RAPHAEL AND KANE CHAPTERS 1-3
The transport backed up to the makeshift hospital. The doors of the vehicle opened with a bang and soldiers filed out like angry fire ants, carrying stretchers loaded with casualties. They rushed the men into the waiting area and set them on the ground, then went back for more.
A triage team met them and assessed the injured, then attempted to stabilize them long enough for the men and women to make it into surgery. They’d put the highest priority cases first and determine who had the best chance of survival.
The split second decisions were harsh but necessary, when the bodies never stopped coming.
Kane did a quick mental count of the new arrivals. There were at least five others stacked behind the man he treated. All were in just as bad of shape as the soldier on his operating table. He and the seven other doctors were working as fast as they could, but experience told him that they wouldn’t save all of them.
He glanced at his bloody gloves. The war had been going on for so long that he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t covered in blood. Kane didn’t think he’d ever truly be clean again.
Kane finished tying off the bleeder and checked once more to make sure he’d gotten all the shrapnel, then he looked over at Megan Richards, his surgical nurse. “Close him up and get him into recovery.” If this were a regular hospital, Kane would do it himself, but there was nothing normal about their working conditions.
“Yes, doctor.” Megan immediately went to work.
They’d met under the harshest of conditions. Initially he and Megan sought each other out for comfort, but over time their feelings had grown.
Kane hadn’t been looking for love, but somehow he’d found it with her. Megan had brought light to the continual darkness and reminded him that despite their horrific surroundings that there was still good left in this world. Kane had proposed to her a couple of weeks ago and intended to marry her the second the war ended.
He took a step back from the operating table and the room swam before his eyes. Kane grabbed onto the gurney.
“Are you okay?” Megan asked without dropping a stitch.
He shook his head to clear it. “I’m fine.”
Her brown eyes softened. She didn’t believe him, but Megan wouldn’t question his response. Everyone pulled long hours. Everyone pushed themselves to their limits. Nothing would change until the war was over.
Kane wasn’t okay, but it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t leave until he’d attended the rest of the soldiers. “I need to get changed,” he said.
Megan nodded. “I’ll get everything prepped for the next one.”
“Thank you.” Kane walked over to a section of the large tent that had been cordoned off with wide tarps for the medical staff. Tucked behind the fabric wall was a locker filled with fresh clothes. There was also a small sink and a portable toilet.
Kane nudged the tarp back with his shoulder and stepped inside, then shucked his soiled clothes. He dropped them into a barrel and disposed of his gloves, then scoured his hands and face with cold soapy water.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept. Twenty-four hours ago? Thirty-six? The line of endless bodies blurred in his mind. Kane rubbed his eyes, then quickly dried his hands.
Didn’t matter if he was tired. Didn’t matter that he was on the verge of collapse. There were men and women counting on him to do his job. He had to get back to work.
Kane grabbed a fresh pair of scrubs and got dressed. He walked back into the operating bays, which were no more than curtained off stalls, and signaled for the triage staff to bring him the next soldier.
The man moaned when they laid him on the operating table.
“You’re going to be okay,” Kane said. “Hang in there.”
The soldier nodded, then promptly passed out.
Kane worked methodically, taking care that he didn’t overlook any of the man’s injuries. There were so many points of entry that the soldier looked like a human pincushion. Kane plucked piece after piece of shrapnel out of the man’s chest cavity. It was painstaking work, but necessary. If he missed even one, it could travel and kill the soldier later.
He opened and closed his hands to shake off the numbness that had set in due to fatigue, then dropped the last piece of metal into the pan. It pinged when it hit the pile.
“That’s the last of it,” he said. Kane was about to close, when the soldier’s blood pressure bottomed out. “We’re losing him,” he shouted. “Start resuscitation.” He’d told that man that he was going to be okay and Kane had meant it.
They worked on the soldier for another five minutes.
“Kane, he’s gone.” Megan touched his arm, giving him what comfort she could.
He knew she was right, but Kane didn’t want to give up.
“We have others waiting,” she said softly.
He looked up. Megan’s face was full of compassion.
“We have to let him go,” she said.
Kane called a stop to their efforts. “Time of death, 4:20pm.” The date was marked and man’s name was added to a very long list that kept growing by the minute.
Would the bloodshed never end?
By the time Kane finished with the last of the soldiers, he was ready to drop. He’d saved two more of the men, but they’d lost three in total. Someone would notify the families and when they did, their lives would be forever altered.
“Will I see you later?” he asked Megan.
She shook her head. “Not tonight. I need to get some sleep.”
“Then I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Get some rest,” she said.
“I will.” Kane stepped out of the hospital tent and scrubbed a hand over his face. Stubble met his palm.
“You look like you could use a drink,” someone said.
Kane recognized the voice instantly and grinned. “You wouldn’t happen to have one, would you?” He looked to his right and saw his cousin’s smiling face.
He and Morgan Hunter had lived down the street from each other and had grown up together. Raised more like brothers, they’d been inseparable throughout their childhood.
Morgan’s grin spread. “I might be able to scrounge something up. Come with me.” He gestured for Kane to follow him.
Kane straightened with a groan. “You look like shit,” he said, though he’d never seen a better sight.
Morgan stopped walking. “You’re not exactly winning any beauty contests yourself.”
“At least I cut my hair,” he said.
Morgan’s dark hair was long and in dire need of a trim. The shadow of a beard covered his firm jaw. There were cuts on his forehead and over his knuckles like he’d been in a recent fistfight. Maybe he had.
He cuffed him on the back. Kane stumbled forward.
