(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)
The date in Mylorne Akkad’s story moved on, seven years later, to 1986.
The location was yet another desert – except, now it was somewhere in the god-forsaken dried up Nevada, not a remote location saddled with an unpronounceable name in the middle of Persia.
A single military helicopter was flying towards a destination that was unmarked on most maps. The early afternoon sunlight glistened off its slick paint, casting off sharp and somewhat dangerous rays to scorpions and geckos down below, making the denizens of this nameless patch of dirt scurrying about to escape the potential danger.
There were four people riding on it; two soldiers, one pilot, and a young Asian woman. Her face was apprehensive but curious. A hint of tiredness was visible on her expressions if one observed a little closer.
The soldiers remained passive, opting to say nothing to each other nor to the young woman.
Finally, she had enough of the silent treatment and shouted at one of the soldiers. Unfortunately, her voice was drowned out by the roar of the spinning rotors above. One of the soldiers pointed at her headphone, signaling her to use the mic attached to it to talk.
It was her first time riding on a helicopter, a military one at that, so she didn’t know. Blushing a little, she fiddled with the mic for a second before figuring out what to do. Once she found that her voice could be heard by the other party, she repeated what she said before.
“Just how long am I going to ride this damnable thing for?”
The soldier shook his head. “We’ll be there shortly, Doctor Kim. Please remain patient.”
“You said the exact same thing five times already,” a very young and impatient Min-jung Kim, nee Mercer, retorted testily. “Come on, give me something. Where are we going, anyway? I mean, there’s practically nothing out here.”
“You’ll see soon, ma’am. Please remain patient.”
“Call me ma’am again, and I’m jumping off this helicopter right this moment, get my drift?!” Min-jung gruntled unhappily.
Then she kneaded her aching head, slightly concerned about what she had signed up for.
A month ago, on that fateful day, a Professor whom she’d never even heard of due to their differing field of studies, showed up on her doorway and enticed her with a tale of an exciting opportunity quite unlike any other waiting for her if she chose to participate.
This professor told her it was an unprecedented, monumental and perhaps even more importantly, a world-changing event, and she was very much suited to guiding this said event to its climax, or some such.
Min-jung just earned her second doctorate in genetics, the youngest in her field to do so. If there was a Guinness record for such a thing, she’d have a plaque with her name on it already. She was working on her third thesis when this Professor Evans showed up with the job offer.
The number on the proposed paycheque made her eyes pop out of their respective sockets. She was still paying off her student loan and in arrears for a couple of months on her rent as well. Lately, she’d been filling her belly with cheap two-minute microwave noodles and felt like she was going insane from the lack of nutrition. So, the six-digit figure in black-and-white was seriously tempting. Too tempting to ignore, at least.
Against her better judgment, Min-jung agreed to dip her toes in, see what’s what before fully committing to this… project that the Department of Defense was spearheading. If something smelled fishy, then she’d bail. She was young, there was so much of her life left to live, and she understood that there would be many other opportunities for her in the future as well. No need to put her own neck on the chopping board if the crap hit the fan.
Even her boyfriend, Bob Mercer, thought it could do her a world of good, making all that money. And he was one of the most prudent boys out there – so much so, her very traditional parents gave consent for them to date after only one Sunday dinner together. So he knew what he was talking about, most of the time.
She could see that the soldier wasn’t going to answer any differently no matter how many times she rejigged her questions. So, rather than adding more irritation on top of her already pulsing head, Min-jung decided to shrug her shoulders and endure. All for that fat paycheque with six digits scribbled on it.
Then, the pilot chimed in. “We’re almost there, little miss. Look outside, you can almost see the airfield.”
I’m not a little miss, though…. Min-jung grumbled inwardly but still peered outside the tiny window beside her head to see. Indeed, hidden within the rising dusty winds, she could see a convergence of several gray, man-made structures. Landing strips, flat buildings, large hangars and a communication towers full of satellite dishes and the like.
The closer they got, she wondered who in their right minds would build a military facility all the way out here – but since she was being accompanied by the soldiers of the United States of America, the answer was right in front of her already.
