Steven Stregobor / “Strong”
“We would not be human if we did not prefer to be the devourers rather than the devoured.” - Margaret Atwood
Age: 12 years, 8 months, 2 weeks
Born: September 7th, 2009
Adopted: 12 years, 8 months, 2 weeks ago (Legacy)
Adopted: September 7th, 2009 (Legacy)
Streg shouldn’t have been shocked. Genetech’s board had a long history of outdoing their most recent displays of utter reckless abandon for rules, protocol, the truth, and basically any other decent mantras one could imagine. Myers had an even longer history of the same. He shouldn't have been shocked, yet there he found himself, reeling and struggling to catch his breath once the directors signed off. Streg gathered his files and stood, steel legs scuffing loudly against the floor as he near launched himself from his seat. Though his chair was near the back of the conference room at the opposite end of the long table, he'd made it out the door before any of his colleagues. Once in the hall and trailing no one, he allowed himself the small reprieve of a clenched fist and tightly shut eyes quick enough for none to catch. When he'd slinked around the final corner and the lab was in sight his breath became short, shallow and quick. The buzzing ceiling lights and strong antiseptic smell of the shining floor made him lightheaded. He stormed toward the door, cringed past the security guard at the end of the hall with his arm rested atop the gun on his belt, and fumbled a ring of keys. Once Streg had steadied his hand enough to fit the right one in the lock, he glanced over his shoulder to check how close the rest of them were; just rounding the corner now. He let himself in and carefully pressed the door shut behind him.
Once inside, there was no more restraint, no more controlled release. When the latch clicked behind him, it all came out. Streg sent the clipboard spiraling from his hands into the corner desk and at once his head dropped forward into his palms. He prepared himself, with a long shaky breath, for the cacophony of rage and fear boiling over inside himself to finally erupt. The sound of shambling outside the door caught him offguard, and a strained sputtering was all he could muster before cutting himself short. The heavy metal lab door swung open as Myers, Schell, and the twin assistants filed in. He did what he could to compose himself, a quick tidying of his lab coat and swipe of his sleeve across his still clearly flush face.
“Yeesh, corporate, am I right?” Myers broke the long silence, and the group shuffled to their respective stations.
“Please, you are corporate.” Streg thought to himself, pursing his lips with restraint.
“Got our work cut out for us.”
“Meaning I’ve got my work cut out for me.” Streg snuck out in an angry breath, quiet enough for none to hear. The sound alone of Myers’ arrogant voice was enough to set his blood to boiling. They’d gone up through the system together- and all the while, Myers had been an insufferable prick; disrespect was the smallest word to describe what he’d shown Streg. Mostly, he’d just swallow the bitter feelings and power through whatever task the administrators had dumped on them that day. Mostly. There were times when Myers would ignite something primal within him; not necessarily rage, but fear. They’d always been neck-in-neck; same hometown, same schools, same grades across all their programs, only ever besting one another by a point or two. But the difference between Myers and Streg being that Streg put 110% into everything he did, pouring every ounce of focus into his current projects. Myers rarely ever applied himself, slacked off, mouthed off and kissed ass; and they’d come out in the same spot. Roughly the same spot, anyway. Streg had come to learn, it wasn’t the most qualified that gets promoted, it was the most obnoxious. There was a small, burrowing, niggling part in the back of his mind that told him if Myers’ ever did start acting like he gave a fuck, he’d blow Streg out of the water; and the thought terrified him. The only way Streg had been able to get through the years of torment had been by reassuring himself that when it came down to facts, he was indeed the better of the two. Pondering otherwise eroded away the fragile pillars on which he’d built his will to continue. He tried not to let the thoughts enter his mind, but when they did they’d sink their hooks in deep.
“What was that, Streg?” Myers’ barked, and his blood went cold. The twins giggled nervously trying to ease the tension as Myers sauntered over towards Streg’s desk. “Got something to say, tough guy?” He said, resting a firm hand on Streg’s shoulder from behind. Streg could tell from the tone of his voice he had that classic sickening grin on his face and decided the last thing he’d wanted was to see it. He kept his head down, focused on ordering the papers on his desk before him. “Didn’t think so.” And Myers leaned in close, breathed “You’re weak.” down his neck before turning back towards his desk, welcomed by his giggling entourage.
