Characters This is a story very much focused on Vincent. At the beginning it'll be heavy on Caligula and Grey McLure (with mentions of Lear), and will eventually include Nijinsky, Ophelia, Wilkes, Renfield, and Kerouac. There will also be a bit of AFGC, mostly Burnofsky, and eventually a little Bug Man. As it takes place before the book, there will be no Keats or Plath.
Summary In short – Vincent's back story, and through that tale will come the back stories of other BZRK members. How did they all come to be involved in the group?
Author NotesObviously I own nothing and have no real knowledge of anything going on in Michael Grant's head regarding his characters. But I've taken notes from the book and combined them with information from the Death or Madness comics, and hope to produce something at least plausible. Having said that – let's begin.
"Michael," came the honeyed voice of his mother, "We need to talk, sweetie."
Those words again. Ones he couldn't put off with the promise of homework, because it was Friday and he had all weekend. Not that he really planned on doing it. Maybe he would. He hadn't decided yet. For now though he was lying on his bed playing Fallout 2, not because he liked it, but just because his friends were talking about it and he wanted to be able to join the conversation if he ever felt like it. Which he never really did, but that was beside the point. "Later," he said, hoping that she'd leave him be for now.
"No sweetie, we need to talk now," she replied, walking into his room to stand in between him and the screen, hoping to distract him.
Not that he cared. He'd just play the scene again later if she didn't leave him alone. "I'm busy," he said back, just because he wasn't in the mood to listen to her drone on about how worried she was about him. It's all she seemed to say lately.
"I'm really sorry sweetheart, but this can't wait." She walked over to the monitor and leaned down to unplug it.
He'd seen it coming a mile away, though, so he wasn't surprised. He looked up at her and noticed that she seemed bothered. "What?" He asked, hoping she'd just get on with it so they could get this over with and she could leave him alone.
"I'm sorry for unplugging your game," she said, almost as though she'd been hoping for him to get angry about it.
He just shrugged. "You didn't unplug the game, mom. Just the monitor."
An annoyed look crossed over her face and she took a deep breath. "Well, Michael, your father and I are growing concerned about your recent behaviour," she started, and he knew where this was going.
It was probably going to be long. "Sorry," he said, though he wasn't, because he couldn't help the way he'd been acting lately. He'd tried explaining it all to her, but she never really seemed to get it.
"I wish you'd tell me what's going on with you," she said as her face softened again and she walked over to sit next to him on his bed. "You know you can talk to me, right? Or your dad? About anything at all," she said, and he could have quoted her word for word because it seemed to have become her mantra as of late. Talk to me; talk to us. Talk to me; talk to us.
"Yep," he replied, short because what else was there to say? His parents didn't get it.
"Well, your father and I have been talking," she said, her face a concerned but wary mask. "We want you to speak with a therapist, Michael. We've been talking to Doctor Rosenthall, and he agrees with us that you seem to be exhibiting signs of depression. He has a colleague he thinks you should speak to." She stared at him then with tightly pinched lips, as though she were waiting for him to explode and fight it.
"Whatever," he replied, not really caring. If it got his parents off his back, he'd talk to this therapist. He didn't think he was depressed, just misunderstood, but he'd given up trying to explain it to his parents.
"So, you don't mind?" She prompted him, seeming surprised that he hadn't said no. Seeming shocked, really.
"Whatever," he repeated, because he just couldn't be bothered to say anything else. "Can I go back to my game now?"
She didn't answer, and he noticed her eyes brim with tears. Oh no. Not tears. Whenever his mom started crying it tended to go on and on into the night, and he really didn't feel like listening to it. But this time she just nodded and stood up, hesitating for a moment before leaning down to draw him into a hug. "We love you very much, Michael," she said, her voice choked. "We just want you to be happy."
And then she left and he was alone. He stood up, trudging over to plug the monitor back in, though he didn't really feel like playing the game again. But that was his problem, when you got down to the heart of the matter.
He didn't feel like doing anything.
He understood why his parents thought he was depressed, but he wasn't. There was a girl at his school who was depressed, Nikki Rutledge, and she'd shown him the scars on her legs from where she used to cut herself with a straight razor. She said she did it to let the pain out that she was holding inside. He thought it was kind of stupid, but it seemed to work for her, so whatever. But there was a difference between them. Even though she said she was depressed, there were still things she enjoyed, like Doritos, and listening to "My Own Prison" by Creed. She said the only time she ever felt alive was when she was listening to the song or when she was cutting herself.
Michael didn't care for music, though. She'd tried to get him to listen to a bunch of songs, but they all sounded the same to him, and he didn't find any of them interesting. They were just noise. And he didn't really care for food, either. You could put carrots or chips in front of him, and unlike every other kid his age he'd eat the carrots, not because he liked them, and not because he didn't like the chips, but rather because he didn't care for either of them, but he knew that carrots were better for you, so he figured he might as well go with the healthy option. Unless his friends were around, then he'd eat the chips, just so he wouldn't have to explain himself to them.