“Sorry,” Morgan said. “I sometimes forget my own strength.”
It was okay because Kane sometimes forgot that his cousin wasn’t entirely human. Not anymore.
Kane’s gaze traveled over the rest of him to assess his condition. Morgan’s shirt had various holes dotting the front of it. The size and shape of the damage looked suspiciously like they’d come from gunshots.
“Are you injured?” Kane pulled his cousin’s shirt up. Faded scars marred his flesh.
“Not anymore,” Morgan said.
He’d been fighting on the front-lines. Kane knew that much, but he hadn’t heard a word from his cousin for the past six months. He had feared that Morgan would end up on his table, despite the genetic enhancements he’d acquired.
“Officer on deck,” one of the soldiers shouted.
Morgan stiffened to attention and saluted General Schneider as he strolled out of the command tent.
“At ease,” the general said, then stopped to talk. “Kane, your cousin here is a fine soldier.”
“I know, sir,” Kane said.
“He does the job of ten men,” the general said.
Morgan looked uncomfortable.
“I could use another like him on the front. Ever think about enlisting?” he asked.
Kane snorted. “I have enough to keep me busy here.” He glanced at the hospital for emphasis.
“Understood,” General Schneider said. “Let me know if you ever change your mind. Our side needs more men like Hunter on the front-line.”
“Don’t think I will,” Kane said. “But I appreciate the offer.”
They watched the general walk off.
“That was weird,” Morgan said.
“Yes, it was,” Kane said. “He normally goes out of his way to avoid me because I’m always bugging him about needing more supplies.”
“You do grow on people.” Morgan grinned.
“Yeah, like fungus.”
“Welcome to my casa.” Kane pointed to the small tent he’d been issued. “I have a lot to tell you.”
“I had no idea that you were living in the lap of luxury, while I’ve been out getting my ass shot off.” Morgan laughed.
“You mustn’t have been hit too many times because it’s still there,” Kane joked, then sobered. “So how goes it on the front?”
Morgan glanced at him, his amber eyes shadowed. “The war’s turning in our favor.”
Kane arched a brow. It didn’t seem like it, if the number of casualties was any indication. “Really? Could’ve fooled me.”
“It’s true,” he said.
“Just not fast enough,” Kane said.
Morgan nodded, sending his dark hair into his face. He brushed it back.
“What are you doing here?” Kane hoped that Morgan said that he was here to stay.
“I had to give an updated report on the intel I uncovered to General Schneider and grab more supplies,” Morgan said.
“So you’re not staying?” Kane asked.
Morgan gave him a sad smile. “You know I can’t. We each have a job to do.”
He was right, but Kane didn’t have to like it. Morgan had always wanted to be a soldier. They each longed to save lives, but went about it in different ways. Somberness settled over their joyful reunion. This was no time to be maudlin.
“I thought by now that the Big Bad Wolf would’ve ended the war all by himself.” Kane joked, elbowing his cousin.
“Funny,” Morgan said. “I think you have me mistaken with Superman.”
Kane laughed. “No, he has a better suit.”
Like a lot of soldiers, Morgan Hunter had volunteered for an experimental genetic procedure that spliced his genes with those of everyday predators. They’d done so in the hope of ending the war before it destroyed what was left of the world. A final Hail Mary pass made out of desperation.
When Morgan chose to become part wolf, Kane wasn’t surprised. As children, they had always loved the story of Little Red Riding Hood, even going so far as to side with the wolf. They’d kept the book their uncle read to them, partly out of sentimentality, but also as a nod to Morgan’s new condition.
Kane hadn’t always been supportive of Morgan’s decision to have the procedure. He’d feared that if the process didn’t kill his cousin, it would change him into something Kane wouldn’t recognize.
It was only after he’d visited Morgan in the hospital that Kane had realized his fears were unfounded. Morgan had changed, but he was still the same man that he’d grown up with. His sly humor remained intact and so had their attachment.
Every man and woman who’d entered the program were given a choice of what animal they wanted to be joined with. Most had chosen a big cat, canine, or bear, but a few—ones known to have some psychic ability—had gone a different route entirely.
They’d had their DNA scrambled. By the time the geneticists finished with them, they’d been altered into something monstrous. The new species called themselves vampiresafter the mythical creatures, but they were so much more. Kane had only encountered one and he hoped he neverencountered another.
Morgan pulled a flask out of his back pocket. He unscrewed the cap and passed it over. Kane sniffed. The scent of Scotch filled his lungs. He closed his eyes, reveling in the sweet, peaty aroma, then took a swig.
The amber liquid burned his throat and made his eyes water, but still tasted like heaven. Kane handed the flask back to his cousin. Morgan tipped it to his lips and took a drink, then they sat down on Kane’s cot.
“So what did you want to tell me?” Morgan asked.
Kane grinned. “I’m engaged.”
“What! To who?” he asked. “I mean that’s wonderful.” So many emotions played across his face that it was hard to track them all. “Congratulations.”
Kane laughed. “I didn’t mean to drop that on you. I’d planned to break the news to you, then ask you to be my best-man.”
“I’d be honored.” He smiled, but Kane noticed the sadness in his eyes. Without conscious thought, Morgan rubbed the gold ring on his left hand.
He should’ve thought this through. It was cruel to throw this at Morgan after he’d lost his family. Kane mentally kicked himself. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Morgan interrupted him.
“So who’s the lucky lady?” he asked.
Kane hesitated, then said, “Her name is Megan Richards. She’s my surgical nurse. She’s a wonderful woman. You’d like her.”
