“Second Fall” in Paperback, and More.

My first book is finally available in paperback on Amazon in addition to the eBook format. I took forever on that, huh? You can find it at the link here.

“World to Come,” the second book of the trilogy, will be available next month, so I’ll be sure to make a post about that as the time draws near. For now, enjoy, and if you like the first, spread the word!

A Journey’s Sudden End: Part Two

It’s been four months since the battle with Sam in Dimshore. In that time, a lot has changed. Lethe’s religious cults have surfaced in settlements across the lands and recruited more to their numbers, some by force, and others through desperation. Everyone fears the beginning of the Second Great Calamity, and rightfully so close considering the very being that created the first event was at the helm. Still, one question persists through the impending doom creeping upon the land; where are the heroes that had fought against the villainous masses throughout the past year? Hell, even I wanted answers to that, but for now I was forced to take up arms in their absence. A lot of us were.

I stood in the ruins of Gravesend, the place where this all began a year ago, or so I’m told. Not far to the north was the Tomb of the Necromancer, the very place where Lethe’s body had been sealed a thousand years before. I’ve never actually been here before, but heard a lot of tales from my two previous partners. Apparently they were tied to this place too. Maybe I’m an idiot for still holding onto hope that they’ll be here now, but it’s the only thing pushing me forward.

“You okay?”

I snapped back to reality and looked over at one of my allies. His name was too difficult to pronounce, so we called him “Hope.” A half-human, half-devilish lineage being, his red skin and short horns may have intimidated some, but he was a good guy. He hailed from Ardglass, a city on the eastern continent of Iavros, and home to an academy that trained warriors of magic and might. A top student among the academy, he worked with Phyra and Tallara in their trials in Minoldur against the Lethesar Four. He was kind of flamboyant at times, but who was I to judge? I’m the monster. He was just a guy who keep justice in his convictions, and swords to anyone who stood against that. His name was fitting for a time like this.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied nonchalantly, readying my staff and marching forward through the ruined village.

“Henry, you need to keep your head in this. We all need a leader.”

I scoffed. “Who the hell elected my ass the leader of this band of misfits?”

Hope walked beside me, torso shifted so he was facing me and arms crossed. “You did when you gathered us.”

“I gathered you all because Phyra and Tallara spoke highly of you in their adventures, and anyone willing to put up with them and their circumstances had to be tough. That, or stupid.”

Hope shook his head and walked straight, muttering underneath his breath every now and again. I wasn’t lying. Those were the reasons I had selected this group to aid me in going against Sam and Lethe. Hope was the one with his head on right. Next was Samwise Shadelz, the master thief who mentored Phyra and served as her foster father. He wasn’t a fan of me, and treated me like a bad influence, but I couldn’t deny his tenacity. That, and his desire to find his adopted daughter made it easy to convince him to come along. Even now he still wore his old, faded green cloak over his heavily armed clothing. He hadn’t shaved in months, and his green eyes were jaded by desperation. Though we didn’t get along, I was actually happy he was here. Behind him was the towering hulk of a half-giant, Vatham Rocksmasher. His gray skin and blue tribal tattoos were only two of his odd features. The guy was a machine, undaunted by even the mightiest foe, and loyal only to Samwise as his bodyguard. I had to admit that even I wanted to see the extent of his strength versus my other half, but Vatham had survived far worse near-death experiences. Even now his axe over his shoulder was stained with the blood of those creatures dumb enough to get in out way. Life must be easy when everything is kill and wait to kill again.

Hanging off to the right was the draconic humanoid, Sirath. There was another oddity. The black-scaled being was still donning his pirate garbs, a flintlock pistol hanging from his belt on one side and a cutlass on the other. I always assumed that Sirath was a delusional bastard, but he’d proven himself helpful time and time again in the past. His flying ship and the crew were dependable, but were now busy helping Lanerscost fend off the unrelenting hordes of undead striving to topple the walls of the capital. I wouldn’t have minded using the ship to smash through the temple, especially if that killed Sam and Lethe instantly. Next to Sirath at waist-height was Kroznir Cragguard, the pint-sized inventor and heat-packing member of the group. Kroznir came from a lineage of royalty, and that lineage was so old it served as the name for the entire race. Cragguards are small and stout, but their ingenious minds kept them ahead of the game as far as war goes. His home city of Minoldur was currently battling against eldritch horrors that had been buried underneath the mountain they’d built their city into the side of. Nice foresight for such smart people. I’m not racist. Kroznir looked as ready as ever, and had finally started to regrow his orange beard after it had burned off during a bout with a clockwork dragon the Brain Trust had constructed ran amok. Kroznir may be the brother of a king, but he was a king in my eyes; king of heavy armaments. There was no telling what weapons he had beneath that old duster. He’d pulled his goggles down over his eyes to keep the dust of the dead lands out, but it still collected in his unkept hair. Tallara’s disappearance took its toll on him too, and being the person that took care of her when she came to this world out of the blue, she meant a lot to him. These guys were brave enough to stand with Phyra and Tallara when they fought against Lethe’s forces before, and I was thankful they were here now. Those two left a legacy in their deeds, and we’d take that torch right to Lethe and burn his corpse from the face of the planet.

“Right into his eye socket,” I uttered.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Hope asked.

“Nothing.” I put my nose to the wind. No Phyra or Tallara. Only burnt cinders and dead vegetation. There was something else to the air, but I had nothing to put it to. If I had to name it, it would be evil. This entire area was tainted with necromancy, and the spiraling black clouds that had expanded miles out over the past few months were practically pulsating with power. I took a moment to slow down and let the others pass so I could focus on the magical aura that pervaded the area. All dark, but it didn’t feel like Sam’s presence.

“Henry, not scared, are you?” Kroznir called back in his thick accent that emphasized the ‘r’ in every word. I picked up the pace and caught up with the group.

“No, I was trying to figure out what kind of magic is at play here.”

“And?”

“Let me put it to you his way,” I explained, “my other half is getting excited.”

Sirath stepped closer as we walked, and spoke in what I referred to as his stupid pirate accent. “Is that a bad thing?”

“If the other me is excited, it’s always a bad thing.”

His scaly tail came up and wrapped around his waist. I didn’t know pirates got nervous on land. From what I’d heard he’d fought against a giant whale-like beast that spewed fire from its mouth, so what the hell could scare him?

“Not much further now, I think,” Samwise spoke from the front. Being the leader of a band of thieves, he had enough of a network to know the land better than the rest of us, so I took his word for it.

“I don’t smell them,” I replied.

“I wasn’t going to ask for fear of that,” he said with a sigh.

I had another thought. Phyra really cared for her foster father, and our enemy had a very specific goal in mind. “Samwise, a word?”

Everyone else looked to the old thief. He stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around. “Yes?”

“You and I are humans…well, I’m close enough.”

He nodded, his expression only slightly confused. “Your point?”

“We’d be the prime targets for them. The Lethesar want to eradicate humans from the planet and enslave the rest. Maybe…”

I knew he wasn’t stupid, and he picked up on what I was suggesting quickly. “I’m not going to sit out on this.”

“Look, I’m not saying you’re not up for this, I’m trying-”

Samwise walked towards me and motioned to the others. “Go on ahead. We’ll catch up.”

No one questioned it, but Vatham stood still as the others marched on through the dead woods.

“Vatham?”

“I’m here to protect you,” Vatham stated dully.

“And I respect that, but we need a moment,” Samwise retorted. Vatham didn’t move, and it wasn’t like we were going to tell him he had to. He just stood there as stiff as a tree stump.

“Okay then.” Samwise directed his attention to me. “You’ve been different.”

“I know,” I said with a chuckle, “sometimes I have a lot more hair and muscles, and sometimes I’m like I am right now.”

“Smartass,” Samwise snarled, “I mean you’re not the selfish dick that only looked at others as things to be disassembled and examined. What’s wrong? Why are you worried about you and me? You, I understand, but why me? You know I don’t like you.”

He was blunt, but at least he was still himself at a time like this. “I…look, Phyra once told me before you and I met that if I did something that brought harm to you that she’d kill me herself.”

“You were an ass,” Samwise reminded me.

“I know. I was a dick to you and your guild, but right now I’m trying to do the right thing and-”

“Why?” he interrupted. I struggled with the words, and for some reason looked to Vatham for help. Vatham only gave me a cold stare. He didn’t give a damn about this conversation, and probably just thought we were wasting time. My eyes met Samwise’s, and I knew I couldn’t bullshit my way through him.

“You’re important to Phyra, so I’d rather you didn’t die so she doesn’t do something stupid.”

Samwise glared at me. “Why do you…wait…”

I pointed to Vatham. “Right, let’s go!” I started off for the rest of the group. I glanced back, but Samwise and Vatham weren’t coming after me. Good, maybe he’d stay there.

The others hadn’t gotten too far ahead, but far enough that by the time I reached them they had stopped themselves. The massive ziggurat was visible over the dead trees, and from the top a thick plume of black, Cloud-like gas was rising into the spiraling darkness above, serving as the source of the blackened skies. Kroznir was complaining that he couldn’t see anything, so when Vatham arrived his lifted the Cragguard up by his duster and held him up high.

“Put me down, you barbarian!”

Vatham dropped him from that height and left Kroznir complaining as the rest of us approached with caution. Weapons were drawn, and eyes were peeled. I didn’t smell anything else new in the area, but I did start to hear an annoying voice in my head that wasn’t my own, let alone the other half of me. It was a woman’s, and it took a moment to properly register.

“Can you hear me, Henry?”

“Margarine? Is that you?” I asked. The others looked bewildered at my apparent insanity. I thought they knew that already. “How is Lanerscost?”

“Duke Kamil has all forces battling the creatures coming from the ruins beneath. They’re unlike anything we’ve ever seen, but manageable. The odd part is, they’re not undead, otherwise my barrier would obliterate them on the spot.”

That was concerning. “Demons?”

“No, the magic would affect them too, though not as much. They’re not showing any signs of weakness against the army, so I can only imagine what they are.”

“I didn’t ask for a status update from there, so why are you talking to me?” I asked, trying hard not to sound irritated. Margarine was a nice woman, and I had some respect for her since she gave me a place to stay in Lanerscost. That, and she wasn’t scared of me. On the contrary, I feared the extent of her magic. We practiced different schools, but she could see anything she wanted, and her vision almost covered the planet. Then I realized the only reason she’d be contacting me.

“What do you see?” I asked, and the others took note of my stance and backed together as well.

“Creatures everywhere. They’re horrible, Henry. They’re gathering around the tomb. Please, be careful.”

I swore and motioned for the others to follow me as I snuck around the trees and stepped over the dried and dying vines and roots. “No promises.”

It didn’t take long to reach a small patch of clearing before the tomb itself. Most of the structure had been covered by vines and other foliage, but a lot of that was practically dust now and barely clinging to the ziggurat. We all stood in the tree line, except for Vatham. He just marched out towards the steps that led up the side of the structure and stopped ten feet from them, his head twisting on his neck as he examined the area.

“Vatham!” Samwise hissed, “Get back here!”

Vatham refused to heed his words, and it was no surprise to any of us that the half-giant was intercepted by an enemy for his blunt action. What shouldn’t have surprised me was what transpired next. The being seemingly materialized out of nowhere and swung a clawed hand at Vatham’s neck. The barbaric man snatched the hand before it made contact and lifted his heavy axe over his head. In a powerful swing that defied even my quick senses he cleaved the hand off at the wrist and the creature recoiled, now completely visible to us. It looked like a brown snake with black patterns across its scales…no, it didn’t have scales. Its skin was like that of burnt flesh. That’s what the black marks were. It had a man-like torso, with gangly arms that ended in hands with razor claws. Well, a hand with razor claws. The face was the worst part; toothy maws were sporadically placed all about it, with tiny, white beady eyes in the spaces between them all. The snout at the center reminded me of a bat in an odd way. Whatever the hell had created this thing was on something. Still, why couldn’t I smell it before?

“Vatham, be careful!” Samwise commanded. Vatham studied the creature as it slithered away, watching and waiting for his next action. The big guy was patient, but the monster wasn’t. It moved with a speed far exceeding anything I’d ever dealt with, and as it swiped at Vatham’s chest he stopped the claws with the hilt of his axe. Not to be deterred, it lunged its face at him and tried to sink as many teeth into his chest as it could. We could hear the maws snapping and emitting horrible noises as they dug into Vatham’s gray flesh, but the big guy didn’t seem too bothered by it. He’d grabbed the remaining hand and was in the process of twisting it into a shape that made me cringe, and my bones broke every single time I transformed! The cracking was loud, but the maws that had relinquished him and were now screaming in pain drowned that out. Something about seeing this abomination now struggling to flee from Vatham was actually more terrifying than good. It was trying to stab the stump of its other arm into him repeatedly, but his skin was too tough. Vatham lifted the monster and snatched the tail end that had come around to push him away. We all watched in awe and horror as Vatham grabbed the tail in both hands and whipped. The creature moved like a wave, and then its neck snapped, blood spurting from its many mouth. Vatham held his prize up high by the tail as it continued to drizzle blood to the dead ground at his feet, and I quickly changed my mind about the former tribal barbarian. I never wanted to go one-on-one against Vatham Rocksmasher. The smell of the singed flesh of the serpent was strong, and it only got stronger as we inspected it from a distance. A lot stronger. It made more sense when I had a clawed hand ran through my chest a few seconds later.