Streg clicked the pen in his hand wildly, imagining how perfectly it’d fit between Myer’s collarbones. He gripped his fist tight around it and prepared to snap around, catch Myers’ with it before he made it back to his desk, and was startled by the sight of Schell entering his periphery to the right. She placed a brown paper cup of coffee down onto the edge of Streg’s desk, met his bewildered eyes with a warm smile as he adjusted to the sudden complete shift in emotion. Schell was different. The sight of her always seemed to flood Streg with a reassuring sense of calm. She sipped her own cup and spoke smoothly before turning. “The first of many.”
Streg smiled to himself, couldn’t help it. He quickly adjusted his gaze and glanced blushing away at nothing. He gripped the cup in his hand, and feeling a new reassurance rose and spun from his bench, casting an accusing finger out towards Myers’ and interrupting his flirtatious conversation with the assistants. “Why the hell did you tell them we’d have results by Monday?” Streg shouted, in a tone he was clearly not used to using. “Three days? Three fucking days for results when I’ve only just sequenced the genome, let alone interpreted or made any sense of the-”
“Because that wasn’t good enough, Streg.” Myers turned, smug and unmoved by the display. “That meeting would have gone a lot differently if we’d told them the truth.”
“I fucking wish it had!” Streg belted.
“No, you don’t. You think you do, because you don’t know how these people work. I do; and you don’t.” Myers’ adopted a grim tone. “What I told them kept us safe.”
“Right.” Streg scoffed, arms outstretched towards his colleagues. “And how safe will we be when the board realized you lied?” The atmosphere shifted suddenly, Schell and the assistants’ eyes darting to Myers, eager too for his answer. He slowly got up from his bench and marched toward Streg. When he’d seen Myers rising from his seat Streg told himself he’d not move from his position, but as Myers drew closer something in his look erased all previous notions. Streg flinched back a step before Myers’ hand shot out and grabbed the collar of his coat, drew him in close so they were face to face.
“I didn’t lie.” He spoke slowly. “Because we will have results for them by Monday.” And the dark glint in his eye told Streg he meant “You will.”
When Myers let him go, Streg stumbled backwards leaving a trail of splattering coffee behind him. Feeling thoroughly corrected, he quickly tore off a length of paper towel and knelt to clean the mess; only something was wrong. The coffee that had escaped from his cup looked beige, light and murky as opposed to the dark liquid he’d expected. He’d always taken his coffee black- severely allergic to dairy and most sweeteners, among an extensive list of others. Schell must have known. They all had, he thought. He’d known. But he quickly shook the thought from his head; must have slipped her mind, or Streg had somehow forgotten to inform her. That had to be it.
The din of fluorescent lights hanging above his head soon became too much to bear; his bloodshot eyes searing as he fought to keep them open against the harsh white illuminated pages before him. The rest of his colleagues had left hours ago. He feared even glance at his watch, knowing he’d be disgusted by whatever absurd length of time he’d been working; confined in this room, in these halls with no windows or natural light. He glanced down at the pile of notes before him: genomes sequenced, nitrogenous bases paired, chromosomes karyotyped, and none of it was enough. To his left, small tubes filled with something dark spun in a whirring centrifuge, pteri dishes boiled over with a similar frothing black fluid, hissing as it reacted to various compounds. At the pace he was going, he’d not have results by next month, let alone three, or really now two, days. He sighed and slumped defeated down onto folded arms across his work.
Ever since he’d put forward that tip about the conditions and experiments that took place beyond Genetech’s shiny lobby, every bit of productivity in the institution had taken a hit. If he’d wanted results, he’d need subjects. If he wanted subjects, he’d need to go through the rigorous new policy for integrating subjects into experimental trials. Which was a good thing, he reminded himself; the very sort of thing he’d hoped would come of sending his anonymous letter. A good thing, of course. Though he had to admit, he’d be in a lot less of a predicament if he could just go nab some drooler from the asylum in the stories above like the old days.
