*Gods, Monsters, and Everyone Else

Written by Alex Gyftogiannis and J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

If you’ve seen one interrogation room, you’ve seen them all. Four concrete walls and a floor that’s never been scrubbed of piss and blood. If you’re the guy chained to the scarred, steel table at the center of the room you’re probably doing your best not to add to the puddle. So when an ominous shadow fills the open doorway your bladder goes from the size of a fist to the size of a newborn horse. The shadow carries broad shoulders, a chiseled jaw, that no-nonsense frown so many military men often carry. A genuine figure of authority. A master of tickling out secrets with the blade of a knife.

If the paint wasn’t already flaking off the walls, the man’s cologne would have gotten the job done. Another dozen men with machine guns crowding out the room would just be overkill. But they’d come in anyway. It was enough to make anyone’s heart leap into their throat. Unless you’re a handsome bastard named Wade fucking Merrick.

Luckily for the guy in the torture seat, that happened to be his name. Well, that wasn’t really his middle name, but you get the idea. 

Mr. No-nonsense closed the heavy door and sat in a chair opposite of him. “State your name and rank.”

“No foreplay, then?” He sighed. “Wade Merrick. Part-time Ravus Operative and Full-time captain of Dominus Magna’s arm-wrestling squad.”

Mr. No-nonsense, true to his name, wasn’t amused. He opened a manila folder and browsed a series of dossiers. Wade’s debonair face graced most of them. “And you’re the notorious Doorman.”

Wade shrugged. He’d been called that before. “Sure, why not.”

“Responsible for the Terminus Incident? The assassination of the PolyTek and Cirron Corp CEOs? The Sonora Massacre? The sabotage during the Cradle Exodus?”

Ah, the memories. “I see you’re familiar with my greatest hits.”

“You make spreading death and chaos sound like an art form.”

“Isn’t it? I mean when you get down to it the world is really a big canvas. Just kinda bland on its own. Luckily, people are so colorful inside.”

Mr. No-nonsense didn’t so much as blink. “Do you know who I am?”

“Well, you dress important.” Wade pursed his lips.  “But no, I don’t.”

“Commander Dorian Burke. Former leader of the Golden Lions and FIST Intelligence Officer. Now I run this base and serve as Director of Information.”

“First, I can work with Burke, but you don’t really look like a Dorian to me. So I’m probably going to continue imagining your name is Mr. No-nonsense. Second, ’Director of Information?’ I’m pretty sure that’s just a slick way of saying you have people interrogated and tortured.” Wade nodded to himself. “Right on. I respect that. And good idea leading with those titles. Very impressive. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re trying too hard.”

“Your approval is noted.”

“Thanks. I just hope you earned those titles.” Wade scanned the soldiers crowding the room. “Nobody likes a fake.”

“You’ll let me know by the end of our time together.”

“I will.” Wade’s manacles clinked as he extended a pinky. “Promise.”

“Mr. Merrick…” Burke grumbled, “let’s review your situation. You are an agent of the Dominus Magna, and an enemy of the Republic. You’ve run countless ops and murdered FIST soldiers and innocent civilians in the name of your government. Now you’re in my hands. FIST’s hands. I won’t pretend I don’t enjoy the position you’re in and what’s going to happen to you if you don’t cooperate.”

“A fellow sadist. Nice.” The chains around Wade’s wrists pulled taught as he leaned forward. “I’m gonna level with you. I wasn’t sure we could be friends at first, but you’re on the right track to winning me over.”

Burke’s eyes narrowed. “I’m no sadist, just a man doing a job.”

“That’s what we all tell ourselves. I know I do. But when your job is just so much damn fun, is it even really a job anymore?” Wade surveyed the room. The FIST soldiers frowning down around him all wore body armor decorated with designs unique to their platoon. Even their guns had graffiti and custom skins. It was hard not to admire their camaraderie. Everything was so sterile with the Dominus Magna, uniform to a fault. But cool outfits aside, FIST didn’t let you run rampant, killing on a whim. Not like his bosses. That’s how he knew he was on the right side. “I just noticed, you’ve got a lotta troops in here for little old me. Seems unnecessary. Have you stopped to think that maybe you’ve got the wrong guy?”

