You Did This To Me
He honestly could not remember if it were a stroke of pure genius or a hyper-caffeinated delusion that brought about this; his breakthrough of breakthroughs. It had been well over a week since the fatal accident in his laboratory basement, but exactly how long it had been since then, he was not quite sure. He had shut himself inside his own home, hardly seen sunlight since Bethany's death, and never answered the phone or watched television. Driven partially insane by his utter failure as a scientist and as a father, he had sworn to himself that he would not rest until something was done to correct his monumental error. He refused to sleep and found his solace in mug upon mug of coffee. He looked bedraggled and disorderly, his face unshaven and his clothes unwashed. His huge and final brainstorm came to him five, no four.... no, five days ago. He had the equipment. He had the technology. And he still had her body, which lay, still fully clothed, on a test bed near to where he stood. She looked so peaceful in death, her eyes closed and her expression still showing only the slightest register of sadness. Her half-burnt and bloodied face, smooth on one side and ravaged on the other, divided almost perfectly by the line of her nose, contrasted hauntingly. Her clothes were still pockmarked with splintered glass he had tried his best to remove, and none of the blood had been wiped away. It was not wise to tamper with death. Even moreso when it was his own child.
He stood before the machine, grinning like a drunken madman (which he in essence was) at it and taking in its scope. He, himself, had not designed it, for he had left that to the engineers back at the Institute. He knew he would never be going back there, for this broke every rule in the book. If he was caught... if this were to get out... he'd be fired properly and most likely incarcerated. To do what he was doing was breaking the Geneva Convention and almost every international law regarding it, three times over. But if he were successful, the rest of the world would be none the wiser. He had not built the machine, but he was responsible for the formularisation surrounding it. He had envisioned it to be perfect. He envisioned its products to be perfect. And all his life, he wanted his little girl to be... perfect. His head was wrecked, and he decided that after tonight, when the final process began, he would get some much needed rest. It would all happen overnight. But he had taken precautions. He had given himself three chances. His regard for human life had been cast aside in favour of his own child. After her, all life was secondary, even his own. He didn't care about rules, regulations or conventions. His concern was for his little girl. She had not deserved that death, particularly since it could have been so easily avoided. So he would play god for her. His little angel would soon be back in his arm.
He had hidden this huge device in a large room at the end of the basement, only accessible by a password input. The password happened to be 'Katelyn', the name of his wife - may she rest in peace - and the middle name of his daughter - may she not have to rest much longer. The device almost touched the ceiling, and it towered over Quintaine at well over four metres in height. It resembled a large automation from an industrial factory, strung up to three large silo tubes with greenish-gold transparent sides. Cords, safe ones this time, ran off the machine and attached to several power outlets and one to a desk nearby where a simple home computer was linked up to it to control what went on. Nearby, sticking out from the wall opposite the giant contraption, was the test-bed where Bethany lay, as though the subject of some grand experimentation. That wasn't far from the truth. He stumbled toward the machine, specifically toward the three containment silos that were filled with a thick and viscous, colourless fluid that sloshed around like unset jelly. His face was beaming with happiness, and it wasn't because the caffeine was still in effect. He was admiring what the machine had concocted within those three tubes through the process of rapid cell division and accelerated maturation. He could almost reach out and touch the auburn locks of each of them. Sighing and placing his hands back in his pockets, he oft wondered just how complex life truly was. Sometimes it seemed so deep and complicated that not even his own mind could keep up. Other times, it seemed so simple. So frail. So easy to control. There were times when he laughed at what, at other times, he would have considered stressful and overwhelming. Then again, sometimes even the simplest task seemed like a nightmare, depending on how well each day went. It was moments like these when he just stopped and took a moment to look at something other than his own existence. Moments when he would just stand there, shake his head and mutter "Man, oh man....". He would like to have done that now. But what he saw in the incubation silos left him too astounded to even shake his head, let alone speak. He cast a quick glance at his daughter's body. He had her death to thank for this. Everything was now ready. He wanted to camp out down here for the night, ensure nothing went wrong, and most importantly, be here when everything really began to happen. But his need for physical rest was that much greater than his desire for accomplishment. He had his victory already. He had pre-programmed the final touches, to be implemented overnight. Everything, in the morning, would be perfect.
