As I stared up at the dingy ceiling, I reflected on the fact that every time I got shot, the experience was a little bit different. It hurt like hell no matter what, don’t get me wrong, but I learned which guns felt like a bee sting and which felt like someone sliced me open, stuffed a grenade full of rusty nails in the hole and pulled the pin. For example, the bullet currently lodged in my gut was a .45 mm Winchester Silvertip jacketed hollow point. What made this particular winged messenger of destruction such a bitch was that it went in deep and expanded outward, ripping through flesh and organs and the other important meat that fills up the human skin-suit. I didn’t want to look down at the gaping hole in my belly. Getting shot as often as I did still didn’t make me too partial to seeing my own pulsing innards. My fingers and toes were twitching, unaware of the fact that my body had no real intention of dying. It was amusing the first two or three times, but eventually, feeling your whole body trying to die on you gets old.
“How ya feelin’?” Dr. Tanner’s face appeared, blotting out the water-stained ceiling. The good doctor talked to me like a rancher talks to his livestock.
He always asked the same question, with that goofy expression on his face because he was expecting the same answer. But I didn’t feel like giving him my usual quip.
“I feel like I just got fuckin’ shot, Tanner. That’s how I feel.”
His face flickered and his smile slipped to the side, like half his face was cheese dripping off the side of a sandwich in the toaster.
“I’ll get you some ABO, buddy. Just hang tight.” Tanner’s smile jerked back into place and he didn’t wait for an answer.
“Hang tight, that’s a good one,” I muttered.
They’d started with hanging before progressing to poison and knives and then guns. I wondered how long before they started firing the heavy-duty stuff, like RPGs and Surface to Air Missiles. Hanging was less painful than being shot, but having my neck broken always gave me a headache that lasted for hours. I waited impatiently for Tanner. He ran my sessions while his lab tech assistants did little more than take notes and samples when I was out and stand at a safe distance blinking like the lights were too bright when I came back to consciousness. They were standing in the far corner of the little room, as though that gap kept them safe. Although, I reasoned, with my diet and the constant loss of blood and tissue, I probably couldn’t do much damage to them at the moment.
Tanner materialized again with a repurposed Gatorade bottle. He and the other guys called it ABO-p or ABO instead of what it really was—a cocktail of three quarters pig’s blood and one quarter human blood. He twisted off the cap since my arms were still jittering around on the tile and I raised my neck enough to take a gulp. The blood trickled down my throat and I felt my ruined insides tense in response as they began to knit themselves back together. I was used to the revulsion that twisted Tanner’s face—I get it, drinking human blood isn’t the norm—but it struck me as more than a little ridiculous that he had no problem charting out the pool of blood spreading out beneath my body from a gunshot and measuring the diameter of gaping holes in my body when a little bit of blood in a Gatorade bottle made him queasy. I sat up, despite the fact that my legs were still a little numb and I could feel my stomach and intestines struggling to repair the damage from the bullet. I took the bottle from Tanner and gulped it slowly, eyeing him as he watched my Adam’s apple bob with every swallow. When it was empty, I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand, conscious that my canines were noticeably prominent and my eyes bloodshot from the quick infusion.
“Did you at least take the bullet out this time?” I asked one of the blinkers.
I’d lost count of the times they forgot to retrieve the bits of metal and had to cut me open again. They’d tried to put me under the first time, but some compound in my blood burned away even the highest doses of anesthesia within minutes. They all looked at each other and then at Tanner, blinking behind their goggles like white-coated frogs before one, a mousy haired kid with snaggle teeth nodded and held out a plastic baggie with the bloodied bullet.
“Bravissimo,” I said, pushing myself to my feet.
My hands were still shaking. That was unusual. The skin over my abdomen gave one last ripple, leaving behind a faint pink scar and a disturbing amount of smeared, drying blood. Disturbing on a living human, anyway. I walked to the long sink that ran half the length of the tiled room and started rinsing off. The water ran pink for several minutes before all the blood was gone and I took my time toweling off. I’d been modest once—I could count on one hand the number of people who’d seen me naked after I hit puberty—but once I went Revenant and started craving steaks that walked on two legs I wound up at the Institute. Now, I got asked to take my clothes off more than an actor on a Pay-Per-View porno. At this point, I’d rather go buck-naked as my grandma called it rather than ruin any more of my shirts. That was one thing they let me bring with me–my own clothes and shoes. Rage welled up at the memory of the white-coated men standing in my bedroom as I packed things into an old army duffle that belonged to my uncle, telling me what I could and couldn’t take from the home I was born—and died—in. It surprised me and I paused, halfway through zipping up my fly. I didn’t usually feel emotion as strongly; that was the major side effect of the diet. I continued dressing, trying to ignore the anger that was setting my veins on fire and inhaled. The blood in the Gatorade bottle today was 100% Grade A Human. It took me three tries to button my shirt and I listened closely for any sign that Tanner and the blinkers noticed the delay.
“V-141 continues to show remarkable self-regeneration after Test G-1234,” one of them recited into a tape-recorder.
“Can’t that wait?” I asked, feeling the hum of blood—real blood—beneath my skin as the cells multiplied rapidly. The skin on my arms was pinker than it had been in months as blood swelled the veins.
“Something wrong?” Tanner asked, smiling benignly.
“I have a name you know,” I said, pacing towards him. My toes flexed against the slick tile floor that was still spattered with my own congealing blood. “You keep calling me V-141.”
“Listen,” Tanner held up a placating hand. “It’s just for the sake of records, it’s not personal.”
I inhaled deeply and tried not to laugh. “Not personal. Not fucking personal? You took me from my home and brought me out to this Area-51-wanna be shithole where you’ve burned me and poisoned me and tortured me and shot me for months just to see if I’ll die and you say it’s not personal?”
Tanner’s eyes widened and his hand went to his pocket where he kept the remote that controlled the locks and panic alarm. The block of plastic shattered against the wall, but I didn’t hear the pieces falling because Tanner was screaming and the blood was spurting from the stump of his wrist and his hand was across the room next to the worthless buzzer.
“It’s personal to me, asshole,” I said, yanking his face around so that his eyes locked on mine.
I felt his jawbone crack under my fingers. The blinkers were cowering in the corner. Nobody thought to give them a backup exit key—they were little more than interns. I ignored them for the moment, focusing my aching, red-rimmed eyes on Tanner’s doughy face.
“My name is Connor, you son of a bitch,” I said before sinking my face into his throat.