“No doubt,” Morgan said. “How long have you guys been seeing each other?”
“Not long, but long enough,” Kane said. The war had taught him to not put important things off. That’s why he’d proposed the moment he knew that Megan was the one.
“That’s wonderful, buddy,” Morgan said. “So when’s the big date? Do I have time to throw you a bachelor party?”
“You have plenty of time to plan,” Kane said. “We don’t want to get married until this mess ends.”
Morgan’s false enthusiasm waned. “That might be awhile. Sure you want to wait?”
Kane thought about the number of casualties pouring into the camp. “So how bad is it out there?” he asked.
Morgan was quiet.
For a moment Kane thought he might not answer.
“Bad,” he said softly. “We’re not just running out of supplies. We’re running out of soldiers, too. Pretty soon they’re going to start grabbing old ladies off the street and shoving guns in their hands.” Morgan laughed, but there was an edge of seriousness to his statement that made Kane uneasy. “It’s good to see you.”
Kane squeezed his shoulder. “It’s good to see you, too.”
“How are you holding up?” Morgan asked.
“Fine,” Kane said. “Better than you.”
“You don’t look fine,” he said.
Kane shrugged. “I’m doing my best. It’s hard to keep up with the number of casualties. I lose a lot of good men.” He reached for the flask and took another drink. “Too many.”
Morgan stared at him. “You save more.”
Kane nodded. “Just not enough. We’re running out of medical supplies. We’re running out of supplies period.”
“Yeah,” Morgan said. “I know.”
“I’ve spoken to General Schneider, but he can’t give me what he doesn’t have,” Kane said.
Morgan’s eyes drifted shut.
“How long can you stay?” Kane asked. He didn’t want Morgan going back to the front. He might be stronger and faster than the average man, but he wasn’t invincible. And if he was as exhausted as he looked, he was bound to make mistakes. Mistakes that could cost him his life.
Morgan opened his eyes and gave him a weak smile. “I have to ship out tomorrow morning.”
Kane handed him the flask. “Then I guess we’d better enjoy this while we can. Have you eaten?”
“No,” Morgan said.
“Then let’s get you something to eat.” Kane pulled out his military locker and opened it. He grabbed two sets of MRE’s and handed one to his cousin. “Bon appetite.”
Morgan laughed and ripped the first can open. He took a bite. “Yum! Just like mom used to make.”
Kane chuckled. “If that’s true, it’s a wonder you’re still alive.”
They spent the rest of the evening reliving childhood memories and avoiding talk of the war. It felt good to recall happier times. They talked and laughed into the wee hours of the morning until they could barely keep their eyes open, then Morgan bedded down next to Kane’s cot and they went to sleep.
A few hours later, Kane woke to the sound of shuffling. He opened his eyes and saw Morgan rolling his blanket up. “What time is it?” he asked, his brain swimming from lack of sleep.
“Early,” Morgan said. “Get some more rest.”
He glanced at his watch. It was five in the morning. “What about you?” Kane sat up in his cot.
“It’s time for me to head out.” Morgan held up a set of new orders.
Would this be the last time he saw him alive? Kane’s heart clenched. He couldn’t bear the idea of losing Morgan.
“Cousin…” Kane’s voice trailed off.
“I know,” Morgan said.
Kane climbed off the cot and grabbed Morgan in a bear hug. “Be safe. I’m going to be pissed off, if you end up on my table.”
Morgan snorted. “I’ll keep that in mind. Watch your six.”
“Don’t need to. I’ll be here for the rest of the war, unless they make us move back again,” Kane said.
“Watch it anyway.” Morgan winked.
“I will,” Kane said. “You watch yours.”
Morgan moved to the tent flap. “I always do.”
“Yeah.” Morgan paused.
“Come back in one piece,” Kane said.
He nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
The days after Morgan left blurred into a sea of blood and guts. Kane hadn’t thought it possible, but the casualty numbers had steadily increased.
Every time a new soldier came across his table, Kane expected to look down and see Morgan. And every time he didn’t, he sent up a prayer of thanks.
If only praying would alleviate his fears.
Just when Kane thought he’d drop from exhaustion, a truck arrived carrying three new doctors. Their advanced age indicated that they’d been pulled out of retirement. Kane didn’t care. He welcomed the help. Anything that would save more soldiers was a blessing.
“Go catch a few hours,” the officer in charge of the hospital said.
Kane didn’t wait to be asked twice. The sun was setting by the time he walked out of the tent. He wasn’t even sure he’d stay awake long enough to eat. It didn’t matter. Kane wasn’t hungry anyway. His body had gotten used to living on very little nutrition.
As he walked to his tent, three jeeps came barreling into the compound. They slammed on their breaks, then soldiers and commanding officers piled out of them and rushed toward the intelligence tent.
Something big must be going down, Kane thought.
He looked to see if Morgan was among the men, but he wasn’t. Kane reached his tent and stepped inside. Megan was curled up on his cot, sound asleep. He zipped the flap behind him, then sat down beside her.
She woke up and smiled at him. “I tried to wait up,” she said. “What time is it?”
“I have no idea.” He laughed.
Megan glanced at her watch and sighed. “I have to get ready. I promised Shelly that I’d take a few hours from her so she could spend time with her boyfriend.”
Kane kept his disappointment in check. He’d been looking forward to holding her in his arms, but he couldn’t call foul since Shelly had switched hours with Megan occasionally to give them more time together.
“I’ll be here when you get back,” he said.
“I’m counting on it.” She kissed him.