“Henry!” Hope cried out, his sword out in a flash and swinging at something behind me. The claws were withdrawn, and I hit my knees as blood pooled out in front of me. The pain was unbelievable, yet inviting. I shuddered as the twisted thoughts that plagued my nightmares surfaced, and begged me to be released. I dropped my staff and covered the gaping wound with my arms, not sure if I was sneering at the pain or grinning at the thought of the transformation coming. I started to welcome it, but the pain in my chest intensified. The wound was festering already. Poison?

“Henry, get away!”

I raised my head to see something that resembled a hunched humanoid with a snakelike face lacking all features, minus eye sockets with sparks of red light burning within. It had rotting, mummified flesh along the torso and head with insects crawling in and out of festering wounds. The limbs were comprised of writhing worms with too many ends for feet and hands. On its back were wings of fleshy hands, stretched and spindly. I couldn’t create that in my makeshift workshop back home if I wanted to, and I really didn’t. Through the pain and bewilderment, I wondered if the thing actually had arms underneath the worm appendages that were coming right for me. I was nearly deafened as gunshot after gunshot rang out, and flesh and insects were blown out of the back of the creature. Kroznir stepped between us and holstered his empty revolvers. I grimaced as I tried to stand.

“I can’t get away with a fucking hole in my chest, you ass!”

Kroznir whipped out another gun from beneath his duster. “Then cover your ears.”

“I can’t do that either! Bleeding out here!”

The gun looked like a rifle, but the part you load with bullets (the receiver? I don’t know guns like the guy who builds them) was kind of big for one of those. How the hell did he even conceal that under there? I didn’t get to think on that long before he pointed it at the monster and fired. The concussive blast actually hurt my head, like a sudden, vast pressure change. An arc of blue light erupted from the end of the gun and tore the head of the horror into shreds before slamming into the stone of the tomb and blowing a section into chunks. If I wasn’t on the verge of dying I’d have admired that power a lot more. An odd-looking piece of metal was ejected from the gun as Kroznir messed with it, and then he stuck another bit of the same metal inside, only it glowed blue.

“Any chance you’ll recover from that?” he asked me over his shoulder. Had he asked that to any other man, he’d be deranged. I was an odd exception, thanks to the curse that was my other half. I wasn’t sure how much the poison would affect it, but my healing factor would take care of the wound eventually. I knew changing would speed up the process, but I hadn’t voluntarily transformed since Dimshore. Tallara’s words stuck to me, so I kept my other half caged most of the time.

“I’ll manage. Don’t let the snake ones cut you.”

“I’d like to see them try,” he said, shouldering the rifle and aiming off to the left. I was practically blinded by the flash of blue as he fired at whatever the hell was over there. My senses started to come back, and I saw the bottom-half of another one of the rotting humanoids slump to the ground. Kroznir was a crazy bastard to make such a personal weapon. Samwise appeared in my field of vision in the background, backing away from one of the serpent things and flashing daggers to stop strikes from the creature. He was fast for a guy in is fifties. Leaping over the creature, he stepped on its head and came down on its back, driving the daggers into its shoulders and working them down its back as the tail came up and smacked him to the ground. My staff was still on the ground, and Kroznir was busy lining up another target somewhere in the woods. Samwise was a dead man.

The snake’s head snapped back as the contents of its skull rained down upon the dirt. The shot had come from my right, and I looked over to see Sirath standing in dramatic fashion with his smoking pistol. It was odd to see a long, dragon-like face like his smiling.

“I’m still better, you damned thief!” he boasted. Samwise gathered his daggers and quickly got to his feet, pointing a finger at his old foe.

“I had him!”

“You had your back to the ground and your life flashing in your eyes!” Sirath jabbed. I was sure the two would fight each other before the abominable creatures that were ambushing us.

“Guys, not now!” Hope yelled behind me. I looked back to see him clutching the hilt of his sword in his right hand, the blade impaled through the head of one of the burnt serpents. His other was preparing what I recognized as a fire spell. Adding insult to injury was a nice touch. I admired his skill, even as he held the thing in place with his sword while he torched it alive. I glanced down at my chest. It wasn’t healing. I was probably going to pass out pretty soon.

“Hold on!”

A hand landed on my right shoulder and emitted a bright glow. My chest was warm, but not burning like it had been. Hope was doing his best to heal me, but it wasn’t his strong suit.

“You’re wasting your magic, Hope,” I uttered, my vision hazy.

“I’m not wasting an ally,” he argued back. You couldn’t win with the guy, so I just shut my mouth and let him do his work.

“Oh, hell no.”

His hand left my shoulder, and I glanced over to see him lop a rotting fuck’s head off with his sword. He then tossed the blade into the air, where it began to spin and fly around, seeking out targets. I needed to study more.

“That’ll buy us some time,” he said as he went back to casting his meager healing spell, “so hurry up and get yourself together.”

I wanted to hit him for that joke, but I didn’t have the energy. Apparently I’d lost a lot more blood than I thought, because my robes were soaked.

“Henry, I have a question.”

“Not a good time, Hope.”

“No, it’s a good time. Listen to me dammit.”

I was honestly trying to grasp everything going on around me with great difficulty. I heard Vatham roaring somewhere to my right, and plenty of gunshots to my left. Sirath and Samwise were arguing while fighting, and Hope wanted to have a serious conversation. I think I had it all right. “What?”

“You gave up your curse twice, right?”

How did he know that? “No, I accepted it twice. It was taken from me twice as well. What of it?”

“If I could get rid of my devilish lineage, I’d want it back, because it’s a part of me. It led to a rough life growing up and a lot of judgement, but it’s me. Is it the same for you?”

I was more surprised that he didn’t give me shit for taking it back to begin with. “Yeah. I couldn’t get used to the silence of just me. I missed the thrill of being a beast, and the power it gave me when I was weak. I’ve had it since I was just a child.”

Hope took his hand away, and stepped in front of me, twirling his finger in a playful motion as I heard the dying cries of beings somewhere behind me in the woods. He spoke as he worked death into his enemies. “Then why deny what you are? It’s okay to embrace it if you fought so hard to accept it. I know what I am. What about you?”

I got to my feet, hole in my chest now just a dent of missing flesh that would heal up on its own eventually. “I’m a crazy wizard who is self-taught, and everything I know is putting things together in ways they shouldn’t be. I’m not great at combat, and when I fall, I fall hard.”

Hope swished the blade past my head and stuck it in the forehead of a rotter. The bland slipped out with ease and came back to his hand, where he grimaced at the blood before swinging it clean. “What about the other you that you refused to get rid of?”

I grabbed my staff from the ground and readied a fireball on the tip before launching it past Vatham and striking a rotter in the chest. It went up in flames, and Vatham glared at me for taking his kill. “Well, then I’m a fucking monster who knows only kill, feed, and kill some more on a bad day. On a good one then it’s kill until I’ve decided I’ve had my fill.”

“I think we need the other you right now,” Hope admitted, raising a hand that radiated with freezing air before an ice spike was ejected from it that flew over my left shoulder. I heard a sickening impact behind me and a thud, and realized Hope was sweating profusely. I didn’t have time to be hurt or careful.

“Don’t make me regret this,” I spat. The painful, infuriating thoughts were scooped up into the forefront of my mind, where I focused on them and nothing else. The change started to come at full force, and soon I was overtaken by cracking bones and splitting skin as my body took on a shape far beyond humanity. I could only smile as my senses and nerves were overwhelmed by the process. The pain registered in every single nerve, and I could smell and hear everything happening around me. An explosion from Sirath’s gunpowder bomb bombarded my eardrums, and my fingernails became claws. Vatham grunted as his axe met squishy flesh, and my muscles expanded as they devoured excess chemicals in my body. Samwise’s daggers clanged against what had to be the blade-like claws of one of the burnt serpents, and my teeth ached as they sharpened and swelled. Kroznir’s modified pistol that fed more gunpowder and projectiles with every shot belched a series of death notes that cracked the air apart with their speed, and my eyes strained in their sockets to see the world in a new way. Hope shattered the space in front of us with a thunderous shockwave that ripped two of the totters apart, and my ankles and feet cracked into new anatomical shapes. I was a monster anew, and howled my excitement into the air. The creatures took that as a challenge, and began to swarm in my direction. I kept Phyra in my mind as I rushed the first one to the ground, trying my best to smile with my beastly jowls.

“Give them hell, Henry!” Hope shouted.

My fangs tore into the rotting atrocity’s throat and ripped out everything they could. It was still churning on the ground as I swung a hand out and tore four claws through a serpent’s horrible face, trailing a black ichor behind them. Vatham jumped into the fray and began to hack his way towards me while Sirath chucked satchels of gunpowder and scrap metal with lit fuses. Some were a little close for comfort, but I’d just scare him up a tree after I dealt with the real threats. I lost count of the bodies we were leaving, but they were definitely stacking up underneath my feet. Samwise tripped over one on his way to stab one of the snake things, and Sirath stumbled over him as he took a few steps back to lob another bomb. Just like that, they were back to arguing in the middle of a battle. I seized them both by the backs of their clothing and heaved them up in front of me. Speaking was hard when everything was a guttural growl, so I settled for roaring in each of their faces. That shut them up before I dropped them on their asses and went back to tearing into the horde of monsters. Hope was nearby, hellfire erupting from points on the ground he willed them from. The guy’s control over his devilish powers was incredible. That left Kroznir. I found him nearly submerged amongst a group of the rotting corpses with wing-hand-things. If it wasn’t for the gunshots and angry, foreign accent cursing everything around him I probably would’ve stepped on him myself. He was on the verge of being mauled by a newcomer to the enemy ranks when I ripped my way to him. This thing was huge, even compared to Vatham and myself. It was some kind of giant crab, made of what looked like congealed blood. Underneath that was some kind of skeletal structure, but odd bits protruded from the body at random points, giving it a spiky defense. The face would’ve been scary, if I wasn’t worse. It was that of a bloated infant’s exasperated demeanor, with skin stretched over the teeth. The mandibles of the thing were nothing but bone that was free of the substance coating the rest of it, and Kroznir had been seized by one. I watched, unsure of what to do as Kroznir was brought towards the thing’s baby face, one hand free and emptying a revolver into the solid bone to no avail. Vatham had carved a path towards him and was trying to put an axe in the claw of the creature, only to get slapped aside by the other appendage. His entire body was sent tumbling and rolling through a crowd of monsters where he disappeared. There went our strong arm. He’d be back in a moment, angrier and deadlier. Until then, Kroznir was my issue. I readied for a long jump and nearly snapped my ligaments from the force of the leap. With the force of my jump I threw my legs forward and kicked the mutated face as hard as I could, and was rewarded with a shriek that caused Kroznir to swear aloud nearby. My claws dug into the flesh, and I went to work swiping at the eyes. The other mandible came at me full force, and I kicked off of the face before it impacted, impaling boney protrusions into itself. Kroznir was released, where he plummeted straight into my waiting arm. The guy was fucking heavy.

“Too many guns,” I snarled, beastly sounds emanating from me.

“Too much bad breath,” Kroznir replied, holding his nose with one hand and wiping the air with the other. I flung him over my shoulder where he grabbed onto my mane and started to work on reloading his gun. Samwise danced a deadly movement through the beings and came to a stop before me, blades and cloaked bathed in the ichor. An explosion not far behind tossed gore everywhere, and when the smoke cleared Sirath emerged, hunched and fatigued. We could all hear Vatham roaring in the distance, and I could even make out limbs flying with every strike. From the other side of the ziggurat emerged another massive, horrible crustacean. Kroznir opened fire right next to my ear, and probably uttered sorry somewhere between my back and the ground I threw him on. We were in over our heads. I tried clawing and biting my way out, only to have poison injected by the serpents and weapons stuck into me by the flying ones. I wasn’t healing faster than I was taking damage, and the poison from before only served to bring me down faster. It’s an odd sensation to feel your organs struggling to not stop, but mine were losing that fight. Hope’s sword spun through the air and took down a few of the monsters, but more just kept showing up. Some came from the ground, and others just appeared. The massive crab abomination was joined by another that erupted from the ground and tossed countless other creatures aside along with Vatham and Kroznir. Hope went airborne, but was nimbler on his feet and landed on it. Unfortunately, he landed on the boney mandible and was forced on the defense immediately. One of the legs of the other came up before coming down with the force of a steam-powered piston on me. For a second I had it and managed to squat the weight up, but the poison was winning that fight. The next thing I knew, I was knocked backwards by the shockwave and pounced on by the flying idiots. I didn’t have the strength to fight back, so they managed three good hits on me. I mean strong hits, with heavy clubs of some kind. Shit, they hurt like hell. Samwise sent arrows whistling overhead, taking some of the bastards down with silent headshots. That worked for all of five seconds for him, because the majority perceived him as a threat now. I snagged the tail of one serpent and wrenched it back, but it tried so hard to claw away. Poor bastard. I felt a little bad as I shoved three claws into its neck from behind and tore upward. Only a little.

“Sirath!”

I glanced up as two more flying assholes beat my back, and to my surprise I noticed Sirath being carried away by two of them over the woods. They had him by his arms in an effort to keep him from harming them, but that wasn’t enough. I grinned a toothy smile as Sirath let loose with his acid breath and forced the monsters to release him…from above the trees. I didn’t see where he landed, but I heard it. That didn’t bode well. Neither did the giant crab claw made of bone that was digging through the ground in my direction. I couldn’t move my body. This was going to hurt.