“You know what? Seeing you in person for the first time, the thought did run through my mind. There are so many stories about you.” Burke steepled his fingers.  “Places you reduced to rubble, bodies you left behind, atrocities you’ve committed. I thought you’d be more serious. More professional. More intimidating. You’re not what I expected.”

“Honestly, I’m not even what I expected… sometimes. I’m just me. Not the same me I used to be, but the me I am now. There’s a difference, you know. Crazy as it sounds. The old me would’ve spared the lot of you.” Wade grinned, sucking at his canines.

“Maybe you don’t understand the circumstances you currently find yourself in.” Mr. Non-nonsense gestured at the dozen armored guards. “As far as FIST is concerned, you’re a war criminal. We have no obligation to keep you alive or intact. You’re lucky you weren’t killed on sight.”

“Ha. If you think I’m lucky, you should meet my best friend. You’d think he worked out a deal with Old Man Death himself. But nah, I’m willing to bet I’m sitting here because you think I know things.”

“Because I know you know things. You belong to Ravus Sector. Elite clandestine operations. You’ve been privy to plans and information that are too valuable for us to outright execute you.”

“Execute a handsome mug like this?” Wade flashed his pearly whites. “Nah. People usually want to get to know me first. Then they try to kill me. Only I’ve already killed them because I figured they might someday try that.” Wade paused. “Guess that explains my inability to form long-lasting and fulfilling relationships.

Mr. No-nonsense’s nostrils flared. Was he finally getting annoyed? “I’m going to make this simple for you. You can cooperate, and you’ll be treated with some modicum of human decency and allowed to live.”

“In a cell?” Wade clucked at the cracked concrete walls.

“In a cell.”

Wade slouched and the metal chair grated along the floor. “Boring. What’s my other option?”

“You don’t cooperate. We make things extremely unpleasant for you. Torture, humiliation, more torture, repeat. Indefinitely. You’re familiar with these things already. You’ll just become more familiar with the other side of them for a change.” Burke’s face was a mask of stone. 

“Honestly, have you considered that maybe violence isn’t the answer?” Despite his best effort, a chuckle escaped Wade’s mouth. It was impossible not to laugh at the absurdity of that statement. “I’m sorry. Violence is definitely usually the answer.” He held up a finger. “And I mean always. But I’m a reasonable guy. Maybe you could sweeten the deal a bit.”

Burke’s eyebrow raised the slightest fraction. “What did you have in mind?”

“Conjugal visits. Preferably virgins. Multiple. Any less than five and you just can’t get a proper orgy–or blood sacrifice–going. And they gotta be female, of course. I don’t feel like I should have to specify that but there have been… confusions in the past. Just saying. I wouldn’t want you to feel stupid if you mess that up.”

“Anything else?”

“Food would be great. Something gourmet. Something from the old world. If I can pronounce it, it’s not good enough. I don’t even want to know what’s in it. Just surprise me.”

The corner of Burke’s mouth turned up. “Don’t worry, Mr. Merrick, you’re definitely in for a surprise.”

“Excellent. I love surprises. You ever shove a combat knife into a sleeping man’s urethra? That expression… fucking priceless.”

Burke’s smile melted into disgust. “You might want to start taking this situation more seriously.”

“I am serious. As serious as that cologne of yours.” Wade leaned in and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Really, it’s overpowering your otherwise delightful man-musk.”

Burke slammed a fist on the table. “Enough. The time for civility has passed. If you choose not to cooperate it will only make things more difficult for yourself. Consider your next words carefully.”

Wade furrowed his brow and pretended to be in deep thought. When he felt enough time had passed he puffed out his cheeks. “I got nothing.”

“I thought as much. So let me tell you how this works. You can answer our questions and be treated with a modicum of human decency. Or you can resist, and continue to be disrespectful, and I can show you what my resume has taught me over the years. What do you say?”

“Well you seem like an alright guy, except for being my apparent sworn enemy, and threatening me with bodily harm, and wearing astoundingly pungent cologne, but I’m going to have to politely decline.”

“Are you really that proud? You’d rather us make you divulge everything you know?”

Wade couldn’t help but grin. “You can’t make me do a thing.”