He stumbled toward the desk where the computer was set up, its monitor displaying a screensaver of stars rushing by as though travelling through the galaxy at warp speed. He loved science fiction but could find no decent X-Files screensavers, so he settled for his second favourite series. As he slumped back into the seat, which sagged under his weight, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. All this hard work leading up to this. Three samples taken from his dead child: a lock of hair, a clip of her fingernail and a portion of her skin that had been torn partially off as a result of the injuries that may have caused her death. He didn't like that word for this situation. Death seemed... too strong. Yes, her original body had lost life and she was nothing but a motionless heap of clothed flesh lying on a testbed, her joints having been seized by rigor mortis as she lay in his arms before relaxing into their limp state as she lay on the bed. At the moment, this laboratory was her grave. But not forever. He still couldn't take his eyes off what he was seeing. From the samples he had obtained from his little girl, he had extracted her DNA chains and analysed them. Bits from her father and mother were thrown in everywhere, with everything taken into account during the scan, from the colour of her eyes to her pair of X chromosomes. He had worked out that Bethany's body had been born with a low egg cell count, meaning that Bethany had the possibility of becoming infertile by the age of 30. She had narrowly avoided being born with a hypersensitivity to taste, and her genetics passed down from her mother's side of the family (a trait carried by the X chromosome and thus twice as likely to affect females) left her at risk of hearing loss before she was 40. A lot of genetics relied on chance, whereas there were occasional moments when Quintaine could easily judge what would happen and what wouldn't. His little girl was his tiny star, the apple of his eye and so forth. But comparatively, she was not terribly special. At school she never developed a tendency to be better at one thing over another. She was sporty but disliked it because she kept noticing how much attention she got from boys when wearing her school sports outfit - a problem Quintaine himself had tried to correct by asking them to change the uniform design but to no avail. Bethany was at that uncomfortable age where she didn't know whether to accept male attention as a good sign or a bad sign, and thus she knew only to avoid receiving such attention at all. She blushed when she thought of herself, clad in the school's white shirt and figure-hugging shorts, being stared at. She thought her bottom was too big or that there might have been a hole in her pants or something, to which Quintaine had simply chuckled and told her that boys were looking at her because they thought she was beautiful. As much as he wanted her to, though, she did not see this as any sort of reassurance.
Bethany was always acting hostile toward all the smarter students in her grade, particularly the Asian kids who got all the top marks. She wanted and craved to be just like them but never quite could be, despite her father's assurances that she was just as special as they were. At one stage, when she brought home a science test that had resulted in barely a B-grade, whereas almost everyone else had A's or higher, she had stared into her father's eyes, both hers and his the same radiant sapphire colour, and choking back tears had told him, "You said I was special! You lied to me!" before running away to her room. It was those words that had stuck with Quintaine the most as of late. She never excelled in a subject, never got her head around absolutely everything. The whole idea of 'Maths Student/English Student' idea seemed to be lost on her. Despite all the encouragement he could give his little girl, nothing seemed to work out for her. He did his best for her. He helped study, helped her understand concepts and at times even wished he could sit her tests for her. She just couldn't pull off the right grades. Her teacher had said it was a confidence problem. Bethany loved being around her father but the moment she went to school, she faltered. She never had the chance to improve. He took away that chance. And so it was only right that he give it back to her.
He had three chances. In the silos before him was the end product of his genetic harvesting. He eradicated all possible faults in the gene sequence (which was why he took three samples from three different parts of her body) and, through rapid cell division, created a new embryo that reflected these minor alterations. Then, through a highly accelerated maturation process, each new human clone grew to the age of ten and two months. The same age as Bethany. They hung, suspended in their silos, their legs tucked together and their hands wrapped around them. They were still babies, curled up in the position they were in as fetuses. Their hair was the same colour as Bethany's, swimming about their heads like seaweed. They floated there, kept on life support until they were able to be released into the oxygen-rick atmosphere. A synthetic tube connected to their stomachs, protecting their umbilical cords and acting in the same manner. Earlier, about a day or so after death (although, all the coffee in his system had messed up his memory so he couldn't be exactly sure) he had plugged a special type of scanner into the Institute had developed for harvesting memory. Theoretically, memory decayed the same way a body did after death: slowly and gradually. Tested at the Institute, memories of an old, dying orang-utan from a zoo out of town were collected from the creature mere moments after its death from heart failure. Stored as a computer code, the synapses were fresh and intact. Upon the birth of the test clone (cloned animals and cloned humans were on completely different scales, but the fundamentals were the same), a second device was connected to the brain of the creature. The computer code was then fed into the machine, which, through the machine's link with the brain, triggered a series of synapse firings. These firings, in effect, impregnated the brain of the new animal with the memories of the old one, despite no interaction between the two whatsoever. Quintaine had kept the code stored from Bethany in the databank and upon the creation of each clone, transferred the code into the machine itself. So, when the child was released, it contained every memory, experience and skill of its forebearer. This was proven when the new chimp recognised its favourite yellow squishy-ball that it used to play with in its habitat back at the zoo. Quintaine did not want to re-educate a ten year old from infant level up. And what was more, he didn't want to have to teach her much more, either. One of Bethany's deepest wishes was to be smarter, stronger, tougher, braver and everything else that she could be to make her father happy. He was already so happy with who she was. But the temptation to make her just that bit better was eating at him like industrial solvent.
