The Kefka Project
The Magitek research facilities hadn’t gotten any sweeter-smelling since last time, Franz Thorpe realized, as he took a seat as far away from the jars of chemicals on the walls as possible. Millions of dollars in their budget, yet they received him in a laboratory turned into a classroom.
Though the Magical Technology Research Group certainly hadn’t made any progress in the last few years. The Emperor, old Gestahl, was extremely interested in their work, and had diverted millions upon millions of dollars to the study of Magical Technology, or Magitek. Yet even with that, it had taken them twenty years even to come this far. Of course, the Magitek Research Group had been behind such weapons as the Magitek armor and laser, but those had been perfected almost ten years ago. Thorpe didn’t even know what the Magitek Research Group was doing now, apart from giving tests and getting money.
The Emperor himself had offered a promotion and a one million Gil bonus to two soldiers participating in one of their experiments. However, they had explained, they needed to test all of the applicants to find the one best suited for the "high-risk chemical interactions" that would take place in the experiment. The soldiers jumped at this opportunity, as if it were a free lottery, Thorpe mused. Of course, since nobody really knew what the scientists were looking for, it might as well have been a lottery.
The test itself had read much like the personality test he had been required to take upon entrance to the army, giving questions like "Describe yourself as you think another might think of you," and "Are you nervous that you might have to be experimented on? Why or why not?" He had tried to answer the questions truthfully, though the sheer stupidity of some boggled his mind. He thought that others saw him as overly caustic and uncaring, no, he wasn’t nervous that he might have to be experimented on. He suspected he was one of the few who answered the questions thoughtfully, as he was the last one to leave the testing session. Thorpe was musing on his chances for the promotion when the steel door at the other end of the room opened.
Thorpe stood at attention in case a superior officer might be entering, and sat down again when he realized that it was just two scientists. He lazily put a leg over his chair as he waited for them to straighten out their papers. Scientists always carry so many papers, Thorpe thought.
"Would Second Lieutenant Franz Morpheus Thorpe, please come to the front desk?" one of the scientists droned, sounding almost exactly like the voice Thorpe always heard on the loudspeakers.
Thorpe looked around. Nobody else was in the room. He wondered why the scientist had called him by his full name. Shrugging, he stood up and walked toward the desk. The older of the two scientists read in his loudspeaker-voice, "Mr. Thorpe, the Magitek Research Group has chosen you to participate in the Kefka Project, a study of huge importance to the Empire. Dr. Coleberg will explain the details."
Dr. Coleberg was a young, smiling man, with energy seeming to radiate from his spotless lab coat and spectacles. His hair was well kept and he was smooth-shaven, which was more to say than for the other man, who looked like he hadn’t bathed in weeks. Dr. Coleberg seemed…out of place in this laboratory filled with mold and rust.
"Thank you, Dr. Rokler. You may go back to your work now."
Dr. Rokler merely nodded, and shuffled out of the laboratory.
Dr. Coleberg shuffled his papers. "So, Franz, is it? How do you feel about the experiment?" His eyes pleaded for an answer.
"I think I already answered that question on that test you gave me, Doctor," Thorpe responded dryly, "And call me Thorpe."
"So you did, Franz!" Did this man have no ears, or was he just an idiot? "But has your attitude changed any? This experiment will work much more effectively with a willing participant."
"I said it before, and I’ll say it again. As long as I get the money and the promotion at the end, I’ll be as willing as you want me to be."
Dr. Coleberg sighed. "I suppose it was too much to be expected, for you to be enthusiastic about the experiment when you know next to nothing about it. However, you do understand, secrecy had to be kept."
"Yeah, I understand. So what about the experiment? I’m your guinea pig now, I might as well know what’s going to happen to me, right?"
Dr. Coleberg took on a lecturing tone. "As you know, this experiment will attempt to do what no other experiment has ever done. We will attempt to implant pure magical energy into the body of a human being. Specifically, you and another test subject. Now, according to our hypothesis, you should be able to use Magic, just like the Espers did in the War of the Magi hundreds of years ago. We have already created Magitek armor and weapons that utilize the power of the Espers, as you know, but never before has a human been able to harness the incredible power of Magic, unaided." He beamed excitedly. "You’ll be the first!"
He extracted a piece of paper from his large pile, and pulled a pen from a pocket. "Here, sign this." Thorpe skimmed the extremely small print. He didn’t feel like killing his eyes trying to read tiny legalese text. What was the worst that could happen? His brain would be replaced with that of a mouse? The idea was too ridiculous even to consider. He took the pen from Dr. Coleberg and signed. Almost immediately after that, he felt a tiny prick in his upper arm. He tried to react, but for some reason, his muscles didn’t want to. He could barely keep his eyes open…
* * *
Something that felt like Franz Thorpe was standing in an endless corridor. He was aware of every movement his body made, every beat of his heart, every drop of sweat. This awareness extended to the sides, the ceiling, the impenetrable wall behind him. It extended everywhere but the end of the endless corridor. And that, the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe realized, was where he had to go.
He began to run, his feet soundless on the stone floor. With each step, he could feel the end coming nearer. He could see tiny stars in the darkness, which shone a little brighter with each ten thousand strides. He thought of nothing but reaching the end of the endless corridor, and would run until the light enveloped it. He ran for hours, for days, for years. He ran for so long that each year felt like a microsecond, still persistent, still focused on the end.