“How did you ever arrive at that conclusion?” Burke waved his hand a soldier stepped forward and smashed the butt of his rifle into Wade’s jaw. Not a bad hit, overall. 

Wade tongued a loose tooth and spat on the table, dots of red freckling the perfect mirror of metal. “Despite your pretty titles, and your gaggle of gunmen, and your paltry intimidation skills, you’re just a man. And gods don’t bow to men.”’

Mr. No-nonsense laughed. Actually laughed. “Oh, you’re a god now?”

“If you only knew.”

Burke drummed his fingers on the table and sighed deeply. He was finally running out of patience. Good. “Let me explain something to you, Merrick. You’re not a demon. You’re not the Devil-Coming-Smiling, or the Bogeyman, or whatever the hell the wasteland dregs and bumpkins call you. And you’re certainly not a god. You are a man. Just a man. Same as me.

Of all the things Mr. No-nonsense could say. “’Just a man?’ Same as you? Are you trying to hurt my feelings? I’ve probably killed more people than you’ve met in your lifetime. All ages, all races, all sexes, all creeds. I’ve seen and done things I could hardly describe, at least not without complex diagrams and graphic props for reenactment. I’ve heard the screams of burning men and the wails of dying orphans. And I’ve laughed. Every single time. Yet mere words have never wounded me until now. I’m almost starting to reconsider whether we can be friends at this point.”

Burke casually reached for his belt and drew something shiny. A knife. Mr. No-nonsense was getting serious. He jammed the blade into Wade’s hand. It stung like a bitch, that cold, run-through, metal feeling. But he’d had worse. “You’re right. You’re not a man. You’re a lunatic. A savage. A warped, revolting psychopath. A rabid beast that needs to be put down. A fucking abomination. Take your pick.”

Wade locked his bulging eyes with Burke’s. “Why pick… when I can be all of those things? To be content with being just a man is the definition of mediocrity.”

“And what makes you better?” Burke twisted the knife and pain lanced out to Wade’s fingertips.

Wade couldn’t stop his eye from twitching. Still, he was as good at ignoring pain as he was at inflicting it. He licked his lips. “You want to know what makes me better? Certainty and conviction. I don’t just think I’m superior, I know I am. Deeply and completely.”

“You’re delusional. Believing you’re something you’re not doesn’t make it so.”

Wade smiled gently. “Who on earth told you that? Belief is the most significant part. All great men in history believed deep down that they deserved to be great, that they were merely fulfilling their destinies. Didn’t matter what that destiny was. Men only excel by separating themselves from the rest and rising above. Arrogance, ego, hubris, vanity. It’s all the same. A driving, empowering force. When a man aspires to be something truly more, he must cast aside false gods… and instead become one.”

“Very poetic, Merrick, but shackled to that desk, bleeding all over, you don’t look like much of a god to me or anyone else here.”

“Appearances can be deceiving. Gods are omnipotent. I hold the power to spare life or take it at will. If that’s not omnipotence, I don’t know what is.”

“Incredible. You were right about the arrogance and hubris.”

“Never said I was a humble god…”

“How do you expect me to take you seriously? You were subdued and captured by a Republic militia patrol. Hardly an end befitting a man of your reputation, never mind a ‘divine’ being.” 

“Yeah, about that… the truth is I came here to kill you all along.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you failed spectacularly.”

“Failed?” Wade started laughing again. At first it was genuinely funny, but as he noticed the vein emerging on Mr. No-nonsenses forehead, he laughed harder. Deliberately, excessively even. Few things were better than watching someone like Burke lose control. “Wow. You really believe that, don’t you?

Burke removed the knife from Wade’s hand. The wound made a quiet gurgling sound and closed. Apparently, none of the soldiers had seen anything like that, because they started muttering amongst themselves. Wade could practically smell their sudden perspiration and bowel movements. Even through Burke’s cologne. How the hell… What are you?”

“For a ‘Director of Information,’ your intel is really lacking, pal. I told you I was more than just a man.” He licked his lips to wet them and started whistling a tune. One he hoped they’d recognize. 

One of the soldiers swallowed. “That song… that’s the Devil-Come-Smiling tune.”

“None of you are leaving this room alive.” Wade extended his pinky again. “Promise.”