He flicked the mouse of the PC and the starfield display was replaced with a complex spreadsheet program. This was not the program he needed right now. The spreadsheet was the step-by-step cloning process, and he was now up to the crucial next step. It was one thing to clone a human from a dead one and have it live its life in the dead person's place with no right to choose for itself. The memory influence prevented all free will of learning and living a unique life. It was like a mental bond. Cloning a human was illegal in itself. However, what he was about to do ignored the line of morality completely and instead dived right off the cliff. He clicked the only other program he had open on taskbar and brought up a second window. Within it spun and spiralled the enlarged double helix of Bethany's DNA. Small segments were highlighted. Guanine-cytosine base pairs, adenine and thymine links and even the adenine-uracil bonds in her RNA. Tiny little genetic hotspots, right for molding and reshaping. Quintaine was the potter. His daughter's genetic makeup was his clay. This wasn't just cloning. This was full-scale genetic engineering. If he got caught, he might as well join Bethany in whatever afterlife her poor and tragic soul was forced to depart to. He knew the corrections he had to make. He had isolated all the weaknesses and faults. With a tap of the keyboard, he selected the first of the three dormant clones. With another tap, he began his biological brewery.
The girl who would emerge would not be your average ten year old child. She would remain physical identical in every aspect, from the colour of her eyes to the size of her fingers to the number of teeth she had lost and regrown. He could easily have changed that. His little girl would have looked stunning with eyes the colour of chocolate. But he loved them as they were. Nothing quite had the depth that Quintaine born and bred sapphire had. So he would leave such things untouched. They would not determine her path in life. He was not one to restrict her. Instead, he wanted to further liberate the little girl and explore her full potential. A wise man - Einstein? - once said that humans only used 10% of their brainpower. Imagine... if the other 90% could be unlocked. He would not do such a thing here. But an extra 5% wouldn't hurt. He was tired of receiving bad report cards about how she was failing to keep up with other students who were progressing with their work whilst she could barely understand the basic principles. He hated hearing about her becoming so discouraged with herself that she had to go and see the school psychologist just to pull herself back together. And most of all, he hated the idea that such inhibititations could possibly lead to her getting a second-rate job with second-rate pay, living a second-rate life. His girl deserved ONLY the very best, and that was what she was going to get, law or no law. He tapped at the keyboard, cycling through nucleotide chains with their sugar/phosphate backbones and interlocking base pairs spinning like a dizzying spider's web. His mind took in every detail, despite running on coffee fumes. When it came to work and family, his mind switched on entirely. In this case, where both family and work applied, not even the end of the world could distract him. The Asian children were outshining his little baby? No longer. The new Bethany would have a heightened concentration and mental ability. She would remember far more of what she was exposed to, and would have the capacity to stay fixed on her subject for the whole lesson. Concentration gave her knowledge. Knowledge would give good grades. And thus, good grades guaranteed a better shot at life. After having her life torn from her, she would return into one far greater than what she left behind. She was already sporty, yes. But extra muscle strength and sharper reflexes would push her abilities far higher than what she had previously been capable of. What would boys be staring at now? Her backside, or the trail of dust she'd leave as she tore up the race track? Quintaine was chuckling, now. Every alteration he made would release a tiny burst of radiation into the holding silo on a wavelength that would only affect the targeted segment of the DNA strand. A slight offset would cause irreversible damage, but he had calculated everything. There would be no reason to mess up. But in the unlikely event that he did so, there were still two other attempts left. And he could completely start over again, restarting the entire process from step one with three new clones. But sooner or later someone would notice he wasn't anywhere to be found in the world outside his home. The less time this took, the better. He glanced up a moment. Despite the changes taking place, he could see nothing physically different about the girl suspended in the chamber. Her naked form seemed so beautiful and so fragile in there. Was it truly the same girl he had held as an infant, bathed, taught, fed and loved when her mother could not be there for her? There were four of her, now. He only wanted one, in truth... but to have four of his little girls... well, three, since one wasn't exactly in any position to provide unconditional love anymore... to have them all around him seemed like heaven on earth. But he didn't feel that playing god was very fair. He only had one daughter. One was all he need, and one was all he would get.