He hadn't tried cutting himself yet, though sometimes he was tempted, just to see what it was like. He just figured that his parents were already suspicious enough, the last thing he needed was for his mom to see him cutting lines into his skin. She'd probably ship him off to a mental hospital or something.
Not that it mattered, though, because there was nothing for him here. He was just existing. Maybe crazy people would be interesting? More interesting than his parents, at least, or the other kids at school.
He knew there was something wrong with him. His parents thought it was depression, but he knew it wasn't, because being depressed meant that you were sad, and he wasn't sad.
He wasn't anything.
"Hello, Michael," the woman said, a warm smile on her lips.
"Hey," he replied, hoping this would be quick.
"So, your parents want you to talk to me because they're worried about you," she began, smiling a little conspiratorially now, "so I have to apologize in advance if my questions seem boring or annoying. I'm sure you're probably tired of your mom and dad bugging you all the time, huh?"
He wasn't sure what she was going for, if she wanted to act like his friend or something. He shrugged. "Kinda."
She nodded. "Well I'll try not to be annoying. I wanted to start by asking you a few questions to get to know you better."
"Okay," he replied, wondering if he should give her weird answers. He'd been thinking more and more lately about going to a mental hospital. It was either that or cutting himself, and he still wasn't keen on bloodying up his bedroom.
"What's your favourite music?" she asked, leaning forward a little.
"I don't really listen to music," he said, which was true.
She didn't seem to buy it. "Come on, who doesn't listen to music? You look like a rock guy to me," she said, tapping her pen against the pad of paper in her lap. "What do you think of Korn?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"Maybe a pop guy? N Sync or Backstreet Boys?" She asked with a grin, winking at him, like she thought she was being funny.
He shrugged again. "I don't know."
She paused then, looking at him in a strange kind of manner. "What about TV? You watch any shows?" When he said nothing she prompted again. "Not even The Simpsons or South Park?"
He shook his head. "My friends all like South Park, and I watched it once, but," he paused then, shrugging again. "I just don't watch TV."
She pursed her lips then, looking at him with an odd expression. "What about video games?"
"I play video games," he answered, without going into specifics.
"Which ones are your favourite?" She asked. If she was pleased to have found a topic they could actually discuss, she wasn't showing it.
"I don't really have any favourites," he replied, "I just play whatever."
"What are you playing right now?" She asked, pen ready to jot down titles.
"Fallout 2," he said, "And Metal Gear Solid."
"So you like violent action games then?" She said with a grin, as though she wasn't judging him for it - though he was sure that she was.
"No," he replied. "I didn't say I like them. I just play them."
"Hmm," she studied him for a moment before writing something down. "Interesting choice of words. What do you like, Michael?"
"Nothing," he said honestly. "I don't really like anything."
She nodded, as though she'd found some kind of answer. "Do you have a favourite food?"
He watched her writing, wondering what she was putting to paper. "No," he answered.
"If you had to pick something to eat, what would you pick?" She asked, still writing.
He waited to see how long she was going to write for, not answering until she looked up at him. "What are you writing?" He asked, not because he was worried, but just because he was curious.
"Just some notes," she said. "What food would you pick?"
He thought for a moment, trying to think of an honest answer to give her. "I don't know, something spicy I guess."
"And why is that?" She asked, watching him again.
He shrugged, unsure of what to say. "I don't know, I guess because food is usually boring, and at least when it's spicy I can feel it."
She nodded at his answer and jotted down one final note before standing up. "Alright Michael, thank you for your answers. Why don't you go sit outside and ask your parents to come in, I just want to talk to them for a few minutes."
He stood up and went to the door, still curious, but not curious enough to ask again.
That had been two months ago, and life had changed drastically in the days since. The woman had told his parents that it sounded like something called anhedonia, which was the name of this condition that basically meant you couldn't feel happy about anything. It made sense when she mentioned it the first time, because he couldn't recall ever feeling happy before.
But then she'd talked to his parents more, and they'd all somehow gotten it into their heads that he was doing drugs.
Ridiculous. He'd smoked a cigarette once (and only once) but he'd never done drugs. He didn't even know anyone who did drugs. But that didn't matter, because that nutty woman had told his parents that there were only two causes of anhedonia – drug use, and psychosis.
At this stage he was willing to go back in time and plead psychosis.
His parents were convinced that he'd been doing drugs, so convinced that they'd made him change schools, to "get away from that bad crowd" he'd been hanging around with.
Perhaps the worst thing, though, was that they'd taken away his Playstation. Now he had nothing to occupy his time, nothing except school work and forced socialization with his parents (mostly his mom, because his dad worked a lot). He wasn't allowed to go anywhere except to school, and his mom regularly went through his things. She never found anything, but that didn't seem to stop her. Life had already been a drag before, but now it was pure torture.
It had almost seemed like a bit of a birthday present when, two years later, they'd decided to check out his head. Scans and analysis, x-ray upon x-ray, and lo and behold – drugs were finally ruled out! There was some kind of lesion on some part of his brain, he never remembered what it was called because he never really cared. All that mattered was that his parents had finally given up on the drugs thing, and had given him back his video games. He had two years worth of them to catch up on.
