Beginnings...(rated for language and alcohol)...
|Part 1...In Awakening (I think therefore I am)
"Attention, Dr. Fontane...Paging Dr. Fontane..."
I groaned, my head was pounding. Another hangover, oh god! The voice over the PA was simply piercing. Every heartbeat made my head feel as if it was being smashed by a large mallet. 'Today is going to be fun,' I thought as I peeled my face off the top of my desk as gently as I could. The bottle of bourbon sat unfinished on top of a tower of manila case files, and other paperwork that I had been avoiding for a long time. I wasn't about to start working on it in my current state. In fact, I was planning to fall back asleep if the PA every shut up. Then my phone started to ring. So much for sleeping.
Needles...It felt like needles piercing through my ears. I made a blind swipe for it and clumsily sent the bourbon, case files, and my cell phone crashing to the floor in one, loud avalanche. Oh, for the love of...I scrambled through the sodden papers in the slow, pained way only a man with a splitting hangover could do, finally finding my phone.
"Dr. Fontane?" A loud painful voice came rolling out of the small speakers into my already pained brain. The day was only getting worse.
"Yes, what?!" I shouted back into the phone, quickly regretting it.
"Hungover, again? Well, you'd better sober up fast, the subject is ready." -Click-
Subject? In my state, I had to think about that before realization hit me so very hard. Sh*t!!
I'm still not quite sure how I managed to make it from my office down into the subterranean research rooms. All I remember is bright lights and a lot of loud noises, but eventually, I found myself in the blessed dark of an observation room...and, thankfully, the right one. A mug of steaming BLACK coffee found its way into my hands before I was pushed not unkindly into a seat and a new manila case file was slapped in front of me. The aroma of the coffee helped a lot, and a short sip later - Holy crap, was it strong! - I started to come to grips with my surroundings as the hangover headache began to fade...gradually.
"Ready for this?"
I looked to my right. Dr. Stephanie Cadmus was sitting right next to me sipping her own cup of coffee. She was wearing that ridiculous lab coat again, pretending to be one of the movers and shakers of this project. In a way she was, but she never did any real work and NEVER got her hands dirty...at least, that's what I've been lead to believe. I grunted in affirmation and turned my still-aching eyes to the file in front of me. "Subject Zero" it read. Yeah, right.
"You've been drinking again," Stephanie said, voice grating my ears like nails on a chalkboard. "This is getting very annoying, Marcus, and its gonna have to stop - "
" - Eventually," I finished, annoyance and determination piercing through the remains of my headache. I wasn't about to be put in this position. Not now...well... not ever, really.
Stephanie was about to start saying something when a computer monitor right in front of me suddenly lit up and began flashing data at me. My hangover totally forgotten, I surveyed the data. Heartbeats, core body temperature, brain waves, etc. I felt a hand on my shoulder and a painful reminder of my ever-present headache. Stephanie leaned over my shoulder to get a better look at the monitor, and, damn, if she wasn't wearing a LOT of perfume. I hated when she pretended to understand what I was looking at, but she WAS the project sponsor and she DID have the right to know what was going on.
She jumped when the door opened and a real scientist walked in. Johnny Dominick fell into the chair next to me with a thud. He snatched the manila folder from in front of me, flipped it open, and began to scribble something down in that illegible script of his. Typical scientist.
"We're all ready when you are," he grunted, chewing on the cap of his pen. "We've just disconnected the neural inlets, so as soon as you and your headache deign we can start...". He paused, smiling. "The sooner the better, you know."
I took another swallow of the coffee and sighed. "Alright, let's go this."
The darkened glass in front of me suddenly turned clear, flooding the dark observation room with clinical white light. I squinted for a moment, allowing my eyes to adjust and the room to come into focus.
A mob of doctors and scientists surrounded a large glass tank, some scribbling on pads of paper, others staring intently at screens set around the tank. And inside the tank?
Inside was our Subject Zero, our end goal, the first successful human clone. Or so we hoped and prayed. Johnny yawned beside me, and pressed a button on the computer, "Okay, let's get started, folks.
25th of July 2014, 10:04 am, Subject Zero. Status?"
Two of the Doctors gave the thumbs-up sign and two others nodded towards the glass. I released a breath I did not remember holding. Things seemed okay, for now.
Johnny began typing furiously on a small wireless keyboard, talking all the while.
"Stopping IV drip, Neural inlets deactivated, beginning tank drain cycle."
