Authors: Mat Nastos
Tags: #cyberpunk, #Science Fiction, #action, #Adventure
One wall seemed to be fashioned entirely of glass and, although he knew it was impossible, Mal could sense a number of people were watching him from the other side. Somehow he knew there were four human heartbeats in his immediate vicinity, all but one beating well-above normal rates.
Aside from the large, crumpled form of Bradley near one of the exit doors, the only other person Mal saw in the room was the woman who stood near an emergency call box. She was a harsh looking woman in her mid to late thirties, with light brown hair pulled tightly back into a bun. So tight, in fact, was her hair tied back that it caused the skin of her face to be stretched tight over her skull, which only increased the sharp appearance.
Even at nearly thirty feet away, Mal could read the small white name-tag pinned onto the blue hospital scrubs the woman was wearing. It read “Rebecca Clark, MD.” When Doctor Clark’s eyes finally locked onto Mal’s, he could tell she was as confused as he was. Well, almost. At least she knew why he was standing, stark naked, in a cold operating room instead of being fully clothed and sweating like a pig with his battalion on maneuvers in Afghanistan.
“Wh—where am I?” stammered Mal.
“You are in surgical suite eight, Designate Cestus,” replied Doctor Clark nervously as she took a step forward to the patient she had been working on. “Everything is all right. Please stand down and return to the table.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” Mal snapped back, anger building in his chest. “My name is Captain Malcolm Weir, Third Battalion, Seventy-Fifth Ranger Regiment.”
Holding her hands out in front of her body, the female doctor responded calmly, “No. You are Designate Cestus; we’re at Project: Hardwired. Everything is fine…your programming has just gone a bit haywire and we need to get you back onto the table to get it fixed.”
“There’s been a mistake,” the words tore themselves out from between Mal’s clenched teeth. “I’m a Man. Look at me!”
Malcolm Weir gestured wide in an attempt to show the doctor how wrong she was and was surprised at her reaction. “You look, Designate Cestus. See what you are.”
Confused and shaking, Mal stared down at his body to see what she was talking about. What he saw caused his world to shatter.
A spider’s web of scars, long healed over, crisscrossed his chest and ran down his sides. The scars’ state and pale white appearance spoke volumes as to just how long Mal had been blacked out. It would take a very long time, many, many months for wounds such as the ones he was looking at to close up and heal like that.
He had been out for a very long time.
What happened to me, he thought, eyes going fuzzy around the edges as they glazed over with tears?
Moving his hand to trace a finger over the network of off-white tissue is when Mal finally noticed his arms. What he saw stole the breath from his chest.
His arms, hands and upper chest were covered in metal. At first, Mal thought he was wearing some sort of armor made up of uneven, interlocking chromed plates, but where the armor met his flesh there were strange puckered scars and the metal itself seemed to merge with his skin. Whatever had happened to him, whatever it was, the armor was part of his body.
Clark’s calm, self-assured voice rolled over Mal’s shaking form, “You are Designate Cestus. You are property of Project: Hardwired and were brought in for a system upgrade when you were damaged,” she moved closer to the man, oblivious to what was building inside of him with every word she spoke. “Something compromised your AI and shorted out our system. Now I need you to return to the table.”
With the truth slamming into him with the force of a freight train, Mal let loose with a primal scream—a scream of rage and despair and terror all rolled into one; a scream that, for a moment, drowned out even the noise of the still-sounding alarms.
The desperate man began to tear at his own flesh with fingers of metal, trying to rid himself of whatever had been done.
“Stop! You’ll destroy your implants!”
Mal’s eyes became the hate-filled eyes of a predator as they focused on the tall woman. A second scream seemed to propel the man in a leap that covered the nearly twenty foot distance between he and the doctor, the sudden burst of movement tore the tubes and wires from what remained of his human flesh, and left a fine mist of blood and IV fluids in his wake.
Fueled by anguish and fury and wildly pumping adrenalin, Weir reared back with a fist of unyielding metal and struck out against the only thing he could: Doctor Rebecca Clark. For ten long seconds, hands that were now cruel weapons of unbreakable titanium and unknowable technology rose and fell, each blow met with increasingly wet sounds, and less and less resistance.
With a final blow that cracked the floor beneath his feet, Mal stopped his assault, breathing heavily from the exertion, rivulets of sweat stinging each of the multitude of tiny wounds left behind by the IVs and monitor wires being wrenched from his skin. For a long moment he stared down at the crimson and black mess before him, unable to comprehend what was once the head and torso of the middle-aged doctor, but was now an unrecognizable mess of shredded flesh, broken bone and spent life.
