An informant gave me the location, or I would never have found it. It’s just one big, high-tech fabrication building in a sea of big, high-tech fabrication buildings. Even in this small detail, I can see Dr. Gavon’s genius. Out here, buildings and companies change hands and change names so often, I doubt that anyone pays attention to their neighbors.
Getting inside was simple, a piece of pie. I went with the direct approach, figuring that Dr. Gavon would know about me regardless of how I came in. The door was no more difficult than any other standard metal security door. I blew it off its hinges without any effort. Expecting trouble, I charged in with both my hands outstretched. But there was nothing. No guards. No automated turrets. No explosions. No traps of any kind. Just a long, cold, clean hallway.
Of course. He’d never want to give any kind of indication that this facility had any sinister purpose. What if someone wandered in on accident? I had been stupid to think he would show his hand so quickly. Still, it would be even more stupid to let my own guard down. I walked down the hall with my hands drawn back to my hips, the palms facing forward.
My footsteps clicked faintly. It was the only sound I heard. The door at the end of the hall was ajar. I pulled it open and entered an empty room. It too was antiseptic and bare. Immaculate even, spotless. Numerous doors exited from the small room in all directions. All were shut. None were labeled. I walked a circuit of the room with caution. I still saw no sign of any kind of security, not even a camera. It worried me. What man would leave his hideout so exposed, so unprotected? Certainly not Dr. Gavon. Was it possible that my information was false? But I couldn’t start second guessing myself so soon. It was too early to tell. Surely, one would have to delve deeper before Dr. Gavon would deign to respond.
But which way? The white tile floor and the empty walls offered no clue. I chose the door directly opposite the hall that I had come through. I tried the handle, and it was locked. A quick blast of my power would easily blow the lock off the door. But I simply gave the handle an extra twist. It snapped off in my hand and the door swung freely on it’s hinges. Perhaps you made me too well, Dr. Gavon.
My path, I thought, would take me to the center of the facility. It led me into a hall identical to the other, and ended quickly with three more doors to choose from. I forced the handle of each to see what was behind them. One was an empty room, a dead end. The next was another hall, as was the one after that. Only the last door held any distinction: a hint, barely audible, of machinery running somewhere deeper in the facility.
I followed the sound, but without success. The building soon became a labyrinth. All the hallways, all the rooms were careful reproductions of each other. The sound I heard rose and fell, changed pitch and intensity, even took on or lost rhythmic qualities. But I never seemed to get any closer to the source. I wandered, and as I did, I reconsidered the idea that Dr. Gavon might have underestimated me.
There was no hope of retracing my steps to get back. I had rushed in too far and pulled open too many doors before I realized the nature of the place. I already had come upon doors standing open with their twisted handles left lying on the floor. I was looping back on my path. I grew impatient. I got careless. In my fatigue and frustration, I stopped opening doors. I knocked them down. I kicked them off their hinges. I stalked through one doorway after another, aware of the impotence of my rage, but unable to contain it. At length, I surrendered to the maze. I couldn’t beat it.
So I cheated. I cocked my palm back at my hip and felt the energy gather. I thrust forward and a beam of dark gray that thickened to black at its core shot out from the palm of my hand. I directed the energy at the door before me, and it burst to metal splinters. The uninterrupted wall behind it remained intact.
Stepping over the pieces of the door, I gathered power with both hands and unleashed it at the wall. The two beams combined into a single, dark column of energy a foot across. But it had no effect. I approached the wall, confused. I had never encountered anything that could withstand my power. But the wall wasn’t even blackened. When I touched it, it was still cold.
The low, cyclic throb of machinery suddenly sounded like mocking laughter to my ears. The walls of the small room spun. The air became thick in my lungs. I really was trapped. I shot again, tracing my beam along the wall until it crossed the only other door in the room. The door buckled and shattered. The wall stood indifferently.
The reality of my situation descended on me. Dr. Gavon had constructed this maze specifically for me. He created some new material that was immune to my power, and then he built this place as a trap. My mind went back to the triumph I felt when my source finally revealed this location. It had only been bait all along, and I had swallowed it without a thought.
