The cell was harsh treatment.
He couldn’t remember how many people he’d sent here in his long tenure.
On the other side of the bars, he retained control. Things on the inside appeared bright and clean and Spartan. The accommodations were well in line with a standard prison. This was not cruel or unusual in any way. He followed the rules.
From this side of the bars, every day was torture.
He felt disgusting. His white hair grew wild. He was not permitted to shave and a beard still bearing traces of his platinum blonde past emerged from his wrinkled face.
With nothing but constant artificial light, his circadian rhythm faded. He lost track of the days. How long had it been? Was this really what he put all of those others through when he’d held them? Did they still remember this even though it was psychically removed from their memories?
He wouldn’t have that option if he was ever set free. He was naturally immune to psychic abilities.
That young woman, the one who commanded him to come in here, the one whose orders he couldn’t disobey, she could simply tell him to forget. Maybe she would show him mercy.
What had they done to him, he wondered. Why, with everything he’d ever been through, was he in the back of his mind contemplating begging for relief? He had been alive and fighting for almost a hundred years and he would have at least a hundred more to go from here. This was temporary. He would be free and he would exact his revenge before getting back on track with his long term plans. He had to hold on to that.
Strange thing was, he didn’t really want to. Every time he tried to concentrate on his hatred or his goals, his feelings would subside and he would return to staring at the wall, wishing that he would get out of here. That he would be shown mercy.
It had to have something to do with that young woman. He would have to kill her first. She visited every week to reinforce whatever she was doing to him. Next time she came through he would…
…what? What was he thinking about again? The walls. The walls were so grey and featureless. He couldn’t sleep right. The lights were always on. Those draining fluorescent lights.
The door at the edge of the small cell block opened. Through the bars, he could see a stocky figure. Smoke trailed from the corner of its mouth, acrid and sweet.
“Hello, Douglas,” he said. “I could smell you coming.”
“Williams,” the humanoid bulldog answered.
In his right hand he carried a metal folding chair. With a flick, he set it down on four legs. He sat backwards in the chair, facing the cell, folding his arms across the back and blowing a heavy cloud of cigar smoke through the bars, directly into his face. Williams did not flinch.
“I assume this visit is not meant to be cordial, Agent D’Angelo,” he said.
“Decidedly not,” Doug answered, restoring the cigar to the corner of his wide mouth.
“Why are you here?” Williams asked.
Doug took a long, thoughtful pull on his cigar, grinning as he exhaled.
“I want you to guess.”
“I do not have time for games, Agent D’Angelo,” said Williams.
“Au contraire,” Doug replied, “You’ve got all the time in the world.”
Williams stepped away from the bars in frustration. He paced, his bare feet audibly slapping against the finished concrete floor, his hands behind his back.
“It seems apparent,” Williams began, “That you have been somehow enticed down here to torment me.”
“If that ain’t the most obvious statement I heard all day,” Doug chuckled, “Why do you think I came down here?”
He stopped pacing.
“She has given your back your memories,” Williams said without hesitation, “Josephine has given you back your memories and now you are here to take some sort of revenge on me.”
Doug grinned. “Bingo.”
Williams sat down against the far wall and buried his face in his hands.
The only sound was Doug exhaling.
“Do you know how many times we have been here, Douglas?” asked Williams, “Do you know the number of these conversations we have had? Before Agent Gorsky’s… failure… we were having this exact dialogue at least bi-monthly. Agent Briggs’ memory blocks are much more effective. There has not been an incident between us in years.”
“She mentioned that,” Doug said, “This time, though, these memories are for keeps.”
“Shame, that,” said Williams, “You will likely go and do something foolish because of them.”
“Foolish like what,” Doug said, his volume increasing, “Foolish like seeing the daughter you’ve kept hidden from me for the last thirteen years?”
“Yes,” Williams said, “Exactly that foolish.”
“Why did you do it?” Doug shouted, “Why did you take me away from her?”
“Obviously they did not restore all of your memories,” he said, smiling.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You asked for this,” Williams said, “You volunteered.”
“I didn’t ask to be taken away from my family,” Doug shouted.
“Au contraire,” he said.
Doug threw his cigar to the floor, unlocked the door with a press of his security card, and rushed into the room, kicking the seated Williams in the face.
Williams was still laughing as he hit the ground. He was still laughing as Doug let fly punch after punch into his head, his body, his abdomen. The kick was swift and strong and had caught him off guard enough to knock him over. He felt no pain and took no damage from Doug’s flurry of blows.
“Is it that hard to believe?” Williams shouted over Doug’s animalistic snarls, “Did they give you back nothing of value but the memories of your family? Did they give you no context, only rage?”
Tears streamed down Doug’s face. He stopped, slumping along the wall, his face buried in his paws.
“During our previous chats,” Williams said, propping himself up, “You were able to be restrained before your anger took hold. The blocks would be redone and things would quickly return to normal. Fortunately, with Agent Briggs, memory repression was substantially more effective. You have not had an incident such as this since and you likely would have continued on without one if she had not raised those memories to the surface.”
Doug caught his breath.
“You did volunteer, Agent D’Angelo,” Williams reassured. “We removed it from your memory along with other details in order to make your transition to this life easier. There is a video record of your statement. It is a precaution we take with everyone in the event that something like this happens.”
