Sampson's Journey

My eyes peered into the panel of the one-way mirror where I could see a young boy undergoing a physical exam. I eyed my fidgeting colleague, sensing his excitement at the prospects of his project.

"What's the boy's age again?" he asked.

"Liam is nine according to his files. Born July 16th, 1947. He turns ten next month."

"Daniel is a more fitting name for him." He nodded as he repeated the name under his breath. "What do the files say about his parents?"

"They survived."

"Do they suspect anything?"

"They were told it was faulty electrical wiring, sir. The funeral is in a few weeks."

"Perhaps I should pay my respects," he said, laughing.

My furrowed face glanced down at the papers. I stood silently. Strangelord folded his arms with a widened grin.

"Have I become like God? To enhance his strength?" he smirked, as he turned toward me.

I continued standing, unsure of how to answer. Across the mirror, several doctors began their injections as I heard Liam's muffled yelling while he resisted against his straps. Dull blue light washed over him and his face displayed pained contorting. Muted crying leaked through the walls as his chair rattled for some time. The doctors administered one more injection that rendered the boy unconscious. Stillness washed over the testing room. They filed out as several of them entered the room from behind us. The one leading them greeted Strangelord and pulled down his medical mask.

"Agent Ferra. Good to see you."

"How did he look?" inquired Strangelord.

"Body weight eighty pounds. Height five one. Even before treatment, he could lift three times his own weight. His innate strength is supernatural and it seems these hormones will only enhance them. He's progressing nicely." The official paused a moment before he asked a question to Strangelord. "How did you find him? He's quite the prodigy."

"The intelligence community tipped us off on a freak with paranormal strength. Also, I have the reports for this quarter's funding you should look at. Prospero, show them."

I handed the men papers with charts and documentation. They nodded amongst each other. A short man in the back piped up.

"And uh, Agent Ferra." He cleared his throat. "There is something we should tell you about the subject."

"Yes?"

"We ran some tests after running into an issue. They turned out inconclusive," he started gesturingly helplessly. "His hair length correlates with his strength. It's some unnatural property of his, known even before the test trials. Kept shortened he is enfeebled. We think it may be a mental placebo that affects his muscle control and—"

"His hair length affects his strength. Our own little Sampson," Strangelord muttered.

"Yes and—"

"Not a problem," Strangelord remarked as he turned away. "You may leave now."

The leading man nodded and replied, "Right away. Thanks for your time, agent."

He hurried everyone out of the room. My documents were shoved back into my hands. I logged our meeting down.

"Do you realize the meaning of this, Prospero?"

Dumbfounded, I shook my head.

"This means I can better supervise Daniel. I will personally see to cutting his hair. Have a cell prepared."

Strangelord flashed a grin and watched the boy sleep.

It was not easy to handle him in the years he underwent training. Liam was unstable and was reckless in his dealings with staff. When they tried to restrain him, it took tranquilizers darts to calm him safely. The halls near his room were filled with his nightly pained yelling and he was sedated so he could sleep. Strangelord's Spanish lullabies echoed outside the boy's room, but I knew Liam couldn't understand nor hear them in his unwilling slumber.

As Liam reached early adolescence, Strangelord wrapped his head with promises. I was ordered to give him comics and material pertaining to the popular superheroes at the time. They were exciting to him and encouraged him to train. His regimen was rigorous, pushing him to his limits at only age 14. He could lift cars easily. Despite the troubles, his future seemed promising.

Liam soon grew to be a young man of 18 years with the power to lift a Pershing tank off the ground. He had lived nearly a lifetime in training, and knew nothing of childhood, at least in Strangelord’s mind. I still saw Liam as a child. His tantrums only grew worse as his strength grew, leading to many injuries among facility staff.

He defied Strangelord on numerous occasions, only to be restrained and locked up again in his training cell. After some outbursts, his head was to be shaven but on occasion, Strangelord tested him. Liam's pacing and heavy footsteps bore deep rungs into the concrete floor, but his brute strength was not strong enough to dent the thick steel and concrete composite walls. When he calmed, Strangelord visited him, where Liam often asked of his parents.

