EXCERPTGrabbe tried to speak, but the back of his throat had been, coated by some substance that seemed to hold his vocal cords in place.
Jazshael reached into his coat pocket. “Well, I’m glad you’re awake. Wouldn't want you to miss all the fun.” He produced a full syringe, its needle sparkling in the low light of what he assumed to be Jazshael's new lab.
Grabbe cleared his throat, cutting away some of the gunk from the back of his throat. He knew Jazshael; engagement would be the only path to keep from getting jabbed with that needle. “What…what are you doing with me?”
Jazshael glanced toward something off to Grabbe’s left; no doubt some mechanical monstrosity just out of Grabbe’s line of sight. “Something glorious, my friend. You can count on that. And don’t worry that your uhm…” He twirled a finger around the circumference of his head. “…sacrifice, that it will be wasted.”
Sacrifice. Not the kind of language you wanted to hear around Jazshael. It usually meant that he’d singled you out for some sort of experiment, some “great leap in evolution.” Grabbe’s stomach twisted and he strained against his bonds. As he did so, lances of pain shot through his body from every place where the cables pierced his flesh. He cried out, going slack almost immediately.
Jazshael frowned. “Oh, come on, I expect that from creatures way less than you. Struggling, pain, it doesn’t become you, I’m afraid.”
Grabbe had no reply – he found himself lost in a world of pain.
Jazshael went on. “You know, I’m glad it came down to this. You of all people know what’s going on here, you, my friend…you get the calculus. You always did.”
“That’s why I left,” Grabbe gasped.
“Yeah, about that.” Jazshael frowned. “That kind of thinking got you into this mess in the first place. You never did have the stomach to do what it took to move things forward. Unfortunate character flaw, really.”
Grabbe shook his head, wincing as another pain shot through his neck. “Samyaza has what it takes to move things forward. You think he’s the wave of the future?”
Jazshael slammed his left fist against the wall and stormed toward Grabbe, jabbing his free index finger at him. “Don’t. Don’t you do that. You know how I feel about him.”
Some things never changed. “So why are you here? I thought he kicked you out.”
The Aetelia chuckled, the light in his eyes shining pure insanity. “Of course he did. What else was he going to do, keep around a blatant threat to his status quo? No, no. And then once he’d kicked me out, he got it into his thick skull that he could create his own bioweapons. Can you believe that?”
It took Grabbe a moment to realize that Jazshael expected a reply, and a coherent one at that. He mustered up the best response that he could. “Why would he do that?”
“Good question. You know about London, right? All the crap that went down there before all this began?”
“I know a little bit.” Word about Samyaza’s disaster had traveled fast. The Watchers had built up a network of worldwide followers in the closing years of World War II, channeling just enough energy to slip the bonds of their Aethyric prison and aid their many worshippers. Rumor had it that a human insurgency had sprung up and battled the Watcher operation in London during the Summer of 2011. The Watchers had won at last, but Samyaza lost his eye in the process.
Jazshael nodded. “I figured. Always had the pulse, you did.” He straightened up, smirking. “Here’s the funny thing. So he and his people, he and his goons, they’re looking for the perfect subject to turn into a bioweapon. They have no idea what they’re looking for, though. Maybe a tunneler, like your Chosen One? Maybe shoot people up with a virus and turn them into monsters. So inelegant,” he said, and snorted. “But get this – the dumb bastard stumbles across a Class A Folder. You know what those are, right?”
Grabbe shook his head. “Should I?”
Jazshael slapped the back of his head. “You never did pay attention to me. Naughty boy. Get up to the curve, man. Folders can – you know – fold reality. Create life. You think tunnelers are something?” He scoffed. “They’re nothing next to these Folders. And they’re volatile too – the Folders, I mean. There are so few and every single one of them seems to implode and end up dead before you know it. So anyway, this genius – I’m talking about Samyaza here, you know – decides he’s going to turn a Folder into a fucking bioweapon. I know, right?” he said, and laughed.
Jazshael began to pace now, gesticulating with the hand that held the syringe. “I mean, it’s like…what is he thinking? He didn’t even try to consult me. Could I have done anything with her? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this.” He drew close, and Grabbe could smell the rank sweetness on his breath. “Even I know not to play with that kind of fire, friend.” He scratched his head, almost jabbing himself with the needle. “You know that, right?”