Before she could pull away, Kane deepened the embrace, lingering on her lips, savoring the exchange. “Hurry,” he said, and released her.
Megan was a little shaky, when she climbed out of the cot. She reached under the pillow and pulled out her bra, then got dressed. “See you soon.” She kissed her palm and blew it to him.
Kane caught the air kiss and brought it to his heart.
Megan smiled and slipped out of the tent.
Kane barely got his boots off, before his head hit the pillow and exhaustion pulled him under. Within seconds, he was out cold, lost in a dreamless sleep.
Something tickled Kane’s mouth. He pursed his lips expecting to feel a kiss. The sensation came again but he was too tired to react. The light brush morphed into a steady pressure. Kane fought his way through the murky veil of sleep and opened his eyes. It was dark but there was movement in the shadows. A black blob stood over him.
At first, Kane thought he was still dreaming. He brushed at the darkness and collided with something solid. Kane was so out of it that it took him a moment to realize that someone had their hand clamped over his mouth. What was going on?
He tried to shove them away and get up, but couldn’t move. Kane strained harder and felt the bite of straps along his body. His eyes widened and the last of the sleep faded from his mind.
Had the enemy infiltrated the camp?
His eyes adjusted to the darkness. Kane could make out four men moving around him. How had they all fit in his tent? It was barely big enough for two. He glanced up and noticed the stars twinkling above him.
Kane wasn’t in his tent. He was outside and moving fast. Was he still in camp? He tried to look around, but the men’s bodies blocked his line of sight. The man closest to him removed his hand from his mouth.
“Where are you taking me?” Kane asked.
The man shoved a gag in his mouth and pulled a cloth sack over his head. The world went black and panic set in.
Kane tried to recall the moments before being awakened. They were a blank. His last recollection was when his fiancée left the tent.
Megan? His heart thundered in his chest. Had she come back while he was sleeping? Had they taken her, too? He hadn’t spotted her when he’d looked around, but he hadn’t been able to see much. What if she’d gotten in their way?
Fear made the sweat on his body freeze. Kane trembled. Had they harmed her? He’d never forgive himself if they had and he’d slept through the whole thing.
He heard the back end of a transport open, then he was lifted and placed onto a hard surface. The tailgate slammed shut and an engine roared to life. Kane felt the vehicle jerk and roll forward.
The transport picked up speed. It bounced as it hit the potholes in the road, jarring him out of his dark thoughts. Where were they taking him? And why?
Kane had no idea how much time had passed since they’d abducted him. Or even who had abducted him. The ride seemed to go on forever. Eventually the vehicle rolled to a stop and the men lifted him again.
“Get him into area B,” someone said.
This time when he came to a stop, his hood was removed. Kane blinked against the bright light shining in his face. Spots floated before his eyes. When he could finally see, the blood drained from his body.
He was on an operating table.
A man wearing a surgical mask approached him and removed the gag from his mouth. Kane opened and closed his jaw to alleviate the ache. The guy didn’t wear a nametag or anything else that might identify him. Kane stared into his cold gray eyes, but didn’t recognize the man or the room they were in. He had to swallow a few times before he could speak.
“Where am I?” Kane needed to find out where they’d taken him, if he had any hope of making it back to Megan and the base. There had to be something to identify his location. He scanned the room. White walls, white sheets, sterilized equipment. The surgery area was as generic as the man next to him.
“You’re needed on the battlefield.” The doctor answered a question that he hadn’t asked.
Kane shook his head. “The only place I’m needed is in the hospital. Soldiers are dying. You have to take me back.” He pulled against the restraints.
“You’ve already been replaced.” General Schneider stepped out from behind a privacy screen.
Shock stilled his tongue. Kane remembered the arrival of the older physicians. He’d thought they were there to help since they’d been shorthanded for months. “Sir, there must be some mistake. I shouldn’t be here,” he said.
The general gave him a hard uncompromising stare that made Kane whither. It was the same look he’d seen the man give to soldiers right before he sent them into battle.
“These people are following my orders,” General Schneider said.
Kane’s confusion deepened. “I told you that I wasn’t interested in enlisting.”
“And I told you that we could use another Hunter on the front-line.”
Was the general planning on sending him to the front to do combat surgery? Why would he risk losing someone with his skill set? “Does Morgan know about this?” Kane asked.
“This is a top secret operation, son,” the general said. “Need to know only.”
Kane wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or more frightened. Before he could decide, he noticed several scientists standing on the far side of the room. They hovered near state of the art equipment—equipment that Kane recognized instantly. It was the same stuff that had been used on Morgan, when he’d opted to be transformed.
The severity of the situation finally registered on his befuddled mind. This wasn’t a simple kidnapping to put him to work on the front. This was something far worse.
“No!” Kane bellowed and yanked against his restraints. The straps cut into his arms and legs, but he didn’t care. He had to get out of here. The scientists wouldn’t be present if they didn’t intend to change him. “You can’t do this!”
“It’s already done,” the general said. He nodded to the doctor who stood at his bedside.
“Sedate him,” the doctor said, looking at someone behind him.
Kane craned his neck, but couldn’t see who the doctor was addressing. “I’m not willing,” he roared. “Do you hear me? You do not have my permission to do this. This is wrong and you know it. The program was for volunteers only.”
An anesthesiologist approached him. “You’re in good hands,” he said.
“Please don’t do this. I’m begging you,” Kane said. “I don’t want to be a...monster.” His voice cracked and tears filled his eyes as his mind tried to process what was happening to him.