Strangelord would only say, “I am your father now. You will respect me.”

Every time, it caused Liam distress, leading him to bruise his knuckles on his cell walls. His daily rage reverberated throughout the facility. Strangelord sternly reminded him he was due to be released to help people like the heroes in his stories. It always made him listen.

The project's treasury diminished by the year and Genco was losing a great margin on Liam. Strangelord tried his silver tongue to get more funding, but found it was valued like copper to the Bureau director. As funding was cut, so were the personnel and maintenance. Strangelord was losing time as his delusions of maintaining control over Liam were now no more than a pipe dream. All the injuries and property damage added up. Genco pulled out its personnel after sinking a decade of work without fruitful returns on the project. The tech wasn't all lost, though. The Bureau managed to merge the accumulated research into a much older project, “the suited men.” I wasn’t privy to this kind of information and preferred it that way.

My own role in Project Sampson was jeopardizing my prospects in the agency. The Bureau lost interest in Strangelord's other planned projects as well, shifting focus towards the conflict in Indochina. Strangelord was left with few options, and he grew desperate. At some point, he considered trying to get our former employers in the CIA to deploy his created Superman to Vietnam but knew if Liam were to rebel in the field, the PR nightmare would be insurmountable. He made the decision to keep his creation heavily sedated on the daily and maintained Liam’s fully shaved hair. When the well of cash dried, Strangelord quietly ordered for the injection of a slew of drugs that would inflict alopecia universalis on Liam. As his hair fell out, so did his strength. Strangelord considered it a mercy to the boy, though I knew it was a death sentence. Strangelord left the facility to a skeleton crew and left to work with MACV, making known his immense disappointment at Liam's failure. I stayed in the post to monitor and comfort Liam. I watched the boy grow up and I couldn't abandon him.


I look up into the white ceiling with crusty and tired eyes.

The man calling himself Prospero says to me, “Good morning, Liam.”

He is one of the few to ever use my real name, even if only in private. The muscles on my face ache to smile, but I smile at him regardless. He sits next to my bed and pushes a bowl onto my tray. He begins eating his own breakfast. He has given me tasteless oatmeal… slop. I eat, but soon my eyes shutter as I fall asleep again.

Afternoon now, I see Prospero reading.

“What book?” I say wearily.

“Flowers for Algernon,” he says, as he shows me its plain cover.

“Love that one.”

He laughs. I fall asleep again.

On some days, Prospero doesn’t show. I feel lonely when he doesn't. Prospero has always been looking out for me behind Ferra’s back. As a child, he gave me toys and soda pop, things considered contraband for me. I was forced to learn Latin, Spanish, French, and Esperanto by Ferra, but Prospero taught me how to write in English. He taught me if I was bored, I could write stories. I write many stories now, all in my head. I can’t write them down on paper anymore, my arms are too heavy.

The sailor drenched himself in the waters of the beachhead, hauling his boat through the shoreline. Stormy as the night had been, he had a home to return to. The cottage loomed in view ahead, where the scent of roast duck wafted in his nostrils.

“I’m home!” he said to his wife, as he walked in for dinner.

“Welcome, dear!” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his body. It mattered not that he smelled like fish. “What was the catch today?”

“ Plenty o’ things.”

“Papa!” his children yelled. All five of them ran to hug him. “Any whale today?” they asked all at once in excitement.

“Haha, no. Just some small ones today.”

He smiled. She laughed. The storm rumbled outside. The wife’s face hardened, as she grew solemn now.

“Detective Faust visited again, dear.”

“Well, what happened?” he asked.

“The Leland home that was burnt down? They caught who did it.”

“Bugger that arsonist. Who did it, then?”

“Your brother.”