Panic welled up in me. I ran. Heedless, thoughtless, I crashed through one door after another. I didn’t know where I was going, but it didn’t matter. I shot at every wall. I even blasted the ceiling, desperately hoping to make a hole I could climb through. But it was hopeless. Dr. Gavon had given me this power. Now it was obvious that he could also take it away.
I slumped down defeated and exhausted. I had come to destroy Dr. Gavon, make him pay for the havoc and misery he has brought to so many. That was my main goal, and my chief motivation for carrying on for these last few years. Along with that, if it was possible, I wanted some answers about my own personal misery. What had he done to me, and to what purpose? Who was I before I woke up in his laboratory?
But those questions, it seemed, were never going to be answered. Even the things I used to be sure of were losing their certainty. How could I have escaped before, when he could contain me so easily now?
The strength and power I had back then were just a shadow of what I had grown into. The memories are hazy, but when I broke my bonds and knocked a hole in my prison, it had been effortless. Just as effortless, in fact, as it had been for Dr. Gavon to imprison me once again.
My powers had increased substantially in the years I was free. Was I intended to escape for that very reason? Now, having reached my pinnacle, was I being drawn back for his own evil plans? With my back against a nondescript wall in a room identical to the countless rooms through which I’d already passed, I slowly caught my breath. I clawed my mind back into a sense of reason.
No matter what Dr. Gavon intended, I was still my own man. He had doubtless created me with an evil purpose. My memories of the time before my escape are fragmented at best. But I remember what he was trying to do to me. I remember his indoctrination. It wasn’t enough for him to steal all that I once was, he had to remake me in his image. Having erased my old life, he was trying corrupt me.
Some part of my old personality must have remained in my core, that’s the only explanation I could come up with. That’s why I finally rebelled. I can recall a blurred image of Dr. Gavon swimming before my eyes. His voice bore into me, the way that it had many times before. I don’t remember what he was saying, but I remember the feeling of something contrary welling up inside me. I had always listened passively until that point. I never knew I had alternatives before. But I was his blank slate no longer. My voice came out thick and slurred. But Dr. Gavon understood what I was saying. I was making a choice, and I was choosing against him.
“No,” I said. “What you say is wrong. Everything you say is wrong.” It was the most complex argument I could come up with. But his voice stopped. His image swam away. After a long time, the fog in my brain gradually lifted. My resolve to resist Dr. Gavon seemed to give me strength in my mind and body. That was when I made my escape.
I held on to that memory on the outside. It became the only clue I had, the only indication of who I had once been. I came to understand over time that Dr. Gavon was evil, the very manifestation of evil. His agenda across the world and the disaster that he left in his wake made that abundantly clear. Logically, that contrary sentiment that surged up in me, what I supposed to be the last remnant of the real me that Dr. Gavon wasn’t able to wash away, that must have been goodness.
In that way, good verses evil became the mantra of my new life. I pledged myself to it. Because in so doing, I hoped to connect to my old life. I used the evil powers that Dr. Gavon gave me to fight evil wherever I found it. I also hoped that my battle might someday lead me back to Dr. Gavon. And so it had.
After a few more deep breaths, I pushed myself back to standing. I hadn’t come to give up. I’d come to undo the evil that Dr. Gavon had done. I’d come to right this wrong in the world. Only I could do it, I was certain. Nobody else possessed the kind of power that was necessary to defeat him. I must do it, it was my responsibility.
I don’t know how he did it, but Dr. Gavon knew when I had come to that conclusion. He wanted me to determine to fight all over again. When I did, he knew that I was ready. And then the labyrinth changed. With a resolute step, I approached a door. There were many doors in the room where I had collapsed. But it wouldn’t have mattered which one I opened. After what I’ve seen, I think that every door in the facility would have opened on the same place.