The scientists spoke amongst themselves, ignoring Kane’s please for his life. Two of them moved around the tables full of equipment and rolled them forward. Kane stared at the needles, drugs, and diagnostic equipment. His name was already written on several of the vials. Fear turned to terror. They were going through with the procedure with or without his permission.
“This is a war crime,” he shouted to anyone who would listen. “You do this general and I’ll make sure the world finds out.”
“Don’t threaten me, boy,” he said.
“It’s not a threat. It is a promise,” Kane said.
The general snarled. “I’ll do whatever it takes to guarantee that we win this war.”
“Nobody is a winner in this war,” he said. “Only a fool thinks otherwise.”
“We’ll see,” the general said.
Kane kept his eyes on Schneider, which was why he didn’t see the surgical nurse approach with the I.V. She threaded the needle into his vein like a pro, then added a cocktail of drugs to his line feed that made his words slur and the room melt like chocolate before his eyes. The drugs burned his veins and left his skin chilled and covered in sweat.
He blinked and looked at her, preparing to plead for his life once more. As soon as their eyes locked, Kane’s heart accelerated. Unlike the physician, he instantly recognized the woman behind the surgical mask.
“How could you?” he murmured, laboring for breath.
She said nothing.
Betrayal bit at him, tearing hunks from his chest. “Why are you doing this?”
She didn’t acknowledge his question.
“Megan’s your best friend,” he rasped. “How could you do this to her? To us?”
Shelly ignored him and continued to focus on her job. She lifted the syringe and emptied its contents into his I.V. line.
More drugs followed. Drugs that would change his genetics. Make him into something more than a man. Turn Kane into something he didn’t want to be. It had been years since he’d stepped foot in a church. Years since he’d bowed his head to any deity, but in that moment Kane prayed for death. And just like Shelly, the fickle bitch ignored his pleas.
The anesthesiologist placed a mask over his nose and mouth. “Count down from one hundred,” he said like this was a routine surgery. Maybe for him it was.
Kane tried to shake the mask off, but he couldn’t move—thanks to the narcotic cocktail Shelly had given him. He made it to ninety-nine, then the world spun once and disappeared.
When Kane awoke, he felt refreshed for the first time in months. His exhaustion was gone and his body no longer ached from the constant exertion brought on from the long hours.
What a horrible dream,he thought.
He opened his eyes, expecting to see the inside of his tent. Instead, he saw bright sunlight, crisp white sheets, and a row of empty beds like the kind found in a hospital recovery area. The dreamcame back in a rush. How long had he been here? Hours? Days? Weeks? Kane surged up, only to find that he was strapped to the hospital bed.
“Let me out of here!” He yanked hard on the restraints.
Shelly popped her head into the room. “Doctor, he’s awake.”
“Get back here you backstabbing bitch!” Kane shouted, when she disappeared.
A tall man with spindly arms came strolling in. “There’s no need for name calling.” He stopped by Kane’s bedside and looked at his vitals. “You’re doing better than expected,” he said.
“Don’t tell me how I should feel! What have you done to me?” Kane bellowed. He had his suspicions, but wasn’t ready to face the truth yet.
“Made you better, stronger, faster, and somewhat bullet proof.” He smiled.
“You forced something on me that I did not want and you’re making jokes about it? What’s wrong with you?”
The doctor’s smile faded. “I was trying to lighten the mood.”
Kane snorted. “There’s nothing you can say or do to make up for what you’ve done to me.” He felt violated. Things had been done to his body without his permission. His muscles flexed and tensed as Kane tried to curl into a ball.
“In no time, you’ll be ready for battle,” the doctor said.
“I won’t kill. You can’t make me,” Kane said. “I took an oath to do no harm. Unlike you, I don’t intend to break it.”
The doctor’s expression soured. “You won’t have a choice,” he said. “The beast inside you will do what it must do to survive.”
There was something inside of him that shouldn’t be there. Something unnatural. Kane sought it out and found it lurking in the back of his mind. His stomach curdled. “I’m gonna be sick.” He got the words out a second before he vomited.
“Nurse,” the doctor snapped.
Shelly rushed forward with a small pail.
“It’s starting,” the doctor said. “Keep his hands tied, but make sure he doesn’t asphyxiate on his emesis.”
Kane puked again, projecting like something out of a movie. Vomit dripped down the front of Shelly’s scrubs and pooled on the floor. If he could’ve, he would have laughed.
She gagged several times, but never dropped the pail.
Kane’s stomach heaved and heaved until nothing but bile came out. He emptied what seemed to be a week’s worth of food onto the floor before things settled down. Shelly had just cleaned the mess up, when the first wave of pain crackled beneath his skin.
“What’s happening to me?” he bellowed, but she didn’t answer.
Shelly retreated across the room to where the doctor stood. The man seemed fascinated by Kane’s pain and not at all disturbed by it. He only looked away long enough to write notes on a medical chart.
The agony increased until it felt like Kane’s mind fractured to escape the trauma. “Make it stop! I’m begging you! Please, make it stop!” His back bowed off the bed, but the ties held. Kane felt like he was on fire. He opened his eyes expecting to see flames.
There was a loud crack. It was followed by another, then a wave of fresh nausea and pain struck. He dry-heaved. Kane looked down and saw his right arm and hand bending in an impossible angle. His mind scrambled to make sense of what he was seeing, but couldn’t.
There was another snap on the left. Kane screamed as the bones in his legs broke. Blood splattered the ceiling, then fell like crimson rain upon him.
His cries of pain turned to anguished howls. Kane mentally retreated, as his body continued to shift and morph into something he didn’t recognize, something he would never accept.