And as the helicopter slowly landed on one of the unoccupied landing pads, the pilot turned to her and laughed genially. “Thank you for flying with me, little miss. And welcome to Area 51.”
Instead of heading inside one of the flat buildings she saw before, Min-jung was ushered into a hangar. But as it turned out, it was not a hangar; once inside, that much was made emphatically clear to her.
There were literally dozens of massive tanks and heavy weaponry mounted on wheels parked here, all ready to unleash hell at the drop of a hat. She briefly wondered whether she stepped into an active war zone by mistake. Funnily enough, those weapons were pointing inwardly, towards a structure that was unmistakably a huge elevator.
In front of the said elevator, a familiar face in his early fifties was waiting for her with a happy and expectant smile.
“Professor Evans, this is a strange set up you got going here,” said Min-jung as she shook the archaeologist’s hand.
“Hahaha, well, unfortunately, it comes with the territory. But welcome to Area 51. I hope the ride itself was not too taxing, Doctor Kim.”
Min-jung glanced around the interior and whispered in a low voice.
“Uhm, this Area 51…. isn’t this the place where the Roswell aliens are kept or something like that? It is, yes? Uhm, you are not going to ask me to examine a little green Martian corpse, are you?”
As cool as that sounded, that wasn’t her area of expertise, after all….
Min-jung cringed slightly at the mere thought of dissecting an alien specimen with vacant black eyes staring at her from a cold examination table.
“No, no, no. Don’t worry about that, Doctor Kim. That’s in another building. Where we are going, there aren’t any little green men. Well, if you discount all the military hard-asses here, that is.”
She chuckled politely, before stifling it when she noticed one of those military hard-asses standing right behind the professor. The man was chomping down on the cigar like he was trying to grind it to death. His eyes studied Min-jung for what felt like a long, long second before he nodded and introduced himself.
“Doctor Kim, I’ve heard about your work. Thank you for joining us. I’m in charge of the Project Dead Kings, Colonel Williams. Welcome.”
She swallowed a little and shook his hand politely. “Oh, yes. Uhm, thank you for having me, Colonel.”
“Professor, please bring her up to speed. I need to head out of the base as discussed. I’ll leave it up to you.”
The Colonel spoke as he briskly moved past Min-jung and headed outside without waiting for a reply, a pair of adjutants hurriedly following behind.
Once the Colonel and his lackeys were out of earshot, Evans shook his head lightly. “A real piece of work, that guy. Well, they come in all shapes and sizes in this world. Why don’t we head underground, Doctor? Please, allow me.”
The two of them stepped onto the elevator; it shook slightly before descending down in a noisy manner. Min-jung observed the thickness of the floor, now visible as the elevator lacked what some people might refer to as proper doors, instead some flaky metal fences acted as the only barrier. The floor was incredibly thick and sturdy enough to probably withstand a direct nuclear blast.
Below that, they arrived at a floor that reminded her of an office of some mid-level corporation. She saw both the military and non-military personnel, walking around and doing their own things, occasionally pausing to greet the professor before moving on.
Then, they got on a smaller elevator and headed lower, deeper underground, into the belly of the earth. The display panel showed “B10” before the doors opened up, allowing Min-jung to exit and breath in the slightly stale air. The ventilation must’ve been not very effective this deep underground.
The professor took Min-jung into a conference room where a group of people, obviously researchers, were waiting for their arrival. Evans introduced each of the members as well as their field of specialties, before taking her to “the place.” The Place where the origin of the project was faithfully recreated.
She was led down a darkened corridor until a large metallic doorway blocked the further progress. Evans keyed in the entrance code on the number pad next to the door and with a single beep, the thick doors slid open.
And almost immediately, Min-jung was confused by what she saw. It was as if she had walked in on a set of the latest Indiana Jones movie. In a brightly lit area, the whole place was decorated to look like an ancient tomb with mock limestone walls placed in a dome with weird scribbles “carved” on the surfaces. Right in the middle, there was a huge and impressive sarcophagus but, even with a casual glance, she knew it was a fake, made out of some cardboard and glue.
