“What the fuck did he do to me, Elenore?”
A cluttered buffet of paperwork litters the otherwise pristine table top of an antique wooden desk, strewn haphazardly in a sort of semi circle surrounding him. For a woman presumed dead and in hiding, Elenore Kael had certainly not settled for a meager existence— the now messy desk is the only thing in the office that isn’t immaculately placed.
This is an expensive little hiding place.
Bloodshot from sheer exhaustion, Michael Lee Best stares down at the ramblings of madmen— fully typewritten pages bisected by irrational scribblings and drawings, literally decades of knowledge compiled by Kaels through the ages, all splattered across the top of the desk as he tried to make the vaguest sense of it all.
Of any of it.
“Mmm… yes.” Elenore smirks, delicately crossing one leg over the other. “That IS the question, isn’t it my dear?”
God, he fucking hates her.
Questions answered by questions. If Elenore Kael could figure out how to sell her cryptic bullshit for a nickel a piece, she could stop spending every waking moment of her life trying to commandeer the Kael fortune and retire to the private island of her choosing. She shifts uncomfortably in her chair— time hasn’t been kind to the not-so-beloved sister of Max Kael, and she quite literally has the scars to prove it.
“Yeah,” the Son of God shuts his eyes, rubbing tight circles around his temples. “That IS the fucking question. Now answer it.”
Her lips tighten, lifting at the edges in a kind of condescending grin.
“Now now, Michael.” she folds her hands over her lap. “I’ve invited you into my home and given you access to very sensitive materials. Perhaps the slightest bit of gratitude is in order?”
His jaw hangs slack, as he’s forced to hold his tongue for one of the first times in his life. Like it or not, Elenore Kael might be one of the only people on the planet with the missing pieces that will fix all of this— The Minister, the nightmares, and the total turmoil that has become Mike Best’s life since the day that eye flickered red for the first time.
Those dreams weren’t just dreams.
Little by little, it was coming back to him as he poured over the documents. The smells, the sounds, the tactile sensations— he remembered them because they were real. He’d been in that barn. He’d been strapped to that chair. He had been watching that screen, as the projector hummed to life and counted down to zero. They’d… done something to him. And he was certain that whatever it was, he wasn’t meant to remember.
And it was the same thing that created The Minister.
“There isn’t time.” Michael does his best to mind his tone, as he looks up from the desk. “Elenore, I need to know what happened. None of this shit makes any sense to me. It seems like a bunch of hypothetical bullshit. What the fuck is the Administer Program, actually?”
She flinched again.
Every single time those words leave his mouth, the expression on Elenore’s face contorts, ever so slightly. To be honest, it kind of freaks him out— he’s not used to seeing her look uncomfortable. Of course, she does a splendid job at hiding it… nearly immediately, she shapeshifts back into that curt, wry smile. The world’s greatest poker face.
“I’m afraid it’s all there, my dear.” Elenore stares hard back at his eyes— if she’s bluffing, she’s going all in. “It’s all… theory, unfortunately. My father was an ambitious man, but his plans never came into fruition. Perhaps his biggest failure. I’m afraid you’ve reached a dead end.”
She has to be lying.
How could she not be? He can remember. He can remember the moments before he went under– he can remember the feeling of those plastic ties, slicing into his arms. He can remember waking up, and thinking it was all a dream, even back then. He can remember Wilhelm Kael, staring a hole into his– wait. No.
…was it Wilhelm Kael?
“Holy shit!” Michael exclaims, shooting off the chair and to his feet. “I remember.”
“You… remember?” Elenore’s throat tightens, her eyes darting uncharacteristically sideways. “You remember… what?”
It was the next morning, after it was all over.
Waking up on a rusted out old bed frame– you could hardly call what he was laying on a mattress, at least not anymore. It was a monument to mildew, stained black around the sides from years of neglect. It was the first thing that filled his nostrils when he shot out of bed, alone and confused. He felt like he’d been hit by a truck– whatever had happened to him, it was fuzzy. Like a dream. Like a nightmare. But he knew where he was. He knew it was real.
And he remembered who brought him there.
“Elenore.” Michael swallows the lump in his throat. “We’re both in very real danger.”
“Have you remembered?”
The man doesn’t turn around, but I swear I know his voice.
He’s sitting in my chair. Maybe it’s weird to get possessive over the place you were held captive, but it’s all I can think about over the sound of my own heartbeat. It all looks so different in the daylight, but that’s definitely my chair. It’s still pointed at the same white screen I can so hazily remember– didn’t they show me something, here? Some kind of home movie, or something? I can’t recall. I can’t remember what it was, and just trying to remember is making me sick to my fucking stomach.