As he ran, the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe began to hear noises. A soft drip, drip, drip from above. Was it rain, he wondered? He took its eyes from the end and looked up. From the sky-ceiling above, a single drop of water fell onto his forehead. The water did not move across his face, instead absorbing into his head. The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe screamed, yet over his screams he could hear a voice. "Take this power, and you shall be free!"
* * *
Thorpe screamed for ten minutes before he realized where he was. He opened his eyes, and saw five doctors on either side of him, pinning his body to an operating table. His head twitched violently, and he tried to swivel his head around to see what had caused it. One of the doctors simply placed a hand next to his head and forced it back into an upright position. The ten doctors stood, looking at him.
"Well?" Thorpe demanded, glaring at the doctors, "Isn’t anyone going to tell me what the hell is going on?"
The doctors remained silent, and again Thorpe’s head twitched violently. He yelled to the doctors, "Hey! I like to be notified before being shocked in the brain! Not to mention before being strapped to a table to have all manner of weird things done to me!" All the doctors did was watch him. He looked around nervously. And so the time ticked by. Occasionally, one would take a notepad from a pocket and jot something down. Of course, there was the head twitching to keep him from being lonely every ten minutes.
After about an hour of the doctors doing nothing but watching, Dr. Coleberg came into the operating room. "Franz!" he said, "We’ve been waiting for you to wake up! The other subject was up two hours ago! I had a most marvelous-"
"Shut up," Thorpe said. "And call me Thorpe. Just tell me why I woke up on a table on wheels surrounded by ten mutes in doctors’ masks."
Dr. Coleberg looked confused. "You agreed to be our test subject, right? That means that your body is ours to manipulate within reason for our experiments. It’s a bit too late to back out now, anyway…" He frowned thoughtfully.
"Too late? What do you mean, it’s too late?!"
"Last night, magical energy was injected directly into your bloodstream," Dr. Coleberg said, as if commenting on Thorpe’s clothing. "I am afraid that if we let you leave, you will not be able to control the power that will soon come to you."
Thorpe just stared. These scientists sure didn’t like to wait around, he thought. His head was pounding with a dull ache. The twitching had stopped, and he looked around him. Dr. Coleberg, standing over his head, was the only person in the room.
"Well," Dr. Coleberg said, "Come with me, Franz. You have to be tested now." He smiled down at Thorpe, despite being almost two inches shorter. Thorpe was reminded of his father’s expectant smiles at him when he was just a boy, and shivered.
* * *
Dr. Coleberg led Thorpe to a large, circular room. At either side, a panel of five scientists sat, looking at two chairs in the center of the room. One of these chairs was occupied by a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, with long, flowing blonde hair, and a confident smile. Dr. Coleberg whispered to him, "That’s Andrea Chere. She’s in the army, one of the highest ranking female soldiers. First Lieutenant, I believe." Dr. Coleberg smiled. "She really is quite an exceptional person. Now, sit over there, next to her, please." Thorpe grumbled to himself. A woman, outranking him not only in the military, but also in the approval of the authority figures. The things he would do for money and power, Thorpe thought, smiling to himself. He took his seat.
Andrea smiled at him. "Hello, Franz," she said. He knew that more important things were at stake, but Thorpe wondered why everybody called him by his first name when he explicitly asked them to call him Thorpe.
Dr. Coleberg pointed above him. Two metal arms unfolded down from the ceiling. The end of the arms split open to reveal a large, two large, metallic discs. These discs swiveled around to point toward them; one at Andrea, one at Thorpe. "Now," Dr. Coleberg started, lowering his hand. "I want each of you to focus on your disc. Feed your emotions, your desires, everything into the disc. Know nothing but the disc. Become the disc." Thorpe tried to fight back a laugh. Dr. Coleberg sounded like someone doing a bad impression of a fortune teller. He looked over at Andrea, and saw that she was really trying to concentrate. Well I’ll be damned if I let her show me up, Thorpe thought, and concentrated on the disc. Beads of sweat formed on both of their brows. At last, a bright ball of light appeared on Andrea’s disc. It seemed to be rolling around on the upright disc, defying the laws of gravity. After a second, Thorpe glanced at her disc. All of the scientists were beaming delightedly, and some clapped. Andrea herself simply sat with her eyes closed, a serene smile on her face.
Thorpe felt an emotion very close to anger. Somehow, it had become very important to him to be adept, more adept than anyone else, with this newfound magical power. In addition, there seemed to be another emotion, an unseen force beckoning him to reach into the depths of his own mind and blood for the power to make this desire go away, to fulfill it. As the scientists were admiring Andrea’s bright ball of light, Thorpe screamed. Both discs exploded. The scientists jumped back, stunned, as the mechanical arms caught fire. Thorpe couldn’t remember much after that, just being pulled along with Andrea by Dr. Coleberg out of the room, and then thrown into a small room.
* * *
Something that felt like Franz Thorpe was standing in an endless corridor. He was aware of every movement its body made, every beat of his heart, every drop of sweat. This awareness extended to the sides, the ceiling, the wall behind him. The awareness seemed…familiar, somehow, and he did not think any more it. He sensed that he had been here before.
At his feet was a small stone, glowing brightly. The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe sensed it, became aware that it was surrounded by extremely powerful magical energy. It was a green gem, but there seemed to be a force inside of it, struggling to break free. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t notice this stone before, but there was no time to puzzle out why. He put the gem in his pocket and began to run toward The End.
The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe felt the scenery change around him, to a forest with a dark, cloudy sky overhead. Raindrops fell, but before they could hit his head, they vanished, turned to vapor. The thing was surprised, and, as he ran, stuck a hand into his pocket to feel the gem. He pulled his hand away immediately. It was burning hot. Yet at the same time, it didn’t even feel warm against his leg.