Streg shook his head, disgusted with himself. His nametag carelessly tossed near the edge of his desk caught his eye, and he examined it. “Steven Stregobor.” Sounded like a stranger’s name when he’d read it to himself. Seemed right, as he felt like a stranger in his own body. This was never the life Streg had wanted; his passion for genetics and evolution came from the potential to help people, to prevent debilitating disorders before they occur, to ease some of the hardships he’d lived with daily for future generations. Not this. Not developing whichever latest drug, or breakthrough a seedy corporation wanted to sell that week, all in the name of deepening investors’ pockets. But what choice did he have? Streg wished he’d never taken those scholarships, never gone in debt to the soulless, faceless suits who’d known well in advance the debts weren’t repayable; their method for capturing workers for life.
Streg let out a shuddering sigh as his gaze happened across a syringe needle resting against a dish, drop of black liquid pooling at the tip. The substance the field team had recovered from the impact site of the asteroid was unlike anything he’d ever seen. Some sequences matching the human genome, some other animals, some entirely unique combinations with compounds he couldn’t identify. It was like the rock out of space brought some otherworldly remnants with it; far outside of human understanding and definitely not meant to be meddled with by the likes of him. But of course, Myers’ had promised an exciting breakthrough, and the board didn’t take kindly to broken promises. The way Streg saw it, he had two options: Potentially experience adverse effects obtaining results from the DNA, or definitely experience being thrown into a pit in the desert at the hands of the administrators.
“Shit.” Streg sighed, and injected the inky liquid into his forearm.
The next day, Streg’s colleagues entered the lab to find him exactly where they’d left him; hunched over his work station in the corner. The pages on his desk overflowed and spilled into piles on the floor around him, completely filled with graphs, charts and notes. Numerous x-ray screens were pinned across the wall, displaying various stages of changes observed in Streg’s extremities. The startle of the metal door opening shocked Streg out of his trance and he dropped the pen from his shaking hand, blistered and cramped from endless writing. His left arm dangled limp by his side with black veins expanding from the injection site.
Myers whistled as the group gawked at the scene. “What do we have here?” He held beakers against the light and skimmed through a few scattered pages. Streg craned his neck sideways and glared at Myers’ with the darkest grimace he could muster.
“Results.” He spat, and it was then he saw the looks on the rest of their faces, Schell’s included. Uncomfortable, disgusted, terrified- but no hint of concern. Though, how could he blame her? That awful film left behind by an all-nighter in the lab made him feel grimy, dirty and sick. Figured he couldn’t have looked much better.
“Good.” Myers returned, sternly. “Put a pin in it, we’ve another meeting with the directors.”
Streg wanted to puke. Another hours-long briefing with those pricks on the board, only to be thrown under the bus by Myers at every opportunity? He simply hadn’t the time to spare if they wanted to meet their deadline. “No.” And he returned to his pages, scribbling wildly. “No time.”
“You know, I’m just about done with your little rebellious streak.” Myers aggressed, slapping the page he’d been reading down onto the desk and glaring at Streg. “Move it, or the guards can escort you there.”
Streg closed his burning eyes and rubbed his furrowed brow, migraine berating him from somewhere within his lower neck. He gripped the pen that had near become cemented to his palm, and prepared to strike. Before he could, a sinking weight came over him and suddenly Streg found himself hurdling towards the floor; Myers’ had kicked his bench out from under him. “Now, motherfucker. Do you know how tight of a schedule we’re on?”
Streg’s usual anger was leagues away. This was a new feeling. A new rage. It felt like every fibre of his being urged him to attack, and he was powerless to refuse. Didn’t want to, even. He quickly popped up, snarling. “You mean ‘how tight of a schedule I’m on’.” With his teeth bared and fists clenched, Streg marched angrily forward before a debilitating cough sent him keeling over towards his station. When he’d caught the desk corner and composed himself there was a small streak of black blood smeared across his upper lip, the back of his hand speckled with it. Suddenly drained of what little energy he had left, Streg righted his bench and relinquished himself onto it.