Flying through the air was one thing, but doing that while your insides threatened to spill out was another entirely. The pain racked my body, and that was multiplied when I collided with a tree with roots so weak I took it down with me. The black skies overhead were hazy, and that wasn’t because they were clouds. I was losing everything. Pain subsiding, I knew I was in trouble when I tried to push myself up with my right arm and only the parts down to my elbow worked. My forearm was dangling past that. Not good. Two of the snake creatures appeared in front of me, claws at the ready. I looked at my elbow and noticed the thick bone punching through the skin. Work with what you’ve got. The first serpent got a nice stab through the snout, and the second ate jabs as I kept sticking the bone into every part of the face I could reach. With those taken care of I set off back for the battlefield. An arc tore through a crowd of monsters and practically vaporized them. That blast was stronger than the firsts, so I could only assume Kroznir was pulling out all the stops. The massive congealed crustaceans were still a huge threat, but I wasn’t about to hurt them anytime soon. My legs started to give, and soon I was greeting the dirt with my snout. So, this is how it ends. We came this far just to die at the hands of these freaks. Phyra and Tallara weren’t here to save me this time. I could feel my form shrinking down, but my bones weren’t breaking back into human form. Instead, they remained fractured and useless as my body deflated, and soon I was a dying human instead of a wounded beast.

“Sorry dad…guess I’m not the monster you made.”

A chorus of loud booms filled the air, followed by a series of explosions on the massive crab things. One toppled onto the ziggurat in a lifeless heap of bone and ooze while the other struggled to stand when a part of a leg shattered. My remaining eye glanced right to see Sirath’s flying ship approaching, cannons giving Hell to the horde below. Clouds of dirt and body parts erupted all over the place. The others might have a chance after all. Sirath’s crew repelled down ropes and joined the fighting, forcing the monsters to flee with what numbers they had up the stairs of the tomb. Cannonballs blew whole chunks of the structure apart into dust along with the retreating creatures, and eventually all was quiet again. The place was littered with bodies, limbs and insides. It smelled horrible, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that much longer. I started to close my eye, when I noticed a familiar figure standing at the foot of the stairs. Short, with a black cloak and daggers in each hand, with white hair hanging out of the hood. It couldn’t be.

“Phyra…no…you’re not.”

I was too fixated on the figure to notice the others were surrounding me. Vatham lifted my broken body in one hand and carried me to Hope, who was against a tree and struggling with a chest wound. Vatham barked orders to him, and arguing ensued, but the entire time I watched the figure ascend the steps and disappear into the tomb. A few minutes later I was being force-fed a horrible tasting concoction that forced my joints back together in the most painful way imaginable. I almost blacked out, but my curiosity kept me holding on.

“I saw her,” I croaked.

Samwise knelt down, his face bearing a new slash across his nose. “What?”

“Phyra,” I uttered, “I saw her just now.”

Samwise squeezed his eyes closed and stood up, crossing his arms and walking over to Kroznir.

“We should say something,” I heard Kroznir mutter.

“What?” I asked. “Say what?”

“I forgot about your damned hearing,” Kroznir grunted. “I think it’s best if Samwise tells you.”

I glared at the back of the thief’s head, waiting for him to turn around.

“Sirath is dead,” Vatham interrupted. We all looked at the body in his hands. I hadn’t even noticed he’d left.

“Fuck!” Samwise shouted, pulling a dagger out and launching it at a nearby tree. It buried itself to the hilt inside the trunk. I knew the two didn’t like each other, but there was an odd respect between the two. They went back a ways in their careers. Samwise stomped around, cursing at everything.

“He was at his life’s end as it was,” Kroznir said, “and he died fighting.”

“He died too soon,” Samwise spat, “before we could settle things!”

I got myself to my aching feet, mind still focused. “What did you say before, Kroznir?”

The Cragguard motioned with his fingers at Samwise, who swore again before speaking.

“Henry, you didn’t see Phyra.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” I demanded.

“She’s not here anymore,” he said, and it pained him. I didn’t understand.

“Is she…no…she can’t be.”

Kroznir took a step forward. “Tallara is gone too. She went home, back to her world. Phyra went with her.”

A lot of things didn’t make sense today, and this somehow took the cake. “What the hell do you mean? They’re missing! How the hell do you know that?!”

“Tallara found a way home through the dark magic of that woman from Diremaw,” Samwise explained, “and Phyra went with her to make sure she’d get there okay.”

I was so lost, and infuriated. “You knew this?! You didn’t tell me?!”

Samwise nodded. “They didn’t want you to know.”

“Why?! They were my friends. They…Phyra, she-”

“Not another word,” Samwise warned me. “I don’t want to hear another word. Phyra was still hurt over your betrayal.”

Fuck the restraints I had, I could feel the change coming hard. “Fuck you!”

“You weren’t there in Diremaw,” Samwise said calmly, “so you don’t know what happened. We killed that bitch, and used her weird book of otherworldly magic to undo the essential lock on Tallara that kept her on this plane of existence. She was free to go home, and even Kroznir accepted that. I knew Phyra wanted to go with her, and gave her my blessing. You didn’t deserve a say.”

“I was with them for months!” I growled. “We traveled together and fought those assholes!”

“And you were a burning fuse of a monster that was going to hurt them,” Kroznir argued, “and you did.”

“I didn’t try to!” I yelled. “I didn’t want to!”

Samwise approached, and I as I stared down at him I finally realized I had changed again. I stood two feet over the thief, who was fearless of my power. “You did, and Phyra didn’t want to talk to you again. I didn’t tell you because you need to focus on this fight, not on something you should be an idiot to think about.”

I felt a strong urge to tear his throat out, but then I thought of Phyra. This hurt all over again. They all lied to me. Phyra wasn’t even here anymore. She was never coming back. My skin beneath the hair burned as the glyphs started to emerge. Everyone stood back as I stomped past Samwise and made my way for the tomb.

“Henry, come back,” Samwise ordered.

“If they’re not here, then I’ll finish what they started,” I growled, “and you all will stay here, or die.”

I kept any happy memory of Phyra in my mind as I marched up the steps. I warned them. I warned her. I can be a monster. It’s what I’ve always been deep inside, and it hurts everyone.

Overture of The Fall Finale: The Project

This marks the end of Overture of The Fall, and paves the way for what this means. Next up is my first book, which I plan to have out before the end of summer if nothing else happens, (because a broken hand among other broken things kind of puts a shroud over any willpower). Still, I present the finale it it’s entirety. Be sure to read the first five before delving in, which can be found in a link to the side, and enjoy!

It wasn’t uncommon for the guards of the Emmerich Research Facility to intrude on the laboratories throughout the day. Usually it was for the sake of ensuring that none of the ongoing experiments were getting out of control, but Dr. Frank Teufel never expected they’d serve as babysitters as well, because this would mark the second time today they had brought Evan Hamilton back to his team’s lab, though this time he was flanked on all sides like he was a dangerous weapon. Each guard held an M4 carbine and donned their typical black armor with red trim that serve as a reminder that they were not with the official government. Teufel wasn’t a fan of the idea of hired guns watching after them, but it wasn’t like the military was going to supply armed units if they knew of the kinds of experiments being performed here. Each guard had their finger resting on their trigger guards, ready at a moment’s notice to put a bullet into the smaller man at their center. For all that Teufel knew, they were right to be cautious. Security was a crucial part of the system here, seeing as though most of the activities were illegal.

“Is this yours?” the one up front demanded.

“Yes, yes,” Teufel replied with a sigh, swearing in German underneath his breath. Disgruntling as this was, he had to hold back a grin as he noted the anxious state of the other three guards standing around the young man in their captivity. Hamilton didn’t look the least bit worried. In fact, he looked disappointed as he pushed his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose.

“Keep him on a tighter leash!” the lead guard barked, “You all know that you’re restricted to your assigned labs!”

With that, the guard in the back shoved Hamilton forward with the butt of his rifle before they all exited through the airlock. The hissing of air slowly faded out as the pane door slid shut and left the team isolated once more. Teufel stood with his arms crossed and glared at the most troublesome member of his team. Teufel knew he came off as intimidating when he was in a foul mood, but it gave him some comfort to know that no one had seen the face he’d given the two men he’d brutally attacked for killing his wife three years ago. Now that was a face he didn’t want to see looking back at him in a mirror, nor was the subject something he wanted to lament on right now. There were more pressing matters to deal with at the moment.

“Well, what exactly is the excuse this time?” he asked the careless man sternly.

Hamilton grinned, “I just wanted to take a walk and enjoy the scenery.”

Teufel kept the serious expression and nodded, “Was it enthusiastic?”

“I observed two men staring precariously at a bull that they had injected with a foreign substance, right before it attempted to skewer one of the individuals when they expressed disappointment that whatever their theory was appeared to have been disproven. I couldn’t quite deduce the theory myself, but I was more interested in how many guards it took to bring the beast down. That and the state of the man they had to pry from the horn impaled through him. The good news is that I definitely don’t have homophobia.”

“So…very enthusiastic?” Teufel asked again.

“Very much so,” Hamilton replied with a laugh. Teufel smiled, but then quickly remembered that he was supposed to keep this man in check. It was admittedly hard to remain stern when someone like Hamilton was the perfect example of what he wanted in assistants; curious in nature, and dauntless to the consequences. The young man was insane (and had the psych evaluation to prove it), but he was indispensable, “Keep the curiosity in the lab, okay Hamilton?” Teufel scolded, “I’d hate to have to explain to the others that you were mistaken for an experiment and shot on sight. With the way you function, that wouldn’t be hard to believe.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Dr. Teufel,” Hamilton replied as he stepped around his boss to return to his station.

Teufel laughed to himself and shook his head. Hamilton was insane, but insanity wasn’t a bad thing to have in this environment.

Hamilton himself thought that the security was asinine. Wasn’t the point of coming here to have more freedom? He was promised free reign here. At least at a university he wasn’t under the threat of gunfire for his actions.

Is that not counting the time you carried your Beretta 950 to the lab to test-

“Shut up,” Hamilton muttered to himself. The voice in his head never did give him peace, but at least it couldn’t turn him in for any violations.

Why the hell would I? The stupid things you do that should have landed you in a penitentiary long ago are all the entertainment I get.

“You’re the worst guilty conscience,” Hamilton snarled.

Teufel stood triumphantly before his team and crossed his arms, admiring the view before him, “Finally.”

Over the course of the past three years, Teufel’s life had changed so much. He’d become a man with an idea, a murderer, a manipulator, and now he was leader. With the death of his wife Naomi Teufel at the hands of the two men he had taken upon himself to exact vengeance on, he found a new fire inside, one that continued to feed on the winds of his successes. Now it was an inferno that fueled his ambition like a train engine.

The five members of the research team had gathered in the central lab of the Emmerich Research Facility. All around them in the other rooms of the two-story complex other teams were working on their own projects in what was literally the next most secret research area of the country, only really rivaled by Groom Lake. The facility had been constructed in secrecy over the past three years under the watchful eye of Senator Reginald Loft. Loft was a man who sought to end war through any means, and if it meant going against the Biological Weapons Convention, so be it. It wasn’t like Teufel wanted to play by the rules in the first place, so he could respect the lack of concern with such inane treaties that were about as reinforced as anything else the UN had oversight of. The hired mercs that surrounded the compound and patrolled the inside were answering to someone higher than Loft himself, which had Teufel wondering just who was really funding this project. He had been led to believe that it was Loft himself who emptied his pockets into this facility, but he had his doubts because of the men in red and black with their dragon patches. Still, he ensured his own team that the project was government sponsored, because he was sure some would be hesitant about working on anything illegal. Of course, he wasn’t too worried about any trouble; with the location being far out in the wilderness of Washington, there were no worries of interference. It was Loft’s money and political power that had given Frank the means to accomplish his goal, and accomplish it he would. The others didn’t need to know that Loft was just as shady as any politician who wanted their dreams achieved. In fact, they didn’t need to know anything that Teufel himself deemed irrelevant to the main project.

Teufel looked around at his assistants and smiled. Sitting before him was Dr. Edward Moriarty, genius mathematician and the man who felt he had the most to prove. He’d left his position at Oxford to come to America and participate in this endeavor, and so far he was proving to be a fine choice by Teufel. Though Edward didn’t work well with others, he showed respect to the people of this room…minus Hamilton. Edward was competing against him in a competition for recognition that Hamilton didn’t even know existed. Besides that, Edward was a good man who had the mindset to get the job done.

Behind Edward examining a sample underneath a microscope was Dr. Henry King, the brilliant pathologist who was too kind for his own good. Of course, Teufel welcomed him nonetheless, as he was the one who usually ensured that they were all eating as they worked into the late hours of the night. King was in attendance the night of the seminar three years ago where Teufel’s life was turned around. He was the only person other than Senator Loft and Teufel’s own wife who saw the potential in the project, and that alone would have served as reason enough for his inclusion on the team. King’s knowledge of diseases and bacteria was just the added plus that kept Teufel grateful. Like Edward, King too had left something behind to join the project, but unlike the prideful former, King actually cared about what he left behind. His pregnant wife was still in Texas, waiting patiently for his return. They’d faced their own challenges lately; the hospital King had worked for got rid of him as a scapegoat for a lot of their funding issues, so Teufel felt safe in knowing that he was ensuring a financially stable future for the family of his late wife’s friend.

