Across The Universe

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Human

Chapter 8 (v.1) - 8

Submitted: May 20, 2018

Reads: 169

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Submitted: May 20, 2018

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Mr. Ziemianin was dead.  It was almost a year after the tests on the rats started, and  Mr. Ziemianin  had died suddenly in the night, taking a step wrong and falling head first down the stairs, breaking his neck.

 

Sitting around the lab, the five scientists mourned  Ziemianin's death in an inappropriate way, feeling very guilty that they weren't actually saddened by the creepy man's parting.

 

Mr. Ziemianin's niece was set to inherit his entire fortune, and she had not been pleased to find the scientists lodged in her late uncle's building.

 

After pointing out that they couldn't move out in an hour because they had no where to place the stuff, let alone find a place for the rats, she reluctantly gave them a week after Madeline not so subtly threatened to release the rats into the alley behind the building, where they would no doubt infest with no other place to go.

 

Sitting around, they passed a joint, saying nothing.  The rat trials had been a mess; the first rats had been fine, and Sarah joked that it was because they had inoculated them against evolution.

 

The second batch suffered a peculiar illness which caused them to vomit blood, so they were quickly put down to avoid them suffering unnecessarily.

 

The third seemed to take to it, not suffering as the other ones had, but becoming stronger and more intelligent.  All was well until they introduced them to the other rats, and then it turned into a bloody battle royale as the two opposing sections of rodents slaughtered each other.  The only thing they had learned was that the more intelligent rats worked in groups, organizing battle plans.

 

Now, they were at the end, with six days to move out without any prospective funding or future.

 

"It can work," Adrian said emphatically, sitting up, running a hand through his hair.

 

"It did," Daisy corrected, and they looked at her.  She shrugged, stretching her legs out in front of her.  "You saw, we all did.  They were 'advanced', yes?  Well, we were stupid with the reintroduction; rats always kill the weak because weakness in one is weakness in all."

 

"The others--" Madeline began, but Daisy cut her off with a wave of her hand.

 

"The others knew that they were different, that there was something wrong," she stated, shaking her head and frowning.  "They were scared, which made the others react badly, sensing their discomfort."

 

"Well, that's good to know," Charlie said, exhaling a cloud of smoke and passing the rollie to Sarah.  "To bad we don't have any rats left to experiment on so we could show our proof to someone who might endorse us."

 

"It would be too easy to say we just gave them steroids and dementia medication," Adrian argued, sitting back.

 

"What we need is a person to show off," Sarah pointed out, and Madeline pointed at her.

 

"Good idea!"  She said too cheerfully.  "Now tell me where we can find someone stupid enough to be experimented on for free."

 

Sarah opened her mouth to protest, when Daisy waved at them.  "In this room," she said, and again she was gaped at.  "What?  Is it not so?  Tell me where I can find a bigger group of idiots."

 

"It could kill us," Charlie pointed out.  "Even we're not that stupid."

 

"But we use the last formula for the rats, cut it for the human genome--"

 

"You want to risk being infected with the bubonic plague?"  Adrian cut off Daisy, who sighed, shaking her head.

 

"It not a plague any more, we all know this," she said slowly.  "It's a Trojan horse for a graft, and I say we're about to lose everything we worked for, so it's at least worth a thought, isn't it?"

 

Despite themselves, it was thought about.  "You're mad," Charlie said after awhile.

 

"That is irrelevant," Daisy said, casting the insult aside.  "The point is we have the opportunity, and it's quickly evaporating.  We will lose everything!"

 

"It's not legal," Sarah reminded them.  "And if the one who's takes dies, the rest of us are looking at prison."

 

"It's not--"

 

"They will call it murder!"  Sarah hissed, leaning forward.

 

"Then whoever takes it, administers it themselves," Madeline said firmly.

 

"Not you too!"  Adrian said loudly, getting up.  "See what you did?"  He said to Daisy, but she ignored him, listening to Madeline.

 

"They document it, we are elsewhere," Madeline went on.  "They may talk to us, but there is nothing they can do us.  They did it of their own freewill."

 

"What are the odds?"  Charlie asked, and Adrian kicked his foot.

 

"This is human life, you're talking about," Adrian snapped.  "Are you willing to wager a life so that you can have something notable to put after your name?"

 

Charlie leaned around his friend.  "Sarah, you know the odds, what are they?"