My gut curdled– if there was any food in my stomach, I might vomit.
The projector is still whirring from it’s home on the decrepit old card, but whatever it’s playing onto the canvas screen now isn’t what they showed me last night. It looks like some kind of creepy old home movies. A young boy in a white shirt and suspenders, playing awkwardly in a sandbox amongst a bunch of other little boys. But he isn’t… playing.
For a moment, I can’t even speak– I know I’ve been asked a question, but no words will leave my throat. I can only stare at the little boy in the suspenders, as he watches one of the children playing with what looks like an old fashioned fire truck. He pushes the truck back and forth in the sand, but there’s no sound– the boy in the suspenders looks fascinated, but in a calculated sort of way. He picks up a matching firetruck, and begins to push it back and forth. Back and forth. Following the rhythms to a tee.
He’s emulating the other little boy.
He’s learning what “playing” looks like.
“I asked you a question, Michael.” Wilhelm’s voice sounds annoyed, now. Impatient. “Have. You. Remember?”
I open my mouth to speak, but my throat is a desert. I want to scream. I want to run the fuck out of here, and keep going until I can see the ocean. Why can’t I run? Are my feet welded to the ground out of pure fear, or is it something else? Why do I feel so… compelled… to stay?
“I don’t know.” I finally manage to mumble, over an arid tongue. “What am I supposed to remember? Why am I here? Who are you, really?”
He doesn’t turn his head to look at me– his eyes are like mine, focused on the images playing from the projector. The boy in the suspenders looks frustrated– he is moving the fire truck back and forth like his peers, but his eyes are joyless and bereft of feeling. He moves robotically, almost as if he isn’t trying to learn to play, but instead to learn how to look like he’s playing. Like he’s trying to learn to pass for a child, when behind his eyes, something more sinister lurks.
I… know that child.
“Maximilian failed me.” Wilhelm’s voice snipes, guttural and cruel. “He has always failed me, right from the start. “I tried to help him, Michael. I just wanted to let you in on the legacy that he rejected. To give you that same opportunity. To make you better than the failure of Maximilian. To give you the chance that he never bothered to want. You’ve learned nothing.”
But I’m learning more than he realizes.
More than I’m willing to say out loud, until I can be sure. The silence in the room hangs awkwardly– it feels like eons, as I wrack my brain, but it’s probably more like seconds. There’s a piece of the puzzle that I’m missing, and I can’t figure out exactly what it is. Something familiar about it all. About that voice. Something is very wrong here, even beyond the pale of the obvious.
“I didn’t seek,” Wilhelm coughs, dryly. “…to create a monster, Michael. I sought to make him better. Sought to make you better. I thought that you might understand. That you might embrace the gift that I have given to you. But you have learned nothing, and you will fail. Just like Maximilian did. You will disappoint, just as Maximilian did. You will-”
“Kill you, Wilhelm?” I utter the words softly, swallowing my own fear. “Just like he did?”
Outside of the whirring of the projector, there is only silence.
But the silence says everything. Confirms every notion in my mind, as suddenly it all makes sense. The dream is coming back to me now, but it isn’t a dream– this is real. This is tactile. I can’t remember everything, but I can remember enough.
“Wilhelm is not dead.” he says quietly, his voice crackling. “I am Wilhelm Kael. Maximilian was a failure. Do not make the same mistakes that he did.”
But he’s not Wilhelm Kael.
For the first time, the man turns in his chair, but he doesn’t have to. I know the face that will be staring back at me. This isn’t a dream anymore, it’s a memory, and I know even before I see his face that my own brother is the one who brought me here. Who tied me to that chair, and reprogrammed my fucking brain. Call him whatever the fuck you want– Wilhelm, The Minister, Tommy the fucking Cosmonaut. A long time ago, his father did this to him.
And now, he’s done it to me.
The boy in the suspenders seems to go red– there is no sound, but I can nearly hear the guttural scream as he launches himself upon his playmate. He tears into the flesh of the boys neck with his scraggly, tiny teeth, ripping into the jugular as the camera begins to shake. It collapses to the floor as men in white rush toward the sandbox– the film cuts abruptly, as the projector whirring stops, leaving us in silence.
“Max.” I hardly know what to say. “What… what did they do to you?”
His eyes– his real eyes– burn a hole into my own, but he does not speak.
“Max–” I stammer, almost afraid to hear the answer. “What did you do to me?”
“It didn’t work, did it, Elenore?”