Standing not too far from King and writing away on his notepad while muttering to himself was the graduate in biology and terror to most, Evan Hamilton. Hamilton was the only member of the team who lacked a doctorate, but his mind (strange as it was) was free of inhibition. The young man was bizarre, but very passionate about his work. That passion had proven him a very literal threat to his peers throughout school (what with the borderline-illegal human experimentation and numerous reports on his permanent record noting his apathy when it came to protocol), but he had a fire inside that wasn’t easily quelled just because someone told him to stop. In fact, if it weren’t for the constant interventions into his experiments, that fire would probably spread into reality. His list of violations at Princeton were enough to have ensured his expulsion, but perhaps it was fear of Hamilton’s unbalanced nature that kept anyone from taking action. Either way, it was nothing Teufel couldn’t handle. As long as you gave him some room and checked to ensure that there wasn’t a high risk of fatality, Hamilton proved more an asset than a liability to their work. The only thing he’d really done so far to incite concern was inquire as to whether or not some of the guards stationed around the facility would like to volunteer for an experiment in which he would inject a strain of measles that, while not inducing any physical symptoms, would shut down their immune systems for an unknown period of time. Though King found it funny, being that he was the one with the idea to alter the DNA of a simple strain to accomplish such a feat, the feelings from the guards weren’t mutual. Hamilton had already broken protocol enough times to demand a response from the director himself, but Teufel’s reputation kept everyone assured that the odd man was a necessary part of the project.

Finally, there was the newest addition to the team, Dr. Julia Shelly Adler. Dr. Adler was a promising young woman whose medical ingenuity seemed to be boundless, and that knowledge allowed her to graduate with a doctorate in biomedical engineering at a young age. It was a shame that Teufel had to implement such tactics to manipulate her into joining, but a prodigy such as Julia was just too much to pass up. There was also the added benefit of being able to finish off the survivor of the duo from the night of his wife’s murder, so the guilt was far from overwhelming. Julia herself was getting along just fine with the others, despite the initial hiccup with Hamilton. As it turned out, Hamilton was human after all, because the mannerisms he tried to express when he first met the young lady’s acquaintance were so humorous it hurt. Even the most abnormal of human beings could be stricken dumb by affection, and it appeared to Teufel and King right away that Hamilton had taken an interest in the young doctor. In a way, it reminded Teufel of his initial meeting with his late wife Naomi, but he was sure he was much more confident than the blundering shell of insanity incarnate that couldn’t even form three words towards the woman that had actually managed to steal his attention. He chuckled as he looked from Julia to Hamilton. This would be an interesting project in more than one way after all.

In the three years since he’d first set out to accomplish his dream of starting this project, Teufel had brushed up on his biological engineering studies. It would take a lot of work to manipulate any one of the candidate viruses such as the ones he had chosen. For starters, they needed one that would make the transmission to an individual fairly simple. One choice was a recommendation by Hamilton known as chikungunya, the mosquito-borne disease that causes fever and joint pains. The virus itself was rather difficult to cultivate, and keeping a collection of infected mosquitoes was bound to create a problem if even one escaped containment. His worst fear was that he’d be forced to purge the lab over a breach, but there were some protocols that the team couldn’t abandon. The next choice was infectious mononucleosis, but Teufel honestly wasn’t a fan of something as simple as the “kissing disease” being used as the catalyst for his grand scheme. Much to his relief, King and Julia had already proven that they could alter the DNA of the measles virus to remove the skin rash symptom, so at least he knew his team was capable of what he expected of them despite the choice. The objective was to make the virus hard to detect until it was too late, and find a way to minimize the infectivity to prevent an epidemic in exchange for controlled cases. That was the tricky part that he needed to discuss with King and Moriarty today. Their practices were far from the paragon, but none of that really mattered to Teufel. The controversial practices that someone such as Hamilton and himself would utilize was welcome here, and they could expect no repercussions. In fact, Teufel encouraged the wicked behavior of these people, even if Julia was more reluctant to engage in it. Still, she was valuable as a biomedical engineer, as his own knowledge of manipulating the DNA of bacteria and viruses admittedly paled in comparison. Before the rest had come along, Teufel and King had only produced one vial of a green substance that contained his work so far, and all the mixture was able to accomplish was to produce a quick death in one of the lab mice. While that was a successful step one, step two would require much more effort, and that was the very step that Dr. Adler had her doubts over. He couldn’t really blame her; who had ever heard of reanimating a lifeless vessel for only mere moments just to serve as psychological warfare? Of course, her concerns were aimed more towards morality rather than the practicality.

The door behind Teufel opened once more, filling the room with the faint hissing of the airlock as another guard entered the lab. He recognized Mark Westbrook, the young man who actually used reason unlike the other members of the guards around the facility. Teufel placed his hand over his eyes and sighed, knowing all too well what the circumstances of yet another visit like this meant “What else did he do today?”

Westbrook didn’t show mercy in informing the doctor that Hamilton was making the staff throughout the rest of the facility uncomfortable. Apparently he had been doing more than just wandering around over the past few days; three members of the guard team had reported that Hamilton had asked each of them for some assistance in an experiment separate from Teufel’s own. Westbrook wasn’t familiar with scientific terms, but he knew it had something to do with testing their body armor against various types of chemicals that he had retrieved from the hazardous containment room. Terrifying as the thought was, Teufel had to admire Hamilton’s tenacity. That, and he was surprised no one had shot the man on the spot for such ideas.

“What do you propose we do about him?” Teufel asked, “I’m not going to remove him from my team.”

“Doctor, if you don’t do something about his disturbances, then the director may have no choice but to-”

“The director and I have an understanding,” Teufel shot back, “and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to bother such a busy man just to prove my point.”

Westbrook wasn’t having shit from anyone, “If you’re trying to bluff me, doctor, then I’m afraid this will impede anything you’re trying to do here far more than your renegade pet there.”

“All right, all right!” Teufel exclaimed, “Verdammt noch mal!” He paced back and forth in front of Westbrook before coming to a stop with his back to him, his eyes scanning the room before him. Hamilton was in the middle of assisting King with a detailed drawing of the structure of their draft of the virus on a whiteboard, seemingly tame at the moment. With something to keep him occupied, Hamilton appeared as orderly as the rest of the team. The only problems in the lab occurred when he and Edward clashed. Between Edward’s ego and Hamilton’s apathy towards others trying to interfere with his work, the two butted heads like bucks competing over dominance, and the funny part was that Julia wasn’t even their concern. At least his men had their priorities right.

Westbrook began to tap his fingers on his carbine, drawing Teufel’s attention, “How about I make you an offer, doctor?”

Teufel raised a brow, his arms still crossed, “Go on?”

“We have a new vacancy on the other side of the facility that we can relocate him to,” Westbrook explained, “There was an incident a short while ago that involved a team being dismissed from the facility, and there are no plans to replace them anytime soon.”

Teufel assumed he knew which incident he was referring to, “So you’re insinuating that I move one of my assistants to another room, secluded from the rest of us?”

“I can allocate a guard to monitor his station at all times. Truth be told, doctor, he is the only challenge we’ve really faced here since the facility was built. The director is shoveling too many resources into this place as is, but before Mr. Hamilton here we didn’t really have a reason to do our jobs. Hell, between him and that incident with the cow earlier that’s the most action we’ve really seen, so I think having someone…”

“Babysit?” Teufel interjected with the correct word. Westbrook chuckled.

“Yeah, having someone babysit the crazy bastard shouldn’t be a problem. The guard can even escort him back here to the main lab whenever he’s needed.”

“Dr. Teufel,” Edward uttered quietly as he looked up from his projections of their most recent sample, having overheard the discussion, “are you sure about the insane imbecile?”

“You’ve asked me this time and time again, Dr. Moriarty,” Teufel reminded him, “and the answer is still the same; yes.”

Edward grumbled something incoherent underneath his breath as Teufel smiled back at Westbrook, “If it can be done, I’d certainly appreciate it.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Westbrook replied as he turned to leave them in peace once more…though peace was only a matter of the time between bouts involving Edward and Hamilton. The hissing sounds of the airlock faded, but the sound didn’t necessarily stop. It was coming from Edward’s words.

“Hamilton’s too much of a burden.”

“And you’re too hot-tempered,” Teufel fired back with a smirk. Edward shook his head and went back to crunching numbers while Teufel grunted to clear his throat, “I feel that I need to remind you all, thanks to the push from Washington’s Senator Loft, we’re all here to embark on a grand journey to discover a true end to the conflicts in the Middle East.”

“Loft?” Julia asked under her breath as Teufel stepped over to pull Hamilton aside towards the back of the room. Hamilton glanced over at Julia at the sound of her voice as he and Teufel passed, causing her to forget the topic altogether as she turned her head to avoid his gaze.

“He’s a prime Republican candidate for the 2008 election,” King replied, “and a proprietor for peace.”

“And a man who shares my vision,” Teufel added from the back, “which is why I’m grateful to him,” he finished, patting Hamilton on the shoulder before walking over to a table setup full of his chemistry glassware.

Edward squinted at the papers before him as a thought crossed his mind, “Don’t you find it a little odd that a promising candidate such as Senator Loft would risk his reputation with the public by being involved in something like this?”

“He shares something we all have,” Teufel responded as he grabbed a test tube of green liquid from a rack.

“A tendency to cause problems with others?” Edward remarked mockingly. Hamilton just smiled as he approached his own station and began gathering his things.

At first, I thought you just didn’t like the guy because he was British, but now I have to agree; he’s a fucking prick.

Teufel leered at the two of them before addressing Edward, “Dr. Moriarty, find solace in the fact that I’m having you and Evan separated, because I’m honestly fed up with the two of you harassing each other when progress could be made.”

“Yet having him harass the guards is worth keeping him around?” Edward argued.

“If anything,” Hamilton remarked from the back corner of the lab where he was sweeping his desk of his files and necessities, “my harassing will keep them at bay so they’ll leave us be.”

King laughed, “Sounds like a legitimate strategy if you’re counting on them giving up eventually. You know, like the boy who cried wolf?”

“That’s an optimistic thought,” Hamilton replied as he turned away from the desk, his arms straining to hold everything in his grasp as a can of energy drink fell to the floor and burst, shooting across the floor of the lab and leaving a citrusy smell in its wake.

“What are you doing?” King asked. Hamilton shrugged at the mess and approached the front with an armful of folders and three more cans of energy drinks.

“I’m moving into my new station on the other side of the facility.”

King’s attention was stolen from the whiteboard as he streaked a black line across his model of their ideal hybrid virus, “What?!”

Edward snapped his fingers at him, “King!” he hissed, “Belt up!” King gave him a puzzled look, and Edward had to remember that he was in America, after all, “King, don’t ruin the chance of being rid of that barmy todger!”

“My own lab,” Hamilton repeated, ignoring the noise from Edward, “Did Dr. Teufel not inform you?”

Before King or Edward could say anything in response Teufel inserted himself into the conversation to maintain some level of order, “Hamilton, you just found out yourself.”

Hamilton shrugged, “It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

Considering you tampered with that experiment by swapping the syringe with one full of steroids, yeah, a violent bull was bound to happen. Plus you got a guy seriously injured in the process. Bravo, Hamilton.

“Please quiet down,” Hamilton muttered to himself.

“So, Hamilton is being reassigned?” Julia asked. Teufel waved a hand.

“He’s merely being relocated. He’ll have plenty of space to…”

“Be Hamilton?” Edward added. Teufel was about to scold him, but there wasn’t really an argument to be had; Edward was right. Still, he had to say something.

“I just thought that someone like Hamilton could use some free space to work in his own little world,” he looked to Hamilton, “No offense to you, Evan.”

“No, no, it’s quite all right,” Hamilton assured him.

“In any case,” Teufel continued, “it would be much more convenient if the guards were bursting into his lab every few hours rather than in here, wouldn’t you agree, Dr. Moriarty?”

Edward readied another retort, but the grin on Teufel’s face spoke of the consideration that went into the decision, and Edward relaxed, “Of course.”

“Well,” Hamilton said, looking around at the inhabitants of the lab as he hoisted up his belongings, “I’ll be on my way. I’ll return for one of the mice momentarily, as I’d like to see how the modified measles virus actually binds to the cells of a living subject, and since none of the fine men and women of the staff around here would like to volunteer, I’ll have to make do with what I can.”

“Nonsense,” Teufel replied, “Dr. Adler can carry one to save you a trip.” Edward mouthed the words “thank you” to their project lead as Julia jumped at the sound of her name. Teufel beamed, “Will you be so kind as to assist him, doctor?”

“Yes sir,” Julia answered, walking over to the cage of mice on one of the tables to the side and retrieving one. She held it cupped in her hands and smiled at it as she approached Hamilton’s side. His eyes lit up as they locked in on the innocent creature.

“That one will do nicely.”

Julia peered over and caught the mischievous look in Hamilton’s eyes before the overhead light put a glare in his glasses. He was incredibly creepy.

“Oh, and Hamilton?” Edward called out. Hamilton stopped before the door to the airlock and looked back over his shoulder. Edward was wearing the most bogus smile about his face as he gloated at Hamilton, “I hope you enjoy your new quarters.”

“Of course,” Hamilton replied as the pane door slid open and the holes in the walls began to hiss, “todger.”

Julia and Hamilton stepped inside of the airlock and awaited the blast of air as Edward tried to comprehend whether or not he had heard Hamilton correctly. The door slid shut as Hamilton turned his back, a wicked grin peeling across his face.

King went back to his drawing on the whiteboard and swore when he realized his mistake, hastily scrubbing the stray mark away. Edward grunted and let Hamilton’s last comment go, opting to focus on the matter at hand instead, “So doctor, have you decided on which other virus we should utilize?”

Teufel placed the test tube in the centrifuge with three other samples and started the device before stepping over to the computer monitor next to it and pulling up some of the models Edward had prepared, “Infectious mononucleosis would be my preference. It would be easier to engineer, what with it being a virus we have plenty of information on.”

King had doubt, “Wouldn’t that make it easier to identify? The second someone from the WHO or CDC realize it’s a modified virus, they’ll start investigating into the likelihood of biological warfare. Then your best friend Senator Loft will have to answer to a lot of questions if it’s traced back to us.”