 

Biting his lip, Adrian turned to Sarah, hoping that she would be the last remaining sane one out of the group.  For a long time, she looked in his eyes, before closing her own and sighing.

 

"Seventy-nine point eight, seven," she informed him.  "Safer than flying in an airplane or taking a shower."

 

Sitting heavily as he reclaimed his seat, Adrian felt a hand gently rest on his back.  It was the first time that Daisy had intentionally touched him while they were working and the contact was almost startling.  He looked at her, and she lowered her head so that they were nearly face to face.

 

"This is your project," she told him softly, without a single trace of her briskness she reserved for professionalism, "it's up to you whether we do it."

 

Looking around the room at the rest of them, seeing their hopeful and anxious faces, Adrian closed his eyes, covering them.  He hated it, he knew what he would choose, because the worst of it was that he wanted to go on as well.  They had worked so hard, in hours that were too long, and to have it fail as they were so close to answers was intolerable, but he couldn't say he was willing to risk the lives of his friends.  He wasn't.  He opened his eyes and smiled at Daisy.  "I'll do it," he said, swallowing hard.

 

"No, it will be random," Madeline decided, getting up, fetching the matches they used for the Bunsen burners.  Taking scissors to four matches, Madeline held them up.

 

Sarah took the matches from her, setting one of the short ones aside.  "I can't," she apologized, shaking her head.  "I can't risk it, not with my children . . ."  Her husband had been crippled in a car accident, suffering severe brain damage, now she was the sole bread winner for her family.  No one could ask her to risk it, least of all for this.

 

Looking at Charlie, Daisy took the matches from Sarah and handed one of the short ones to him, his face suddenly not so pale, but his fingers shook as he took it from her.

 

Looking from Madeline to Adrian, Daisy silently asked who else was not up to it.  Neither of them back down, but steeled themselves to be found as the unlucky winner.  Adrian reached for Daisy's hand, but Madeline caught his wrist.  "No, no," she said, smiling at him.  "It's ladies first, no?"  Her fingers hesitated despite her bravado, and when she pulled a headless stick from Daisy's hand, her relief was palpable, her grin fading as she suddenly remembered that the worst was not over for them, and someone still had to be the unlucky one.

 

Daisy took her thumb and pushed the last two so they were even, but Adrian saw how she was holding her fingers strangely, and knew that the longer match was under them.  He couldn't let her do it, even if he would be mocked by her for his old fashioned notion, but he couldn't think of having to stand by as she died, unable to stop it or the suffering that would go with it.  No, he would rather go through it himself than have Daisy do it.  He took the long . . .

 

Staring at the headless match in his fingers, he looked at Daisy as she flipped the head of her match upright.  She glanced at him, and in that moment, he knew she had cheated.  It was partially her idea to test of themselves, so she no doubt felt responsible and didn't want to force someone to put their life on the line.

 

It was amazing that in that moment he could hate her and feel so worried for her safety.

 

"Well, we'll need a cage in case the virus reactivates in me," she said, clearing her throat, turning her back on them, her hands stumbling on the counter to find some make work project so she didn't have to see his face.  "Nothing too big, we will know in less than twelve hours, there's no reason to make a live-in suite."

 

"And what then?"  Madeline asked, standing straighter, her shoulders pulled back.  "If it reactivates in you?"

 

"I won't be contagious until I get the cough," Daisy told her, gesturing to Charlie.  "We thought ahead in case we somehow got infected, so there's an antidote, um--"  She forgot the word for treatment, and she gestured to Adrian to assist, but he wouldn't, his arms crossed over his chest.  "I'll survive," she went on, assuring them.  "I might not feel well, but, I'll survive."

 

Things were organized and set out for Daisy to use with ease.  While the serum came to room temperature, the cell was quickly knocked up, using polysilien to caulk the cell closed, a hairdryer setting it instantly.  A little drawer was put into the wall of it so that if she was found to have been infected with the virus, she could quickly start the treatment for it.

 

Sitting on her chair, Daisy ran a hand over her face, trying to ignore the sound of the drill.  Adrian sat in front of her, glancing back at the others out of habit before taking her hand.  "You don't have to do this," he told her, and she sighed, looking wore out.

 

Looking behind him, she leaned forward and smiled at him.  "I wish I could kiss you," she murmured, brushing her hair out of her face.  "I would love to do that right now, y'know?"  And stupidly, he didn't, moving back as the others came back to say goodbye.