Realization dawned on Mal as his senses now told him there were only three heartbeats registering in immediate proximity to him. Holding up his hands, Mal stared at them, dumbstruck. His fingers, now covered in dripping red gore, had elongated into terrifying looking claws, and the armor along his arms was now covered in one and two inch spikes.
All the better to kill you with, he thought grimly, rising to his feet unsteadily. Mal couldn’t believe what had just happened. He’d never killed anyone before. Not once during his time as a ranger and never ever in cold blood.
“What have I done?” he whispered to the bloodstained weapons that had taken the place of his own hands.
Mal was a killer now. A murderer. He needed to find someone in charge to get things sorted out and turned over to the authorities, decided the soldier.
Before he could move toward the door, Mal’s new senses screamed at him. Six heavily armed hostiles were swiftly approaching his location. Something from the base of his skull commanded him to flee the area or prepare for aggression, but Mal ignored the voice and stood still, his nude, muscular frame still half-coated in blood that was rapidly drying under the room’s ever-present air-conditioning.
Mal turned to face the only entrance to the room as he waited to turn himself in, his head tilting up as he heard a group of people stop just outside.
“Rogue unit, Designate Cestus, located,” said the muffled voice of either a military or law-enforcement officer.
That’s really starting to get on my nerves, thought Mal at the newcomer’s words.
The electric buzzing in Mal’s metallic arms spiked in intensity, warning him once more of his imminent danger. “Target locked.”
Even as his mind was still registering what was happening, Malcolm Weir’s body took over on instinct and reflex alone, diving wildly to his right as the door and wall in front of him disappeared in a torrent of gunfire. Whatever they had done to him, whoever “they” were, they had given the ranger a speed that defied imagination.
Faster than a speeding bullet, was what crossed Mal’s mind. Unfortunately, that illusion was quickly dispelled as a second hail of gunfire tore into him, his new body armor absorbing all but a single shot, which lodged itself in the thick muscles of his upper thigh, and spun him across the now debris-laden floor.
Mal grunted with the impact as his mind analyzed his situation. Wounded, nude and trapped in a room with only two available exits, Mal was already leaping over the surgical table he had been strapped to even as his newfound senses worked through the problem.
Mal ducked down low behind the hydraulic and metal table in hopes it would shield him from more gunfire, grabbing the starched white sheet still draped across it to cover himself. Hazarding a look back towards the door, Mal tried to figure a way out while tearing a strip of cloth off to use as a tourniquet for the bullet wound in his leg.
Reaching down to try and remove the bullet with his fingers, Mal was surprised to see the projectile push itself free when his hand approached, as if by magic. The words “initiating repairs” sounded silently in his head. Mouth open in stunned amazement, Mal watched as the hole in his leg stopped bleeding and began to slowly knit itself closed. Further inspection revealed the array of nicks from the numerous intravenous needles had nearly vanished fully from sight, leaving behind only the smallest of red welts.
Another chorus of semiautomatic gunshots interrupted any astonishment the man was feeling over his rapidly healing wound. Mal was stunned that he could identify the weapons and number of said devices that were shooting at him: five Heckler & Koch MP5/40 submachine guns, fired in overlapping bursts of three rounds each.
Being able to identify the guns shooting at you was a neat carnival trick, but it wasn’t going to help get him out of danger, Mal told himself harshly. Any second, his attackers were going to resolve it was time to charge into the room and, when that happened, no amount of gun identification was going to save his sorry butt.
If these people had done whatever it was they did to him, Mal was sure they would know how to neutralize him as well.
The sight of a tall, muscular, dark-haired man half-wrapped in a sheet drew Malcolm’s attention. At first, he didn’t realize he was gazing at himself in the wall of glass separating him from eight heartbeats—his hair was cut down almost to the scalp and his icy blue eyes were sunken. His entire face was almost unrecognizable, even to himself.
That’s when it hit him: “two available exits.”
Mal was charging head first for the mirrored wall at the back of the room when hell came through the door behind him.
Continued in “The Cestus Concern: Weir Codex Book 1”
About the Author:
Mat Nastos is TV, Film, comic book, fantasy and steampunk writer/director, known best for bad horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs & dinosaurs in the sewers. He lives outside of Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.
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