Claws replaced his fingertips and reshaped the bones. His muscles thickened and hardened, until Kane was nearly double his normal size. Hair sprouted from his arms and chest, covering every inch of his skin until the man he knew was no more.
What had they done to him? What was he? Kane struggled harder and the restraints loosened.
Shelly noticed and her eyes widened in terror. “Security!” she shouted.
The doctor looked up to see what was happening. Before he could act, soldiers came running into the room with their guns drawn.
Kane slipped a claw beneath one of the restraints. The sharp edge shredded the material like a rotten peach. He did the same to the other side, then rose from the bed. The world bled of color until only gray remained, then suddenly snapped into vivid clarity.
His vision had always been perfect, but compared to this Kane had been blind. He scanned the room, taking in every scent, every nuance. The space wreaked of fear.
Kane’s jaw clamped shut and something crunched inside his mouth. He tasted blood and immediately spit it out. His teeth landed on the floor. Kane ran his tongue over his gums, expecting to find emptiness, but long, sharp canines had replaced his missing incisors. He grinned at the men.
They all took a step back.
The scent of fear increased, until the whole room stank of it.
“Tranq him!” the doctor shouted.
The security force opened fire. Kane felt the darts hit him as he launched himself into the air. With one jump, he covered twenty-some-odd feet and landed in front of them. The men took up defensive positioning and fired again.
He looked down at his naked body. Dozens of darts hung from his furry chest and arms. He brushed them aside and felt a storm building inside of him. His beast struck without warning.
Kane swatted two of the soldiers with the back of his deformed hand. They flew through the air as if they weighed no more than balloons and collided with the far wall. Their heads smacked the concrete and their skulls shattered like watermelons tossed to the ground.
Before anyone could react, he racked the soldier in front of him with his claws, bisecting the man. Kane struck two more, lobbing one’s head off and dropping them where they stood.
More men filed into the room. Shots rang out. The cacophonous sound clashed with cries of pain and panic. Kane felt the darts tear through his skin, then his muscles went numb. He snarled and dropped to his knees.
“I’ve never seen one this strong,” one of the soldiers said.
The doctor approached with caution.
“What would’ve happened if we hadn’t been able to stop him?” the soldier asked.
The doctor looked at Kane. “We would’ve had to put him down,” he said matter-of-factly. As if Kane were no more than a frog, he’d decided to dissect.
“What do you want us to do with him?” the man asked.
“Get him back into bed and clean up this mess,” the doctor said. “We need to run more tests to make sure the changes are only physical.”
Two men grabbed Kane under the arms and tried to lift him off the ground, but he was too heavy. They dragged him back over to the bed, then struggled to get him onto the mattress. A couple more men stepped forward to help. It took four of them to wrangle him onto the bed.
“He’s a heavy son-of-a-bitch,” the soldier said. “How many times did we shoot him?”
“Fifteen at least,” one of the men said. “After that, I lost count.”
“Bring in fresh ties.” The doctor hesitated. “Actually, double the amount. He was able to get through one set with no problem.”
“Yes, doctor.” Shelly rushed out of the room.
By the time she returned, Kane could barely keep his eyes open. The fur had faded and he could finally see his skin again. His claws and teeth had also receded, but there were now voices in his head. Voices that hadn’t been there before and the insidious whispers weren’t coming from the people around him.
“Shut up,” he muttered. The voices continued to taunt him. “I said shut up!”
Everyone looked at each other.
“Who is he talking to?” one of the men asked.
The doctor’s expression grew apprehensive. “It’s just the drugs,” he said, but didn’t sound entirely convinced.
The men helped Shelly bind Kane. He noticed this time the ties were a little tighter than they had been before. He could move his arms an inch but his feet didn’t give at all.
The physician hooked his chart to the end of the bed, then took out a penlight. He pulled Kane’s eyelids open and shined the light into them. “You’re going to sleep for a while,” he said. “You have enough tranquilizers in you to take down a herd of elephants. When you wake up, the general is going to want to speak with you.” He turned away. “His temperature is a little high. Get him some antibiotics.”
“Yes, doctor,” Shelly said.
“You shouldn’t have done this to me.” Kane’s tongue felt thick in his mouth, but he still managed to push the words out.
There was no warmth or pity in the doctor’s gray eyes, when he looked at him. “We didn’t have a choice. We’re running out of soldiers. We need people in good enough condition to fight.”
Kane shook his head. “I told you. I won’t fight.”
The doctor pointed to something on the floor.
Kane looked and saw a body being removed from the room. There were other bodies scattered throughout the space. Bodies that looked as if they’d been ripped apart and shredded for good measure. Blood painted the walls and dripped from the ceiling. He frowned in confusion. How had they got there? Why couldn’t he remember?
He pinched his arm, attempting to stave off the drugs’ effect. “Nothing you can do or say will make me kill someone,” Kane said vehemently. It was vitally important that the doctor believe him. He was a healer, not a soldier. Had been all his life. He silently pleaded to the man, hoping he would understand.
The doctor stared at him, then his expression hardened. “Hate to break it to you, but you already have.”
Someone cleared their throat.
Kane opened his eyes and found General Schneider standing over him. “What do you want?” he asked.
The general shifted on his feet. “Heard about your little episode yesterday.”
What was he talking about? What episode? Before Kane could ask, the general continued.
“I’ve come to make you a proposition, but the offer is only good this one time.” He held up one finger. “You have five minutes to decide.”
“What are you talking about?” Kane’s memory was foggy. His thoughts weren’t making any sense. He tried to lift his arm and realized he was still tethered to the bed.