 

The kiss came from Sarah instead, who hugged her tightly, passing her off to Madeline, who whispered in her ear something that Daisy never shared with him.  Charlie picked her up and rocked her from side to side before setting her back down, moving away as he snuffled, his face briefly swiped with his sleeve.  For a moment, when it was his turn, Adrian was at a loss, and  Daisy took his fingers and gave them a squeeze before shooing them out, her frigid professionalism firmly back in place.  She looked unconcerned that she was about to see how quickly she might die.

 

"Go on now, I have to make my video," she told them, all but shoving them out of the room.  "Don't come back for at least an hour," she insisted before sliding the door shut.  For a moment, he looked at her through the glass until she waved at him to go, her expression changing for just an instant to worry and loneliness.  She was aware that she could die in the time alone, and there would be no chance of anyone coming to her rescue.

 

As they went to the bar that was a block and a half away, Adrian said nothing, just went on to the bar, his steps slow as he fought with himself not to run back to Ziemianin's building and stop her.  She might have already done it, he told himself, his steps still leaden.  It would be like Daisy to film herself giving the injection for further evidence against herself.

 

They drank.  It seemed the best way to deal with their guilty consciences, the little voice in the back of each and every one of their minds reminding them that they wanted this, that in some sick way they still did, proof that they were right, proof that they were on the right track. 

 

How do you reconcile morality with science or knowledge?  To know about health and ailments, bodies were cut open or purposely infected, but that was different, this was still the pursuit of knowledge, but was it necessary?  After all, who would it really help to know how to mutated healthy bodies to withstand an alien environment?

 

It wasn't even twenty minutes when Adrian got up, unable to wait any longer.  He went back to the lab, the other three hot on his heels, nearly knocking into him as he pulled the sliding doors open, and went towards the cell, where Daisy was sitting primly on the little stool someone had thought to put in there, her book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats Of NIMH, dangling in her fingers, her thumb marking her page.  She looked at them, as if surprised to see them, and perhaps she was, expecting it to have been longer.

 

Her eyes were bright, responding appropriately to the movement and shifts in light.  All and all, she looked healthy, in perfect order.

 

"I just got in here," she told them, and Adrian glanced at the computer by her station, the screensaver hadn't even popped up yet, showing the video so that anyone could see what she had done.  Looking back at her, he saw her sleeves were pushed up, one forearm baring a band-aid.  So it was done.  Leaning against the table behind him, Adrian slid down until he was sitting on the floor, his head in his hands.

 

Sarah dangled something in front of him.  "She even set the timer," she told him, and he saw green blocky numbers counting down twelve hours.  Fifteen minutes were already bitten out of the time remaining.

 

Looking at her feet, Madeline came to a decision.  "We'll stay with you," she stated, and Sarah nodded in agreement.

 

"Just let me call my mother," she said, leaving for the hall, phone already in hand.

 

"Pity we don't have cots," Charlie remarked, then shrugged.  "At least we can watch movies."  He gestured to the computer.

 

Getting up, Adrian rested his palms against the polysilien windows of the cell.  "How are you?"  He asked, waiting for the slightly muffled reply as Daisy searched for the right words, words that were valid, yet not disturbing.

 

"Nervous," she allowed.  "I feel a little sick, but I think that it's the worry."

 

Sarah came back, the phone held high.  "I can stay," she assured them, her voice breathy, as if she had run back.

 

Every hour, Daisy was asked for a progress report, and she gave it.  They drank coffee, and she dozed in the cell, sitting on the floor, her arms crossed over her chest to keep her warmer.  She couldn't regulate her body temperature so she was always cold.  It made Adrian wish that he'd thought to put one of the emergency blankets they had in the cell with her.

 

The twelve hours passed and it was coming on four in the morning when all hell broke loose.  Daisy woke panting, and staggered to her feet, his hands so shaky that they drummed on the walls as she struggled upward.  "I don't feel well!"  She said, her eyes wild, her face pale and sweating.  "I can't breathe right!"  She started coughing, her body bending in half as she fought to draw breath during the fit.  A fine mist rained over the bottom part of the door and her feet as she coughed, the droplets turning from cloudy to pink.

 

"Give her the shot!"  Adrian ordered, but Charlie stopped him with a hand on his chest.