The tank began hissing and the water level began to drop rapidly. Despite the noise, the doctors began to crowd around the tank again, talking and scribbling more notes onto pads of paper and clip boards. I couldn't see the tank. I found myself standing, but there were too many people in the way. Stephanie was standing next to me, still smelling of too much perfume and sipping her black coffee as if this was just another mildly interesting event. Johnny and I were both staring at the computer screens watching the vital signs for any concerning changes. We were both sweating. My concern and annoyance at being unable to see the tank brought back the pounding rhythm of my hangover. My right eye began to twitch. I couldn't stand it any longer. Stephanie turned as I left, "Mark, wait!"
I raced through the hallway and punched in the code, opening the lab door, which closed, satisfyingly enough, right in Stephanie's face. I raced through the prep room, and burst out into the chamber snapping on a pair of gloves. I pushed through the crowd of doctors, savoring every shout and angered groan. This was my project and I should have been in the room in the first place.
The tank had just finished draining when I reached the horizontal capsule. Inside was...
...I could not believe it...
Those eyes...two cold, ice-blue eyes...squinted up at me. Squinted up through the tank into the bright light and into the faces of twenty strangers, and me. Even though I had watched the entire development form embryo through tank-bred childhood and education, I was dumbstruck. In those eyes, framed by sodden black hair, was a confusion, was an intelligence which I never expected. For a few fleeting moments, I was captivated and blind to all else except those eyes which were locked onto mine. Bonding? I'm not sure, but there was something there. Something real.
"Dr. Fontane! Please step back, releasing tank seals!" Johnny's voice floated somewhere through my mind, almost unnoticed...that is until...
"Marcus, you ass, get out of the f**king way!" Stephanie's voice, those nails running over the chalkboard again.
I broke eye contact as the seals around the top of the tank began to depressurize and release. I heaved the top open as soon as the last seal *popped*. I looked back into the tank, looking for those eyes which had to captivated me, only to find them closed. Doctors crowded around me, jostling for a better look, all whispering behind me. A dark Indian doctor shouldered his way next to me and felt for a pulse. Finding one, he patted me on the shoulder.
"Congratulations. We've done it."
The medical team soon shooed us from the room and began to remove the clone from the tank. I sat in the preproom, speechless. Much the same as I was for the entirety of the event.
To be honest, I never put much stock in this project. The idea of humans playing God has for a long time bothered me. I guess you could chalk it up to my fear of a zombie apocalypse, but in a sense I fear what may come of the most well-meaning of experiments. From nuclear research to the most harmless forays into toxic biological organisms, there always seems to be that strain of human existence that cries out for superiority. Some dark secret in our psychology or in our natural drive to survive this wild and untamed existence forces us to find the worst in nature and exploit it for our own ends.
But back to the project. Five years ago, summer of 2015, Dr. Stephanie Cadmus approached me with a radical idea. She had backing from a number of the more shady government organizations. Frankly, I was shocked. The American government would never do such a thing! Or would it?
Frankly, I had stopped paying attention after the election of President Obama and his stark defeat in the next election. Politics was too turbulent for me then and still is now, and I was shocked that I would be asked by the government, through Stephanie, no less, to take part in a cloning project...a HUMAN cloning project no less. I gave her a non-answer and tried so hard to avoid it for the next year and a half, until she finally tracked me down and played a very deadly hand.
I had taken part in a brief foray into cloning when studying potential cures for cancer. We developed a series of relatively benign chemicals that could destabilize and dissolve the DNA of a cell that refused to stop replicating. It was a very sensitive and complicated process, eventually ending in some success, however, a fellow researcher came up with the idea. She posited that we could use the knowledge we had just gained to create cloned organs for use in transplants and clinical tests. It was risky, but we managed to create another chemical that would stabilize the genetic structure of cloned cells. The end result? Lots of dead lab rats.
Dr. Cadmus's deadly hand dealt with this very experimentation. I knew that she was after me for my work in the project. I was trying to hold out and not get involved with another controversial project, but she apparently knew my game. In that fateful meeting, she pulled out all my original case-fles from the project which detailed the method to synthesize and administer the stabilizing chemical. I had no idea where she got them from, as only the project director and I had any idea where our individual copies were kept. I was too shocked to ask how, but reluctantly agreed to help. There was really no other choice.
And now, almost three and a half years later, some granule of success. Something tangible. A living human clone. There were still so many ifs to consider, but, even so, the implications. All those thoughts buzzed through my head like an angry hive of bees, drowning out the sounds of the hallway where I sat, where it seemed as if nothing had changed. It was all too surreal.
