I hope this story makes sense, as it was a bit of an experiment.
Trigger warnings: violence, disturbing scenes
Dr Adam Kane, biogeneticist and Mason Eckhart, security guard, were not the likeliest pair to be seen drinking together late at night in one of the city's diviest dive bars. But drinking they were, and the empties were quickly filling up the table.
"Cheers," Adam said, clinking his glass with Mason's current glass which sat on the table.
Mason glanced up from what he was doing, industriously shredding a bar mat into tiny pieces. It was disgusting and soaked with beer, but somehow the action was soothing. Adam was actually smiling. A bit too much actually. Considering today's events.
"It's not hurting so much now," Adam said, moving his arm around. The bandage around the knuckles of his right hand was making a bid for escape. Adam put his glass down and re-tied it. He also had a black eye. He was a mess. But somehow this did not seem to detract from his attractiveness. Mason had noticed several girls in the bar staring openly at him. Adam hadn't appeared to notice. The phrase devilishly handsome sprang to mind. Mason almost laughed out loud at his own joke.
Adam slung an arm around Mason's shoulders and Mason froze. "How you doing? You don't look too good. You gotta finish your drink." Adam pushed Mason's glass towards him with his other hand.
"I'd be doing better if you didn't touch me," Mason hissed.
"Sorry," Adam said, removing the offending arm. "You really don't like being touched, huh?"
"Nothing good comes of casual and unnecessary touching. It causes the spread of disease. As a scientist you should know all about that." Mason threw the now partial bar mat onto the table, and brushed the awful fragments off his pants. He shuddered.
"I'm serious. Are you okay?" Adam asked.
Mason took a deep breath and let it out. Yes would be a lie. No, however, was not the right answer to that question.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"And how is that supposed to help?" Mason snapped.
Adam looked shocked. "I don't know. I thought it might." He raked a hand through his unruly curls which had escaped from their usual ponytail. "It will be all right, you know."
Mason picked up his glass and looked into it. For a while he thought about what to say. "I'm afraid nothing with be all right ever again. There are some mistakes that can't be undone." He took a drink. And then another.
"No. I suppose not." Adam sighed. "I was just feeling better, and now you've gone and ruined it." He picked up his drink and tried to chug it in one, but ended up coughing.
"Do you want to know his name?"
Mason looked sharply at him. "Of course not." He swirled his drink around in his glass. "He was one of your aberrations, wasn't he?"
"Your unnatural creations, your genetic anomalies."
Adam raised his eyebrows.
"Yes, I know about them. And he didn't move like a normal human being, Adam."
"Damn it. I knew you'd been watching me."
Mason smirked. "It is surprising how many doors are left unlocked. How many conversations are had in my earshot. The old assumption that the security staff are as deaf as they are dumb. I have known for years about your experiments on humans."
"Not experiments. Mason, you make it sound like we're using these people like guinea pigs. They're being treated at our facility. Genes can do amazing things, but they can also go wrong in a myriad of ways. But now we can fix them."
"If that's all, then why the secrecy?"
"Well of course there is some controversy. As there always is when one reaches the cutting edge of science. There are people who would say the procedures are too risky and their effects too unpredictable."
"And are they?"
Adam took another gulp of his drink in place of an answer.
"I know you have been holding extra meetings with your test subjects, secret even from your team."
"Have you been doing your actual job at any point lately?"
Mason smirked. "I could do what they pay me to do with my eyes closed."
Adam lowered his voice. "The incidence of bizarre side effects is frankly quite worrying. Some, mild side effect are to be expected, but... no I've said too much."
"And these side effects are definitely not intentional?"
"What? No. Of course not. They're pretty strange sometimes. And some of our patients are struggling to cope." Adam ran a hand through his hair. "I feel pretty bad about that. It's really affecting their lives."
"But still you continue with these experiments."
"I'm saving humanity from genetic disease. How could that ever be a bad thing?"
"Saving the world. How noble."
"Then how about you? Walking round toting a gun. Does that make you feel like a big man?"
"I'm protecting people. Like I protected you today."
Adam balled up his hands into fists. Then released them. "I gotta admit, it's getting harder to do this on my own."
"You've got a whole team. Use them."
"Yeah, but I have no idea who I can trust. I don't know who else is in on the secret. I don't know who knows that I am." Adam finished his drink. "I can trust you, right?"