 

"This isn't the plague, It doesn't turn pneumonic this quick," Charlie said, his brow furrowed, they watched helplessly as the coughs became silent and Daisy gulped as she steadied herself on the door.  That was when she began to vomit blood on the polysilien, falling to her knees as weakness took over.

 

"What's the problem, then?"  Adrian said, turning away as he forced himself to focus, but Sarah already had the answer.  She was marching over to the mini-fridge, and practically ripped the door right off.

 

Pulling something out, she ran over to the two men, and held up the vial.  "You took the wrong one!"  She shouted at Charlie, shoving it in his face.  It was the one for the most recent batch of rats, the ones who murdered the others.  They kept all prototypes in the fridge to use for the history of the project, but they were separated from the one in use by a piece of cardboard.

 

"Shit!"  Charlie yelled, pulling at his hair as he stumbled back.  "I fucked up!"  It was something he had said over a week ago, and they had laughed then, but not this time.  Instead, they watched in frozen horror as Daisy collapsed on her side, choking on her own blood.

 

Madeline stopped Adrian from opening the cell to pull her out, standing in his way as she reminded him that Daisy wouldn't be infected with the plague but the Peyote Virus instead, something that they didn't have a cure for and it was highly contagious.  "If that's what's affecting her, she is already dead!"  She grabbed him when he tried to push past her, holding him away from the cell.  "Adrian!  It will be thirty-six hours before we can open it," she told him, cupping his face, forcing him to look at her.  "You open it and it will be another outbreak!"

 

Sagging, Adrian fought against his instincts to get Daisy out of it, trying to pull out of himself and be detached from the situation.  Looking at where Daisy lay still, unsure if she was even still alive, it was the hardest thing he had ever done.

 

Excusing himself, Adrian went to the bathroom down the hall and threw up.  Washing his face, he tried to think of something other than Daisy seizing on the floor of the tiny cell, drowning in her own blood.

 

I wish I could kiss you.  The words echoed cruelly in his mind, and he leaned heavily on the counter, remembering her brushing her black hair out of her beautiful blue eyes.  He wondered if he had said he had loved her that day.  He knew that she was aware, that he never had to say, that she would have known anyways, but he wanted to, he wanted to remind her that it was always on his mind, even if there were times it didn't seem like it.

 

He didn't leave the lab, neither did Charlie, for the day and the half, waiting for the clock to tick down so they could move her dead body from the cell.  Sarah had to take care of her family, and Madeline couldn't stand to waste time and stare at the body of her friend.

 

He blamed Charlie for it, but he said nothing as the time ran down on the timer he had set.  They just sat there, rarely moving from their seats, watching the cell as if Daisy would suddenly scrape herself off the floor, dust herself off, and tell them that it was nothing.

 

When the time came, Sarah came back, and she got into her hazmat suit while Adrian got into his.  It was pointless, the virus wasn't contagious when the host was dead, but with all mess on the floor, it seemed safer than stepping into the biohazard without protection.

 

Carrying the body to the chemical burn shower, Daisy was showered off before being carried to the table that Madeline was standing beside, grimly awaiting the task of autopsying the body.  Just because there had been a death didn't mean that their jobs were over.

 

Working with Sarah, Adrian scraped the gore up, putting into bags, stopping briefly when Sarah picked up a chunk of something.  "It's part of her stomach," she announced, before swallowing, and shoving it into the bag.  "You'll have to analyse all of it," she said regretfully.

 

Over at the make-shift autopsy table, Madeline gently smoothed Daisy's wet hair from her forehead before frowning.  "Adrian, come here," she said, waiting until he was close enough to see the body clearly.  She gestured at Daisy with her scalpel.  "She's fresh."  She said.

 

Adrian was nonplussed.  "And?"  He said, feeling numb.  All he knew was he didn't want to be standing there when Madeline started cutting.

 

Madeline looked at him, not wanting to have to explain that Daisy should already be decomposing, stinking up the whole lab so badly that they wouldn't be able to breath without gagging.  She did anyways, just working hard to be gentle about it.  She gently prodded Daisy upper arm as she spoke, but she couldn't feel the gases moving under the flesh, instead, it felt supple, if cold.

 

A thought occurred to her and she shifted the scalpel in her fingers and made a twenty millimetre incision below the elbow, and they watched the blood run in rivulets to the table.  As Madeline clamped a hand over the wound, Adrian felt so dizzy that he was certain he was going to pass out.  The dead don't bleed, they might ooze blood, but that was not what was happening, Daisy was bleeding right through Madeline's fingers as she called for Sarah to bring over the x-ray scroll.