“I do,” Grabbe said. Jazshael had always been prone to these rants, with severe injury or worse for those who dared interrupt. Grabbe saw no need to worsen things.
“So this is real funny. Wait ‘til you hear this. Eventually the Folder gets away, so they create a clone and try to turn this clone into their perfect weapon. They make all kinds of mistakes. There’s this…this…genetic waste left over. Sentient genetic waste, mind you. And get this,” he said, and grinned. “One of those mistakes? She damn near killed the bastard. Can you believe that shit?”
Grabbe found himself genuinely astonished. Had Samyaza lost the plot? Jazshael clearly had his drawbacks – Grabbe had a sick feeling he would find out a whole lot more about that soon – but objectively, the move had made no sense for the Watcher, especially given the danger of these bioweapons. “Why would he do that?”
Jazshael clapped his hands twice. “Thank you! That’s what I said. Why would you do such a thing? I mean, what are you, crazy?” He erupted into peals of manic laughter that rang off the walls. “I’m out of my damned mind, and I wouldn’t do that.” Another laugh, and he wiped his eyes. “Anywho, so everybody knows that he lost his eye during that mess in London, right?”
“Total lie. Complete fabrication, he, uh…well, I mean, it was that piece of waste. That half-folder. Crazy shit is what I’m trying to tell you here. And Samyaza thought he could replace me. This Watcher, who thought he could replace me, did this. Can you believe that?” That’s genius at work, my friend. After that mess, Samyaza is so desperate he comes to me, tells me ‘I need you to revive the program.’ We need to go full on ahead, since the Reckoning is coming and we can take the Watchtowers, maybe run the show after all. I figure I’ll play along. I mean, why not, what loss is there for me? I can become my own free agent. And he has to pay me.” He laughed and then wagged his finger. “But I’m not a Watcher anymore. Oh, no. Don’t think that.”
“I wouldn’t make that mistake.” What little energy Grabbe still possessed drained out of him, as if the cables sucked it from his flesh. Good. Maybe unconsciousness would simply overtake him before Jazshael did.
Jazshael chuckled. “Good. Because I’m going to give this organization a kick in the ass. I am the Aetelia to do it. And you, my friend,” he said, approaching him and waving the needle, “You are the instrument of Samyaza’s destruction. I mean, how fucking beautiful is that? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like to get him back for what he did to poor little Anushka all those years ago.”
The words struck right to Grabbe’s core. “And if I don’t want to?” Grabbe would have sworn the words were barely audible. The energy drain and the pain evoked by Anushka’s name had conspired to push him further into darkness. He had to press every word out with a concentrated effort.
Jazshael’s mouth hung open; in another situation, Grabbe might have laughed. “Buh…wuh…what kind of answer is that? Why wouldn’t you want to be? If Anushka doesn’t work, then look what he did to your fucking family or the Watchers. Remember what we were supposed to be? We were supposed to help those people. He did that. He did that to our. Fucking. People.” He punctuated each of the last three words with hard blows to his own chest. “It demands death. It demands a strong leader, because I tell you what, when that Reckoning comes around, if…if we’re out there with our pants down around our asses and the Lost Aetelia or whoever throws the switch on reality, all hell will break loose. I want to be on top of that pile when it’s all done, and I want you by my side. Do you get me? Do you read what I’m writing here?”
Darkness closed in on the corners of Grabbe’s vision. “If the Chosen One fails, there’s not going to be anything to rule.” The words came from the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Jazshael lifted Grabbe’s drooping head, looking into his eyes. “That’s the whole point of this exercise, my friend, the crux of our drive, you could say. You’re going to make sure that happens.”
“How?” This word would be Grabbe’s last. He could feel it. The sensation that crept over his body felt worse than unconsciousness, worse than pain, more like death, or something even worse.
“Like this,” Jazshael said.
Grabbe’s eyes flew open as Jazshael jabbed the needle into the tender flesh above his ear. A moment later, quicksilver cold flowed through the hole and into his brainpan. Energy coursed through his body and the world dissolved in a blue metallic wash that faded to gray. He tried to speak, but the thickness in his throat had become far worse, an actual obstruction blocking not just words but air.
It would be only moments before his consciousness disappeared down a dark hole in the center of this new, gray world.
Jazshael leaned close to Grabbe’s ear, whispering the last words that Grabbe heard on this side of consciousness:
“You will become a god.”