Mason raised his eyebrows, wondering what Adam was trying to say.
"Helping other patients might help to allay your guilt."
Mason stood up. He was undecided whether he was going to go for more drinks or walk out of the bar. He would find out when he got there.
Adam felt like he must have already made three laps of the corridors of Genomex. He sucked compulsively on the straw of the soda he got from the drive thru earlier. Finally as he neared a corner, he heard a familiar voice.
"Security is the main aspect of our jobs. How is it possible for you to forgot that?"
Mason was standing very close to one of his younger and less experienced colleagues, who looked like he wanted to disappear through the wall like a young boy Adam had heard about.
"Don't freak out, it was no big deal."
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't report you to the chief."
"Come on, don't narc on me, man."
"Hey Mason, there you are," said Adam.
Mason turned around and shot a look at Adam.
"How about that drink you owe me?" Adam said.
"What are you talking about?" Mason said, and his expression changed into a bit of a smirk. Adam supposed he decided it would gain he respect to be associated with a scientist. "I believe it is you who owe me a drink." He turned back around and the young security guard had disappeared.
Mason stalked down the corridor and Adam hurried to fall in step with him.
"What do you want?" Mason asked.
"I'm going for a drink and you're coming with me. It's the least we deserve after today."
"I have spent quite enough time with you today."
"Oh come on, I know a great place where it's always happy hour."
At the other end of the corridor, Adam saw his supervisor, Dr Paul Breedlove. He briefly considered running for it, but he had already been spotted.
"Adam, where have you been? I've been looking for you all day. Good grief, what happened to you?"
"Sorry Paul, I've been busy," Adam said, taken by surprise at the question. He had successfully avoided his colleagues thus far, so had failed to come up with a suitable explanation.
"Busy fighting is what it looks like. Adam, I'm surprised at you." Dr Breedlove shook his head.
"He lost a fight with a filing cabinet," Mason said.
"A filing cabinet, huh?" Dr Breedlove narrowed his eyes.
"Yeah, nasty things," Adam said rubbing his bandaged knuckles. "Well, I gotta go."
"Remember it's a Monday, folks. We don't want any sore heads tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow," Adam said, walking faster. He glanced behind him to check that he wasn't following, and saw Dr Breedlove take a hip flask out of his pocket. Depending on who you spoke to, Paul had either a penchant for or a problem with whiskey.
Darkness had begun to fall. The perils of working the late shift. Rain splattered on the windshield and the wipers moved frantically, in time with Adam's racing heart.
He turned on the radio. Immediately Eric Clapton was singing his admission of shooting the sheriff. He cursed and turned the dial, deliberately not looking at Mason. Static gave way to John Lennon wailing about happiness being a warm gun. "Who even plays that song on the radio?" he said, shutting the thing off. He glanced at Mason, who failed to acknowledge him.
"This is like a road trip," Adam said to fill the silence. His voice shook, but he pressed on.. "Did you take road trips as a kid?"
"No." Mason was looking down at the packet of matches he was holding. He moved his legs and the refuse sack at his feet rustled.
"Nor did I," Adam said. "My folks are pretty serious career people and they wanted me to be the same, so I had to focus on my studies on summer vacation."
"That must have been truly terrible," Mason said, rolling his eyes.
Adam shuddered and adjusted his grip on the wheel. He tried to focus on the conversation. "Sure, I was smart, and I enjoyed the extra lessons. But I did wish I had more fun. That's what childhood's supposed to be about, right?"
"Fun?" Mason repeated, staring at the wipers. "In my experience one is fortunate to get out alive."
"Now there's a dark and tragic tale begging to be told."
"I think not." Mason was trying to strike a match but three in a row broke in his grip.
"Me, I was an orphan. Until I was ten. My adopted parents gave me everything I could have asked for. But they had very little time for me. They were pretty distant, totally wrapped up in their work."
Mason laughed. "You tell quite the dark and tragic tale yourself. Not that I believe a word of it."
"It's true," Adam said. "Luckily I had a lot of mother and father figures in school. I was always grades ahead for my age group. Although the last thing a teenage boy wants is classmates mothering him." He laughed nervously, unsure why he was revealing these things.
"How awful," Mason said emotionlessly. He succeeded in lighting a match and held it to his face to watch it burn.
Mason gasped, lost hold of the match and burnt his fingers catching it.
"Adam! What is wrong with you?" Mason demanded.