“Yesterday after your first shift you murdered five of my men,” the general said, his gaze hardening. “I’m here to give you an ultimatum.”
Kane’s stomach clenched. Was it true? Had he killed someone? Or was it just another lie in a long line of lies? It was like someone had dropped a jigsaw puzzle into his brain and none of the pieces fit together.
The general stepped closer to make sure that he had Kane’s full attention. “As I see it, there’s only one way you can avoid a death sentence.”
If what the general was saying was true, Kane didn’t want to live. “Save your breath,” he said.
General Schneider’s salt and pepper colored eyebrows rose to his hairline. “You’d rather face a firing squad than hear what I have to say.”
Kane nodded. If he’d killed someone and couldn’t even remember doing so, then he had no right to live.
“Then you’re a fool,” he spat.
“No.” Kane shook his head. “I’m a doctor.”
“Each of the men who died were worth at least ten of the enemy,” the general said as if he hadn’t spoken. “I expect you to kill at least fifty to make up for the loss.”
Kane swiveled his head to get a better look at the general. “Are you deaf? Did you not hear me?”
“Oh, I heard you,” General Schneider said. “You’re just not hearing me. You may have no regard for your own life, but Shelly here tells me that there is someone you do care about.”
Shelly hovered near the doorway eavesdropping.
“You bitch!” he snarled. “What did Megan ever do to you to deserve this?”
Shelly blanched. “Megan always thought you were so handsome, so perfect. She went on and on about how fantastic you were. It was nauseating. Wonder what she’d think of her “perfect man” now,” she said, then ducked out of the room.
“Nothing more dangerous than a woman scorned,” General Schneider said.
Kane was shocked into silence. Was he insinuating that Shelly had a thing for him? “I never went out with her,” he said.
“I didn’t say that you were the one who scorned her,” he said.
“Megan? All of this was to get back at Megan?” Kane could hardly comprehend the level of hatred needed to do something like this to another human being.
“Forget her motives,” the general said. “They are unimportant. What you need to understand is that anything can happen in war. Camps are only as safe as the men and women who guard them. I’d hate to see anything happen to that cute fiancée of yours.”
Kane felt his color drain a second before his anger surged to the surface. His skin blazed, drenching his body in sweat. He knew he was about to shift. Once he did, the general would be sorry that he ever threatened the woman he loved.
“Save some of that fire for the battlefield,” Schneider said. “You’re going to need it.”
Kane sucked in a deep breath, trying to get his emotions in check. He couldn’t lose Megan. She was the only bright spot in his existence now. The only way to save her was to get out of here alive. That meant he’d have to play along with the general and convince him that he was a good little soldier, who could follow orders.
“What do I have to do?” Kane gritted out between clenched teeth.
The general shrugged. “Simple, learn how to control that monster of yours. Do that and your fiancée lives. Fail me and I’ll make sure she’s standing next to you in front of the firing squad.”
The next several weeks were filled with various tests. Kane had to learn to ignore the agony to manipulate his ‘new’ body. The physical challenges turned out to be easier to accomplish than the mental ones, though he didn’t think he’d ever get used to the pain.
He’d been subjected to a barrage of mental health screenings, each one more baffling than the last. According to the psychiatrists, Kane was exhibiting signs of instability. He had failed test after test no matter how hard he tried to pass them.
It was as if his mind and his actions weren’t working in tandem. Kane had told no one about the voices in his head. They’d never let him leave here if they knew about them. He was in the middle of another psych evaluation, when General Schneider returned to the facility to check on his progress.
It had been nearly a month since Kane had last seen him. The man appeared to have aged ten years in the short period he’d been away. Kane’s main physician, the man he thought of as “gray eyes”, accompanied the general into the room.
“How is Megan?” Kane asked. If the general gave the wrong answer, he’d put them both out of their misery.
“She’s fine for now,” Schneider said. “Whether she stays that way is up to you.” His gaze scanned Kane’s test results and he slowly frowned. “What does this mean?” Schneider pointed to something on his chart.
“Physically, he’s in remarkable shape. He can control his shifts enough to stop from turning completely,” the doctor said. “But thus far, he hasn’t been able to transform without being angry.”
“That’s not what I was referring to,” Schneider said. “What are all these failing marks next to his psych exams?”
The doctor glanced at Kane, then directed the general to the other side of the room. The distance didn’t matter. Thanks to the changes they’d made to his body, Kane could hear every word they said.
“The psychiatrists are worried about his mental state. They believe he still hasn’t accepted his new condition. It’s causing a ‘rift’ in his mind.” The doctor glanced his way. “If it continues, they say there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll never totally recover.”
General Schneider scowled. “Does that mean he can’t fight?”
“No.” The doctor’s face reddened. “But right now we cannot guarantee that once he gets out on the battlefield that he won’t snap.”
“Snap how?” the general asked. “Are you saying that he might kill his own men?” His voice rose to a dull roar.
The doctor looked at Kane once more, then turned away until his back was facing him. “We cannot say with any certainty what he’ll do when he’s dropped into a combat situation. He’s not a soldier. Never was.”
“He killed five of my men without any training whatsoever,” Schneider said.
“Yes, sir, I know. I was there,” the doctor said. “But he was drugged out of his mind at the time and doesn’t remember the incident. The psychiatrists are concerned that if he recalls everything he won’t be able to handle it.”
Schneider’s scowl deepened. “Is he still receiving drugs?”
“Only pain medication and cortisone shots to combat the damage the shifts do,” the doctor said. “He won’t need them once he gets his body under control.”