The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe kept running. As the end grew slowly nearer, he started to wonder what would happen if he looked back. Just a small peek, it wouldn’t be anything much. Just to see if there was anything of interest. Yes, that’s it, he thought. Just to glance around for anything interesting. With an odd sense of foreboding, he looked over his shoulder.
* * *
Thorpe woke up in what appeared to be a jail cell. His memory was pulled back to the days when he was still very young, and placed on prison guarding duty. It had always been so boring, and he realized that it was probably just as boring for the prisoners. All that occupied his cell was a slab protruding from the wall that he had been sleeping on.
"Hey, Franz! Are you awake now?" A voice that he couldn’t recognize called to him through the bars of the door. Franz again? Him too?
Thorpe stood up, and called, "I’m tired of people calling me by my first name! Just call me Thorpe! Who are you?"
The voice answered, "All right then, Thorpe. Name’s Piette Polkas! You can call me Piette, I suppose. I guess I’m supposed to guard your cell." He stopped talking, and after a short pause began again nervously, "I heard that you really did a number on some scientific equipment, they say that you blew up some things…" He trailed off.
Thorpe grunted. Great, he thought, as if an over-enthusiastic scientist and a partner who goes into trances weren't enough. Now he had a cell guard who wanted to make small talk. He had better get a damn big promotion for all this, Thorpe thought. Captain or Major, even...
Piette’s voice came from behind the door again. "Those guys working you hard? With all their experiments? Making you jump through hoops?"
Thorpe grunted again. Would this man ever shut up?
"Yeah," the guard continued, "I’ve heard that this Coleberg is a real son of a bitch," he paused anxiously, "When it comes to experimenting. Treats everything like a machine, gets real angry when a person doesn’t want to do what he says. Wouldn’t be surprised if he drugs people to make them do what he wants."
Heh, Thorpe thought. It was painfully obvious that the guard wasn’t used to speaking in an unrefined manner. He wondered whether this Piette fellow was a foreigner or just a rich boy from the Imperial sector. It seemed like the scientists should have a real guard for their experiment, unless they spent their entire budget on scientific toys.
The minutes ticked by slowly in Thorpe’s little cell. He pushed himself off his slab and began pacing. Memories of the day before came flooding back to him gradually, as he walked to and fro. The scientists watching him like a lab rat, the metallic disc before him, and the anger he had felt. He couldn’t remember exactly why he had been angry, but only knew that somehow, he had wanted to destroy the discs in front of him. Wanted it more than anything else, to cause panic in the scientists, to wipe the calm, infuriating smile off Andrea’s face, and most importantly because it had just felt great. The power to manipulate reality as he wished.
He wondered if it would happen again. He mustered all the anger that he could possibly hold for the locked door. It kept him in, it was the reason he had an idiot guard, it represented all the lines he was told to cross and damnit he was going to destroy it!
Nothing happened. Thorpe looked at himself, poised to pummel the door, to shout angry words at it, and felt very foolish.
The door opened. Thorpe hurriedly unclenched his fists and relaxed his body not wanting whoever had come to see him ready to pound an inanimate object into submission. He had enough to worry about without people thinking he going mad.
A man’s face peeked into the cell. "Ahm, Mr. Thorpe? Dr. Coleberg says it’s time for more experiments," he said, in a voice unmistakably Piette. He was smooth-shaven, sandy haired, and except for his soldier’s uniform, looked like a courtier at the Imperial Ball, rather than the guard for a guinea pig he was now.
Thorpe let himself be led by Piette, not hearing his idle chatter, not thinking much of anything. They stopped in front of a door, which Piette opened with obvious trepidation. The room was completely empty. No tables, no chairs, no scientists; at least it was bigger than his cell.
"Where’s Dr. Coleberg?" Thorpe asked. "Didn’t you say he wanted me?"
"With Ms. Chere, I’d expect," Piette said absentmindedly. He had a very nervous look on his face as he took a pistol from its holster at his side. He raised it toward Thorpe. He began to explain, "It’s his orders, I didn’t want to do this but I didn’t want to lose my job…" He paused. "I’m…sorry, Thorpe." He winced as he pulled the trigger, and, one bright flash later, Thorpe couldn’t move. His muscles were completely locked. The door shut with a resounding boom, and Thorpe could clearly hear the soft click of the lock.
"Damnit!" he muttered as the sensory shock wore off. He felt an odd gurgling in his mind. It was as if a geyser had suddenly shot up in the cracks of his brain. He punched the wall, creating a good-sized dent. A low rumbling began in his ears. Each rumble was in tune with each spout of the geyser. Thorpe suddenly began to wonder what else he could do besides creating dents in walls with his fists. On a whim, he pushed a hand upward. A small ball of fire appeared in the palm of his hand and punched up through five floors before disappearing. Was he really that deep underground, he mused. He was having a lot of fun, and realized that he could also use this power for more practical means. He placed both hands on the door. The door became steadily warmer, until it began to hurt Thorpe’s palms. He began to feel his blood flowing, pulsating to the rumbling in his ears. A corner of his mind realized that he didn’t know what he was doing, and should probably stop and wait for one of the scientists to come, but he hardly cared. The door began to strain on its lock and hinges, pushing forward like a chained beast. It burst forward. It simultaneously shed its lock and hinges and slammed into the far wall of the corridor outside. He heard a shriek from the hallway, and calmly stepped out to see who had yelled. Dr. Coleberg was standing protectively in front of the other experimentee, Andrea Chere. He stared at Thorpe for a few seconds, and relaxed. "Oh, it’s just you, Franz." He fidgeted under Thorpe’s steely glare. Andrea stepped forward and said, smiling, "Franz. You should learn to control your anger. Be calm, and the magic will shape what you desire."