“Why did I do it?” Doug asked. “Do you even remember? Is that on your video record?”
“No it is not,” Williams said. “We did not include context in the videos, again, for ease of understanding if things ever came to this. I, however, remember quite well.”
“Well?” Doug growled, “Are you gonna tell me or do I have to put a gun to your head or something?”
“Are you sure?” Williams asked, “It seems likely that there will be no going back after this. I don’t believe Agent Briggs will be willing to remove this from your memory. She and 81623 seem quite intent on voiding any lingering loyalties you may still possess.”
“Tell me,” Doug said, producing his Project sidearm, “Or I will put a gun to your head.”
“Gun or no gun, I will tell you what you want to know,” Williams shrugged.
He took a deep breath.
“You were a soldier,” Williams started, “A Marine. Your primary MOS was small arms technician. You were a Staff Sergeant. You were quite gifted at your job.”
“I know all of this,” Doug said, waving the barrel of his sidearm in an impatient circle, signaling Williams to go on.
“The DNA profile on your record indicated that you possessed a certain genetic marker which was the primary catalyst for the experiments conducted by Project XII. We also saw that you had a family. A wife and a young daughter, two years old at the time, I believe. I approached you personally, described what this would mean, told you that you would gain extra-normal abilities and serve your country on the absolute highest level.”
“Extra-normal,” Doug scoffed, “Yeah, incredibly extra and absolutely not normal.”
“You have heightened strength and agility,” Williams said, “You possess very acute senses of smell, taste, and hearing. You are tougher than a regular human. You may not exactly be Agent Moorsblade, but you are still enhanced from your previous state, are you not?”
“What about my family?” Doug asked.
“Your family was presented with an irrefutable cover story,” Williams said, “You received new orders after September Eleventh and you rotated into the field. You told your family this yourself. You packed your bags and said goodbye. Later, you were killed after leaping onto an improvised explosive device to shield your compatriots. You were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and later the Medal of Honor. Your family was granted your full military pension and benefits as well as a significant donation from a private foundation who wished to remain anonymous.”
“Meanwhile,” Doug said, “That anonymous foundation was turning me into a bulldog.”
“You were never upset about what you had become previously,” Williams said, scratching his beard, “I wonder if that resentment has not been planted by Agent Briggs. Regardless, I ‘robbed’ you of nothing. I came to recruit you and you agreed because it would mean serving the greater good. You agreed because we were and still are in the middle of a very dark cold war. Without your contributions to the Project – without your sacrifice – we would be ten steps behind and that does not even speak for the technological advancements you have created in our labs.
“You may have become a bulldog and you may have left your old life behind, but you have been absolutely vital to this organization. You should be proud of what you have accomplished, not upset with what you have left behind.”
“Don’t,” Doug growled. “Don’t try to turn this around on me. I have a wife. I have a daughter.”
“And what do you think would happen if they saw you as you are now?” Williams asked, “Their long-dead husband and father – decorated war hero, killed in action and given a closed casket funeral – appears from nowhere in your current physical state? They would never believe it was you no matter how you presented it.”
Doug swatted Williams in the face with the heavy pistol opening a small cut on the bridge of his nose. Williams didn’t flinch.
“You did this to me,” Doug shouted. “You made me this way.”
“I am not sure how else to explain it to you,” Williams said, “You did this to yourself. You volunteered for Project XII. We have video evidence. We have signed documentation scanned and saved in multiple remote locations with every detail explained clearly in writing. You gave us the right to perform our experiments. We had no idea what the side-effects might be.”
Doug hit him again. This time, it hurt Williams a bit more. It had been a long time since he’d seen his own blood.
“No matter how much you believe I am in the wrong,” Williams started, his voice remaining its usual calm monotone.
The pistol made contact again. The blood flowed a bit more freely.
“81623 is using you worse than I ever have,” he continued, taking another blow to the face, “Right now, in fact. Do you really think you are here of your own accord? Do you really think this physical action is something you are doing spontaneously? This was planned, Douglas. You were led here. That Phalanx is controlling you worse than I could even imagine! You are a puppet now! You are all puppets!”
As Williams laughed, Doug continued to swing the heavy sidearm into his face. Williams’ eyes watered and his vision began to blur. He could taste blood in his mouth and feel it dribbling from his undoubtedly broken nose. He had not been beaten like this since The War.
Doug pressed the barrel of the gun hard against Williams’ temple.
“Shoot me if you like,” Williams slurred, “It will make no difference. You are what you are, Douglas. You will never be anything else.”
Williams looked out of the corner of his eye, barely able to see Doug’s face.
“Do not play their game,” Williams grunted, “You are better than this.”
The trigger had been pulled. Williams squinted, waiting for whatever came next. He was not prepared for it to be the hollow reverberation of an unloaded weapon. Doug continued to pull the trigger offering click after click of inaction. Williams smiled as his vision faded.
Just before passing out, he heard a female voice from the cell door utter a single word:
He wasn’t sure how many days had passed when he woke up again.
Visitors had been scarce. For all the pain in his face, he found that it had been nice just to talk to someone.
He would take his revenge on those who had done this to him. He would do it for himself and now Agent D’Angelo, who was somehow wrapped up in all this. He could feel his hatred bubbling to the surface and then…
What was he thinking about again?