Evening. It is like the evening I saw Ferra sign off the papers. I tried to resist and they put me to sleep. My hair fell out in days. I look at my empty room now, waiting for Prospero to come tell me the time. They never let me have a clock. I am running out of time, something I am not allowed to see. Prospero brings two bottles. He gives me one. Sparkling water. It fizzes and burns, but it tastes good. I burp and Prospero laughs. His face softens. I can see lines and creases where his skin folds when he laughs.

“What time is it?” I ask him.

“1300 hours. Or 1 o'clock in the afternoon.”

“Where am I, Prospero?”

“Horseshoe Bay Hospital.”

“Where am I really?”

He grows silent.

“Horseshoe Bay Research Facility. Parahuman Wing. You're somewhere that doesn't exist in public maps.”

“Prospero, what is my name?”

“Your name is Liam.”

I smile as I drift to sleep.

Prospero visits again today. He tells me about my family for the first time. My father was an NSA codebreaker who worked in cipher decryption. My mother was Canadian apparently. She taught children in school. I don't know why Prospero tells me this now. I often wonder what it would be like if I had friends growing up. Dr. Hamlin was one of my friends besides Prospero. He would talk to me and ask how I was feeling in his office. At least he cared about me.

I take a nap after his visit.

On this day, I wake up feeling much worse. Prospero cheers me up by reading to me a new book, The Stars My Destination. It is about space and people who can teleport. I have never seen space, though Prospero tells me that America will go to the moon. I cannot fathom how we could reach the moon from here. Prospero seems as tired as I am each time he visits and I wonder if anyone in the facility is giving him trouble. I drift off from the lulling tone of his reading.

I wake up to Prospero talking with some men in white shirts and black ties. I wish to be better so I can leave. He yells at them. I look at a window, and see the sun. It shines above the empty field where I trained. I hear pipes click overhead. I am feeling very tired today, and my vision is blurry. Prospero visits and tells me the time again. He gives me a pamphlet to read. It is a comic book, something he has snuck by often. It is thin for a book, but has many pretty pictures. A man lifts a car, like Superman, but this is someone else.

“Is this supposed to be me?” I ask him.

“Well, no, that’s Spiderman. But it does remind me of you.”

“Who I was, you mean. What is Spiderman like?”

“His name is Peter Parker and he was a normal boy once. He cares a great deal about his aunt and uncle. He only got his powers after an experimental spider bit him and uses them to help the meek.”

“Could I have helped anyone, do you think?”

“Given the chance, yes.”

He tells me every time he visits that he thinks I could have helped people. Prospero's face is sad but I like the story he reads to me and pictures he shows me. In it, the hero fights the craven villains using his strength and quips and his spider-like abilities. Brutish, but I smile. It is juvenile, but I cannot stop smiling.

“I wish my life was more like this."

I tell him this every time he brings me a comic to read.

“Would you like to write a comic, Liam?”

“I would, but I am tired.”

“Next time, I’ll visit with markers. We can write a comic together.”

Sleep.

We spend an entire day writing about a hero. I name him Sampson, which is a character from the bible that Ferra would tell stories about. He is stronger than an ox and has extremely long hair, like I used to. I draw him wrestling a goon to protect his family. I can barely lift my forearms so I use my fingers to gingerly work the markers. Prospero gives the comic a title: Sampson's Journey. I sign my name and ask Prospero to sign his. Prospero hesitates for a moment before signing. I ask him to keep the comic for me so we can work on it next time. He gives me a weak smile. I yawn and Prospero wishes me goodnight.

My eyes hurt open so I squint. A man stands over me. He is handsome and has a nice suit. He tells me it is good to see me and offers me a green bottle. I am too tired to drink, so I shake my head. He asks if I want to know the time. I shake my head. He opens a briefcase full of art supplies and gives me a half-smile. Some loose papers with what looks like drawings are placed in a folder within. This man is making me tired. I cannot move and when I do not respond he stands silently. As my eyes close, he makes muffled noises. Not yelling, but much grunting, like he cannot breathe. The man stays and holds my hand. He covers his face with his other hand and his grip tightens. My eyes close, but I do not see darkness, only something bright.

7

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