"You should learn to mind your own business," he muttered. Who was this woman to call him by his first name, or to spout this monks’ nonsense at him? "I’d like to see you get out of a locked room with nothing but the blood coursing through your veins."
Andrea laughed softly. "You poor, poor man. Don’t you see-" She suddenly stopped talking, noticed Thorpe staring at her. His face must have conveyed some of the anger he felt, for her eyes were wide with fear. Dr. Coleberg rushed her away from Thorpe in the opposite direction, so fast that Thorpe wondered if Coleberg’s true calling wasn’t that of a sprinter as he watched them go. Well, he thought, somewhat happily. At least he knew that he could scare people away just by looking at them. He hummed to himself for awhile, and magically engraved rude designs on the walls of the hallway. He figured that he might as well get to learn how to use this magical power he had; what else could he do during this time?
However, he realized, you can only dent so many scatological symbols into walls before you get bored, and decided to explore his prison. The hallway was lined with many steel doors, all alike, and it curved just slightly to the right. Thorpe picked a door at random and entered. Unfortunately, there were people in the room. They were crowded around what looked like a glowing red and green stone. He had a flash of memory. Standing in a long corridor without an end, finding a green gem. It was cut exactly like the one he saw in the room. He wasn’t sure whether his memory was of reality, a dream, or an imagination, but that didn’t matter now. He had to get that gem, no matter what obstacles stood in his way. He walked into the room calmly and placed a hand on the gem. The scientists pushed it away.
"What are you doing?" one of them said. "This is restricted access!" Thorpe smiled. He didn’t say anything, just walked over to one of the walls and placed a hand on it. It exploded outward, as he had done with the door before, punched out by an invisible force. He ran to where the gem was lying on the table, and grabbed it while the scientists looked at the hole he had made in the wall. Scientists in the next room, he noticed gleefully, were also staring.
"Now," Thorpe said. "You have twenty seconds to leave me in peace, before what I did to that wall happens to your head." He said this with sufficient seriousness that all of the scientists, in that room and the next, left what they were working on to run out of their rooms in a most undignified fashion. Thorpe laughed. He hadn't planned on bursting their heads like ripe watermelons, but it sure was fun to bluff it. The same rational voice in Thorpe’s mind cautioned against this. He ought to try to work with the scientists, rather than against them. But Thorpe would hear none of this. He could find nothing else to do but explore the place, since nobody seemed interested anymore in carrying out experiments on him. And how would he explore it without scaring away the bothersome scientists, who were trying their hardest to keep him locked in a cell with nothing to do day and night? They seemed more interested in that damn Chere woman than in him, though why he couldn’t fathom. All she could do was make little balls appear in the air.
Thorpe sighed, turned the stolen gem over in his hands, and poked at the red stuff inside. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. If his memory of it from before served him right, the green gem itself seemed like a prison for the redness inside. Whatever it was. He felt a kinship with the redness. Always trying to push at the sides of its cage, like he did of this laboratory prison, but never being able to free himself. He laughed. He must be going mad now, comparing himself to some red force he wasn’t even able to identify. Not to mention he hadn’t even tried to escape from the laboratory itself, but he had a feeling that if he tried, he would not be able to. No doubt it was by now protected by a Magitek barrier of some sort, once they had seen how powerful Thorpe was.
He sighed again. At least they had given him a somewhat open space to become more powerful. With this power, he was sure that he could be promoted a colonel, or even, Gods forbid, a general. The current generals were all really old, and rumors were spreading that old Gestahl wanted a new viewpoint, a new take on things for the heads of his army. He smiled. But first he had to become stronger, and prove that his strength and intelligence would be enough to lead the army.
He directed his attention toward the glowing gem again. It seemed to be pulsing harder than ever. "You want out of there, huh?" Thorpe asked of the red energy. You’re losing it, Thorpe, he thought. "You want to get out of your prison? Well…at least one of us should be free." Thorpe took both ends of the gem in either hand and fed magical energy into the stone. Slowly, slowly, the red energy grew. Soon, the gem was bulging at the sides, the energy was so great. As the gem exploded, Thorpe managed to create a magic shield around himself to cause the fragments to burst apart. He looked at the wisps of red energy, now swirling to create a whirlwind almost the size of a man. He extended a finger to touch them, but was interrupted by the slam of a door.
A group of about five soldiers burst into the room, each carrying a strangely long and thin gun. They wore no armor, simply had odd badges pinned to their chests. Thorpe knew these instinctively for Magitek Neutralizers. Meaning that he wasn’t able to use magic anywhere near them. He looked behind him. The swirling whirlwind of redness was still there, and starting to get smaller. He could see each individual particle of red…whatever it was, settling to create some sort of creature. All of the soldiers were obviously looking at it as well. Their leader yelled, "Well, don’t just stand there, fire!" From the guns came the familiar Magitek blasts of energy, thin and straight. They all connected with the form that the red energy was becoming.
The red energy disappeared. In its place stood a huge boar, as tall as a man, with tusks at least five feet long. Its coarse brown hair bristled as it roared a victorious cry to the winds. Muscles rippling, it began to walk slowly, majestically toward its assailants. Clearly, the unarmored soldiers were not prepared to handle something like this, and looked nervously among each other. The boar reared on its hind legs and roared again, louder than before. Thorpe was torn between fear and reverence for the creature. He moved back to give it some room.