“Don’t you mean ifhe gets his body under control?”
“Yes,” the doctor said. “Just because we’ve done this procedure thousands of times, doesn’t mean they all turn out the same. Other things factor into the final results.”
Schneider never once looked in Kane’s direction, not even when he asked his doctor point blank if he should have him executed.
The physician sighed. “I can’t make that call. Not without having more time with him and giving him more tests.”
Schneider shook his head. “Sorry, we’re out of time, doc. We need Kane on the front-line now. You’re going to have to make the call right this second. Can he fight or not?”
“He hasn’t been trained yet,” the doctor said. “We’d planned to start combat training next week.”
Schneider’s jaw hardened. “Get him as ready as you can. He ships out in two days.”
The doctor’s eyes widened. “Two days isn’t nearly enough time to give him the proper training.”
“It’ll have to be.” Schneider looked over at Kane. “Men who have a lot to lose are capable of extraordinary feats.”
The threat was clear. Either Kane pulled himself together or he’d lose Megan.
“And if he isn’t able?” the doctor asked.
“Then I’ll have somebody standing by ready to put a bullet in his head if he turns rabid.”
Two days later, the general made good on his threat. A transport arrived to pick up Kane. He was loaded into the truck under the protests of his doctor. Kane could’ve told “gray eyes” to save his breath. Nothing would prevent the general from shipping him to the front.
Other than the day after his surgery and a fistfight with Morgan when he was growing up, Kane had never been in a real fight. He’d always been a bit of a pacifist. It wasn’t that he believed that all wars could be avoided. Kane knew better than that. He just knew that a lot of wars were fought for the wrong reasons. This one included.
They picked up a couple of soldiers along the way, who did their best to prepare him for what he was about to experience. They needn’t have bothered. Nothing could’ve prepared him for what came next.
The transport dropped Kane on the front-lines during an air raid. Bombs fell like metal hail onto the battlefield, blowing deep divots into the ground.
The sound deafened him, making his sensitive ears ring. He touched his lobe and felt moisture. Kane pulled his hand away and saw blood. They’d given him a gun, but it was more than useless since he hadn’t been able to hit a single target. He dropped onto the ground and covered his head.
The bombs kept showering the troops, turning soldiers into mince. Kane had no idea what to do or where to turn.
Someone next to him shouted, “Advance!”
Soldiers poured out of the ditches they were hunkered down in and scurried forward. Kane couldn’t seem to move. Arms grabbed hold of him and pulled him up.
“Come on!” the soldier shouted.
Kane followed him across the battlefield. They were about halfway to the other side, when the enemy opened fire, killing the man he’d been following. Brain matter splattered his face and chest. Before Kane could wipe it off, bullets ripped through his shoulder and tore through his leg.
He looked down at the blood, watching it drip onto the ground.
“Get down!” A soldier hit him from behind, driving him into the dirt, then rolled off him.
Kane pushed himself up. That’s when he noticed his hands. Claws slowly lengthened from his fingertips. His shoulder was hurting and so was his leg. Kane stared at his claws, then reached into the bullet holes and dug the metal out. He dropped the crushed rounds onto the ground, marveling at how fast the wounds closed. It was one thing for Morgan to tell him about the healing properties, and quite another to witness them for himself. His claws receded.
“Get ready to move out,” the soldier next to him shouted.
This time when the soldier said move, Kane was right behind him. The rest of the unit joined them. Everyone seemed to be firing at once. Everyone but Kane.
The soldier looked at him. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Paranoia struck and Kane pulled out his weapon. It occurred to him that this might be the man sent to keep an eye on him. What if he reported that Kane wasn’t fighting like he was supposed to? Would he shoot him in the back of the head? Or would Megan pay for his staunch beliefs?
Kane pointed the gun and fired randomly. If he hit anyone it would by accident. He kept shooting until he ran out of bullets. They’d only given him one clip. He didn’t have another.
The enemy poured out of their hiding places with their weapons drawn as the unit reached the other side of the field. Fear pounded him. Something warm trickled down his leg. Kane looked at the front of his pants. He’d wet himself. There was no time to be mortified.
The two rival groups collided and the battle turned into hand-to-hand combat. A soldier came running straight at Kane brandishing a knife.
Kane did his best to fend off the brutal attack, but with only two days of training he was losing the fight. Blood ran from his wounds until his head swam. One more stab wound and he’d drop. Kane wondered if Megan would ever find out what had happened to him. His knees gave out.
The soldier grinned triumphantly and moved in for the kill.
Kane’s temperature exploded and the world tilted. By the time it righted itself, his hands were knuckle deep inside of the man’s intestines. Kane lifted them in astonishment and watched the long tubing slip from his fingertips. The soldier’s body looked as if it had been dropped into a pit of knives. Kane stared at the blood on his hands, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
He breathed in deeply, inhaling the coppery aroma. It smelled…good. Better than good. It smelled delicious. Kane’s mouth began to water. At first he thought he was going to be sick, then his stomach growled. Before Kane knew it, he’d brought his fingers to his mouth and was licking the blood off them.
The voices in his head rose in volume. Before, Kane could barely make out what was being said. Now the voices were clear. They kept repeating the same word over and over again.
Kane scrambled to his feet. His wounds were already closing. He looked at the men fighting around him. So much preyto choose from. He finally understood what he had to do.
He vowed in that moment that if the scientists and General Schneider wanted a killer, he’d become the ultimate one. Kane threw his head back and howled, then rushed forward, cutting a bloody swath through the enemy, laughing maniacally as he did so.
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