re still bitter. I told you, son, go do something. Be something more than the boy in the basement.”
Wyatt winced at that and released her hands. Hannah came up and helped Marilyn to her feet. As they left, he reflected on his life.
It’d been three years since he’d escaped. Joe or Jessica or whatever she was now, hadn’t held up her end of the bargain. The compound was raided by police three weeks after the confrontation at the military base. It was only fair, he’d not really kept his end of the deal either, what with burning Joe alive and trying to kill Jessica.
The raid was a bust, Sandra had everyone out by the time the police arrived, she’d received early warning and had closed down the compound and the bar. The Red Dogs had been on the run ever since, occupying whatever dump they could, moving every month or two.
He was one of them now, but not really. Most avoided being around him, his special talent and his aloofness. There was something different to him that they sensed, something exciting and frightening at the same time. He was the guy who transformed people, the freak of nature. The rest of the Dogs were united in enjoying being on the run, in their desire to transform themselves – to alter their bodies and minds using technology, metal, and ink, genetics or whatever they could get their hands on.
Once he was sure they were gone, Wyatt pulled the hood off his head, left the room and walked down the hallway to the former lunchroom. The large space was converted into a combination gym and meeting area.
Rocky was waiting for him, fully equipped in protective gear. Wyatt was expected to put his all into the training and after three years of it, he was now an expert in several forms of hand to hand fighting. Rocky needed the protection.
“Are you ready for me, boy?” asked the man, who was twice his age. His grin was dangerous in its own right, his nose askew, his front teeth broken and only half fixed. The bruiser had been with the Dogs for years, starting as an enforcer and muscle. After years of faithful service, he was now the right-hand man of their leader, Sandra.
Wyatt grinned right back at Rocky and, without a word, ran at him. As he got close, he spun away from a kick and grabbed at his arm, pulling it with him as he moved past. He twisted hard. As expected, Rocky spun with him, not giving him any leverage, and Wyatt lashed out with a punch to the neck, connecting solidly with the guard that Rocky was wearing.
“Good,” said Rocky and stepped back. “You were aggressive, you took control, and you went for a key disabling point. Again,” he said and stepped forward, feinted at the head and delivered a solid blow to the side that connected, hard. Rocky had Altered himself, there were metal implants in his hands, wrists and forearms. His punches felt as if he was wearing brass knuckles.
Wyatt fell to the floor and rolled away from a kick. Standing back up in a defensive posture, he nursed his side.
“How about you put on your padding?” said Rocky.
Wyatt shook his head. “There isn’t padding in a real fight. Not that I’ll ever have one, the way you have me locked away.”
“We do it for your own safety,” Rocky said as he moved forward with a flurry of punches and kicks.
“Meh, you’ve trained me for three years. I’m ready for anything,” said Wyatt, countering each of the blows, but not landing any of his own.
“Not a gun. And not for multiple fighters.”
Wyatt pretended to throw a roundhouse and when Rocky moved to counter him, dropped to the ground and swept his legs out, knocking his opponent to the ground. He quickly rolled over and got on top, his legs around Rocky’s neck. “Give,” he said.
Rocky tapped twice, knowing when he was in a no-win position. “Good.”
Rocky got up first and offered his hand. Wyatt took it and was pulled effortlessly to his feet, but was bored with the fighting, and let his hands fall to his sides. “Rock, I gotta get out, do something other than the exact same thing every night.”
“We’ll go out on Monday, like always.”
“I’m sick of that too. A drive in the country once a week isn’t a life.” He raised his hands, stepped forward and swung for Rocky’s head. The boredom was making him angry. The other man ducked easily.
“We can’t fight The Cabal,” Rocky said. This was his term for the shadowy world-wide conspiracy that he – and a significant part of the internet – believed ruled the world. He stepped forward and shin connected with thigh. Wyatt fell down again.
“Enough with your crazy stuff,” Wyatt said and jumped to his feet. He moved aggressively forward, swinging left and right, getting pissed off. “I won’t rot to death in a musty old basement.” His punches missed, and he left himself open for a shot to the face that knocked him back three steps.
“Crazy?” said Rocky and landed another blow. “Crazy is believing the lies they feed you.”
Wyatt swore, swung again and missed. This only made him angrier, and he ran in, failing about and missing blow after blow.
Rocky looked disappointed in him, whether in his attitude or his weak punches, wasn’t clear. “The Cabal aside, this was your choice. Don’t act as if it wasn’t,” he said and punched through Wyatt’s guard again. “Angry doesn’t work, it makes you act stupid.”
“Shut up,” Wyatt shouted, ignored a swing and lunged in for a choke hold. Rocky turned gracefully, grabbed one arm and pivoted to force Wyatt onto the ground. With a hard twist to one arm, he made Wyatt scream in pain.
“Are you going to stay angry?” Rocky said as Wyatt struggled. He pushed the arm higher, there was a light cracking sound as a joint popped. “When you settle down, let me know and I’ll let go.”
Wyatt tried to roll out of the pin and aimed a couple blows at Rocky’s thigh. Both connected, neither hard enough to move the other man. Wyatt let his breath out and put his head down on the mat. Rocky didn’t release him and the pain continued, but that was ok, it was more than ok. Pain was better than feeling nothing.
Rocky gave up and didn’t wait for him to tap out, and with a sigh of disgust let him go. “That’s it for training tonight. If you want a real fight; you’re not getting it from me.”
“Come on, man, I’m just getting into it,” Wyatt said and bounced up to his feet, fists at the ready.
“No. Go to your room.”
Like I’m a child, thought Wyatt and stepped forward, ready to lash out. This was a mistake; he wasn’t ready for the punch that Rocky threw at his chin. With blood flowing from his split lip, he fell to the ground.
Rocky stalked out of the room. “When I say that’s it, that that’s it. We’re done for the night.”
Later he’d remember the blow, how he’d not seen it coming and wondered how much the man held back during most fights. It hadn’t even looked like the other man had tried, it was that fast.