Nothing fit. Every tile, every door, every stretch of ceiling in the labyrinth had been smooth and white, sanitary. But the floor across the threshold was gray slate. The room was populated by wide-set shelves made of rough wood. I stepped inside. The scrubbed-air laboratory scent was replaced by the aroma of a workshop. Here and there, allowances had been made for basic modern necessities. The paneled wood ceiling was marred by the encroachment of electric lighting. The occasional shelf showed the shine of a fresh nail used in repairs. But these things only served as further contrast from the high-tech atmosphere of the labyrinth. Everything in the room bespoke deep age.
I passed further into the room. It was large, but not vast. As I made my way toward a workbench at the back, I glanced at the shelves. They held boxes, hundreds – no, thousands – of neat, white boxes. They varied in size, but somehow retained a sense of uniformity. The room, the smell of it, the rows and rows of shelves with their organized boxes, I was mesmerized. My guard relaxed completely.
The workbench stood before me without my even being conscious of approaching so closely. It was inordinately long, and made of uneven planks of wood that had been worn to a shiny smoothness. A row of those boxes, differing in size, sat on the bench. Their lids were open. But all they held was a nest each of shredded white paper, like confetti.
I heard movement behind me and a voice began to speak rapidly. I spun, horrified that I had completely forgotten about Dr. Gavon from the moment that I entered his sanctum. But I didn’t see Dr. Gavon. The voice continued, but no-one was there. The sound was close. I recognized the language, though I didn’t understand the words. It was French. With my back against the workbench, I scanned the room. Everything looked exactly as I’d first found it, except for one box that was now open.
It was a small box, sitting on the open end of the shelf nearest to me. The sound appeared to originate from inside. I went to the box and picked it up. I expected to find some kind of speaker. But it held a human mouth. Lips, teeth, and all the surrounding flesh in a rectangular block. The lips were moving, forming the words that stunned my heart. I was transfixed with fear, unable even to throw the awful thing down. I just stood, watching and listening.
All at once, the shape of a man stood before me. It was a featureless black fog in the form of a human. Dark specks hung suspended in the air around it, radiating in every direction all the way to the walls and corners. The mouth in my hands ceased. I put it back on the shelf and faced the figure. It spoke, and I immediately recognized the voice of Dr. Gavon. It sounded distant, but still clear and intelligible. Not like a shout from far away, more like an echoed whisper.
“Do you like my work?”
Before I could answer, he completed his materialization. The dark particles flew to him from all sides. He gathered tiny pieces even from the floor, even from all around me. In a second, he went from an opaque fog to an undeniably tangible human man. He was dressed as I remembered him, dark pants, white short-sleeved shirt, and a thick, black rubber apron. He stepped toward me, but then passed by.
“My work,” he said, gesturing to the boxes, the shelves, and the whole ancient room itself. “What do you think?”
I charged and shot a beam of energy at him with the speed of a gunslinger. But before I got off the shot, he dematerialized again. Dark particles exploded apart and my beam passed through the midst of them, striking the wall behind the bench with no effect. The tiny bits of Dr. Gavon converged on a point not far away. He re-appeared and continued to talk.
“By all means, please inspect the product before you appraise its quality.” He lifted up both his palms in an accommodating motion. Every lid of every box flew open simultaneously. I remembered the mouth, and Dr. Gavon’s face expressed cruel disdain. He disappeared with that look on his face. In his absence, the French resumed.
Then, with a nauseating rustle, body parts lifted from boxes all over the room and flew to the place where Dr. Gavon had just stood. A hand, a thigh, a perfect cube that must have been part of the torso, and innumerable little building blocks. Every piece had straight, flat sides where they connected. They came together in orchestrated speed, from the small bits that made up the toes to the large chunks of muscle. No part had to wait while others found their place. They all flew directly inward.
They made not a patchwork human, as I feared, but a whole, seamless man. He was even clothed. The man paced before me for two dreadful seconds, agitated and complaining in French. And then he came apart, his voice stopped. More parts flew through the air and a different man built himself before me. He looked me in the eye and seemed to be more aware of me than the Frenchman. His dress was strange, almost like he was in costume. The suit and hat made him look like an old-time gangster.