The burning embers behind the eyes of Michael Lee Best fuel his fire, as he slowly walks around the side of the antique desk. The papers that test upon are useless to him now— whatever the Administer Program was conceived to achieve didn’t matter anymore, because she was telling the truth.
It never worked.
It was pseudoscience bullshit, cooked up by a Nazi war criminal, and the entire experiment had been an abject failure. But in all good truths that Elenore Kael had ever told her brothers, biological or otherwise, there was a lie embedded within. The experiment didn’t fail in concept.
It failed in execution.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.” Elenore casts a sideways glance toward the clock on the wall. “But I’ve no time for conspiracy theories, my dear. I’m afraid I have another appointment today, and you’ll need to—“
Before she can finish the sentence, she’s overtaken— with a flourish, Michael yanks the closest thing he can find off of the desk. A monogrammed letter opener, sharp to the touch, and in a flash she is knocked back into the wall behind her chair. The legs tip backward, forcing her head against the plaster as the edge of the blade digs ever so slightly into her throat.
He’s tired of playing with his fire truck.
“No more lies, Elenore.” He snarls, pressing the letter opener harder into the skin, putting pressure on her throat. “Whatever the fuck Wilhelm did to him, the Minister fucking did it to me. And you’re going to tell me how the fuck to turn it off. NOW.”
It all makes so much sense, now.
At least as much as it can— he doesn’t know what happened to him in that barn, but he knows that he inherently changed who he was as a human being. It had been a long time since Michael Best had been that same goofy doofus playing dress up in his Jesus robes, making jokes in front of the crowd. He wasn’t like this back then.
He was still human.
He wasn’t always a killer. He wasn’t always so savagely violent, or defiant. From the moment he stepped out of that barn, it was like he’d left all of his humanity behind, and he suddenly feels stupid for having taken this long to figure out why. The Minister had taken something away from him in that rickety old barn. Or maybe, more accurately, he’d… added something to him.
With an uneasy calmness, Elenore Kael reaches up a dainty hand, grabbing hold of his own with a surprising strength. If she’s afraid of the blade pressed to her throat, she shows no signs of it— perhaps she thinks that he won’t actually go through with it. Or more frighteningly, she’s been through so much in this life that she no longer fears death.
“Oh, Michael.” she drones, with almost a smugness in her tone. “Bestow, my base man, thy idle threats elsewhere; my mother’s daughter knows not how to fear.”
With a hard shove, the matron of the Kael family pushes the Son of God backward on his feet. He staggers back into the desk, barely keeping his balance as the letter opener tumbles harmlessly from his fingertips. The sound as it crashes to the floor feels thunderous, in an otherwise silent room.
“This is all I fucking have, Elenore.” he bellows, his calm inherently lost in the void. “I know that you and your creepfuck fucking family don’t give a shit about wrestling, with your Wednesday Addams knockoff freak show bullshit factory, but this is my fucking LIFE! There’s something wrong with me. Something that the Minister did to me, a long time ago, and I know you want to hear me say it. You wanna know the truth. You wanna know if, gun to my head, I’ll kill your fucking br— my fucking brother— to save my own skin?”
His eyes lower to the floor, filled just as equally with shame as with fury. He averts her gaze with every ounce of strength that he can muster.
“Yeah, Elenore.” the Son of God all but whispers. “Yeah, I will. You want me to say it, I’ll say it. I will do whatever I have to do… whatever it takes… but I don’t want to. Just… help me. He’s no good to you dead. Just help me, and then you can go back to whatever stupid fuck family mind games you wanna play with him. Just help me get my brother back. Help me find myself again. Please.”
His voice warbles and cracks, filled with something that hasn’t been there before. It’s raw, and uncomfortable— for as many times as Michael Lee Best has pretended to tap into his own humanity over the years, this might be the first time that he’s ever truly boiled his own essence to the surface of his skin.
For just a moment in time, he’s a real person again.
“Look, something is wrong with me.” his eyes stay glued to his feet. “I know it is. I came back… wrong. I am selfish, self serving, and… whatever. I’m all of it, alright? I don’t love the way other people do. I don’t care the way other people do. It’s not like I don’t want to. It’s not like I’ve never tried to change. I’m just not fucking wired like normal people. I’m just… not. Max is my brother. I use him and I take him for granted and I treat him like shit. But he’s my brother. And whatever that can mean to me… I don’t want to lose it. Selfishly. In all of the shit ways you can imagine. I want my brother back. HELP ME.”