Adam was breathing heavily, holding a hand to his heart. "A cat," he said, "I think it was just a cat."
Mason shook his fingers and blew on them. Adam could feel him glaring at him.
Adam took a few deep breaths and told himself to calm down. He took his left hand off the wheel and rubbed his shameful bandaged knuckles. Now his right arm was throbbing. "Ouch," he said. He gritted his teeth through the pain. "He bit me pretty badly."
Mason was staring fixedly down at the matches.
Adam turned down the AC. He was starting to shiver. Under a clean lab coat, he was wearing only his undershirt. His unclean lab coat and equally unclean shirt were two of the items in the refuse sack. "Okay, we need to get to my apartment. I need a clean shirt. Then we burn... that. Apartment. Shirt. Burn."
"Then we go to the drive thru," Mason said.
"Mason, you are very odd. Has anyone ever told you that?"
Mason sighed. "We need a cover story. If we come back empty handed, there will be questions. Junk food will explain why we left the complex."
"Of course! Why didn't I think of that? Mason you're a genius!" Adam said, slapping him on the back.
"Don't do that," Mason said, looking over his glasses at him. He grimaced and smoothed the sleeve of his coat as if he had been violated.
"Didn't the career adviser tell you you were probably too smart to be a security guard?" Adam said quickly in one breath. What he was thinking was, how did I not think of that? And if I didn't think of that, what else did I miss?
"Don't patronise me."
They fell into silence. Adam's mind was too full of thoughts and worry for it to seem awkward.
There was a click, and Adam saw that Mason had taken out his gun. "What are you doing?" he said in a hoarse whisper.
Mason was turning the weapon over and over in his hands. "I'm down a bullet. How do I explain that?"
"No-one will notice, right?"
"They will notice."
"Okay, okay," Adam said, touching his bite wound and trying to resist the urge the scratch it. The hot prickling sensation was getting worse. "You go outside on one of your patrols, yeah? Pretend something startles you. Act like you shoot your gun. When you get questioned, say you think it was a rabbit but you got spooked."
Mason shook his head. "That's ridiculous."
"The CCTV has no audio, right?"
"How do you know that?"
Adam smirked. "I do now."
Mason put on the radio. He turned the dial back and forth before settling on a classical station.
"Now this is more my kind of music."
Mason sighed. "I agree. But do I hope they don't intend to play more Tchiakovsky. Utterly pedestrian. And needlessly cheerful."
Something about that remark made Adam laugh.
They pulled up in the parking lot of Adam's apartment building. They opened the car doors and got out. Adam would blank out in his memory what happened between that moment and when they got back in the car and shut the doors again. His eyes were red from the smoke and the tears that had finally come pouring out. He had a vague recollection of Mason physically dragging him back to the car.
He didn't recall ordering at the drive thru. He blankly handed over too many bills and accepted the paper bags and drinks tray, and when the coins in his change fell at feet he made no attempt to retrieve them.
Four attempts to park properly at the Genomex parking lot, and Adam gave up and left his car on an angle.
The walk to the building seemed endless. Adam's legs felt like lead. Neither of them spoke. He told himself that if anyone saw them, they would just see two tired men whose moods had failed to be lifted by fast food.
Inside, Mason threw his food in the nearest trash can and walked away without a word. Adam trudged back to his office on autopilot. Luckily, Sara didn't catch him on the way there. He sunk down in his chair, pushed his food to the side of the desk, then covered his face with his hands and put his head down on the desk.
It all happened so fast that Mason only remembered it in past tense. He aimed the gun, he pulled the trigger, and the unknown man was dead.
The man fell to the floor, leaving Mason staring at Adam. Adam was covered in blood, both from the gunshot and his own injuries. His eyes were wide and he wore a frozen look of shock, a look Mason knew he was mirroring.
"P-put the gun down, Mason," Adam said. "You're not planning on shooting me too, are you?" He did that little smile of his, but his eyes and the shake in his voice betrayed his lack of ease.
Mason realised he was still pointing the gun, now at Adam. He quickly holstered it and strode across the room.
"I killed him," Mason stated, as if the admission would make a difference. He stared at the wall. "I've never shot anyone who wasn't wearing a vest before." He covered his face with his hands. It made no difference.
For a while, nothing appeared to happen. Mason uncovered his face and opened his eyes. The body was still where it had been. Adam was sitting on the floor with a first aid kit, cleaning himself up and tending to his injuries.