Edward and King weren’t prepared for what happened next. Teufel cackled maniacally, and it sent chills down both of their spines. While both men were preoccupied by the odd behavior of their team lead, he stole a glance at the enclosed balcony above. Unbeknownst to the other two doctors, a shady figure was watching over the project from behind the tinted glass above them, and was excited to see where the work was going. The director was a careful man, so Teufel wasn’t worried about any mistakes. Besides, the director wouldn’t allow mistakes, and neither would Teufel.


“So, Evan,” Julia began nervously, “you were a student at Princeton?”

Evan refrained from answering. It wasn’t so much that he hated the idea of small talk, but when it came to Julia, he really didn’t know what to say, and this walk was awkward enough already. His former colleague Hal Hoo from Princeton would be enjoying Hamilton’s torture, because he’d always wondered what the socially awkward (and disturbing) man would do when stuck with a woman who actually interested him. Hamilton shook his head at the thought. He wasn’t interested in Dr. Adler.

Keep telling yourself that, buddy. I’ll be up here enjoying the sight of you burning in shame.

Sure, she was the same age as him and very intelligent…and kind of cute. In fact, Hamilton felt the same kind of comfort with her that he did when Hal was around, only unlike Hal, the thought of tricking her into participating in any of his small social experiments seemed…cruel.

Answer her question, you fucking idiot!

“Hm?” he blinked rapidly before turning his gaze to her, “Princeton! Yes…I…” his mind locked up. There was another reason he was excited to be out of the lab; Hamilton’s mind was always considered unstable, but with Julia around he somehow found it harder to focus. In fact, he tried to think straightforward about what to say to her in passing.

Holy shit, you’re attracted to this woman. Stop overthinking it!

“I…I attended the university for a time before joining the project. Why do you ask?”

Julia kept her eyes to the floor as she stroked the back of the mouse in her grasp, “I was just curious. The others haven’t said much about you, so I assumed you just open yourself up to others personally.”

The only things this guy tries to open up are usually very reluctant.

Hamilton growled quietly before attempting a genuine smile, and even that would have scared anyone, “No, I just don’t normally talk about anything unrelated to our work, unless it’s to stir trouble with Moriarty.”

“Wait, you know you agitate him?”

“I get bored, and he’s easy to trigger,” Hamilton replied honestly.

To be fair, that’s about the only thing you do that I completely condone. Arrogant bastard needs a challenge, so why not give him one?

Hamilton grinned at that one, “Well, what about you, Dr. Adler? You seem very smart to have already received your doctorate at your age. You seem to be an…” Hamilton swallowed a knot in his throat, “interesting person.”

His eyes were facing forward, so he didn’t see Julia blushing, “I graduated high school early and made it into Johns Hopkins at sixteen. It made having a social life impossible because I spent all of my adolescence studying.”

“Ah, the idea of a normal teenage life. Being a rebel, letting your hair grow out, and dating a different person week to week when you’re bored. Are those the qualities you missed?”

Julia cringed at the words, “Some of those things I don’t think I particularly regret missing out on.” She thought about it more and turned her eyes to him, “What about you?”

“Hm?”

“Did you get to enjoy those things?”

Control yourself and leave the unnecessary parts out, okay Hamilton?

“I had…a normal life, I suppose.”

Playing the mysterious guy? This should be interesting.

“Judging from what the others have said, I find that hard to believe.”

Hamilton laughed. She was no bullshitter, “Well, from a young age I’ve been interested in how things work, both mechanical and biological. That led to many small experiments when I was a kid.”

That captivated her, “Small experiments?”

“Well, for starters, I had a dog once.”

Julia’s eyes twinkled “Aw, what was its name?”

“He was Ivan, after Pavlov,” Hamilton actually smiled at the memories, “Good dog, but maybe testing Pavlov’s theories on the little guy wasn’t the best idea.”

“What happened?”

Another can of energy drink fell from Hamilton’s arms and exploded at his feet, spinning around and spraying its contents at their feet. Julia leapt backwards and glared at the ruptured can in disgust, but Hamilton was still on the former topic, “To answer your question, something like that.”

Julia was stunned, “I…I don’t-”

“Not as bad as the mailman,” Hamilton continued, “That was rather unfortunate, and I was only six at the time,” he laughed dementedly at the thought, “we were the only family in the neighborhood that had to get our mail at the post office.”

Julia didn’t know what to say. She was between intrigued and mortified, but still, it was better than the usual awkward silence the two shared in passing, “You really must’ve given your parents a hard time.”

“Those bastards?” Hamilton spat crossly, “They disowned me when I was eight.”

Julia gasped, “That’s awful!”

“It’s what happens when you have two religious parents who fail to see the point in expanding knowledge beyond the realms of whatever restrictions they believe some divine being has placed upon mankind. That and trying to dissect the neighbor’s son probably didn’t help.”

Surprised the lawsuit stopped at a restraining order…

“I see,” Julia uttered, feeling pity for the man walking beside her, “So what happened after that?”

“I was placed into foster care.”

Julia breathed a sigh of relief, “So you found others who cared?”

Hamilton chuckled, “The first family tried, but then I burned the house down. Then the second family from when I was ten…well, I actually liked my foster father from that one. He took me hunting and perked my interest in firearms.”

Julia beamed, “Sounds like that one worked out for you.”

“Until I shot my foster brother, yes.” Involuntarily, Julia began to fall back. Hamilton hadn’t noticed as he carried on, “The third family I was placed with were a kind and loving group of people, but they too were religious, and when I proclaimed that I wanted to delve into a career in the field of science after high school, they didn’t take it lightly.”

“Really?” Julia asked in disbelief, “They didn’t bother to support what you wanted?”

“What I’ve wanted has never been anyone else’s concern, only my own. Besides, not many would agree with what I want.”

They stopped before the door to room 135, where a team was still inside decontaminating the lab. Hamilton closed his eyes.

That bull did some damage. Judging from the blood, I’d say the scientist survived…then again, you lack a guilty conscience. Right. Also, that woman is talking to you again.

“Hm?”

“I asked what happened with that family.” Julia repeated. Hamilton could only shrug as he observed the biohazard team doing their job, “They had a problem with my mouth over their beliefs. Apparently trying to disprove one’s religious views is the fastest way to be disowned.

Two months to be exact. That has to be yet another record you’ve set.

“So…how did you get through school?”

“My way,” was Hamilton’s reply. Julia was getting tired of the ambiguity. Turning her head to face him, she scowled and spoke in a more menacing voice.

“Tell me, or I’ll grab one of those cans and bash it over your head. That, or I’ll inject you with the experimental measles.”

That was new to Hamilton. The quiet young woman he’d been afraid to talk to had a morbid side. Rather than be afraid, he beamed like an idiot.

Smart, cute, and willing to put up with your wicked side? I like her.

“Go on?” he pushed. That was rewarded with a foxy smirk.

“No, you’ve yet to answer me.”

“Fine,” Hamilton sighed. He didn’t know how to deal with women anyway, “I was sent back to the foster home. I got into trouble there too, of course. The others made fun of me because I was the only person to ever have been sent back, let alone three times. Of course, the teasing didn’t last long. Amazing how people leave you alone once you’ve gotten your hands on a copy of the “Anarchist Cookbook,” and what’s more amazing still is what you can do with the knowledge from it.”

“The what book?” Julia asked.

“I’d tell you to look it up, but that would probably get you into about as much trouble as you would be for participating in this project. Anyhow, I attended a charter school and excelled in my academics, but failed socially. In the end I managed to acquire a full scholarship to Princeton, so to hell with the past. Now I’m here where I can do as I please, at least to an extent. It’s still better than what I had to put up with in school.”

“I’m sorry…it must’ve been hard without others supporting you.”

The words didn’t faze Hamilton, “I’ve never cared for others. They’ve always been afraid of me and my projects, or in the case of those who were supposed to be my family, they’ve abandoned me. It’s not like I’m alone though.”

“Why’s that?” Julia questioned, growing more curious about this insane being. She was amazed at his human side, and at the fact that he was actually willing to talk about his life so easily.

Do you really want to try explaining me to this nice girl? Stop while you’re ahead. She’ll learn in due time, like Hal did. Then if she’s normal after all, she’ll ditch you like the rest.

“Don’t worry about it.”

Julia opened her mouth to retort, but the door slid open as the biohazard team exited the room with their equipment. Hamilton wasted no time in entering his new lab, much to the surprise of one of the cleanup guys still inside.

“Sir, it’s not safe to enter yet.”

“Perfect,” Hamilton responded, “You may leave now. I have a lot of work to do.”

“But-”

Hamilton shot the man a look so fierce that the air seemed to feel with his evil intent, “If you’d like to stay, I have an idea of an experiment you could help me with.”

Not another word was said as the man made his quick exit, leaving Julia and Hamilton alone in the lab. It was quite smaller than the main one they’d been working in, and housed a containment cage on the right wall. Hamilton had no use for such a thing…at the moment.

“I like it,” Julia commented as she glanced around, “if anything, I can lock you up in that cage if you get too out of control.”

“Is that a threat?” Hamilton retorted as he set his supplies down on a desk in the back corner of the lab. He had to turn around when he heard laughter. No, it was giggling. The light from above hid her eyes with a bright glare on her red-rimmed glasses.

“It’s a promise, now be a good boy in here, okay?”

Hamilton said nothing, opting to just take the mouse from her and return to the desk. Julia made her way to the door, proud of her accomplishment in getting the recluse to actually open up.

“Dr. Adler?”

Julia turned back to see Hamilton facing her from across the lab, a smile on his face. This one wasn’t as disturbing as his usual demeanor. In fact, it seemed like he had a very warming thought on his mind, “Yes?”

“I didn’t really take the chance to say it before, but…” she swore that he was actually blushing, “I look forward to working with you.”

Julia stood at the entrance and placed a hand on the doorway as the glass pane slide open, returning the smile in earnest.

“Me too.”


Teufel had been mulling over the plans for the project for ten minutes, and a thought occurred to him, “King, how difficult would it be to engineer a virus to mutate uncontrollably?”

“Wait,” King stuck a finger in his ear and twisted it back and forth, “Come again?”

“I want the virus to mutate with each unique host.”

It was Edward’s turn to scrutinize, “But the plan is to distribute the finished product to those mercenaries in the form of ballistic syringes to be fired at the victims, correct?”

King nodded in agreement, “So why would we need a mutating virus if we’re planning on removing the infectious traits of both mono and the measles?”

Teufel placed his hands on the table before him and leaned forward, eyes glued to the computer monitor while his mind was focused on the doubt expressed by his colleagues. That was the problem with intellects; too many questions.

“Gentlemen, I can assure you both that I’m not deviating from the plan, but if you’re so worried about the virus being easily identified, then why not engineer the virus so that the strain is altered in each host?”

“Is…” King weighed the idea heavily in his mind before really questioning their leader, “Is that even possible?”

“Between Dr. Adler and myself, I believe so.”

Edward cocked an eye, “That’s very ambitious.”

“Ambitious?” Teufel repeated, “Dr. Moriarty, let me ask you a question; why are you here?”

Edward wasn’t prepared for the question, “Well doctor…I-”

“Let me tell you why,” Teufel interrupted, “Dr. Moriarty, you’re here because you want to feel challenged by powerful minds instead of powerful constraints.” Teufel then turned away from the monitor and glared at King, “Dr. King, you’re here because you want to support your family, and you were wronged by the people above you who needed a sacrifice to keep their own positions secure.” More laughter erupted from his lungs, and it was as if it filled the air with an eerie static that made the hair on the arms of both King and Moriarty stand up, “Even Dr. Adler came to us with the hopes of reducing the loss of life all around her in this godforsaken world.”

“What about Evan?” King asked, noting the lack of mention of the deranged individual. Teufel snorted.

“Mr. Hamilton? Well, he’s…” Teufel tapped his finger on the table, “He’s just along for the ride, and wants some room to breathe.”

“More like room to destroy,” Edward remarked, “Say what you want, Dr. Teufel, but I will never trust the bloke.”

“That’s enough, Edward!” Teufel snapped, “Hamilton will prove beneficial as long as he’s occupied, and I’ll be sure to keep him piled with work. The young man never sleeps, after all.”

“Considering his constant caffeine intake,” King commented as he pored over the list of traits Teufel wanted the team to implement into the engineered virus, “I’m sure you’re next problem with him will be something along the lines of heart failure.”

“Only if I’m lucky,” Edward muttered. Teufel disregarded the utterance and instead pulled up the display from his computer monitor on the large one mounted on the wall at the front of the room. The screen mimicked Teufel’s model of the DNA of infectious mononucleosis and their already altered measles sample combining as traits of both were discarded or combined to form a whole new specimen as even more proteins were changed. Teufel crossed his arms as he beheld the results of the predictions made by the five of them. Virtual simulations and real experiments were two different things, but it was comforting to see Point B from Point A.

“Delirium, psychosis, and comatose are the most serious symptoms projected right now,” King announced.

“Other than the risen dead?” Edward jested. Teufel only nodded in acknowledgement as he scoped the screen.

“Total organ failure should occur due to complications with the immune system, allowing the virus to ravage the entire body of the infected, and anaerobic respiration should allow the brain cells to live on past the state of death for just a little while,” King continued, “which means the only real issue is determining the incubation period of the virus once introduced, since we’ll need to work on that as well.”

“And we’ll need a human experiment for accuracy…” Edward stated dully, knowing well that such a request would have the project shut down faster than anything even Hamilton could manage.

“I wouldn’t rule out any options just yet, gentlemen,” Teufel replied, turning away from the giant monitor and facing his colleagues, “Remember, we have less restrictions here, and as long as we produce results we’ll remain secure.”