Another murmur went up through their ranks. The soldier in front backed away, pulled the charging handle on his machine gun and emptied his magazine in Wade’s direction. The others followed suit and the small concrete room filled with a deafening barrage of fire and lead.

Wade twisted and turned away from the firing squad, but chained to a table there was only so much you could do. Cones of lead burned through his flesh, drilled through his bones, blasted chips of concrete from the walls. The sensation reminded him of the pins and needles you got when you sat on your foot too long. Dozens of little brilliant points of pain. Only these left gaping bloody holes through you, and hurt proportionately more.

After a few seconds of near orgasmic agony, the first gun clicked and fell silent. Then the next, until all of them were empty.

His wounds hissed and bubbled, closing the same way his hand had. That’s when he noticed, that in all the commotion, one of his chains had been severed. A stray bullet, perhaps? It hardly mattered, one hand was more than enough for this lot.

Wade spun on the soldiers. They were heaped so tightly in the small room that there was nowhere for them to go. Limbs tangled and rifles caught as men clustered around the closed door and scrambled to get away.

He smiled, with his eyes this time.

Before the gunfire could start up again, Wade grabbed the throat of the man nearest to him and ripped his windpipe out. Blood sprayed the man next to him, and for a brief moment everyone froze. Soldiers fumbled to reload their rifles, others pushed and shoved to get at the door. An alarm was sounding on the other side now.

It was about to get messy.

Bullets rang through the silence again, biting into him, bouncing light and throwing shadows through the small room. He raked a hand across a man’s face, tearing skin and muscle away like paper. Caught another’s jaw and tore it away, smashed the gaping teeth into the side of another soldier’s head. The heavy metal table jerked around the room behind him as he grabbed and tore with his free hand. Gouts of blood whisked against the wall like brush strokes, from the lead zipping through his body, and the slashed arteries, torn skin, and shattered bones of his assailants.

He pulled a soldier in tight and wrapped the links from his chained hand around the man’s throat. His face turned purple and then black as veins burst in his neck and face. That’s when he noticed Burke, standing dumbstruck with that bloody knife held out in front of him.

“Thanks.” Wade snatched the blade away and his arm snaked out three times. Sook-sook-sook. The hard steel hissed and thudded as he jigged three soldiers, full to the hilt. As the men crumpled Burke goggled at the last remaining soldier, his face a mask of horror. It was a look that said he realized he’d made a grave mistake.

The gunfire quieted and the last soldier stared blankly at Wade, firing slowly—almost rhythmically—into his chest.

“Stop that please. It stings.” Wade wagged a finger and the young soldier stopped. “Now normally I’d punish you severely for that, but all this carnage has put me in a good mood. I’m going to make you a proposition. You shoot and kill Burke for me and I’ll let walk out of here. No strangling or eye gouging or urethral stabbing. What do you say?”

The soldier’s gun trembled as he looked from Burke to Wade and his fellow soldiers slumped across the floor. He wheeled on Burke and pulled the trigger. Burke’s stomach erupted with a single hole.

Tsk, tsk. Not a fatal shot. “Cheater.” Wade drove the knife up through the young soldier’s chin and he collapsed in a heap with the rest.

Burke gasped and pressed a hand to the dark circle spreading across his shirt. “You killed him anyway. Why?”

Wade shrugged. “He tried to bend the rules. I’ve killed people for a lot less. And I mean a lot less. Plus he shot a friend of mine. We’re still friends, right? Speaking of, I forgive you for all the unkind things you said earlier. I know how it is. You had to save face in front of your guys. I totally get it. I’ve been there. Besides, I can’t be mad at this outcome.” He looked at the bodies flopped around the room, draped over each other like marionettes. The black pooling on the floor, the grey walls spackled and dripping with red. Another masterpiece.

“The stories about you…” Burke wheezed. “You really are… a monster.”

“Yes. And someday all the other monsters will answer to me. You wouldn’t want to be around for that. Trust me.” Wade leaned in and cradled Burke’s head. “But don’t worry, I got you covered.”

He slid the blade in beneath Burke’s belt and watched his face twist in pure, unadulterated anguish. “There we go. That’s the look I was talking about. Priceless.”

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