The soldiers were doing something. They were placing all of their guns next to one another, and locking them together, making a line of muzzles pointing at the boar. The first and last guns in the line locked together, making the muzzles look like a five pointed Gatling gun. At a signal from the leader, a beam of light like what emitted from the small guns, but much thicker, collided with the beast. It was pushed back a few feet, and was now bleeding at its shoulder. The blood dripped onto the ground as it limped toward the soldiers, its eyes red with bloodlust. It roared again, this time in fury, and charged the five soldiers, huddled around their gun. Now it was their turn to be flung back, as the boar mauled them all at once. As it tore into them, Thorpe heard a voice from behind him. "An Esper…so that’s what’s inside the gems…" He turned around and saw Dr. Coleberg standing behind him, his eyes wide with fascination. From what little Thorpe knew, Espers were creatures made entirely of magical energy. They were able to call upon certain powers of magic, depending on their form, and one could easily lay waste to an entire army.
Thorpe decided that here was not a good place to be. He looked toward the hole in the wall and ran for it, hoping that Dr. Coleberg was entranced in watching the Esper kill the five soldiers. As he fit himself through the hole, he caught its eye. It snorted at him, and he shivered. He was not through with that beast yet, Thorpe thought.
He raced out of the other room and tried to remember the way that Piette had taken him just that morning, to get back to the cell. Why was he going to the cell? Why put himself in an even deeper cage? Why not free himself while people were busy with the Esper? These thoughts ran through his head as he searched for his cell. Eventually he found it, just following the main pathway. Piette was sitting at a chair next to the door of the cell, reading a book. Didn’t he ever go anywhere? Or did they pay him just to sit on his ass and read all day?
He looked up as Thorpe came rushing toward him. "Oh, hello, Thorpe. Back so soon?" He smiled awkwardly, and stood up. "Well…I guess you ought to get back in your cell…huh?" Piette looked around nervously, and Thorpe had to fight back a smile. How did you ask a prisoner nicely to get into his cell?
Thorpe put both hands on the door to the jail cell. It began to wither, to curl back on itself like burnt paper. He gave the remains of the door a swift kick, and only ashes fell to the floor, mixed with some small flakes of metal. He turned toward Piette and smiled. "Don’t worry. I’ll stay in here…nowhere else to go, right?"
He sighed. Perhaps he would be cornered by the scientists, perhaps he would be attacked, or perhaps he would be allowed to go on his own. Only time would tell. As for now, he felt…sleepy, all of a sudden. His muscles ached as he lay down on the slab in his cell, and he didn’t fight the sleep that overcame him.
* * *
Something that felt like Franz Thorpe was running. It was not like he had run before, to reach the end of the endless corridor. He was running to save his life. The thing did not know what lay behind him, only that if he stopped for an instant, he would be killed. He did not notice the change of the scenery, moving from placid forest to rocky seashore, waves crashing against the rocks. Once or twice he struggled to keep his footing, but kept running. Hoofbeats grew closer, accompanied by angry snorting.
Sweat flecked the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe’s forehead. He was growing tired, and weak. Within minutes, the beast would be upon him. How can I get away, he thought. Think, think…no, it's gaining on me! Think harder, think harder! No, concentrate on running! Millions of voices yelled at him in his head. He felt panic rising in his mind, clouding his thoughts.
The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe stopped running. He turned around to meet his predator. He figured that it was better to die fighting than to go down with something’s teeth in your back.
Or tusks. As the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe stopped, the beast behind him slowed. It was a boar, as tall as a man and almost twice as long as that. Its large muscles rippled as it approached, and the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe could not shake an odd feeling of déjà vu. He had seen this beast before, he was sure of it. But where? A dream? Reality? Or an odd mixture of the two?
The boar came forward, sniffing the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe tentatively. Rain matted its fur to its back, giving it a distinct, and very strong animal smell. Thorpe shied away from its large tusks, but the boar followed him. It prodded him with one of its tusks, hard enough to cause a slight puncture. Blood spurted out from his cut, more like a fountain than he would have imagined for such a slight cut. He watched the blood shoot from his arm, entranced. His blood shone, as if someone had placed tiny crystals inside his arm. The boar moved its head toward the cut, letting the sparkly blood push its way out, onto its nose. It sniffed the blood, and pushed its head closer to lick the cut.
Pain like no other filled the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe’s mind. His midsection had been completely pierced by one of the boar’s tusks. He looked down at the boar. It was still licking his previous cut, oblivious to the fact that he was speared on the end of its tusk. The pain had now become a dull ache as he felt his crystalline blood drain rapidly from him. Some part of his mind knew that he should be screaming, but he could not find the energy to do so. He moved his arm weakly, trying to get the boar’s attention. It nipped his arm in the manner of a cat scolding a kitten, and continued licking his blood.
The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe chuckled silently. Power that great didn’t take orders from anyone, he mused, as his eyes closed.
* * *
Thorpe awoke to an argument outside his cell. Piette’s voice could be heard in the shouting.
"I have orders from Dr. Coleberg, who has orders from the Emperor himself that this man is to remain in this cell unless I am given orders from either of them. I think I’d rather get a few bruises than face removal from the service. Furthermore, I think that you would rather leave this man be than be executed for going directly against the orders of the Emperor. Therefore, you ought to leave, or else I will have a reason to use my blaster. Am I understood?" It sounded odd, to hear Piette sounding so confident. But whatever Piette was not, he was definitely a soldier who knew how to take orders. From the murmurs he heard, it seemed like Piette had scared the others. Maybe they’d go away without his needing to help. Because he was sure that these people were Magitek equipped soldiers, who wanted to kill him or worse. He chuckled. He wouldn’t be surprised if the entire facility was deserted because of him.
