What if the chosen don't want to be chosen?

Project Volsung

Disclaimer sort of thing: This is an original story written for a freshman seminar I took last semester. The topic was to write a short story (obviously^^;) based on the readings we did in class. These readings are: The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), Ring of the Nibelung (Richard Wagner), Nibelungenlied (Unknown), Saga of the Volsungs (Unknown Icelandic poet), Blood of the Volsungs (Thomas Mann), Leaf By Niggle (J.R.R. Tolkien). I have chosen to base my story mainly on Ring of the Nibelung and Blood of the Volsungs, so if you're familiar with those works you might see some similar themes.^_^ However there are subtle influences from the other works as well... But whatever, you don't have to know those stories to understand this one.^_^ I hope it's a good read...tis the first original story that I'm posting up.^^ (And fyi, the names in here are either from one of the above works or a small pun of a name from one of the above works.^_^)

Fire from the flaming building lit up the child’s face as he stood some distance away, staring with brilliant black eyes. They were just like live coals, those eyes, and they burned with an intensity that was far beyond his years.

* * *

“How is it going, the project?”

“Surprisingly well,” the man dressed in a crisp lab coat looked up from his cup of steaming instant coffee and managed a tired smile. “Far better than expected.”

“No…problems with the subjects? Not even…the one that caused problems before?” The other man, dressed in a pressed grey suit, seated himself precisely in the chair opposite, and crossed his hands upon the pristine white table.

“No problems,” the man in the lab coat took a sip of his coffee. “Ever since Subject B was exterminated, Subject A has been compliant. The testing, therefore, is going remarkably smoothly. Soon Subject A will be ready for training.”

“Marvelous, marvelous,” the man who had spoken first smiled a smile which did not warm his eyes. This was partly because an accident long ago had caused him to lose one, so that he had it replaced with a glass eye, which stared unblinkingly while he spoke to others. His remaining real eye was grey and sharp, glittering always like a dirty shard of ice. No one is ever surprised when they find that his smiles do not warm his eyes—they take one look at him and find that to be what they expect—and his companion with the coffee was no exception. “Dr. Regin, you have quite exceeded my expectations.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Regin smiled back—his smile did not reach his eyes either, but this was because it was too weak of a smile to do anything more than twitch at his lips. “I am honored that you have decided to choose me to head this project.”

“You have the talent, Dr. Regin, and the right type of personality,” the man with one glass eye explained. “It could only have been you.” He now leaned back in his chair, an expression of grim satisfaction crossing his face like the shadow of a raven. “Tell me, Doctor. What do you think of my project? Of course, it is not only mine—it is yours as well, you head it. And with that in mind, what do you feel when you think of it?”

Dr. Regin’s hands tightened nervously on his mug. He was not used to being asked his opinion, but as his employer was gazing expectantly at him, he felt it was best to come up with something. “It is…interesting, Mr. Odin. Very…interesting. And beneficial to our society, of course,” he added hastily.

“Quite so,” Mr. Odin nodded, his movement precise. The glass eye bore unflinchingly though his companion to some point beyond him, while his real eye gleamed, like winter sunlight on ice. “But what do you feel about it, Dr. Regin? When you see the subjects—when you see what they are capable of, does that excite you? Or does it— He suddenly paused and smiled again, real eye crinkling while the glass one remained uncannily wide. “—does it disgust you?”

“No, no!” Dr. Regin was quick to deny any disgust on his own part. “Of course, it is very exciting—thrilling, in fact, to see the art of science unfold! As…as a geneticist, I am naturally overjoyed to observe the…stupendous results from our…”

“Even if we test on children?” Mr. Odin interrupted, not moving from his relaxed position against the back of his chair.

Dr. Regin blinked. “You…you said yourself, sir, that those street vagrants do nothing to improve our society, so we might as well put them to use…” He trailed off timidly. All he had done was repeat, almost verbatim, something Mr. Odin had said during a speech not long ago.

Mr. Odin did not seem angry at Dr. Regin’s lack of innovation. In fact, as he stood, crossed to the other side of the table, and patted the doctor on his back, one might say that Mr. Odin looked quite pleased. “Well answered, Dr. Regin.”

The tension in the geneticist’s shoulders vanished. He might have slumped bonelessly against the table if his employer had not been right beside him. And because of his apparent success, Dr. Regin grew a bit bolder. “Would you like to see the subjects, Mr. Odin? ‘A,’ the one who had given us some trouble before, is a pyrokinetic. Very remarkable…amazing what genetic engineering can create, eh?” He laughed feebly, the sound dying off and becoming a sort of strangled wheeze when Mr. Odin did not join him. Fear grew in his heart again—had he made a mistake? Had he been too presumptuous?