He can’t see it, but the expression of the face of Elenore Kael is perhaps one of the most unique of her long, complicated life. A sort of bemused pity, if not the slightest bit of shared experience, flashes across her eyes.
For a long time, there is silence.
And then, she speaks.
“There may be a way.” Elenore whispers, shifting herself properly back in her chair. “But you will owe me a great deal when it is over. The question is, whether or not it will be a price that you’re willing to pay. ”
As the words escape her lips, the small edges at the corners of her lips contort back into something resembling a smile. It takes barely a moment for Michael to realize that she’d likely intended to help him all along– she just needed to ensure that she’d be the beneficiary of it all, when it was done and over with. But it doesn’t matter. Not anymore. Elenore Kael was the key to the missing piece of the puzzle, and without her help, Max Kael might be gone forever.
And Michael Lee Best might be next.
“Whatever you want, Elenore. Just… help me.”
We’re four days away, Minister.
Four days away from something you’d have let me go on believing was a veritable Clash of the Titans. Four days away from something that once looked like it had been left to chance. But you never leave anything to chance, do you? Max might– he’ll roll the dice and see what happens, because she’s not a schemer. Not like you.
Not like The Administer.
All these years thinking that my brother was nothing but a delusional crazy person, rummaging through his own brain for new toys to play with whenever he got bored with the old ones. That you were just another tool in the toolbox, when he goes back to the well once per pay-per-view period for something to keep him feeling fresh. But that’s not what you are, is it? No, you’re something else entirely. You’re the little boy in the sandbox, trying to figure out what it means to be human. You’re not of this world, and I might not know exactly what that means yet, but you know what?
I’m going to find out.
I’m going to get my brother back. I don’t know what the fuck they did to you, and I don’t know what the fuck you did to me, but I’m not in this alone anymore. I know things that you don’t want me to know, Administer. Things you wanted me to forget that I ever learned. And I know that for you, you think this match at No Remorse is the same old win-win scenario that you always manage to cook up for yourself. Well I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. I’m here to tell you that you will not get what you want. I’m here to tell you that when I’m finished with you in Tampa, you aren’t going to crawl back into that little hole in Max’s brain, waiting for your next opportunity to come out and play.
I’m sending you away forever.
Maybe I really am “out of shit”, Administer. Maybe I’m hitting the wall, but I’m taking you with me. For ten years, I’ve dealt with your meddling, whether I knew you were behind it or not. I’ve dealt with the scheming of your sister, and the echoes of your shitty, dead father. I have watched you slowly and methodically destroy the life of my brother. A man who never fucking stood a chance, because before he was old enough to read, a psychopath put something in his head that guaranteed that he’d never live a normal life.
Are you proud of yourself, Administer?
Are you proud of that damage you’ve done, and the fractured existence in which you’ve been allowed to live in between the cracks of Max’s life? You talk about these grand plans and you plot and you scheme, because at the end of the day you’re a passenger in the mind of a man you despise. Not because he’s weak, or frail. Not because he isn’t as smart as you. It’s because he is you, Administer. He’s the one thing you’ll never be– a flesh and blood fucking human being, with a heart and a soul and an existence.
You’re just a shitty idea from an abusive father.
I guess we have more in common than you realize.
I can feel it inside of me, Administer. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve called it so many things over the years– I guess maybe you’d know it as Kneesus. You’d know it, because you put it there. Because you passed on your poison to me, maybe so you wouldn’t have to be so lonely in the world. How angry it must make you, that even after everything you’ve instilled into my subconscious, I still chose Max. That I will always choose Max, because he is my piece of shit brother and the modicum of love I’m capable of feeling for him is more than you will have ever felt in your life. A shitty, lonely idea floating around in the idea of a domestically abused simpleton– you really are the lowest form of existence, aren’t you?
You want to be real so, so badly, and I’m going to take that away from you. I spent the better part of the last ten years thinking that what you did to me was a dream, only to find out that it was a reality. And at No Remorse, I’m going to take your ambitions of reality, and ensure that they’re nothing but a dream. I’m going to take my brother back, Administer. And you can whine and wail and say all of the mean things that you can think of. You can try and logic your way around it, and use these words to fuel your anger, because it doesn’t matter. When I step outside of those doors at FiveTime Academy, I won’t just do it as the HOW World Champion. I won’t just do it as the monster you created, who is now going to live under your bed. Administer, I’m going to do it as a friend. As a brother. As a savior. And when it’s over, you’ll be just like the shitty Nazi war criminal that created you. That abandoned you. That hurt you.
A shitty idea, lost to history.
And I will show No Remorse.