Confused, she turned to look at the professor.
“Uhm, this place is….?”
“It’s a mock-up of a tomb that I discovered seven years ago. See that sarcophagus? That thing, as well as all the writings on these walls, are the main catalyst why you’re here today, doctor.”
“Okay… I still don’t see why I’m needed here, though. Unless you found some sort of genetic material in that sarcophagus and you want me to take a look at it. In that case, what does the U.S military want to do with all of these, uh, archaeological things?”
“First thing first – some context. What you see here is a near perfect replica of the tomb. The God-King Gilgamesh’s tomb, to be exact. You heard about his story?”
“No, not really. History has never been my strongest subject back in school…”
When Min-jung replied apologetically, Evans simply chuckled and shook his head. “That’s alright. No high school would teach about the Epic of Gilgamesh; too specialized a subject for that. Rather, it holds an immense value in the archaeology as the oldest surviving written work of literature yet found. The original stone tablets depicting the amazing journey of Gilgamesh are carbon dated to over five thousand years ago. Yes, it is pretty old.”
“Uh, okay. But why a God-King?”
“Because, the writers – or the inscribers of the stone tablets, as it were – inferred that Gilgamesh was two-thirds a godly being and one-third a mortal. And he ruled his land, the Holy City of Uruk, as the undisputed King under the heavens using might and magic. Or so they wrote.”
Min-jung tilted her head, still not feeling where this was going.
“When I found this tomb back in ’79, a coup in Iran made sure I could never be able to complete my research. But thankfully, the sarcophagus itself was taken back to the U.S soil, but the rest of the tomb’s artifacts…. were left behind. I’ve tried to replicate as exactly as humanly possible, but….”
Sighing grandly, Evans laid his hand on top of the mock sarcophagus.
“But well, it is what it is. We all make do with what we’ve got. The original tomb site is now one of the most heavily guarded places on earth by Ayatollah’s troops and it’s quite unlikely that we will ever get to go back there. If anything, Iranians would demand the return of Gilgamesh’s sarcophagus instead.”
Finished with his quick regret-filled monologue, Evans then pointed towards the section of the wall.
“Here. This part over here, come and take a look. Looks so innocuous, doesn’t it? But this part contains cuneiforms that even I can’t decode. And I’m supposed to be the expert here. You remember the guys Merrick and Boon, back in the conference room? I got those two PhD holders, the best in their own fields, working on this puzzle full time. And they haven’t even made any headway for the last five years.
“But from what we do know, is this. We are sitting on a time bomb. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And us lot, under hundreds of feet of concrete and metal, hidden from the unsuspecting world, we are the ones responsible for coming up with ways to stop that bomb from going off.”
“And archaeology has something to do with that? This tomb, this, uh, Gilgamesh person? Will all these things help us… prevent the explosion of this figurative bomb?”
“Precisely, with your help. Now, please follow me.”
Evans guided Min-jung to another part of the underground lab. In here, the surroundings were immediately more familiar to her – a proper laboratory, equipped with the latest, state-of-the-art apparatus and computers, men and women in white lab coats, as well as the general air of things being, for the lack of more imaginative description, rather scientific.
The lab area was huge – at least three times the size of the mock tomb next door. But both spaces had one thing in common.
And that was the huge sarcophagus in the middle.
“That, Doctor Kim, is Gilgamesh’s real sarcophagus. And he’s inside of it, waiting for you to pry open the secrets hidden within his genes,” said Evans as reverence fiercely burned in his eyes.
Min-jung sucked in a cold breath. She could tell this time it was the real thing. The mere presence alone could confirm that. It had this indescribable, ancient aura that seemed to actively decay the very flow of air around it, suffocating anyone who dared to approach closer.
Good thing then, as a layer upon layer of glass barriers lay between it and her.