“You’re the new one, huh?”
And then he was gone. More and more people came to me. Men, women, young, old. Some acted like I wasn’t there. Others looked me over as if I was being presented for inspection. Some raged. Some spoke.
“You shouldn’t have come here. Neither should I. None of us should have come.”
“Can you see me? Am I here?
“You’re too weak, aren’t you?”
I was terrified. I stood stock still as the pieces shuffled back and forth. Some parts, I was further aghast to discover, didn’t return to their box, but took a spot on the next body. Some pieces – oh it was awful – belonged to more than one person. Very many of them were dressed strangely, like the gangster.
“No. I’ve given more than anyone else.”
“Not better than me. Not better than us.”
“This is only me, not anybody else. I am me!”
I heard the echo of Dr. Gavon’s voice before I heard his words. It seemed to have no point of origin.
“They are beautiful, aren’t they?”
“No,” I disagreed, just because the opposite of whatever he said must be true. The people were starting to make me angry. But I wasn’t angry at them. Their speech, their stance, everything about them showed their agitation. However they existed, broken into little pieces and stored on shelves, it was obviously horrible. I was angry at their mistreatment.
“We are beautiful!” A docile man arranged himself in front of me.
“No,” I disagreed with him too. He came a half-step closer. His hands held each other across his belly.
“We are! We’re special! You’ll see!” The man had nothing else to cling to, and his distress was pitiful. And then his parts disintegrated. He went back to all his separate boxes. My blood boiled.
“You will see,” Dr. Gavon’s voice came to me again, and he materialized next to me. I swung my fist at him immediately. The black glow of my power encompassed my fist the way it only does when I am especially focused or angry. But my fist only passed through the air where Dr. Gavon had been. He drifted just a short distance away and solidified again. I now stood between him and his workbench. He continued to speak, and I checked my hand.
“All my creations are beautiful.” Men and women continued to appear before me, but they were still and silent now that Dr. Gavon spoke. “Yes, beautiful. Though some, I will allow, are more crudely made than others. The oldest. I was still learning the art.”
And with those words I grasped the meaning behind the old clothes that some wore. They weren’t costumes, and it wasn’t just the clothes that were old. The people were old too. They wore the clothes of their time, from whenever Dr. Gavon captured them.
“What have you done to these people?”
“Everything. From the moment of their construction, I have done all that needed to be done.” I moved closer to Dr. Gavon and he held his ground. I kept talking in hopes that he would stay.
“Construction? Who are they?”
“They aren’t anybody. Their parts are, of course. Or were, you understand. But now that I’ve put them together, they are nobody.”
The people flashed past me still. Pieces of humans crossed each other in the air. Dr. Gavon had built them, somehow. It was impossible, but I knew it to be true. The truth of it was written on the faces of those that Dr. Gavon paraded before me. I took another step toward him.
“Why? Why would you do this?”
He smiled at me and shrugged.
“How can a man grow unless he is challenged? Yet, I have found it necessary to challenge myself. Each of you is stronger than the one who came before, even as I grow in my work. We have been getting close. I wonder, will you be strong enough?”
And then, finally, I understood. Dr. Gavon included me among them because I was one of them. I was simply the latest model. How had he done this? Did he piece us together from dead bodies like another Dr. Frankenstein? No wonder I had no memory of my past. I had no past. A woman assembled in front of me, silent, her lips pressed tight. She was dressed like she came from the court of Queen Victoria.
I realized as I looked at her that I was in over my head. It was impossible to guess how long Dr. Gavon had been doing this. A hundred years? Hundreds of years? And the attitude of every man and woman who flashed by was that of defeat, complete and devastating defeat. All of them had gone ahead of me over a fathomless stretch of time. And Dr. Gavon had decimated every last one of them.