 

Putting his hand on the table to steady himself, Adrian pressed his fingers to Daisy's throat, feeling for a pulse that wasn't there.  Shifting his touch, he felt over the artery, but he just couldn't find it, it seemed. 
 
 
Elbowing him out of the way in her haste, Sarah opened the scroll, holding it over Daisy's chest, her bones and organs lit up in light blue.  It was soon apparent that there was something severely wrong with what they were seeing.  Charlie came over in time to witness that Daisy was missing multiple organs, namely her stomach, spleen, and gallbladder.  After a few moments, Daisy's lungs barely shifted as she inhaled to such as shallow extent that they just thought that it was a trick of the eyes or something similar.

 

Cutting off the wet shirt, Adrian ordered Charlie to grab the heart monitor, which was placed on the table beside her head.  The pads were attached to her bare skin and it seemed at first that they were detecting nothing, until it turned out that there were less than ten beats per minute.

 

"How is this possible?"  Sarah asked, gesturing to the monitor.  "I hate to say it, but she should be dead.  If not from the virus, then from . . ."  She trailed off as she pointed to the cell, which was still gory, despite their attempts to clean the space.

 

"Don't curse it," Charlie said, finally coming back to himself.  He laughed.  "She's alive, let's get over the novelty of that first before we start asking questions."

 

Adrian was already pushing away from the table, gathering blankets, a saline IV bag, and the first aid kit.  He passed the kit and the blanket to the others as he swabbed alcohol on Daisy's hand before pushing the lead to the IV through her skin.  Madeline handed him a hypodermic filled about the quarter of the way.  He pressed the sharp into the IV port and slowly added it to the mix as the blanket was tucked around Daisy.

 

Seeing the two solutions mix was like seeing heat-waves on concrete, he was able to see it travel through the tube.  When it reached her hand, Adrian took a deep breath and waited four minutes before gently shaking Daisy, trying to rouse her.  Sarah touched his arm.  "It might take a few hours," she reminded him.  "It hit her very hard."

 

"In the meantime we can try to figure out how she's alive without her organs," Madeline said, waving a hand at Daisy's abdomen.  They couldn't though, just like they couldn't figure out why her body had been rejecting them.  They did tests to see if she had brain activity and that was more surprising than finding out that she was alive.

 

It took Daisy almost an hour to wake up, in that time she had two transfusions and another saline bag with a vitamin mix in it.  Blurrily she looked at them, unable to respond to their questions, her eyes slow to respond to the lights flashed in her eyes.  She stayed awake for the barest few minutes before passing out in exhaustion, but Adrian didn't panic.  He could see by the monitor that she was still alive, still holding on.  She went through hell, but she was still there.

 

Charlie pointed out that perhaps this was what was happening to the rats, when they had supposed that a mistake had been made in the serum.  "We still don't know if it will kill her," Sarah said, and Charlie clapped his hand to his chest.

 

"You mean we don't know if I killed her," he corrected, and Adrian waved them quiet.

 

"Enough, it's over," he told them, looking at the tissue samples that they had taken from Daisy's arm, comparing them with the tissue from her stomach.  "I don't want to hear about it.  Either you can work, or you can go home."

 

The samples were hard to deal with namely because even though the ones from her arm should have been slowing down due to lack of important nutrients, they were active as any healthy attached cell could be.  Also, whenever he put a little bit of acid or alcohol on them to see them clearer, they would rapidly change, adapting to the  corrosive materials.  Swallowing, he watched as they shivered and danced around, growing thicker or changing colour as they fought off the attackers.  The organ tissue Daisy had regurgitated didn't react the same way, so he figured that might have explained their expulsion.  Organs rebuild themselves differently than skin, muscle, and bone, and perhaps her body felt they were foreign material and had to be jettisoned to make room for the natural ones to be created.

 

"We did it," he breathed, falling back in his chair.  They looked at him, not moving, trying to see if they heard him right.  "It's nothing but pure luck, but I think we did it."  He put the slide up on the projector and they watched as the cells changed constantly, defending themselves against each new attack on them until the changes became unmatchable and they collapsed and died under the strain.

 

"Well," said Madeline, putting her hands on her hips, "fuck."


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