To make things worse, the lingering, tail-end of my hangover was still pounding its way through my brain, driving nails every one of my senses. Even the sense of guilt.
For whatever reason, I felt responsible for this clone. After all, it was my research that had lead to this being a success...so far. It was so hard to explain my rationale through this present hangover, one of many to follow, but the feeling was there, surrounded by pain and confusion.
My self-absorbed contemplation was interrupted by the sharp clacking of high heels on the steel floor and the smell of coffee...ironic. I looked up to see Stephanie leaning over me, holding a fresh cup of coffee. I waved it off. Frowning slightly, she put the cup at my feet and sat down next to me.
"I'm not interested in talking right now." There was no question I was moody.
"Well, I am." Stephanie sounded genuinely concerned, and for once I wanted to believe her concern. Stephanie was one of those women who had the combination of looks and brains, and knew how to flaunt both equally. She was one of those dangerous ones, the ones who you never quite knew what they were planning next.
"I would have imagined you would be very proud of this achievement, first human clone and such," she took a calculated pause to sip her coffee, waiting for my response.
"It's not that I'm not happy. I am happy for this project," it was my turn to pause, allowing Stephanie nod before continuing. "But, this just seems wrong! If it were up to me, this project would have never occurred."
This elicited a small laugh from Stephanie, "Why not? You said so yourself, without cloning, the human race will eventually destroy itself for the needs of a few. This project isn't wrong. Think of it as more a proof of concept, showing that we are able to clone parts needed for vital transplants, stem cell therapy, the list goes on and on! This is a milestone for human ingenuity and prowess!"
"But at what cost?"
This made her stop for a moment. In that moment, I decided I needed some real ALONE time, without interruptions. I stood, thanked Stephanie for the coffee and wandered off in any old direction. Hopefully one with a dark room and a nice soft pillow for now.
Darkness was the first thing he experienced, total sensory blackout, no feelings, sights or sounds. In that darkness, a tiny spark existed. A tiny spark that KNEW. Images, flashes of pictures, words and sounds echoed in that eternal darkness...without a source. Fear was the first thing he knew.
-Who am I?-
The ominous question hung like a darkening cloud, shutting out the sounds and images, shunning the things that were not his own. The oppressive darkness closed in, threatening to choke out the spark of existence. The primal urge to flee, denied.
The darkness stopped cold, as if confused as to what existence had to do with being. The spark of existence began to take a more fledgling form, growing brighter as thoughts emerged from the darkness. An echo of a phrase whispered through the darkness, 'I think therefore I am.'
-I think, therefore I am.- the fledgling soul repeated, growing in strength and brilliance as the simple thought ratified its existence. -I think, therefore I am.-
The darkness snapped and was replaced by a cacophony of lights and sounds. The fear returned, but not the darkness. There was a rustle, a whisper, a breeze. -I think, therefore I am.-
I stumbled into the first dark room I found, and, boy, was it DARK. The darkness was a welcome change to the harsh lights in the hallway outside. I reveled in the cool stillness around me. Finally, I could think straight for just a moment.
The novelty of the darkness wore off sooner than I would have liked, and I found myself fumbling for a light switch. The room was flooded with a soft red light. Alright, I can handle that, at least. It took me a moment to figure out where I was.
There on a table not five feet from me, was the clone. He was sleeping. I couldn't resist getting another look at him, alone, without anyone else to get in my way.
It was odd. The feeling of remorse that took over when I finally got close enough to make out details, which was pretty close. I felt sorry for the poor soul, if he even had a soul, and could not help but wondering if it would be kinder to kill him before my paranoid dreams became reality. I took a long look at the still body, eyes lingering on the glinting neural implants, our efforts to educate the 15 accelerated-year-old. I risked another step closer, being cautious not to make too much noise, and the closer I got, the more remorse I felt.
Then, I thought I saw something move. It was probably just my imagination in the low light, but I could have sworn that SOMETHING moved. I held my breath, waiting and listening. There was a faint whisper, the tiniest of sounds, I would have missed it had I not shushed up so fast.
I leaned closer, trying to hear this whisper. Such a small sound from something so foreign was fascinating to me. I bent over the clone's body, my ear hovering over the mouth, listening. Bah, it was nothing, only a flight of fancy, and just as I was about to lean away from the body,
End of Part 1