“Yes, that you’re on.” Myers continued the confrontation to the chagrin of the tense onlookers. “We have fires to put out elsewhere. Fires that you started.” and Streg’s heart sank into his stomach. He glanced up with a reflex and met Myers’ fuming glare. “I know that you were the fucking whistleblower. We all do.” And Streg glanced over towards the assistants, who shook their head in disapproval. Towards Schell, who forced herself to look away but still peeked through the corner of her eye. “So the way I see it, you’re the reason we’re all in this mess.” His voice began to raise. “And unless you want the entire board of directors to know too, you’ll do your fucking job. With less of an attitude.”
That was it. There was nothing he could say or do, no rebuttal that could refute that fact. Myers’ had him by the balls now, the board had been open about their dark plans for whoever they’d discovered had exposed their practices to the world, and wouldn’t second guess their most prized employee. Utterly defeated, he ran his hands through his hair and scanned over his workplace attempting to figure out how he’d make up for the lost time.
“I’ll speak for you.” A soft voice piped up, and the pair of them turned to face Schell. “At the meeting. Keep working, and I’ll cover for you.” Now, Streg felt like crying. A small mercy, but more than he’d been expecting and was glad to have it. He nodded, didn’t dare speak lest the tears start, and was once again left alone in the lab.
Hours later on his way to the x-ray room he ran into Schell in the hallway, seeming rushed. “Oh, you are still here.” He let out, checking his watch. “Work day ended two hours ago.” And immediately questioned his tone, felt stupid. She rummaged through a collection of folders tucked under her arm.
“You’re not the only one with shit to do around here.” And fished a set of clipped pages from the rest, held it out. “Here. From the meeting.” Streg reluctantly took the pages, regretting how he’d phrased his greeting. Before he could land on a suitable apology, Schell had already hurried off down the hall. Bewildered, horrified and confused, Streg soldiered on towards the reading room unable to dedicate any more time to the interaction.
After the scans had gone through, Streg waited by the printer for his sheets. He could definitely feel something different. Something changing. Another set of x-rays and sequencing and he’d have something concrete enough for the board. Whatever the stuff was, it definitely had some effect on bone structure and skin keratinization. His flesh felt tight, stretched thin over his bones, which ached from pressure. As the printer made its’ mechanical shuffling sounds, Streg thumbed through the files he’d gotten from Schell. Simple, run of the mill procedures, until one line in particular caught his eye. Streg did a double take, went over the line countless times to ensure he hadn’t misread. He felt a chill shake him straight to the roots of his hair, grabbed the bundle of pages and marched sternly out the door.
Streg moved through the halls with conviction, turned corners and entered corridors with a furious quickness. When the lab was in sight he’d started running towards the slightly ajar door, despite pain shooting up both legs. He stopped before entering, peered through the crack and listened as best he could; the sights and sounds made him feel even sicker, a feat he’d thought impossible. Soft kissing sounds accompanied by the sight of Myers’ hefting someone up to seat them on his desk. Only it wasn’t one of the ditsy twins like Streg had expected, it was Schell. All this time, had those wayward glances and soft smirks indeed not been genuine, but her playing into Myers’ childish games? The one minuscule bit of respite Streg thought he’d had, revealed to have been nothing of the sort.
All notions of inhibition and forethought left his body in an instant. Streg barged into the room, startling the pair enough to send them both flinching back and away. He almost didn’t know which obscenity to address first, the scene he’d stumbled across or the crumpled page in his hand; he landed on a combination of the two. "You fucking bitch." Myers and Schell glanced at each other, not entirely sure who he was addressing. "You diluted my shares? To 0.0012%? I noticed neither of yours were touched. I'm already doing this alone, you expect me to do it for nothing?" Schell flashed a look of half offense-half annoyance, which only angered Streg more, the pounding in his head growing exponentially. "And you fucking knew I'd be allergic to that coffee." Schell scoffed, sized Streg up with her eyes and looked disappointed with what she found.
"What did you expect? You're the fucking whistleblower."
Streg stumbled, crashed into a set of beakers and glassware on his desk. "You fu..." He muttered, drunk on anger and pain. "You stupid..." and Myers stepped forward, grabbed a syringe from the desk.
"Think we've got all the results we need right here, Schell." and jammed the needle into Streg's neck, injecting its contents. "Weak." He chuckled.