King was beginning to sweat at the mere concept of risking human experimentation, “Would the director allow such a thing?”

“If it betters our chances of reaching our goal,” Teufel began as his eyes rolled up to the skybox to note the director’s absence, “then I’m sure there are no limits to our work except for our own human restraints.”

“Such as morals and a guilty conscience?” Edward inquired. Teufel winked and faced the large monitor with his hands behind his back.

“My greatest dream is to abolish the violence of the world, and to do so we must utilize the weapon man has always used to deter the threat of more violence in the past; fear. The only difference is that our method will be rather unorthodox. First it was conventional weaponry, then nuclear warfare, but now it’s time for a new strategy, one that will stop extremists in their tracks. Such a deterrence would bring anyone to their knees.” He thought back to the naming process of the project. Every scientific project in history utilized a code name when referred to, and theirs was no exception. Of all people, it was Hamilton’s morbid outlook that settled the matter. He said that through their work, the potential of destroying the will of their enemies to fight by making them think that their god has forsaken them reminded him of the concept of the original fall of man. Since those that died due to the virus would rise again, it was like their creator would be denying their salvation in the afterlife. It was this observation that led to the project’s label, and Teufel himself had to admit that it was fitting. On that thought he grinned at the screen, “I will stop at nothing to achieve my dream through Project Second Fall.” He clenched his hands into fists until his knuckles turned white, “Nothing.”

Preview of the Finale

I’m working on homework for the next day, so I figured I’d at least give a preview of some of what I’ve worked on so far in the finale of Overture of The Fall. I’m happy with the way this is all wrapping up, and hope to have the full piece up within the next week along with another announcement. If you have no idea what’s going on, you can find the first five parts of the series along with my other works on my site. Enjoy!


It wasn’t uncommon for the guards of the Emmerich Research Facility to intrude on the laboratories throughout the day. Usually it was for the sake of ensuring that none of the experiments were getting out of control, but Dr. Frank Teufel never expected they’d serve as babysitters as well, because this would mark the second time today they had brought Evan Hamilton back, flanked on all sides like he was a dangerous weapon. For all they knew, they were right to be cautious.

“Is this yours?” the one up front demanded.

“Yes, yes,” Teufel replied with a sigh.

“Keep him on a tighter leash!” the guard barked, “You all know that you’re restricted to your assigned labs!”

With that, the guard in the back shoved Hamilton forward with the butt of his rifle before they all left the area. Teufel stood with his arms crossed and glared at the most troublesome member of his team.

“Well, what’s the excuse this time?” he asked.

Hamilton grinned, “I just wanted to take a walk and enjoy the scenery.”

Teufel nodded, “Was it enthusiastic?”

“I observed two men staring precariously at a steer they injected with a foreign substance, right before it attempted to skewer one of them when he expressed disappointment that whatever their theory was appeared to have been disproven.”

“So…very enthusiastic?” Teufel asked again.

“Very much so,” Hamilton replied with a laugh. Teufel smiled, but then quickly remembered that he was supposed to keep this man in check. It was admittedly hard to remain stern when someone like Hamilton was the perfect example of what he wanted in assistants; curious in nature, and dauntless to the consequences. The young man was insane, but he was indispensable.

“Keep the curiosity in the lab, okay Hamilton?” Teufel told him, “I’d hate to have to explain to the others that you were mistaken for an experiment and shot on sight.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Dr. Teufel,” Hamilton replied as he stepped around his boss to return to his station.

Teufel laughed to himself and shook his head. Hamilton was insane, but insanity wasn’t a bad thing to have in this environment.

Overture of The Fall #5: The Innocent

The sky was beautiful today. There wasn’t a cloud to be found by the eyes of Julia Adler, which made sitting before the windows on the ground floor of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center all the more peaceful as she enjoyed her break. Sitting with her legs crossed, her head was resting on her left shoulder as she admired the view outside. People were scurrying about either on their way to work or just leaving, and every now and then a car came by the pick-up location to receive a loved one, recovered and ready to go home. There was tranquility to be found in knowing that she was a part of something that worked to ensure sights like this were a constant in the world, and yet, something was missing. She’d helped treat countless injuries, diseases, and viruses during her time as a biomedical engineering student here, but there was one that there was seemingly no answer to; no cure for. That never-ending illness was called human malice, and it was the one constant that threw all of this peace into a spiraling vortex of chaos that threatened to spew forth it’s will at any given moment.

On cue, an ambulance went screaming by and tore around the corner of the building and out of view, no doubt headed for the emergency center. Julia sighed and turned to the door across the hall from her. Inside was a patient who had suffered very tragic injuries to his spine and skulls years ago, and to this day he was still in a coma. Nothing was known about what had happened to land him in such a critical state other than the fact that severe trauma to the spinal cord and back of his skull should have left him dead, but he’d pushed through and even come out of his ordeal with his brain still functioning…though functioning had a different meaning when it came to comatose.  There was a lot of doubt as to whether or not he’d ever awaken, but Julia was optimistic. After all, she’d heard of miracles happening before. It was just odd that he’d ended up in this hospital after being dropped off at the emergency entrance to another in California. He’d been all over the country as his family spent their savings to try and save him, but now he resided here at Johns Hopkins, a paralyzed shell with a soul trapped inside. Since she was assigned to checking his vitals on her shifts, she made a habit of being around whenever she could, waiting for the day she could deliver the good news to his family that he’d awoken and could possibly go home, even if his life was forever changed.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Julia’s eyes bulged. She was alone…or so she thought. Slowly, she moved her head around to her right and saw a lone man sitting a few feet from her on the bench before the windows. He appeared much older than her, with graying-brown hair that was thinning from his forehead to match the same-colored goatee. His nose was crooked, and his eyes a dark blue that seemed to trap the sunlight in them. Over his right shoulder was a brown leather briefcase that looked ready to burst from the sheer amount of contents. He turned his head to her and smiled, straining the wrinkles on his face.

“I’m sorry if I frightened you,” he said warmly through a thick German accent. Julia relaxed her muscles and returned the smile.

“It’s fine, really. I just didn’t notice you there.”

“Well, I just happened to be strolling by and this seemed like a nice place to stop and take a short rest. You see, I’ve been walking around this medical center all day in search of someone.”

Julia turned her body to him and leaned forward, the helpful nature in her kicking in, “Maybe I can help you. Are you looking for a patient?”

“I believe so,” the man said, “at least, I’m sure that he is now. You see, I haven’t seen the man in three years. The last time we crossed paths was at Standford University in California. I had the pleasure of meeting him after a seminar where I wasn’t received very well, but he made sure to catch me after my presentation, and was very motivational. I wanted to thank him for being such an inspiration during a very hard time for me, but I’ve never been able to find him until recently, and that was when I discovered his unfortunate condition.”

Julia nodded, “I see…”

“It’s important that I get to see him, as I have so much to thank him for.”

“Well,” Julia said, standing up and stretching, “do you have a name to find him by?”

“Yes,” the man replied, rubbing two fingers through his goatee, “I believe it was Timothy Sasser.”

Julia froze with an arm in the air, her eyes shifting to the door to the coma patient’s room. The name on the patient’s chart on the door of room one hundred and thirty-five was none other than Timothy Sasser himself.

“Sir,” Julia announced, “look no further. Unfortunately, what you’ve heard is true, and grimmer still. Mr. Sasser has been in a coma for the past three years.”

The man’s eyes dropped to the floor as he took in the news, “I see…”

“Honestly, it’s a miracle that he even survived the incident that put him in here. He was brutally attacked based on the injuries he had sustained prior to being dropped off at a hospital in California. They were able to stabilize him, but it’s likely he’ll never recover,” she finished, her voice trailing off as the pessimism won over her previous optimism.

The man didn’t seem too fazed by that, “It’s a shame. I owe him thanks for everything.”

“This seminar…” Julia began, “what exactly was it?”

The man smiled, as if he were waiting for just such a question, “Well you see, I had a grand vision to bring an end to the violence that plagues this world,” he held up a finger, “and the seminar was for those who sought support for their projects. Mine was indeed a hard one to sell, but I finally found financial backing through a reliable source.”

Julia sat back down, crossing her legs and leaning forward, her head propped on her left hand, “What was the idea?”

The man crossed his hands in front of his face as he intertwined his fingers, “The idea I had was simple; utilize fear.”

“But…” Julia was hesitant to challenge the man, “isn’t that what violence creates?”

“What do you mean?” the man inquired, curious about the young woman’s objection.

“Well, violent actions invoke fear, right? Take the patients here for example; this building covers a wide-area of trauma patients, and many have been the victims of brutal attacks, from stabbings to shootings, and even being set afire by their assailants. They know fear unlike anything we’ve experienced. Fear is in the world, but people use it for their own gain to hurt others. Fear is the very thing I despise, as it’s the bane of all of mankind.”

The man nodded, “That’s a rather hefty blow to my theories. Perhaps I was wrong all along…”

Julia raised her hands and shook her head, “Oh, I’m sorry! I don’t know anything about you, so I-”

“It’s quite all right, my dear…?”

“Adler,” Julia answered, “Julia Adler.”

“It’s nice to meet a young woman with such an understanding of how one of the greatest traits of our subconscious works,” he held out his right hand, “I am Dr. Frank Teufel.”

Julia smiled and shook it, but something about the name had her digging through the crevices of her mind. She knew the name, but she wasn’t sure where from, “Do you work for the institution, Dr. Teufel? I’m afraid I’ve never seen you around here before.”

“I do not,” he answered, “but I am interested in the studies here. You see, I’m not just here to visit an old friend.”

“Are you attending a lecture, or taking a tour?” Julia asked him. Dr. Teufel waved his hand dismissively.

“I am looking for someone interested in a job.”

“Then I’m sure you’d have better luck going through-”

“Attention staff, Code Blue, 2, 15. Code Blue, 2, 15.”

“Dammit,” Julia muttered, dipping her head down low so that Dr. Teufel couldn’t see the disappointment in her face. He continued to study the young woman beside him and how she let the loss of life around her affect her emotionally. He couldn’t help but keep the grin about his face.

“Böses mit Gutem vergelten,” he uttered. Julia looked up, lost to the words.

“Pardon?”

“Return good for evil. I believe it’s the equivalent to what you Americans say about lemons and life.”

“Oh…” Julia’s eyes trailed back down to the tile floor, “What optimism is there to be found in death?”

“Lieber ein Ende mit Schmerzen als Schmerzen ohne Ende.”

Julia shook her head, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t speak…”

“German,” Teufel replied, “and I believe it translates to, better an end with pain than pain without end.”

“You’re not one to be let down, are you?” Julia pried.

“I just refuse to sink into the bad while there is so much good to be found, or rather, opportunities.”

“Such as?”

“In death, no one can experience the very fear that this world imposes upon us. In death, you are safe from fear. Without fear, we can push on.”

“Are you saying that we should be dead to be alive?” Julia asked him. Teufel laughed aloud and slapped a hand on his knee, disturbing Julia.

“I’m telling you that fear is the ultimate deterrent. It is what keeps powerful men from pushing the button and killing us all. It is what keeps us from jumping off of a high cliff. It is what has you so defeated right now. It is what keeps us from…well, moving forward.”

Julia looked back to the door across the hall and let the words sink in, “So what you’re saying is that your project has a lot to do with just how fear works?”

“You’re not wrong, Ms. Adler,” Frank replied, “my aim is to utilize fear to bring about an end to the violence of this world. Through fear, fear of violence can be ended.”

“So you want to make a world where everyone will live in fear of what would happen if fears were…” Julia put a hand to her hand and leaned back onto the window pane, “I’m sorry, but your idea just doesn’t make much sense to me, doctor.”

Teufel mustered a chuckle and leaned over, placing a hand on Julia’s shoulder, “You remind me of my wife. She thought I was insane when we first met, but she came to embrace it eventually.”

Julia blushed and casually sat forward to shrug his hand off without seeming too rude. It wasn’t that he gave her the chills, but something about Dr. Teufel seemed…off. What was it?

“She too worked in the medical field,” Teufel continued, “before she passed away a few years ago.”

Now it was just awkward, “I’m…sorry to hear that.”

Teufel sighed, “She was my greatest supporter, but not my last, fortunately.”

Julia wanted to remark on how strange it seemed that his supporters were dying off, but decided to keep the comment to herself to prevent an argument. She never knew how to be outspoken anyway.

“Let me ask you something, Ms. Adler; have you ever wished to accomplish something that others believe impossible?”

Julia looked to the door once again, “Yes, but hasn’t everyone?”

“I suppose so, but do they have the means to do so?”

Julia felt uneasy, “What do you mean?”

“Ms. Adler, what do you study here?”

She was hesitant to answer, but so far this was just conversation, “Biomedical engineering. In the lab, I’ve helped research the efficiency of artificially printed organs…but technology is far from capable of creating such a thing. In a few more years 3D printing will be a rather prominent source of creation in the economy, but it will be quite a while before we can replicate something as complex as human tissue. I’ve actually already received my Ph.D. in my field.”

Teufel seemed delighted by the news, as he perked right up and beamed, “Interesting. You should have said something! I apologize for my informalities, Dr. Adler. Yet…forgive me, but you seem so young.”

Julia blushed again, “I’m twenty-four. I was allowed to graduate from high school at a young age, and received a full scholarship to this institution. I’ve been here since I was sixteen, working with technology in the hopes that I can help manipulate the DNA of viruses to help develop more efficient vaccines, and perhaps even cures against some of the worst. Of course, that’s all science fiction in many cases, but I’d like to believe that we can do anything. With technology and human understanding only ever advancing, nothing is truly impossible anymore, right?”