“You want me to take a look at this dead guy’s genes? But you said he’d been around five millenniums ago. Depending on how well he was preserved, the genetic materials would’ve been too damaged for a good look. And forensic examination isn’t my field of expertise, Professor Evans. Cloning, and gene therapy, is.”
Chuckling lightly, Evans shook his head. “That’s not it, Doctor. Over here. In this file. And… please, do keep an open mind.”
Evans was handed a single but thick file from a lab tech. He promptly gave it to Min-jung so she could peruse the contents. The result was that she became flabbergasted by what was written in there.
“You… Are you serious?! Is this why you called me here for?”
Evans nodded solemnly. “Yes. It must be done. But the question is…. can you? Are you able to give yourself wholeheartedly to the project? Are you willing to make the ultimate sacrifice as a person of science? For the betterment of mankind?”
“So, what happened next?”
Cleo asked in between the mouthful of the finest A-grade beef steak she ever had the pleasure to chew on.
Mylorne’s tale took them well into the late evening. During the break in the storytelling, Jack had received treatment for his various aches and wounds. His chest was strapped, cuts and bruises covered in bandages. He even took a quick shower and a change of clothes. The end result was that he looked like completely a different person.
After that, the dinner as promised was served and it was truly a sumptuous affair. A feast for sore eyes, of a lifetime, whatever – it was that grand in scale. On top of that, Mylorne Akkad was a good, nay a great, storyteller. He knew just where to pause for a break, when to use the correct body language to convey the emotions, and which words to use in order to build the expectations of his audience members.
“Doctor Mercer accepted the position of the head researcher of gene manipulation for the project. The initial progress was slow, but then, more and more tombs of the past kings and heroes were unearthed, resulting in the increase of the sample pool. Eventually, the previous bottleneck encountered by the project showed the sign of finally being breached. Doctor Mercer’s brilliant theories and thesis broke past the difficult challenge of successfully augmenting humans with cloned genes of Supers. Supers who were stronger than the current crop, at any rate.”
Akkad smiled ruefully as he took a slow sip of the red wine. He didn’t seem to be too happy about what he was saying.
Jack, in the meantime, was slightly surprised to see him not favoring the white wine, though – after all, almost everything about this place was decorated in creepy white. The dining table, for instance – white. The plates, white. Forks and knives, also white. Good thing the served food wasn’t white, otherwise Jack would have to politely decline the meal.
None of that was important to what he felt like currently. The truth was, Jack felt like hiding in a corner out of shame. After all, to think, that his mother played a crucial role in what had happened to Erik, Cleo and Lei. And even to himself. Their judgmental eyes after the revelation were especially hard to bear.
But the fact that she used her own son as a test subject soon brought plenty of pity as well. Such a thing did not remotely make him feel any better, though. If anything, it was a small miracle that he was able to put food in his mouth and sense the texture of whatever he was chewing on.
“It’s still a mystery how Professor Evans was able to secure a massive funding from the Department of Defense. But I guess the power of the sarcophagus proved to be too persuasive in nature. An ancient Super that surpassed all the current living ones – being able to keep a leash on such a powerful entity must have been a rather attractive proposition for the folks in Washington.”
Jack wasn’t sure what Mylorne Akkad meant by that. Why would Washington, and the politicians residing in the capital city of his country, be tempted about something like this? What about human rights and civil liberty? Or was he being a naive, sheltered kid from the middle class who knew nothing and suspected nothing?
“Now, the long story is at its climax. With Doctor Min-jung Mercer’s help, the project made a breakthrough in the form of a successful batch of babies containing gene samples of Gilgamesh. But, as it often is the case, the first experimentation did not go well – resulting in all the children born to wither away and eventually die. Obviously, that was not ideal and unacceptable to those who funded the project.
“But the discoveries of various tombs of famed warriors and kings and heroes – and their still preserved genetic materials – meant the scientists could try their hands with all sorts of permutations. A batch after batch of children was born, to varying degrees of success. Some manifested powers right away, some haven’t, even until now. Most perished, either due to birth defects, psychotic breakdowns or simply due to sheer bad luck.