Mr. Odin’s next words smoothed away his anxiety, however. “I should very much like to do so,” the true head of Project Volsung stepped back from the table and waited for his little geneticist to stand. “Show me the fruit of my labors.”

Wisely, Dr. Regin refrained from pointing out that he was the one slaving over the research and dealing with the migraines from those numerous, numerous failed experiments. Instead, he accompanied Mr. Odin in the direction of the laboratories.

* * *

“Project Volsung: a brief synopsis.

The brainchild of the chief executive officer of Ashtree Genetics, Inc.—Mr. Runric Odin, Project Volsung is the epitome of modern science. A daring experiment to better the race of man and protect earth from recent extraterrestrial invaders known as Giants, Volsung seeks to enhance the physical capabilities of humans through the wonder known as genetic engineering. Thusly enhanced humans are called “Purebloods,” as they represent the pinnacle of man, the most advanced level of beings upon this planet.

Currently still in its early stages, researchers involved in Project Volsung bring in destitute children from the streets for testing, all of whom agree to take part in the experiment. This act is not only efficient, for it cleans up the cities, but merciful, because the children now have homes to call their own.”

~ Excerpt from a classified report to the government, authored by Mr. Thoric Donner, Vice President of Ashtree Genetics, Inc.

* * *

“Project Volsung,” the janitor swept the floor with a particularly vicious stroke of his broom as he muttered. “What a load of rubbish.” He paused next to one of the cages and peered with curious dark eyes at the huddled figure inside. “You think so too, don’t you?” Then without waiting for a reply he continued on. “Of course you do, you’re one of those pathetic bastards they picked off the street for this stuff. Don’t you ever want to leave? Of course you do, that was a dumb question. Hey, can you talk?” He stopped his rambling and peered a second time into the cage, leaning closer until his face was pressed against the bars. A pair of dull black eyes, like dead coals, stared back at him. The janitor found himself strangely, inexorably captivated. When he next spoke, his voice was gentler, kinder…almost reverent. “You probably don’t want to, huh? Cuz no one cares what you say. Well kid, no one cares what I say either. We’re kinda alike then, aren’t we?” He pulled back now to examine the label on the top of the cage. The typed lettering was precise and clear: Subject A ~ Siegmund. There was more information typed below in a smaller font, but for now the janitor paid them no mind, concentrating solely on the first part of the label. He whistled, eyebrows rising. “You’re the first successful one!” The owner of those dull black eyes didn’t make a reply, or show any indication that he had heard. Biting back a sigh—he felt this odd surge of emotion inside, which was stupid, because what could he do?—the janitor went back to sweeping without another word.

The next day, and the day after, and the day after that, the janitor kept coming back. He had to, of course—the labs needed to be kept in prime condition, cleaner than the kitchen counter of a finicky mother. But always he would pass the cage in which Subject A ~ Siegmund was kept, and always he would talk. “D’ya know I’m from the streets too? They picked me up way before this whole crazy Project Volsung thing started, to work, ya know? Clean things and stuff. I got lucky…by the time those nutzos got this brilliant idea to play God, I was too old to fit the criteria. But man, you probably didn’t want to hear that, right? I’m sorry, stuff just comes out of my mouth, ya know? Hard to control… Mind if I call ya Siggy? Those geneticist bastards go on and on about ‘A’ this and ‘A’ that, you’re a person, ya know? You need a name like people do, and you have one, just no one ever uses it… oh, by the way, mine’s Loki. My name, that is.”

Then one day Siegmund spoke to him. Loki the janitor had been busily scrubbing down the tables with ethanol, chattering away about his life before he came—he had once had a sister, Loki said, who always gave him the bigger piece of bread. When they took him from the streets she had been away somewhere, and as a result Loki never saw her again. It was after he had said this that Siegmund’s voice floated from the cage, like a ghost. “They killed mine.”

“Say what?” Loki jerked up from his work, mouth open in a shocked gape. He had by now taken for granted that the little Pureblood was never going to speak, so to hear words so suddenly took him completely by surprise. He abandoned the table and the washcloth, and drew close to the cage.

Siegmund gazed at him with black eyes like smoldering coal. “They killed my sister. She was Subject B. Her name was Sieglinde. They killed her.”

“My God,” Loki said. His tongue, normally so glib, abandoned him.

“Because I didn’t want to do what they wanted. I didn’t want to be some weapon. That’s what we are, Loki. And because she wasn’t as good as I was they decided to get rid of her so I would listen to them. Mr. Odin did it. With a gun.”