Teufel’s eyes lit up, “Then you are truly a bright young woman. Perhaps you are the very person I am looking for! Tell me, are you interested in putting your skills to use in an endeavor that can do more than hope to bring an end to the plague of violence on this world?”

“I’m not sure…”Julia responded, still antsy as to what this man was doing here. Something about his presence seemed to instill a terrible sensation in her, but she couldn’t understand why. He seemed friendly and kind, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a harbinger of something wicked…but why?

Teufel cleared his throat, “May I ask you exactly what happened to Mr. Sasser?”

Julia shook her head to expunge the thoughts from her mind, “Well, when the staff of the hospital in California discovered him outside of their emergency entrance, he was badly wounded. The medical records show broken legs, spinal fractures all along the column, and serious head trauma. He’d lost a lot of blood before they were able to transfuse some more. Honestly, he shouldn’t be alive. Whoever did that to him is a terrible person,” she clenched her fists, “I know it’s terrible, but I hope they suffer for it.”

Teufel straightened up in his seat, “‘No, it’s quite all right to draw ire from such a tragedy. We’re only human; its natural, after all.”

“But for someone like me to say it is-”

“Wrong?” Teufel interrupted, “Spare me the morality. That’s what hinders judgment, and what keeps people from pursuing their goals.”

“Sometimes morals keep everything in check,” Julia retorted politely. Teufel smirked as if he saw something in her he liked.

“Right and wrong are gray areas in my field of work, Dr. Adler. Right is not allowing evil to go unchecked, while wrong is following regulations and limiting what one can offer.”

A shaky cold began to trace itself down Julia’s spine, “Dr. Teufel, forgive me for asking, but are you…are you involved in illegal practices?”

That one caused Teufel to roar with laughter, and Julia immediately wished she’d have just checked on Sasser and left without stopping for a break. Collecting himself, the strange doctor ran a hand through his thinning hair and exaggerated an exhale of air, “My dear, what I do is mandated by a group outside of typical administrative care. Technically,” he held out his hands, “I’m given free reign of what I want to do in my studies.”

“How can you get away with no restrictions?” Julia asked in disbelief. This guy was a fraud; there was no way he was a doctor. That would even explain the eerie vibe he gave off despite his demeanor.

“Why, when you are the project lead for one of the government’s top black projects, you’re given plenty of breathing room to ensure a grand success.”

Julia was about to question the man’s sanity, but another announcement on the PA system stole her attention.

“Attention staff, Code Blue, 1, 35. Code Blue, 1, 35.”

“WHAT?!” Julia cried. On cue, her pager began to beep. Ignoring the irritating sound that mocked her fears, she ran towards the door and threw her shoulder into it, forcing it open and putting a hole in the wall behind it from where the handle struck. There was no mistaking the sound of the flatlining heart monitor as she rushed to her patient’s side. Something was terribly wrong. He had been fine just moments before; why had he suddenly taken such a drastic turn for the worse? There was no signs of tampering, and everything seemed to be in order. Had he finally given up inside?

Trying to diagnose the sudden cardiac arrest would have to wait as she began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Pushing down hard and fast on Timothy’s chest, she found herself cursing at the fact that the trauma team were going to be behind seeing as though they had just responded upstairs. She couldn’t let him go; she’d promised herself she’d see to it that he would awake to see his family again.

“Dammit!” she cried, breathing twice into Timothy’s mouth before going back to pressing down on his chest, “Dammit!”

As she worked away at trying to revive the man, a team arrived in the room with the equipment necessary to attempt to instill life once more, but when they saw Julia’s vain attempt to revive the patient, they were shocked. This was a woman who was timid despite her placement on a pedestal for her accomplishments. Finally, Teufel stepped inside and grabbed the distressed Julia by the shoulders to pull her away as the response team tried their luck at restoring Timothy’s heart rate. Julia kept her head turned away, fears and regrets slinking their way through her body and numbing her senses. One doctor held the defibrillators at the ready as another confirmed that the equipment was ready.

“CLEAR!!!”

A faint zap, and nothing.

“You’re a biomedical engineer, yet you idly waste your time here to be personal with your patients,” Dr. Teufel told her sternly, “and the consequence is seeing what humanity does to one another.”

“CLEAR!!!”

Another zap, and again, nothing. Teufel placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her around, “join my team, where you can put your skills to use for what they were meant for; changing the world.”

Julia was too shocked to even register the words. Nothing mattered anymore. She had failed in her duties to save someone. She had failed herself.

“CLEAR!!!”

Another zap, and nothing but the same monotone noise that was eating away at Julia’s mind. They wouldn’t be at it for too much longer. After several minutes of the same process, the response team regrettably surrendered their effort to revive Timothy Sasser. Julia stared silently at the body on the bed as one of the residents looked to her. She knew what she had to do, but no part of her wanted to say the words that every doctor feared, no matter how long they had dealt with death.

“Dr. Adler…” the young male resident spoke softly.

“I know…” Julia took a deep breath and checked her watch on her left wrist, “Time…” she gasped as an involuntary surge of sorrow tore through her, “Time of death, 1:15 pm.”

The response team began to file out of the room, and one resident was sent to retrieve a sheet to cover the body as the staff began preparations to inform the family and prepare the corpse for the morgue. Julia’s eyes remained fixated on the body of Timothy Sasser.

“Dr. Adler,” Teufel said from her right, “you could become a great constituent of a whole that seeks to abolish the very tragedies like the one before you.”

“Leave me alone…” Julia muttered.

Silence followed as a resident returned with a sheet to drape over the body. It was up to Julia to contact the family, and she was already failing in that duty by wasting time standing before her duties. This was reality; not being able to change anything. All of her studies and all of her hopes were a waste when faced with human mortality. Nothing she’d done in the past eight years at this institution had helped her today…and someone’s life had been the cost of her ignorance. There wasn’t anything special about her despite what people thought; she was another doctor just trying to prolong the inevitable.

“Many people ask about the afterlife,” Teufel continued, “and what lies beyond our time here. I for one believe that there is a peace to be found, but of course, there’s nothing to answer the question save for those who truly believe they have seen the other side,” he laughed, “Of course, that’s if you believe that someone who has less than adequate oxygen and blood flow to the brain doesn’t just hallucinate such things. Still, whatever lies beyond the pain of life must be better than what most experience here.”

Julia fought back the tears. Teufel’s words were so distant to her as her fears began to take hold, implanting her body into the floor of the hospital. All she was doing was forfeit. Nothing she would ever do could change the fact that people die.

“Remember this experience, and let it determine what course of action you will take; watch the cycle continue, or force it to derail.”

Julia said nothing as she stared at the white sheet. Teufel took her silence as a rejection and turned to leave the room, when she called out to him.

“Dr. Teufel! Wait!”

Teufel stopped with the door wide open, turning to look over his shoulder at the young woman. She had her left hand clenched into a fist and held over her chest.

“Yes, doctor?”

“I’ll…I’ll do it,” Julia answered, “I’ll join you.”

Teufel nodded and reached into his briefcase for an envelope, which he then handed to Julia. She took it and looked at the blank cover with concern, but tucked it underneath her left arm as Teufel turned to leave.

Dr. Frank Teufel walked down the hallway and left Julia to ponder just what the decision meant for her future, and as he entered the lobby he undid the leather strap of his briefcase and withdrew the file he had studied carefully before arriving. He was interrupted before he could focus on the words on the page.

“Dr. Teufel?” a voice called to him. Teufel looked up to see the receptionist at the front desk smiling at him, “Did you find who you were looking for?”

“Yes,” Teufel replied, “Thank you for your help.”

“It’s my pleasure,” she said, “Have a wonderful day.”

Teufel nodded, “And you as well.” He went back to studying the document as he exited the building, when a thought occurred to him. Reaching into his coat pocket, he withdrew an empty syringe and tossed it into a nearby garbage bin before returning his attention to the sheet of paper. He chuckled to himself. Air embolisms were a common problem in hospital patients when it came to inadequate care, so he had no worries that anyone would suspect foul play. Dr. Julia Shelly Adler was just as he had predicted; innocent, gullible, and willing to do anything to make a change to the world she’d come to feel helpless over. Timothy Sasser was perhaps the most useful case of an expendable tool he had ever had the pleasure waiting patiently to finish off. Keeping up with his condition after he’d dumped his mangled body in front of the emergency room in California turned out to be the best decision ever. What had begun as paranoid fear turned into a stroke of luck after the man managed to cling to life following the hell Teufel had put him through. In the end, Teufel got his way and was able to correct his mistake, so he was content to leave with a smile across his face. He was quite thankful he had let the bastard survive that night three years prior; without Sasser’s unwitting assistance in defying death, he never would have stumbled upon such a great addition to his team. He smiled as he inserted the document back into the briefcase and walked out of the medical center. Dr. Adler would do just fine as the final piece to his dream team.

Overture of The Fall #4: The Insane

It was another normal day for graduate student Evan Hamilton in the lab; progress was being made, his enthusiasm was at its highest, and someone was screaming. Oddly enough, the screaming was more common than the other two on any given day. Hal Hoo was sitting quietly in the corner, hiding behind his clipboard as the female volunteer unleashed a string of verbal threats at his colleague, who seemed to be taking it all in stride.

“You’re going to kill me!” she shrieked.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Hamilton assured her, “I’m just going to induce an electrical shock that will temporarily stun your heart, and then I’ll compare the results to the pig heart on the table over there.”

The undergrad glared at the table with the biopsy equipment, then looked back to Hamilton, “This isn’t what I volunteered for!”

Hamilton sighed and pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, “Then why didn’t you read the fine print of the flyer?”

“It said help was needed for research purposes, and that we’d receive credit towards our volunteer hours!”

“And you will,” Hamilton explained politely, “but first you have to participate.”

“Are you fucking insane!” the student screamed at him. Hamilton smiled and set the electrical prod down that was grasped in his eager right hand.

“I’ve been called that, yes, but it takes unorthodox ideas to obtain results.”

The young woman stood up and slapped him across the face. Hard. He was sent falling off of his stool and colliding with the tile floor.

“Asshole! I’m reporting both of you!” With that, she stormed out of the lab and left Hamilton straightening his glasses as Hoo chuckled in the corner. Hamilton grunted and placed a hand on the examination table to steady himself as he stood. That was the first slap that actually disoriented him.

She was kind of cute. Shame that’s how your interactions with women usually go.

“Quiet,” Hamilton spat. Hoo looked up from his notes (which were mostly on how his colleague’s social interactions would prove detrimental to their future) and raised a brow.

“Talking to yourself again, Hamilton?” Hamilton waved a hand at him while covering the red handprint on his face with the other, “Just sulking over another lost cause.”

Hoo stood up and walked over to the freezer in the back corner of the room that contained many of the specimen other graduate students studied in the lab. He made sure to keep an ice pack in there for such occasions as this, as Hamilton tended to draw the ire out of people. He grabbed it and closed the door, “That’ll be your third violation this month.”

Hamilton turned the stool upright and sat down. One more and you get a prize.

“Not that it matters to you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you were required to have another psyche evaluation sometime soon,” Hoo said with a smirk. Hamilton grabbed the offered ice pack and placed it on his cheek, refusing to reply to what was more than likely an imminent fact. Everyone in Princeton knew of the “mad Evan Hamilton” and his tendency to get into trouble over one of two things; his mouth and his experiments. It was a miracle alone that he was still allowed on campus following the incident two months ago involving the hospitalization of one student and the quarantine of the lab Hamilton had been utilizing at the time. Apparently, someone had asked for Hamilton’s assistance in conducting an experiment involving hazardous chemicals, and Hamilton, being the man who didn’t shy away from the words “hazardous” and “experiment,” decided to assist a little too much. The referral to the dean mentioned a statement from Hamilton himself that he “felt that he was onto something huge,” and then the mixtures exploded. He wasn’t a chemist, and Hoo knew that for damn sure.

“Yet you’re still here,” Hamilton pointed out dully. Hoo shrugged.

“You make graduate school interesting,” he said, and then he laughed, “Besides, someone has to keep you from crossing the line…well, crossing it any farther than you normally do. Imagine what would happen if I wasn’t here?”

Hamilton sat stood up from the stool and retrieved the prod from the floor, “I’d probably get much more done at the cost of a few more academic violations,” he turned and pointed the prod at Hoo, “You’re like a guilty conscience.”

Well, I’m not going to stop you. I find the outcomes utterly hilarious.

“Like I said, someone has to stop you,” Hoo replied, “I’m sure that voice in your head doesn’t do much to hinder your ambitions.”

Setting the prod down with the rest of the equipment, Hamilton sighed, “You have no idea how right you are.”

“Also, academic violations?” Hoo mocked with a laugh, “I was thinking more along the lines of assault charges.”

“I’ll assault you with that prod if you don’t stop talking.”

Hoo picked his clipboard up and began writing again, “Okay, okay, I’ll drop it. I just don’t see us getting anywhere if our volunteers keep storming out of here like that.”

“Well, it doesn’t really matter,” Hamilton uttered quietly as he rolled his stool over to the computer on the desk at the back of the room. Halfway there, the wheels of the stool caught and cable and sent him flipping over onto the floor once more, drawing another round of laughter from his colleague.

“Hamilton, you’re off today.”

Setting the stool back up past the cable, Hamilton sat down and continued his perilous journey across the lab floor, “Aren’t I always, according to most?”

Aww, someone’s concerned about you. Hamilton has a real friend. It’s touching.