"Why did you shoot my patient?" Adam inquired.
"I asked you a question. Why did you shoot my patient?"
Mason's head spun, and he began speaking without prior thought. "He was going to kill you. And I pictured a world without you in it. And I didn't want to live in that world."
"What?" Adam said.
Mason laughed, and it was a laugh that sounded wrong. "That sounds like the sort of thing you're supposed to say in this situation."
"Forget about what you're supposed to say. I want the truth."
"He was going to kill you. I stopped him. I don't know who he is, but I'm pretty certain that the world needs you more than it needs him."
"A bold assumption to make. Perhaps it is fortunate you are not in a position where you can do more damage."
"Would you rather I'd walked away and left you?"
Adam finished securing a bandage then looked up. "I was actually a little out of my depth just then. So, no." He closed the first aid kit and pushed it to one side. "Would I find your actions in the security staff handbook?"
Mason stared at him. His mind went back to his training. The long documents he had to read. There had been nothing about terminating patients. Why would there be? Part of him wanted to say yes just to gain the upper hand and walk away. But what then?
"I didn't think so."
Mason covered his mouth and looked at the floor. The scene was horrifying. Blood was pooling around his shoes. He wasn't sure if he was going to vomit or cry. Neither were acceptable actions so he concentrated on keeping his feelings to himself. "What are we going to do?"
Adam just looked at him.
Mason sighed. "I should report to the chief," he said, feeling sick at the thought of it. Going on the run was almost preferable. No, definitely preferable.
Adam held his hands up. "No, you can't," he said. "We can fix this."
Mason scoffed. "Don't tell me, you have been developing a new cure for fatal gunshot wounds."
Adam paused in the process of getting to his feet. He looked deeply unhappy. "I know where I can get hold of a concentrated corrosive substance."
Mason laughed, and weighed up his options for escaping the building. "Wait, you're serious?"
Adam nodded. "It will help nobody to report this."
"So we destroy the evidence?"
The process of getting rid of the body was unpleasant to say the least. Mason could close his eyes, but he would remember the smell forever.
There was a large amount of blood to clean up. It was on everything. Adam was covered in it. He had to find a fresh lab coat.
Mason was doing his best to mop the floor when the door to the lab opened. He and Adam gasped in unison. Adam ran towards the door, hiding the cloth in his hand behind his back.
A young woman stood in the doorway. She took off her glasses and wiped them on the sleeve of her lab coat. "Hey Adam, do you need any help with anything?" she asked.
Mason tried to shrink back into the shadows, but unfortunately the lab was too well lit.
Adam put a hand on the woman's shoulder and casually turned her around. "Sara why don't you go grab a coffee and I'll be with you in five."
"Okay, great!" she said, and was gone.
Adam shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief. They glanced at each other. Mason let out the breath he had been holding.
In one of Genomex's least used labs at the end of an obscure corridor, Dr Adam Kane was with a patient. The young man was pacing up and down, ranting. "I wasn't like this before. And now my girlfriend won't return my calls. And the coach threw me off the team. But he even said I had gotten so much better lately. But that I changed. Everything's getting me so mad!" He turned on Adam and got up in his face. "You gotta stop this, doc!"
Adam held his hands up in a placating gesture. "Look, Joe, we can work this out. Why don't we sit down?"
"I don't wanna sit down. I want you to fix me. Put me back to how I was before."
Adam took a deep breath in. "Now Joe, I will do my best to help you but the gene therapy you had was quite radical. It involved inserting genetic material from an animal into your genome. And treatments can sometimes have unintended side effects. I am sure that with various therapies you will learn to live with your new genetic make up."
"But I don't wanna learn to live with it. You've ruined my life!"
"I saved your life," Adam said, a touch defensively.
"But what am I supposed to do now?" Joe made a noise of frustration and kicked a box over.
"Hey, you need to calm down," Adam said, holding out a hand and taking a few steps towards him.
"Why don't you calm down?" Joe said, shoving Adam away from him. Adam grabbed onto Joe's jacket to steady himself. Joe's eyes glowed orange and he took a swing at him. Adam used his martial arts knowledge to do his best to fight him off, but whatever Joe had become, he was way too strong. For the first time, Adam regretted choosing too good a location for these secret meetings. Right now he was convinced that the death that would happen today would be his own.