The alterations were now underway, which would take most of the night to complete. To alter the DNA in every cell in her body, even at a rate of several billion cells every second, would take many hours. Quintaine, flopping back into his chair, smiled to himself. Now, finally, things were starting to go right again. He glanced over at the testbed where his lifeless angel lay. He mouthed the words 'Thank you...' to her, knowing she would never hear him but believing it to be the appropriate gesture. At that moment, the last remnants of his mocha-latte fuel ran out, and his head began to spin as fatigue overran the final defensive lines and began to storm the gates of castle Brain. He groaned, realising that now was a perfect time to get out of his laboratory wear and into his nice warm bed. He pushed down on the chair's armrests, to which the chair gave a creak of protest. "Shurrup..." he slurred in response. He stumbled to his feet, losing his footing and falling back into the seat. Groaning, he picked himself up, pushing against the table. He didn't notice that his hand palmed the keyboard as he rose. He staggered forward, looking drunk, and wondered if he'd even make it to the door before conking out. Fortunately he found it, turning off the dim lights as he trundled out, seeking his bed like a moth drawn to flame, all the while oblivious to the computer monitor as its displays began to spin dizzyingly.
Oh, what a beautiful mooooornin'!
Oh, what a beautiful d-
Quintaine moaned, grabbing his head and grumbling to himself as he rolled onto his back. He had lounged around in bed since 10:00pm the previous night, and he never wanted to leave bed sometimes. However, it was times like this (when he literally fell out) that he regretted and at the same time he appreciated. He regretted them, for he would not spend more time in the warmth and comfort of his bed. Yet, he appreciated it because had it not been for his unfortunate rolling out of bed, he would still be in there, wasting more of his day. Time was everything in a human's life. Through his work, he could afford people more time. But not himself. Particuarly since he got himself booted out of his own Institute because of some sort of stupid regulation. Uh... what was it again? His head was very cloudy in the morning, and a caffeine hangover didn't help. Had he been late for something? Had he broken something important? Did he spill an important solution all over the floor and the janitors' union brought about strike action against the Institute and all across Megaville because of the undue pressures placed upon their clients in the event of them possibly not getting to the scene of a spill in time to stop the aforementioned spilt substance from dissolving a hole in the expensive linoleum? Quintaine shook his head. No, that last one wasn't it.
That had happened to Professor Wentworth.
He sat up, stretched and sighed. He felt his bones aching dully. He was getting too old. He had no next of kin to care for him, now. His parents had both died in a house fire when he was in his early thirties, his only brother had moved overseas to some awful place like Australia, his wife was dead too, and his daughter was- his DAUGHTER! "Bethany!" he called in excitement. He threw his dishevelled sheets off him and pounced to his feet, feeling as nimble as a 20-year-old in an instant. He dashed to his wardrobe where he pulled out his labcoat. He seized his pair of trousers and threw them on over his night pants, doing up the belt in a rush. He didn't bother getting out of his dull grey pyjamas. The first order of the day was welcoming his little girl back into the world. He threw the white jacket around him hurriedly and bolted from the room. He was halfway across the kitchen before he had even got his arm through the first sleeve. He flicked the lights on as he got to the stairway to the basement, whilst glancing at the clock above the fridge. Wow, nearly 11:30am? He must have been quite out of it, last night! Like a child running downstairs to open his Christmas presents, Quintaine flew down the stairs at a mile a minute. He nearly tripped, but steadied himself against the wall to regain his footing. Two unfortunate bumps in the one morning would mean it was set to be a bad day. He didn't like that. He favoured good luck for his older days. Today would be a good day, he knew. Everything would get back on track after today. He'd find a way to convince the Institute to keep him aboard, he'd buy a new guinea pig for Bethany, he'd earn his income again, pay the bills, send the improved Bethany back to school and watch as the accolades directed at him and his baby flowed in. She could get offered extensions! Skipping of year levels! Scholarships! The kind of girl who parents would kill to have as their child. In his hurried state, Quintaine failed to see the irony in such a statement. Things could be worse for him, though. There was no risk of being caught if things went to plan. He would have to deal with Bethany's old body and the clones, but the new one would be indiscernable from the original. Better than having her hunted down by the authorities and treated as a freak of nature. It reminded him of recent news from Japan, where there were claimed outbreaks of a rare genetic mutation amongst newborn female girls. Most of which, for some undisclosed reason, were captured by the authorities, quarantined and (according to some rumours) either killed or kept for testing. What kind of mutation could cause such a stir? Quintaine would have loved to have known just what that was all about, but now simply was not the time.