“More so than is common today, and you’re talking to yourself more than usual,” Hoo pointed out, “Something has you anxious, and it’s not the prospect of doing something risky for once…I hope.”

Hamilton logged onto his profile and began to go through his emails as he responded, “You’re probably the only person who would actually see that. Anyone else would assume I’m just losing more of whatever sanity I might have.”

“That’s because I work with you,” Hoo said, pulling a chair up next to him, “want to talk about it?”

“Not particularly,” Hamilton said without turning away.

“Did you forget to take your medication this morning?”

That drew a grunt, “I never forget. I just choose not to.”

Hoo shook his head, “Hamilton, you’ve been prescribed anxiety medication to keep you somewhat stable and refuse to take it, yet wonder why you’re like this?”

“I never said I was wondering. In fact,” he said as he shifted his eye to Hoo, “You’re the one who is inquiring about everything.”

See? He’s worried about you. It’s sweet.

Hamilton placed a hand on his head, “Though if you’re that concerned, I wouldn’t mind if you grabbed that prod and stuck it on my temple for a few seconds.”

Fuck you too.

“What has your mind more shaken up than usual?” Hoo asked. Hamilton placed his hands in front of his face with his fingers intertwined, and after a minute he finally reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a folded letter.

“This,” he replied as he handed it to Hoo. Hal unfolded the paper and worked to straighten out the creases before he read it. Hamilton sat quietly and began to play Minesweeper as Hoo’s eyes scanned the letter.

“I wasn’t aware you had fans,” Hoo finally said. Hamilton closed out the game and turned the chair to face Hoo.

“I’m not so sure.”

“Why were you carrying this with you?” Hoo inquired. Hamilton shrugged.

“If I didn’t carry it around, I’d forget about it underneath every other thought.”

Like your medication.

Hamilton slammed a fist on the table, “Seriously, Hal. Prod. Head. Voltage up.”

Hoo set the letter down and chuckled, “I’d tell you to do it yourself, but I’m sure you wouldn’t take it as a joke.”

Hamilton turned back around and pulled up a media player before he began to blast heavy metal from the speakers. A smile spread across his face as he leaned back on the stool and closed his eyes.

“You know, when I first met you I’d have never taken you for a fan of…” Hoo squinted at the screen from where he was, “Trivium.”

“It drowns out that annoying thing in my head. Plus, I think he likes it.”

Shut up. I like this song.

“Point made,” he said as he relaxed. Hoo’s mind was still on the letter.

“Hamilton, this is the Dr. Frank Teufel asking for your assistance on a project. How do you say no?”

“School, for one,” Hamilton said, standing to walk over towards another table where a petri dish was positioned next to a microscope. After injecting a small sample from the dish onto a slide, he set it under the optical lenses and adjusted the magnification.

“But Teufel says he’ll cover that. Hamilton,” Hoo said as he stood to join him, “this is a huge opportunity for you.”

“Uh-huh…” was Hamilton’s reply as he continued to stare into the lens.

“I think you’d be insane not to take the-”

“Did you know that some viruses can be engineered to target and kill other infections?”

Hoo eyed him curiously, “Like phage therapy?”

Hamilton removed the slide and took it over to the hazardous waste bin to toss in, “Correct.”

“Why did you toss that in the…Hamilton, what’s in the petri dish?”

Hamilton stopped dead on the way back, “That depends on how specific an answer you’re requesting.”

“Hamilton, what the hell do you have in here?”

“It’s nothing to be alarmed about…unless you don’t like being within close proximity of what is technically contained biological warfare.”

Hoo walked over to the sanitation station in the back corner of the lab and retrieved a pair of latex gloves before returning to snatch the dish off of the table. Glaring at Hamilton as he walked past him, he tossed the dish into the bin along with the gloves afterwards. Hamilton crossed his arms and eyed Hoo as his cautious colleague went to wash his hands in the corner.

“That was rude.”

“And that was unauthorized,” Hoo shot back, “Hamilton, you can’t just do whatever you want in here. Had I not stopped you, you wouldn’t have to worry about just another student turning you in for cruel and unusual experiments.”

“I can handle a little heat,” Hamilton complained, “though I will agree, having anthrax in here probably wasn’t the best idea.”

“Right,” Hoo said with a nod, wiping his glasses as sweat began to roll down his face. Working with Hamilton was an exercise all its own, “Well…wait…what?!”

“Bacillus anthracis?”  Hamilton said, knowing that what he said should make sense to his colleague, “the bacteria in anthrax that proves lethal?”

“I know what it is, you idiot!” Hoo shouted, “Why the hell do…how did you even get that?!”

“Don’t concern yourself with the means of acquisition,” Hamilton responded politely, “just with why. I wanted to see what viruses would actually prove effective in killing it.”

Hoo wasn’t the least bit reassured, “And what viruses did you have in that thing?”

Hamilton said nothing for a bit, then held up a finger, “Let’s talk about that letter.”

“That’s okay,” Hoo said as he turned away and rolled his eyes, “I’m sure I didn’t want to know anyway.”

HIV, polio, and even a dash of some foreign strain of the flu.

“One of the enticing parts of the offer is unrestrained testing,” Hamilton said, ignoring the voice and tilting his head as he gave some consideration to the idea.

“How does that not immediately attract you of all people?” Hoo asked in disbelief.

“More like it sounds too good to be true, which is why I don’t trust it. Also, why does a genius such as Teufel need the help of a graduate student? He could have the greatest minds of the world at his feet at the drop of a test tube. The man is famous.”

Hoo shrugged, “Maybe you’re the kind of person he’s looking for? Someone who isn’t afraid of pushing the boundaries, and doesn’t stop just because he gets a slap on the wrist…or a restraining order…or-”

“Point made, point made,” Hamilton interjected.

No, no, let him continue. I like a recap of your evil deeds.

“You’re not helping,” Hamilton muttered under his breath.

“Hamilton, take the offer,” Hoo said seriously, “If not for yourself, then for the safety of others.”

Hamilton walked over to the desktop and turned the music off, which drew some criticism from the voice upstairs before he addressed Hoo, “You say that as if anyone would be safe just because I would be in a remote location like the letter says I would be.”

“The concept of safety is subjective whenever you’re involved, Hamilton,” Hoo reminded him.

“At least you’re aware of that,” Hamilton replied with a grin, shutting the computer down and preparing to collect the equipment for his “failed trial.” Truth be told, it was a success after all; undergraduates here would do anything for extra credit without reading the fine print at the bottom of a flyer that clearly stated that those with weak hearts need not volunteer. Context clues would have handled the rest. Now all there was to do was test attentiveness to detail against his next concept; actually administering the shocks.

“Hamilton, you’re smirking. What are you thinking about now?”

“About how fun it would be to take you to the gun range later today.”

Hoo held up a hand, “I don’t care how comfortable you are with a firearm, I’m never going to be comfortable with the idea of you and a firearm.”

He’s a damn good shot though, to be fair.

“T…thanks?” Hamilton uttered.

“I’m going to have to turn down that offer.”

“Are you scared?” Hamilton asked, ensuring that his smile stretched from ear to ear.

“Stop that, it’s more disturbing than what I think you’d do with guns, and besides, I have a date tonight.”

Hamilton spat a mocking sound, “Your loss.”

“You know, you could do with a woman in your life too,” Hoo shot back with fire, “It might change you.”

“Unlike you, I don’t want to change,” Hamilton grunted, wrapping the prod up with its cord and placing it into a case on the examination table, “Unlike you, I fail to see what a relationship with another person can offer me.”

“You never know,” Hoo stated simply.

“I know what there is to be found,” Hamilton said as he closed the case, “Affection, lust, and a lot of dopamine. After that comes pain, and that’s not something I wish to experience.”

“So, you’re afraid of being hurt?” Hoo asked, intrigued by the revelation he was hearing.

“No, I’m afraid of what it can do to a man, and I don’t want to change.”

Does that mean I’m here to stay?

Hamilton continued, “What’s the point of placing trust in another? That’s what would hinder me right here in the lab. What I work towards requires only trust in myself. I don’t need others lying to me or telling me what to do.”

You do a good job of doubting what you do yourself all the time anyhow.

“Are you basing this off of my problems last year?” Hoo inquired. Even Hamilton knew not to bring up Hoo’s failed attempt at a relationship. It devastated him beyond any point of rational thought, and he took up drinking to cope. That was when Hamilton finally decided to reach out to someone for the first time in his life. At first, it was because Hoo was his partner for class during their undergrad studies and he wasn’t going to be pulled down by such petty weight, but then something was different. Hoo wasn’t terrified of him, which led Hamilton to believe he was either someone who shared a like mind, or just abnormal. Hal continued to put himself through hell for three more months over the young woman whose heart still belonged to another who had abandoned her, and it finally took its tool when Hamilton himself had to step in. It took a lot of words, and even more threats against his life, but Hoo finally relinquished. To Hamilton, it was kind of a shame; Hoo was really in love with her, only to be placed second to someone else who didn’t even remotely feel the same way. Watching the only person he called a friend go through that ordeal was enough to cement the idea that he never wanted to even let someone that close to him just to hold the strings to his heart and break him down from the inside out.

Then again, what would you know?

“Maybe,” Hamilton finally said, “Watching you kill yourself would have been enough to make any man not want to let their guard down.”

Hoo frowned, “You’re a sad, lonely man, Hamilton.”

“I’m not lonely,” Hamilton argued, “I’m just not going to go through the waste of time others commit themselves to. I’d rather spend that time working towards something productive.”

“Productivity would be accepting Teufel’s offer,” Hoo replied coldly. He wasn’t in the mood to hear Hamilton chide something he didn’t want to bother to understand. Matters of science was one thing, but human emotion was just something Hamilton didn’t have any idea of. The guy was the closest thing to a sociopath that Hal knew.

“You’re right…”

Did you just agree with someone else? Holy shit, the creature can think rationally. Quick, grab the torches before it realizes it’s conscious.

“Stop talking, or it’s the electrical prod for you,” Hamilton spat. Hoo was alarmed by that.

“What?!”

“Not you,” Hamilton said with a sigh, “you know that if I’m going to threaten you, it’s going to be with something far worse.”

“That’s reassuring…”

“Anyhow, I’ll tell him I’m willing to give it a try. What the project actually is wasn’t mentioned in the letter, but I’ve read about Dr. Teufel before. I’m guessing it has something to do with his idea for bringing about an end to global conflicts through utilizing psychological means.”

“What do you mean?” Hoo asked. Even he knew of Teufel’s work, but he hadn’t read anything about psychological warfare.

“Teufel gave a presentation at a seminar a few years ago at Stanford. Apparently it wasn’t received well, but he was very insistent on it.”

“And it’s been given a green light?”

Hamilton lifted the case and prepared to carry the equipment out of the lab as Hoo joined him.

“I’m not sure what it all is,” Hamilton replied, “but whatever the case, it’s something rather ambitious for a genius such as him to request help.”

Hoo cocked an eye, “You idolize the doctor?”

“I merely respect the man,” Hamilton said dismissively.

“Because you and him are a lot alike?”

Hamilton smirked, “Something like that. He’s made a living out of doing what I get into trouble doing for here.”

And he makes it look good too. That’s not to mention he’s respected for it. You’re hoping to learn a thing or two from him, aren’t you?

“Perhaps,” Hamilton muttered approvingly with a slight chuckle. Hoo decided to let it go, as he was more fixated on what preparations he’d have to undertake for his date later. As the two approached the door a rather attractive young brunette poked her head around the corner and peered into the lab, before stepping into full view.

“Hi, is this where the trials are being done?”

Hoo reluctantly glanced over at Hamilton, who was already on the way back to the table to unpack the equipment.

“Yes,” he called out over his shoulder, “You’ve come to the right place. Have a seat on the examination table and my colleague Hal Hoo here will take your information to ensure you receive full credit for your cooperation.”

The woman turned her attention to Hal, who was hiding his concern behind a forcedly disarming smile. Hamilton pulled the electrical prod from the case and went to work unwrapping the cord.

“What’s that?” the undergrad asked. Hamilton’s figure obscured the fact that he was adjusting the voltage as Hoo began asking her questions. After the introductions were complete, she sat timidly on the table as Hamilton pulled up a stool, the prod grasped in his right hand as he leaned his head down so that the light above created a glare in his glasses.

“Okay, we’ll begin.”

Going for four in one month? That’s a new record.

“What the hell is that for?!” the woman said in alarm.

Hamilton acknowledged the prod with little concern, “I’m going to induce an electrical shock to stun your heart for a brief moment, and then compare those results-”

“Are you fucking insane!” the undergrad cried. Hamilton grinned wickedly.

For your sake, I hope Hoo has the ice ready.

“Why, yes. I’ve been called that.”

An Overture to a Grander Story

I’m only three short stories away from finishing the new series, and am quite excited about it. It serves as a lead-in to my novel that I’m going to self-publish this summer (though you could skip the series and still enjoy the novel). It’s been a work in progress for a few years now, but I’m finally close to paving the way for the trilogy I’ve been dying to write for so long. With one book done and another I’ve left mid-draft until I’m done cementing it all, I can safely say I’ve finally found something in life I really enjoy doing. When Overture of The Fall is completed I’ll make the series available as an ebook like with Tiamat Unbound, so if you enjoy them, feel free to share with others. I look forward to doing this for years to come, so thanks for the support. I’ll make a detailed post when the time comes, but for now expect the next three parts of Overture of The Fall in the coming two weeks. Read, enjoy, and share. It won’t be long now, so I’ll leave this with a picture of an early draft of the cover for my novel a friend of mine is working on. Maybe she won’t kill me for posting it. Maybe.