“Kid,” Loki grabbed the bars of cage, his eyes flickering over the label and finally reading the rest of the card. Subject A ~ Siegmund. Age: 12. Pureblood Type: Pyrokinetic. “You’re a pyro! You can…you can work fire! If you’re some weapon why didn’t you sic it on them? Show them what they made!”

Siegmund’s eyes grew large. “I can’t. I’m not a weapon. I don’t want to fight. If I do that they’ll make me fight.”

“Siggy, sometimes you gotta fight,” Loki shook his head. “Look at me. I can’t do what you can, so I gotta work here, taking crap from that piece of scum Odin and that spineless creep Dr. Regin. But if I could work fire, Siggy…if I could, I’d show ‘em what I’ve got! They’re the ones who gave it to you!”

“But I don’t want it.”

“But it’s too late for that, Siggy. You’ve got it. Now you’ve gotta use it, or stay in that cage and rot.” Loki abruptly let go of the reinforced metal bars, looking vaguely surprised at his outburst. He grinned, ruefully, at Siegmund. “But then that’s just me, Siggy. You do what you think is right, ok? Sorry I got all worked up there.”

“It is unfortunate that the boy I took in out of the goodness of my heart, should choose to instigate rebellion among my subjects,” the voice of Mr. Odin was smooth but grating as it intruded upon the conversation.

Loki jerked around to see the CEO of Ashtree Genetics, Inc. standing at the doorway to the laboratory. The glass eye was wide and accusing, but the real eye was creased in a mockery of sadness. “Mr. Odin, sir.” He said, with a cocky grin. “Lookin’ good today.”

“No more of your foolish yammering, Loki. I grow tired of it,” Mr. Odin looked as if he were suppressing a yawn. “You didn’t think you actually had privacy here, did you? Every bit of your… conversation with Subject A—”

“His name’s Siegmund.”

“Subject A,” Mr. Odin emphasized without skipping a beat, “has been recorded. You are being arrested for malicious interference with a government project, designed for the welfare of mankind.” That was when Loki noticed the policemen beside Odin. Funny how he didn’t see them before, until Mr. Odin pointed them out. But then again, the CEO had always had that effect on people. “Very selfish of you, Loki.”

The janitor shrugged. “Yeah, I’ve always been kinda selfish.” The policemen trooped toward him and proceeded to lead him away. “See ya, Siggy.”

Subject A didn’t reply, and was not surprised when he never saw Loki again after that day.

* * *

“It’s been two years. How is our first subject?” Mr. Odin smiled that same smile which did not reach his eyes at Dr. Regin.

The geneticist smiled back simperingly. “Oh, he is doing splendidly, sir. The removal of that janitor seemed to have finally gotten through to him that he ought to cooperate for the good of mankind and accept his fate.”

“Then it is time to give him a little more freedom,” Mr. Odin scribbled a few words on a piece of paper. “Here is my written permission, Dr. Regin.”

* * *

The young news reporter straightened and restraightened her collar, finally getting it to her satisfaction just as the cameraman turned to her. Today was her big day—she had just been assigned to report on site at the biggest story of the year…no, the century. She had to make sure that she looked confident, that she didn’t stumble, that she was the quintessence of an excellent reporter. Her cue came on, the camera light blinked red, and she began, speaking into her head microphone as clearly and as naturally as if she had been born with it.

“As you can see, behind us the Asgard Laboratory is in flames, taking along with it the work of nearly an entire decade. Asgard Laboratory is the site of the ongoing Project Volsung, a highly successful genetic experiment producing Purebloods, a group of humans with extraordinary powers. Mr. Odin, CEO of Ashtree Genetics, Inc. and founder of the project, was visiting the laboratory today when it suddenly burst into flames. Despite the efforts of the valiant firefighters, there appears to be little hope of finding any survivors…”

* * *

Siegmund, once known as Subject A, stood quietly, unobtrusively, upon a hill that was some distance away from the burning laboratory. The orange and gold flames licked hungrily at the edifice with little regard for what was within it. Their heat and glorious radiance shone upon Siegmund’s face, transforming it into that of a god’s. His eyes were as live coals, burning with an intensity which was far beyond his years.

If I could work fire, Siggy…if I could, I’d show ‘em what I’ve got!

“This makes things even,” Siegmund said to the fire, “It is a revenge.” And from the side of the hill facing away from the laboratory, three other children walked slowly, deferentially into view, clustering about him. They were once Subjects C, D, and F—toys of presumed gods. Now they were Siegfried, Brunnhilde, and Alberich.

Make way for the Volsungs.