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs and feeling remarkably chipper, Quintaine burst into the basement, nearly tripped on some strewn-out cables, and reached the final door. Upon the keypad he entered the word 'Katelyn' and the door beeped obediently. It slid aside, and he was thankful to be greeted by a scene that was not one of anarchy and some form of destruction, unlike last time. The machine still stood, untouched, from last time. Within, all three clones including the one he was altering, remained motionless. He licked his lips. This was the moment of truth, then. If even the slightest problem had occurred, that first clone would probably not look like its 'sisters' anymore, and perhaps may not have even been in one piece. But there it was. Safe and sound. And according to the life readings beside its respective tube, it was very much alive. He clapped his hands together joyously. May genetics be praised! It had WORKED! He saw to his side the motionless body of his daughter, and he whispered, "I am not sorry. Not when I can do this for you now." His declaration was marked with a solemn nod. Bethany would be granted a newer, better body, with greater abilities. She would be everything she could not be before. She would turn from his little angel into his little goddess. A perfect child. No need for freak radiation spills, performance enhancers, Chemical X or bites from tiny super-spiders. Bethany would live her life being none the wiser. Quintaine didn't care if he took the secret to his grave. Bethany would be happy with who she was. He understood why some people saw cloning as more of a moral dilemma than a humanitarian one. But it was no dilemma when he was in control. On the contrary, it felt damn good. He didn't notice that the purple orchid flower that used to be on Bethany's headband was no longer attached.
The Professor likewise didn't notice that it was now, literally, floating through the air nearby, spinning very slowly as though in the vaccuum of space.
He decided that the time was now, and turned toward the computer and began to move toward before freezing as he saw something rather peculiar. He had a clipboard. An old one, a dark green in colour, that he kept his rough notes in. He usually left it beside the PC monitor, as he had done last night. There was just one problem: the clipboard was no longer sitting on the desk where he left it. Rather, it was floating, motionless apart from a slow axis rotation, about half a metre off the floor beside it. Quintaine blinked. Had he fully woken up yet? Surely the adrenaline rush of waking up his little girl would have sent his exhaustion packing in case the 12 hours of sleep he had received hadn't done so already. He moved slowly toward the floating clipboard, as though it were a venomous snake ready to strike. Was he only picturing this? Was this actually happening? As he got closer, he could see it was not being held up by anything. Indeed, it was just... floating! All on its own! What gives? His hand reached out to touch it. His fingers quivered. He had never seen anything like this. Was this a trick? His finger, bony and wrinkled with age, over-use and years of stress and nailbiting, tapped the thin and ageing leather of the folder.
As soon as he touched it, the clipboard dropped to the floor with a clatter as though someone had just hit the 'On' switch for gravity. He stepped back a pace, confused. Whatever had held the folder in place had been disrupted by his slightest touch. Astounding! He was about to pick up the dossier from the floor when he heard a sudden beeping from the PC's old and crackly built-in speakers. He turned in sudden alarm, and saw the whooshing starfield screensaver. Grunting in disappointment at having to go over there and see for himself, he sat down amidst another flurry of shrill beeps and knocked the grey and dirty old mouse. The screen he left last night came up in front of him. At once, his eyes which reflected what the monitor showed him widened and his face paled. His hand clattered around the desk and found his thin, wire-frame spectacles, which he brought to his eyes and put on. Indeed, he was not seeing things. He didn't know what to feel, but the first sensation that tore through him was utter horror. Upon the screen, which showed the DNA readout from last time, highlighted segments of so many different colours flashed. Segments that were NOT there last night. The helix spun before him, the chain almost unrecogniseable from before. What the hell had he done? Then he remembered palming the keyboard and mashing no less than a dozen buttons at once. Had he set off a cascade of radiation doses that had caused some sort of terrible atom-sized catastrophe all throughout her body? He couldn't see the altered segments of her DNA that determined her brainpower, for example. In fact, he couldn't see ANY of the altered segments anymore. What he did see, however, were what appeared to be fragments of the old outer helix coils of sugars and other chemicals littering the middle of the chain where the base pair links crossed. Broken base pairs floated around aimlessly as strange new base pairs had formed in place of what had broken away, whilst the outer coils had began to reshape themselves back into the original spiral as though forming scabs over wounds. What had he DONE!? What.... had he...