"Agh!" And Streg was writhing on the floor, immediately he felt a throbbing pressure from the injection site. His migraine grew so severe he couldn't hear a thing over the ringing in his ears, buzzing of the teeth in his skull. His muscles ripped and stretched, bones cracked and repositioned beneath his skin, and Streg felt every agonizing moment. Myers and Schell recoiled from the scene as Streg seized beneath them- which was the last thing Stregobor saw: both of their faces frozen with shock as they backed towards the door before his vision ceased. He struggled to his feet, rummaged blindly through the mess of paper, glass and steel scattered across his desk. He began grabbing syringes and injecting himself rapidly, one after another until he could find no more. His misshapen hand managed to half-curl around a beaker filled with black liquid and he poured the stuff over his face, drinking it in, being consumed by it. His body contorted and changed, skin became leathery black, his skull jutted in multiple spots from his face- but there was no more pain. No more worry. Only Strength. He snapped his empty gaze towards Myers with a reptilian precision and spoke in a scratchy, echoing voice that could only be described as sounding wrong.
"What did you call me?"
The detective pulled onto the scene just in time to see a guard tackle an escaped inmate down the flight of stairs leading to the entrance of the Gavelston Institute. He'd been waiting for the day he'd finally get the Genetech call, but he'd never expected anything like this. Not how he'd planned it, but with the place imploding it seemed a good a time as any. As he hurried up the stone steps, another guard to his left wrestled with a beast of a man in a hospital gown; nothing he had the time or energy to stop. He pushed forward to the lobby doors and readied his identification, preparing to finally serve these bastards the citation. He kicked the doors in, readied himself to shout, but was cut off by the scene before him. The detective had never seen a place in such a state of utter disarray; inmates running rampant either chased or ignored by the staff who darted around equally as urgently. He noticed a masked doctor hastily shoving piles of paper into a shredder; lifted an arm to stop him, then realized the workers were doing the same all around him. They'd known the day was coming, too. Though it seemed everyone was caught a little off-guard by the circumstances.
Then, an elevator in the back of the room dinged and a frantic woman fell from the doors, utterly painted with blood. "Run!" She screamed, staining the tiles behind her as she pulled herself forward. "Fucking run!" All eyes were on her for a moment, but before anyone could react several loud crashing sounds coming from somewhere under them shook the floor beneath their feet. The elevator suddenly sparked and let out a metallic shriek of bending rebar before it was crushed up and out of sight by some murky black shape, too quick to perceive. The detective hesitantly shifted forward, gun drawn, towards the woman before another catastrophically loud metal crunch froze him in his tracks. A long black, sinewy arm extended from the top of the now empty shaft- seemed to just keep coming. Finally, the rest of the beast made itself known. Crawling out of the elevator shaft, crushing metal and cement beneath its hands and feet as it pushed its massive frame through the doorway. The enormous beast stood tall on its hind legs, outstretched its mangled arms and let out an unearthly roar from an exposed skull, black skin still stretched or attached in several spots.
"What the fu-" The detective was interrupted by the sound of a pistol going off behind him; then another, and another. He turned to see several other officers and guards firing their weapons into the hulking mass. The bullets pelted off its leathery armored skin like they’d come from a child's toy. The beast lurched forward, swatting guards from its path without showing so much as a hint of effort. It was heading for the woman. There was nothing anyone could do.
A. August - 72 hours later:
Steven Stregobor, codename "Strong", made stains of Alice Schell, Andrew Myers and several other high ranking Genetech staff (not to mention low ranking staff and inmates) before ultimately crashing through the eastern wall of the lobby and escaping into the city. There have been several sightings of the beast, but to this day authorities remain unable to subdue him. it. fuck.
Not much was recovered from the facility. Whatever wasn't purposely destroyed by staff was caught up in the aftermath of Strong's rampage. Sure, Gavelston is history, but this isn't how it should've gone down. Too many loose ends, no one properly held accountable. Years of building the case against the directors wasted while they wipe their hands clean of any wrongdoing in the wreckage.
There were survivors, however. A pair of twins who'd interned for Genetech; one of them is still too fucked up to talk to us but the other might be able to give us something useful. That's the only remaining lead, for now. I just hope these rumors of the beast falling into mob hands aren't founded in any reality.