It was my turn to fight. I understood that it wasn’t a matter of the odds being against me. I didn’t have a chance. But something inside me would not allow me to give up or surrender. I could not give in to Dr. Gavon, because he was evil. It made more sense to just roll over and die. But I had a responsibility to stop him at any cost. My mind told me to run, my heart told me to fight.
He was directly in front of me, a short distance down an aisle that ran between shelves. He saw the look in my eyes, the readiness in my stance. The parade of his victims suddenly stopped. The tangle of crisscorssing building blocks disappeared into their places. The clatter of their movement ceased. Dr. Gavon stood casually watching me.
I attacked. Instead of a burst of energy, I shot my power at him in a steady stream. I expected him to dissipate and float away again. But he stood in his place. The blast knocked him back on his heels. He staggered, but he did not fall. The energy cracked in my hands, black arcs of electricity first standing out along my wrists, and then traveling up my arms. I had never before expended so much force. But it wasn’t enough.
Dr. Gavon regained his balance and then leaned in against my blast. The energy spread across his chest and out along his limbs. It hurt him, that much was apparent. But it would not destroy him. He took one slow step forward, then another. I had no more to give, but I still gave all I had.
As he closed the distance between us, my beams were beginning to taper off. My power was all used up, and Dr. Gavon still lived. Hope fled, but I did not. He took the last few steps rapidly as my energy waned to nothing. His hand shot forward and gripped my throat with a strength I’ve never known. This is the end, I thought to myself with a calm certainty. And then immediately after, as though all other thoughts were irrelevant, one word blossomed up in my mind.
That single word swelled to occupy every corner of my mind. I could no longer shoot my dark blasts of energy, the reserves were all gone. But I swung with both my fists. I landed blows that would have knocked holes in concrete walls, or caved in a normal man’s skull. Dr. Gavon lifted me with the one hand he had on my throat and carried me backward. I punched, kicked, and squirmed to get free. But Dr. Gavon bore me easily backwards until I ran up against his workbench with my back. I tried to use it as leverage. I battered him with my fists. I fought, just as I commanded myself.
Dr. Gavon reached up with his free hand and grabbed my shoulder. I couldn’t punch anymore. I felt a tug, no pain just a tug, and my entire arm came off in his hand. He set it down carefully in an open box on the bench. He reached up for me again. My mind continued to howl that single, lost word the whole time that Dr. Gavon disassembled me and put me away. By the end, it was all I knew.
For an eternity that stretched in all directions, it was all I knew. I existed in a limbo with only that word as my companion. The word itself ceased to have meaning as a collections of letters or a sound produced by vocal chords, lips, and tongue. I didn’t have eyes to read letters. I didn’t have a voice to speak. I held onto it as a concept, an ideal. My mind wrapped around this ideal and broke it into base pieces. Fight how? Fight against what? Fight why?
I considered these questions in a vacuum. I meditated upon them and probed their answers to the bottom. I soaked in that one thought, became sage in all its theoretical applications. How could I ever explain what it was like? Or make anyone understand the avenues I pursued and the conclusions I reached?
But then, I heard a sound. It was such a forgotten sensation that it was like a new experience. I hadn’t heard, seen, or felt anything for ages past reckoning. Awash in pure intellect, I was captivated immediately. Sound. It was far away, so far that I would not have noticed it if it hadn’t been so long absent.
it drew closer, and became by degrees familiar. I knew that sound. It resonated in me. Louder, clearer, and suddenly mine. The sound was my own voice. I had a voice. And I used it to speak louder, and louder. And what was I saying? Just one word, a concept. An ideal. I screamed it.
Then I felt another sensation: a pull on a thousand different little parts all at once, all toward a single point. I discovered that a well of gravity existed in my core. I was rushing toward that center. My voice rose even louder, the tug inward grew stronger. In a snap of sudden consciousness, I was back.
I stood in that old room with all those shelves, all those boxes. Dr. Gavon wasn’t looking at me. Somebody else gazed at me in distress. And that ideal, that shouted concept, again became an imperative. I directed my uninterrupted wail at my successor. He must understand. He must join me.