Wait.... that wasn't genetic debris... in fact, even as he watched, he saw another segmented nucleotide break off from one of the two coils and slowly drift toward the large collection of remnants that formed a train of waste down the middle of the helix. As he watched this, the same sort of action was taking place in many millions, possibly billions of other cells throughout the clone's little body. The remnant drifted into a gap between two others and, to his utter astonishment, locked in with the rest. Then, like watching the shattering of a glass tube in rewind, each piece drew together to form a thick, solid, absolutely straight chain of proteins down the centre of the helix, interlocking with the base pairs and phosphates and separated segments seamlessly and without any complication. Quintaine nearly fainted. He looked up at the girl in the tank in time to see her wince. This would have been... uncomfortable to say the least, but the magnitude of what was going on was frightening him. The beeping wasn't an alarm of warning, it was a signal that genetic rearrangement was completing itself! But... this was nothing like he had pictured. The third nucleotide strand travelled the length of the DNA coil down the very centre, the two outer spirals twirling around it like two staircases built around a central column. Then, most remarkably of all, Quintaine saw the gaps where the fragments had broken away slowly closing as a new nucleotide grew in its place, its bases stretching out like yearning arms to embrace the new, central shaft. This child... this amazing child.... she was HEALING her own DNA! And through some sort of... freak circumstance... he had done the impossible! Conquered the theoretical! Torn apart the double helix and rebuilt it on its own into a new design. One that could do unspoken wonders! Her body looked perfectly fine! But her genetics were... indescribable! It was a new new species, almost! A unique layout! Three polymer strands! The first of its kind!
A triple helix.
Breathless, Quintaine looked up again, "She... she must be! She must be ready! She can heal her own DNA, so if she can do that, then she'd surely be able to-" he bumped into the side of his desk, smacking his knee into it and causing him to wince in pain. He hobbled forward toward the control panel on the side of the machine. "Worked... you WORKED for me!" he cried in delight, shedding tears. But now the true and final test. He pushed a giant red button with his thumb and from deep within the machine came a loud hiss. Almost at once, the artificial tube that connected the clone to the machine wriggled like a like viper before detaching completely, cutting the connection from machine to child with its inbuilt blade as tiny robotic arms on the tube's mouth stitched up the hole it left, turning it into a bellybutton. The viscous fluids began to drain slowly downward and as it did, so too did the body descend, still curled up and frail. Quintaine didn't see the floating flower nearby drop to the floor. As the last of the fluids drained away, the base of the silo opened up and spilled forth a disgusting soup of fluid onto the floor like serum from a uterus. With it came the body of the child, spat out onto the cold metal floor face down, her body uncurling and her hair falling across her face. Quintaine wanted to go to her. He wanted to pick her up and carry her just like the day she had been truly born. But he had to be sure she was even alive first. He waited for a sign. Any sign. A gasp for air. A cry of pain, hunger or longing. Or perhaps- yes! Her hand curled into a fist and she pushed herself up with her arms as though awaking from a long slumber. A barely audible moan came from her. Almost as soon as she had begun to get up, however, she slipped on the fluids that covered her naked body and fell to the floor again, smashing her face against it. Very much convinced that she was alive, Quintaine ran to her, stooped down and scooped her up in his arms. His knee still ached like crazy but he ignored it. He brushed the hair out of her eyes and took in the sight of her angelic face, her mouth only slightly open, her nose just as it had always been, and her eyes still closed. Her eyelashes were glazed with the sticky goo from the machine, so he gently wiped them clean. Her cheek was bruised from hitting the floor but before his eyes the bruise seemed to fade as though healed already. She must not have hit hard, then. "Beth... Bethany... can you open your eyes?"