But it wasn't enough for his mom. She was convinced that there had to be some kind of a cure, there had to be some way to make him happy. That was when a business colleague had introduced Michael's father to a rich scientist, Grey McLure, who was doing some kind of research on biotechnology.
Michael first met Grey when he was almost fifteen. The man hadn't been what he'd expected – which had been a stuffy, boring old man who probably wore flannel suits and mismatched socks. Grey McLure was interesting. He'd actually seemed legitimately interested in what Michael went through on a daily basis, always asking for another example, another explanation. Every time Michael told him that it wasn't something you could understand unless you went through it, Grey agreed with it, but asked for updates anyway. And Michael gave them, because Grey was the first person who'd ever seemed genuinely interested and concerned.
Grey didn't approach it the way his mother did. He wasn't out looking to make Michael happy. He wasn't hoping to give his life meaning. He just wanted to fix him, to fix his brain. It wasn't personal, Michael understood that. It was all for science, and really he thought it was better that way. There was less stress involved when it was impersonal. Less expectation, so less disappointment when it would eventually fail.
He was sixteen when his parents died. Car crash, on their way home after dropping him off at McLure Industries for another round of tests. He wasn't told until after testing, of course, but once they did tell him Grey asked if he wouldn't mind of they ran a different test, to see if grief and loss could point the scientists in the right direction.
He'd agreed, because really – what else was he going to do? He'd felt when he'd been told about his parents, not exactly sad, but hollow. It was probably shock, but at the same time maybe not. Maybe it was the anhedonia alone, developing and inhibiting his feelings of pain and sorrow and sadness? He'd been reading up on the condition and heard it was possible, especially when people suffered so much and tried to block those feelings from surfacing.
Then again, he tried to think about his parents, how he'd felt about them. It had never really been love, because he wasn't capable of it. Of course he'd told them he loved them, but it was always hollow. His therapist had once asked him how he'd feel if his mother died, and he'd told her that he didn't know. Because he hadn't. He'd told her that he knew it would be bad, because she fed him and bought him things and took care of him, and if she was gone then who would look after him, since his father was away so often? She asked him if he'd be sad, and he'd guessed that he would be, but even then he hadn't really understood what sad meant. Not in the sense of what other people thought sad was.
He thought about Nikki, how she used to cry all the time. She said it was because she was sad. Michael couldn't remember a day in his life when he'd cried because he was sad. He'd cried a few times when he got hurt, but that was because of physical pain. But sadness? His experience of sadness was more of a deeply hollow feeling inside, which was of course how he felt most of the time, hollow, but it was a deeper hollow, more empty...
But this was the first time he could ever remember feeling worried about himself. He'd always known he was different from the world, but he'd never been that bothered by it. But now he kind of was, because his parents had just died and he didn't feel anything. There was nothing.
Nikki had killed herself, he remembered hearing. Slit her wrists in the bathtub. Stereotypical teenage suicide.
Michael looked at his wrists, wondering what it would feel like, slicing into his own flesh. Would it make him feel better? What if that was the key?
Grey had offered to help him, since he was on his own. Told him that even though his scientists hadn't been able to fix him yet, that he still wanted to help him. Still wanted to try and figure everything out. Told him that maybe, if he wanted, he could work for Grey as well. It would be his choice, of course, but maybe, since he was so adept at video games, maybe he'd want to try out that new biotechnology they were working on? The biots? Those things that had been working on his brain, trying to fix it, trying to make him think and feel and react like a normal person.
Michael wasn't sure. Maybe.
Then again, maybe he'd be better off like Nikki. Dead. Because what was there to live for when you felt nothing? What was the point?
He wasn't sure. He'd think about it.
Grey was not happy when he heard. He was bothered and upset – not with Michael, of course, because it wasn't his fault. He was young and impressionable and looking for purpose, after all. Purpose Grey had wanted to give him, but had hesitated, because Michael was young and he'd still been hoping that maybe – just maybe Michael would figure it out himself. Maybe he'd create his own purpose.
It was all Lear.
Of course it was partially his own fault too, because he let Lear have access to everything, all of McLure's files, and of course when Lear read about this teenager who felt nothing and spent all his time playing video games, of course Lear had pounced.
Better to get the boy before the Armstrongs did, Lear had told him, and Grey had agreed with that much, at least.
But Michael was different now. Grey could see it, the way his eyes were still adjusting, the way he'd sit there sometimes and zone out, get that faraway look in his eyes, and Grey would wonder where he was. Was he in his own head, or someone else? What kind of training did he even have? Grey wanted to help him, wanted to claim him back from Lear and plead with him not to fight Lear's war. To work for him instead, to help other people. Maybe saving people's lives would give him purpose.
But Lear had him, and now Michael was gone.
In his place – Vincent.
But no matter how much the boy pleaded with him, Grey still called him Michael. Would always call him Michael, because he didn't want him to forget himself. Didn't want him to forget that he was a person, and not a machine.