I blasted Dr. Gavon with all the power I had once known at my peak. Even more, perhaps, my eternity of meditation upon combating evil lent purity to my rage. We must fight at all costs. To overcome, conquer, or destroy evil was not required. What mattered was to battle ceaselessly, to never allow evil a reprieve.
I shouted still and Dr. Gavon staggered. The stunned, confused man who had been marked as his next test, his next challenge, his next victim took courage and joined me. He attacked Dr. Gavon with fists that glowed blue before they struck and impacted with a force I couldn’t imagine. He was Dr. Gavon’s improvement upon me, and I could see the growth of his power.
I paused in my own attack when my ally seemed close to crossing into my beams. I used it as an opportunity to gather my power and redouble my efforts. The energy built, my forearms felt saturated and my biceps twitched. Dr. Gavon was still giving ground. But he was fighting back, and he was beginning to recover.
That’s when I noticed that we had spectators. One figure after another converged into existence throughout the room. They looked surprised, as if they were witnessing a fantasy they had long dismissed as make-believe. Some doubted, it was obvious. They would not allow themselves hope, lest it prove false. But many wore a set face of defiance. To them, I shouted:
I led by example. Dr. Gavon finally knocked back my ally and stood solidly on his feet. I released the pent-up energy from my hands. Dr. Gavon rocked back only slightly. He brought up his arm and caught my beam in his hand. He was able to hold it there, and simply followed it wherever I tried to redirect it. With his other hand, he lashed out at my ally. Dr. Gavon struck him directly in the chest, and he shattered where he stood. The separate pieces fell to the floor, and Dr. Gavon rushed over the top of the at me.
I floated once more. I had all the time I could need to contemplate the mysteries of that ideal. But I was aware of something else. There was a difference in the empty space where I existed. A sort of vibration disturbed the quiet that had before been all-encompassing. There was something in the imperceptible atmosphere. I sought out its source. But before I could locate it, I felt that tug. I became myself once again.
I didn’t need to shout encouragement this time. My former ally was doing it for me as he ran across the room at Dr. Gavon. There were others watching already as well. I couldn’t tell who was the new arrival, and who was an old victim. I came around Dr. Gavon’s flank and attacked from the side. He met both of us with much more poise than the last time. He was prepared for us. He deflected my ally, and absorbed my attack without taking any apparent damage. It didn’t deter either of us. Because even though he was prepared for two, he was not prepared for the rest.
Others joined the fight soon after it began. Multiple beams of varying shades of black crisscrossed the room. Dr. Gavon shot out his own, the darkest of all. We knocked him down to his knees, but he rose again. When he did, the tide of the battle changed. He moved forward again, and began to overcome us. We were defeated, one by one, as he punched and shot and broke us back into our pieces.
Back in the void, the disturbance was much more evident. I searched it out again, and realized that it was me. Yet it was not only me. I was not alone in that space. All of the others were with me, only I hadn’t known it before. That difference, that discordant hum, was my own call to defiance. Whereas before I had floated in the complacent sea where all of my predecessors had existed, I now heard – saw, felt, tasted, sensed – their responding voices. That eternity only lasted an instant, and I was back in the lair of Dr. Gavon.
The battle raged. We lost again. The former emptiness screamed with insurgency. We snapped back into place a fought again. We all went back and forth. We swam in the collective soup where we had at one time simply existed, but now boiled ever more fiercely with our outrage. Then we would gather in Dr. Gavon’s lair to fight him again, and again. Our numbers grew as more of his victims took courage.
It was inevitable, we killed Dr. Gavon. We tore every box to pieces, scattered every scrap of packaging, and smashed the shelves to splinters. We took Dr. Gavon apart as well. Not into straight-sided blocks, as he had done to us, but into ragged chunks of flesh and crushed bone. When we left, the illusion of the labyrinth was gone. We walked through the door and into the parking lot outside. Much had changed over the untold years we had been imprisoned. But it didn’t matter. We had changed as well.