"We…have orders from the Emperor as well, countermanding those orders he gave you," a voice came, to Thorpe’s trained ears obviously lying. He decided not to leave Piette to fight them by himself. He jumped off his bed, feeling like he could hold the world on his back. He was invincible; nothing could hurt him, not even these Magitek soldiers. Thorpe figured that magical power was like physical strength. If someone else had it and you didn’t, they could beat you up. But if you had more than they did, then they could try to beat you up, but you’d just end up creaming them. He walked out of his cell, ready to cream some Magitek soldiers.
"H-hey!" both Piette and the soldiers uttered the same exclamation. The soldiers broke in, "We’re required to take you away from here, Thorpe. Come with us, so we don’t have to do this the hard way." He sounded pretty confident. At least he didn’t call me by my first name, Thorpe thought, chuckling.
"What are you smiling at, Thorpe? Come with us, the Emperor gave a decree that you were to be placed in another facility."
Thorpe chuckled under his breath. "Didn’t the Emperor say that I’d also get a promotion and money for doing this experiment? It seems to me that I’ve gone through a good deal of trouble for nothing at all. Do you think I like being in this facility? Do you think that I’d like it in another facility? Do you honestly think-"
"Stow it, Thorpe. Nobody wants to hear your complaining." The head soldier looked familiar. Probably someone he knew from boot camp. Thorpe saw him look to his two companions. They held very large guns, Thorpe suddenly realized. He felt a slight pang of fear for a second, and let it pass. Guns were guns; however big they were, they couldn’t beat a human who could think. He smiled; what would it be like to use magical powers on something that could fight back? The soldiers looked at each other, and at the same time, they all fired.
But at what? Their blasts intersected and neutralized each other without a sound. They looked around them. Had their blasts succeeded in completely vaporizing him? They had only been meant to disable his powers temporarily…
"Mwee hee hee hee!" The soldiers heard insane giggling above them. "Heh, heh, heeheehee! Catch me if you can!" Thorpe looked like an insane insect, a mosquito clinging to the wall, his knees bent and feet on the ceiling. He appeared to be steadying himself with his hands, grasping some invisible hold on the ceiling. He grinned, so evilly that Piette, who had been watching this whole scene with something approaching morbid fascination, couldn’t recognize him. Thorpe took both his hands off the ceiling, and, hanging like an acrobat from his feet, and flipped down, feet first, bringing his hands down hard on the heads of the two soldiers with the big guns. Their heads…collapsed. Smushed might have been a better word for it, as anyone who saw them at the moment of their death would have seen their eyes sitting right on top of their mouths. His hands were covered with blood, but he didn’t care at all. Their huge guns clattered to the ground, and Thorpe, still chuckling, removed his hands from the heads of the soldiers. "Well, what’ll it be, Lee?" He grinned, "What will it be?"
"Damn…shit, man…You were so different before…" Lee said, relaxing his grip on his pistol. He knew that there was no point in fighting Thorpe. Thorpe seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
"Now…I could just kill you, but that would be too boring, and too quick," he thought for a moment, an expression of horrible mock contemplation on his face. "Hey, I know! How would you like to be banished forever to a timeless wasteland?" Lee’s eyes were wide, his mouth hung open in fear as Thorpe laughed.
"What the hell?" A hemisphere of opaque black energy surrounded Lee. It began to sparkle, as if it were a dinner cover made of an arcane black metal. The hemisphere shrunk in on him, and as it reached his head, continued to shrink more slowly. Where Lee’s head, neck, shoulders had been, stood nothing. Various pieces of equipment on Lee’s uniform ruptured just before the blackness covered them, and odd green liquid spilled over Lee’s body in different places. His shoulders, his chest, his back, it even spilled down his left eye. Thorpe waggled a finger at Lee as the blackness covered him, all the while giggling madly. "Those mechanical devices won’t get you anywhere!" The black hemisphere finally made it to Lee’s feet and disappeared, leaving nothing, not a token of the body that had stood there before.
Thorpe suddenly fell to his knees, as if being released from strings that held him up. He shook his head and closed his eyes. What had just happened? He remembered hearing Piette be accosted by those men…but then nothing. Where had they gone? What had happened to them? Thorpe looked down at the two fallen guards and cringed. "Piette…what’s happened to these men? Their heads…they’re completely flat!" His voice took on a tone of fear, as he realized that Piette was the only other one who might have done it, and he doubted if Piette would want to pound someone’s head in. He looked at his own hands, covered with blood.
"Oh, no…no, I haven’t…" Thorpe was steadily growing more pale, while Piette, standing in the corner, was trying to figure out exactly what had just gone on.
"Excuse me, Thorpe?" Piette tried to get Thorpe’s attention. He was having quite a hard time of it, as Thorpe was currently on his knees, his bloody hands over his eyes. Piette contemplated walking over and tapping Thorpe on the shoulder, but realized that in his condition, Thorpe might lash out at anything that came near. He contented himself with weakly calling out Thorpe’s name, hoping he’d be heard.
Thorpe took his hands from his face. The outlines of his eyes were red and bloody streaks protruded from them, like war paint. He said aloud, "What’s done is done, and while I don’t know what brought me to do it, it will not be done again." He smiled to reassure himself.