“And then – there are the G children. You guys. Thirteen children, born with their DNAs augmented by various legendary figures’ genes, and all of that glued securely by Gilgamesh’s genetic structure.
“And you, Mister Mercer, the very last to awaken his set of powers. The final child of group codenamed G.”
Jack grimaced a little. The way Mylorne Akkad said it, there was no room to refute that point. It was as final as it could possibly get. Besides, he had nothing else to say anyways.
There was an uncomfortable silence that flowed within the dining toom as everyone stared at Jack. Their gazes held different emotions, but all of them made him feel really awkward.
After a short while, Lei broke her usual character of not saying a damn thing if not needed and asked. “Okay, fine. We’re some test subjects by men in suits. We get that. But why? Because of some kind of ancient prophecy found in a five thousand year old tomb of a long-dead guy? Isn’t that a bit nonsensical?”
Akkad smiled softly. “Indeed. But look at the bigger picture. From the data Evans compiled over the years, it’s clear that a Super – gosh, I hate that word so much – possessing a set of abilities so frightening, he or she could be comparable to the devil would rise to fill that role of the Lord of Darkness.
“And today, we have more and more Supers emerging from all corners of the society. Some well meaning, some not so much. Now, in the political climate of The Cold War between the Soviets and the U.S., can you just imagine the faces of those in power hearing of a possibility to build an army of loyal, superpowered combatants to stave off the threat of global destruction. And most importantly, keep the emerging population of Supers under control as well? It is no brainer in this regard.”
“An army of Supers,” intoned Erik, sounding rather gloomy. “Like us.”
At the quick confirmation, Erik sunk deep into his chair, the rest of his meal left untouched on the plate. It was the same with Lei and Jack, except Cleo was busy licking the empty plate clean. She obviously read the heavy atmosphere the last and frowned deeply, before pointing down at the plates of her companions.
“Hey, if you are not planning to finish, you don’t mind, right?”
“Help yourself,” Erik spoke without mirth.
Mylorne Akkad smiled gently. “There is plenty to go around, so please, do not worry. If you need a second helping, I will organize for you. Miss Costanza.”
Cleo nodded. “Sure!! But it’s such a waste to throw away all these good stuff, you know!! It’s a bad habit, so I gotta do this right first.”
In silence, the meal was completed, somehow. Akkad told everyone that the accommodation for them was ready if they wanted to stay for the night. Erik and his group had no reason to refuse, but as for Jack, well, he had no choice. His position here was an ambiguous one. Neither was he here willingly, nor was he treated like a prisoner. If he wanted to leave, then nominally, he could do just that.
But Jack decided to stay. He knew there were still several important questions that needed to be asked. Plus, only Mylorne Akkad could answer them. Besides, there was this:
“Let us speak later in private, Mister Mercer. There is something else we need to discuss…”
Mylorne said in a whisper when he and Jack were out of other’s earshot. That aligned pretty nicely with what Jack had in mind, so he didn’t refuse the invitation.
The white robots led the kids to their respective accommodation. Akkad watched them, a soft smile of relief on his handsome face.
While he was quietly mulling the future, a small beep rose from the Bluetooth earpiece he wore. Akkad tapped it lightly and replied. “Yes?”
A robotic female voice came on. “Sir, Doctor Mercer is on line 3. She says it’s urgent. Should I patch her through?”
Akkad contemplated for a moment, before shaking his head. “No. Tell her I’m busy. And track her call location. Please find out where she is at the moment.”
Meanwhile, oblivious to the call from his mother, Jack scanned his guest room. He already used the facilities here when he took the shower in the adjoining bathroom. Still, it was a bit hard to get used to all that white furniture.
Sighing, he sat on the edge of the bed and shook his head. He wanted to call his parents, to tell them that he was okay, but there was no phone here and his own smartphone was thrown away. He couldn’t contact the outside unless he asked Mylorne for the assistance.
I should…. call mom and dad. But…. What should I say to them?
Did my dad know about me? About the Project?
Jack lied down on the bed and shielded his eyes from the overhead lights. Try as he might, he couldn’t really digest the information.