"Umm…Thorpe?" Piette tried again, a worried expression on his face. "Does this mean that you are going to kill me, too?"
Thorpe laughed. "No, no, of course it doesn’t!" He smiled slyly. "Not unless you don’t show me the way out." Piette couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.
"All right, then. Just follow me." Piette started off, casting worried looks behind him with each step. After several steps, Thorpe caught up to Piette, and they walked next to each other. As they walked around the circular floor, Thorpe noticed the absence of scientists in the hallways. All of the previously locked doors were open, and he noticed with a little disappointment that they didn’t seem to have anything in them.
"Hey. Piette," Thorpe began. "Why didn’t you leave with the other scientists?"
"Nobody told me they left. This morning was the first I heard that something was going wrong."
"Hah," Thorpe chuckled. "I guess they were too scared to come near me." He was rapidly forgetting his horror at what he had done earlier that morning.
Piette didn’t respond. He led Thorpe through the one circular hallway, until they came to an elevator. Thorpe pulled a lever on the wall, and waited for the platform to come down. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a closed door. The only closed door, in fact, that he had seen that day. Could someone else have stayed behind? He turned around and stepped closer to the door. He could hear voices coming from behind it.
"Look, see? The control mouse put in a group of normal mice, or even A Group mice will begin to kill them, one by one. But only if they come near him or try to groom him or anything like that!" That voice, unmistakably Dr. Coleberg’s, came through the door. Jackpot, Thorpe thought.
"I could have told you that myself," came a female’s voice. "But how do we stop him? I can’t stop him alone; he’s much too powerful. If you ask me, we should have evacuated with the rest of the scientists. I can get out by myself any time, but I’m worried about you…"
Andrea Chere. What was she doing there? He thought that she of all people would have been evacuated, but shrugged. Dr. Coleberg probably asked her to stay; he saw the way he looked at her. Thorpe realized what they were talking about. They were using mice to emulate the situation they were in, and he was the "control mouse." Control? Did that mean Andrea was the "A Group?" Were they all just mice, being manipulated by scientists who didn’t know or care what they thought, what they felt?
No, he wasn’t a mouse, Thorpe thought. Perhaps all these other scientists, all the other experiments were mice. He grinned evilly. If anything, he was a cat. The elevator platform had descended fully, but Thorpe paid it no mind. He had a score to settle.
The door burst open, and Andrea shrieked. Thorpe calmly walked in, beaming at the both of them. "Well now," he said. "The mice get together. Isn’t this lovely?"
"What…what is the meaning of this? Your face is…it’s covered with blood!" Dr. Coleberg sputtered.
Thorpe laughed. "Like it? Your soldiers certainly made their mark on me, though perhaps not in the way you intended." His face grew serious; the lines of blood contorting oddly. "I just thought I’d pop in, seeing as you’re doing a little experiment." He looked at a cage in a corner of the room filled with mice. "A little reality game, where everybody’s a mouse. It looks fun, but I believe you are forgetting something." Dr. Coleberg’s body rose into the air, his strangled gasps and jerks only worked to make him rise even farther.
"I…am…not…a…mouse!" Each shouted word was punctuated by Dr. Coleberg’s body slamming into the back wall.
His nose bleeding, Dr. Coleberg raised his head weakly. "Go, Andrea! Tell the emperor," his body jerked violently, but he continued, "You can control any mouse with cheese and a wheel!" Thorpe looked at Andrea. She was staring at him, barely concealed horror in her eyes. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Dr. Coleberg continued, "Go! For the sake of the Empire…for our unborn child…"
Thorpe laughed as he turned toward Dr. Coleberg, still floating in midair. "Is it typical scientific procedure to screw your experiments only two days after you meet them?" He turned around to look at Andrea again. Only, she wasn’t there. In her place were what appeared to be silver specks of dust. These specks of dust rose, almost invisible on the backdrop of the steel wall. They reminded Thorpe of the red energy inside the gem before. They got just to the top of the room, and shot upward, leaving in their wake a shower of glittering dust. Dr. Coleberg fell from the air as Thorpe looked at the dust in surprise. "Interesting," he mumbled. "I’ll have to try that some time." He turned his head toward Dr. Coleberg. "Now. What should I do with you, hmm?"
Dr. Coleberg murmured softly, his palm over his forehead, "I’ll give you money, power…"
Thorpe laughed. "Money? I no longer have any use for it. Power? I already have it. Try again, Doctor."
"Weak-minded fool…I thought we had chosen a strong test subject…" Dr. Coleberg whispered audibly. He raised his voice. "That mouse in that cage over there is stronger than you! At least he could stave off the insanity!"
Thorpe’s face contorted. He looked furious, and so alien that Dr. Coleberg could scarcely recognize him. "Do not think that you can judge the sanity of man or beast, Doctor, until you have walked a mile in their shoes." He smiled suddenly. "Would you like that experience, Doctor?"
Dr. Coleberg recoiled from Thorpe, backing up to the wall on his hands and feet. "What…what are you saying?"
"You’ll see," Thorpe said in a singsong voice. "Maybe you will feel the torment it is at every moment just to keep yourself from breaking apart. Or maybe you won’t even make it that far."
A white sphere appeared around Dr. Coleberg. He screamed, anticipating a horrible end. The sphere glowed, and long, thick white tendrils appeared inside it, stretching toward his prone body. They connected, and began to burrow their way inside his body. In pain, Dr. Coleberg whispered, "The Kefka Project…it was more successful than you could ever have thought…" Once the tendrils had disappeared completely, the sphere shimmered out of existence. Dr. Coleberg’s body was flickering white, pulsating slowly. He stood up.
"Power…I now have the power to save the empire from this beast, to become great…" he turned toward Thorpe, who was grinning back at him. "You are the only thing standing in the way of my greatness. Be swept aside!" He swung an arm at Thorpe, but nothing happened.
Thorpe stood by and watched nonchalantly. "Doctor," he said in a drawling voice, "Look at your skin." Dr. Coleberg’s skin was now completely white, and glowing so brightly that Piette, standing outside, had to shield his eyes. It seemed to be pulsating rapidly now, as if the magical energy in Dr. Coleberg’s blood was trying to escape his body, pushing against the walls of his skin. He began to howl with pain, Thorpe howled with laughter.
After a full minute of torture, the screaming stopped. From every pore of Dr. Coleberg’s body, a thin, sparkling string emerged. Spidersilk strands covered with dew, they encircled his body, becoming a new sheen of whiteness. They began to collapse, as if he was breathing in, and then shot out in all directions, spiraling, disappearing into the air. They left no sign that anything had been there. Dr. Coleberg’s body had vanished completely. Thorpe laughed. "I guess he was too weak to handle his own treatment!" he said to Piette, who, watching from the door, regarded him with something between fear and morbid fascination.
Thorpe began to walk toward the open door when he felt, rather than saw, something behind him. He turned around. A giant boar, its snout wet with shining blood, stood where Dr. Coleberg’s body had been. Its fur was wet and matted to his skin, and it smelled like a wet dog. The boar stepped closer and closer to him, and Thorpe again felt an odd feeling of déjà vu. He could not remember where he had seen this boar before. He couldn’t remember much of anything. His mind was fading, he watched dumbly as the boar punctured him, and proceeded to gore him in the stomach while licking his blood. He shook an arm, telling the boar to go away, but the boar just nipped him affectionately and proceeded to lick his blood. Power that great didn’t take orders from anyone, he mused, as his eyes closed for the second time.
* * *
Something that felt like Franz Thorpe rode on the back of a giant boar toward the light at The End. He had been running for centuries, millennia, but this was a place where even time did not reach, where all that existed was him, his imaginings, The Beginning, and The End. He knew that it had no end, just as it had no beginning, but the place where the stars had shone from the place where the corridor had begun was The End. He had just known that, and had decided to journey to The End to find answers. Who was he? Why was he here? What lay at The End? And so, on the back of a giant boar, he had set off.
The journey had been long, yet he did not notice it for the boar was swift and sure on its feet. He had watched the stars at The End grow larger and larger, until they had all merged with each other and become one light, growing brighter and brighter. He wondered if at The End there was another thing, something not of his mind. What could something not of his mind be, he wondered. This boar seemed like something completely different from him, yet he knew that he had created it. What could exist that had not been created by him?
In the midst of his ponderings, he did not notice the light growing to envelop the sky and him. He was floating in a sea of light, and soon realized that this was The End. But what was there? He could see nothing but white in all directions. Just like the impenetrable wall at The Beginning, he could not have created this complete absence of everything. He thought. Why come to the end, when nothing resides there? Why seek out a void, when all of creation; your creation, awaits? He had sought The End to receive answers, but it had only succeeded in making him have more questions.
And then he knew. The End was for those who had finished drinking of the cup of life, whose vessels were empty and stomachs were full. Those people who felt that they had said all they needed to, saw all they needed to, felt all they needed to. He looked around and saw millions upon millions of people, transparent, unmoving, floating in the light. They said nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. The concept of nonexistence was at once foreign and terrifying to him. But he knew that he was correct. And so, having experienced both The Beginning and The End, he became enlightened, and awoke from the dream.
* * *
Something that felt like Franz Thorpe awoke. He saw a young man standing in front of him. A creation? Nay, nay, this world was the dream of another. The young man was talking, "Thorpe, Thorpe," he said, "Are you all right? A few minutes ago you fainted, after you killed Dr. Coleberg," he cringed. He had obviously not liked Dr. Coleberg, but at the same time had taken the Coleberg's orders, and now he was dead. Something that felt like Franz Thorpe had a small twinge of regret for killing him, but believed it was for the better. Then he wondered where all those memories had come from.
He stood up. "Piette," he said, the name had just come to him. "Let’s leave this place. Come, come." He led Piette onto a platform outside the room. Piette followed, unsure of what he had gotten himself into, but for the first time in years, feeling complete uncertainty about something. As they boarded the elevator and the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe pulled a lever to make it go up, he placed an arm out. A huge ball of fire, shaped like a giant mouse, materialized at the beginning of the hallway, and shot out, its "legs" vibrating as it ran. It pushed its way through metal walls, destroyed whatever books and materials that had been left behind, and caused massive destruction all around, while the thing that felt like Franz Thorpe laughed at the irony of it.
"Ahm…Thorpe?" Piette asked. "Was that really necessary?"
He grinned at Piette. "Don’t call me Thorpe. Call me…" The thing that felt like Franz Thorpe placed his chin on his hand in thought. "Kefka." The name had popped into his head. It only seemed fitting that the "Kefka Project" should create a Kefka.
"Yes, Kefka," Piette said.
"Add sir to it," Kefka said absently. "Say, ‘Kefka, sir.’"
"Yes, Kefka, sir," Piette said. Kefka smiled. There was a whole world to explore, to conquer. He couldn’t wait.