To think…. that his mother actually used him as a guinea pig in her own experiments. It was so unlike her. No, she wouldn’t do something like that.
At the moment, it was only Mylorne’s words to go on. No proof as of yet. Or the proof was with Erik, Lei and Cleo’s existences?
Jack’s thoughts were tangled up further.
The trio were brought together around ten years ago to a nameless military base and then were kept there since then. Poked around and prodded upon, experimented on and trained to become the obedient soldiers. The trio didn’t dispute any of that. If anything, what Mylorne had said only reaffirmed what those three must have figured out by themselves.
There were other strange facts at play here, too. The biggest one being, why wasn’t Jack taken from his home, like Erik, Lei and Cleo? And why did his mom leave the project? Jack thought that such a controversial undertaking involving lots of powerful individuals wouldn’t easily let the important, vital contributors from simply walking away.
Maybe talking to Mylorne Akkad in private could shed the light on my own situation. I feel that…. I’m not supposed to be the same as Cleo and others.
Jack rubbed his chest. The pain was almost all gone. As ever, his own recuperative ability surprised him. One more sign that he was a Super, and definitely related to this Gilgamesh without a doubt.
Those memories – could they be Gilgamesh’s? If so, then how the hell am I seeing them?
Jack massaged his forehead as the damnable headache continued to beat in there. He thought that it was rather unpleasant to endure. Sighing, he got up reluctantly and headed to the bathroom, which was expectedly decked out in white as well. Splashing cold water on his face did little to soften the ache, however.
Hah. Ask for an aspirin? Since it’s white in color, maybe he has it in the medicine cabinet. Probably….
When Jack emerged from the white bathroom, a robot was waiting for him. It brought along the message from Mylorne Akkad.
It was time.
Meanwhile, Min-jung was frantically pacing back and forth in the corridor, ignoring the looks the passersby were giving her.
She tried to redial the number but it was the same. The robotic female voice repeated the same thing over and over again.
“Mister Akkad is busy at the moment. Please call again later. Thank you for your understanding.”
Min-jung felt like throwing the phone down in anger but somehow held back the urge.
The report of the three “G” coded children appearing in a suburb finally arrived at the hidden military base, sending the men here into a fit of a relative hysteria. Causing damage to civilian property was bad enough, but according to the reports, a civilian was even kidnapped as well. This was spelling a disaster. If this project and its contents were somehow leaked to the press, then it’d be very ugly for all those concerned.
General Williams was fending off phone calls from Washington, his cigar progressively getting shorter and shorter as he chomped on it aggressively.
As for Min-jung, she just came out to take a breather from all the hectic happenings, only for her phone to pick up the signal and receive the messages her daughter left behind. Dozens of them.
That’s when she learned of the kidnapped civilian was none other than her own son. So, she was understandably upset.
But she wasn’t an idiot. She began putting two and two together.
The fact that the subjects G-9, G-10 and G-11 could escape the heavily-fortified Fort McGinley was suspicious enough, but the fact that they could disappear off the grid alone made her think of one man and his incredible reach – her boss, Mylorne Akkad.
That man was capable of orchestrating something like this. After all, he was also instrumental in her having Jack….
She intensely regretted getting in the business relationship with him. It was too late now. She should have suspected something was afoot back then when Akkad sent her that suspicious message when Jack was still in the hospital.
If her hunch was correct, then that Gilgamesh-mad billionaire was currently with her son at this very moment. The thought alone gave her the chills. She roughly estimated that Akkad was in that white tower of his. She knew where it was. Now, only if she could get away from here….
Williams had the whole underground base under lockdown. No one was allowed to leave or enter until the trio of escapees were captured or sighted. Min-jung thought about telling the General about her suspicions but that also meant exposing her secret dealings with Akkad so that option was definitely out. She was not in a position to do something that could get her into further trouble.
It was all so infuriating. She had to get to her son before Mylorne Akkad filled Jack’s head with things he shouldn’t know of. The time was against her side.
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