Her eyes began to drift open but the moment her eyelashes parted they clamped shut again and she jerked her head to the side in a sign of obvious discomfort. Another moan of displeasure accompanied it. Her eyes had not adjusted to the light yet. It would take a moment, at least. In her nakedness she had never before seemed so beautiful. Her body had much growing to do in the next five years. He noticed that there was no mark left on her navel where the device had cut and repaired the cord. Those little robotic arms must have done a great job. Her little legs kicked out, longing to support her weight. He took her hand in his and helped her to her feet, trying to clean the gunk from her auburn hair. She stumbled to her feet, looking delicate and flimsy, but at last she managed to stand, bringing her hands to her eyes and rubbing. Quintaine stood back, marvelling. She was alive! Despite everything... she was alive! He glanced at the body on the test bed and then back to the little baby clone before him. Which one was now Bethany? He noticed that her chest was not rising and falling with the intake and exhaling of air. Perhaps she was breathing too rapidly for it to be noticeable, as would be the case when your lungs were brand new. Her hands lowered from her face after a moment, but her eyes remained shut. Crouching a little, eager for his girl to see her papa once again, he spoke to her.
"Open your eyes, baby. Your daddy wants to see those gorgeous eyes."
Bethany's head instead lowered, her fringe now covering her face almost down to her button nose. Quintaine spoke a little firmer bu no less lovingly.
"Bethy, open your eyes."
Bethany's head lifted up slowly. This time, she obeyed. Slowly, at first, she let her eyelids part and her eyes adjust to the sensation of light. She turned a little, still very uncomfortable with it all. But then she lifted her head, and as a show of obedience, her eyes fully opened for her father. At that moment, Quintaine felt a tingle of absolute dread race down his spine in a mad dash from brain to tailbone. His breathing caught in his throat as he stared at the girl in front of him, and his face again paled by several shades. He could even feel his fingers trembling. Where he had expected to see two gorgeous orbs of the well-loved Quintaine sapphire-blue, he was instead met with something stunning. Mystifying. Horrifying. Instead of sapphire jewels, Bethany stared up at him with twin orbs of a blistering ruby colour. The colour of blood and passion. So stunning were those new eyes. Yet, at the same time... so terrible were they to witness.
'Why do you act so scared?' came a voice that made him jump. He glanced around, not sure where the voice came from. 'See? You're frightened! Tell me why." it asked of him, gently and without any sense of malice. His heart was beating so fast he thought it would explode and his breath was barely reaching his lungs at all. But a moment later, he realised. The voice was that of Bethany's. And it was singing in his head instead of from her lips. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. This little girl.... psychic? She glanced at his knee, 'You're hurt. Pain's no fun. I'll make it better, watch."
Quintaine felt his knee, the one he hit on the desk, start to feel pleasantly warm as though a hot water bottle had been pressed against it. Then, when the heat subsided, so did the aching. He didn't know how, but Bethany had just healed him. This would take much explaining, "You... you're incredible!" he admitted, flustered.
The girl smiled, 'Do you think s- AGH!' her scream came with such suddenness that Quintaine, too, yelped in momentary agony. The girl doubled over, clutching her stomach as her eyes went so wide that they threatened to leave her sockets and fall to the ground. Her mouth hung open and her pupils dilated as though she were being strangled. Another scream, this time coming from her mouth, following by ragged coughing. Quintaine, mortified, was frozen to the spot. What was happening?? A trickle of blood dripped off the girl's tongue and to the floor, but no more droplets followed. A moment later, she stood upright, blinked, narrowed her eyes a little and became calm once again. She glanced to the side, where she saw a rack of cloak hooks, one of which was holding a white labcoat. Quintaine noticed her attention to it, and nodded.
"Uh... of course, you're cold... here, I'll get it for you, sweetie-" but before he had even set off the fetch it for her, he saw the coat lift off the hook on its own and float through the air toward her. Quintaine quivered again, too petrified to move or talk. Bethany raised her arms outward and closed her crimson eyes as the coat slipped itself around her, her small arms disappearing into the sleeves. The buttons even did themselves up. She stood there in silence as he stared at her, clothed in nothing but an oversized laboratory coat and acting as though the way she put it on was child's play. "H-How.... how did you do that?"
Bethany tipped her head, and that voice that came from everywhere at once asked 'Do wha....... do wha.... wha....' those eyes widened again and her asphyxiated expression returned. She stared into his eyes with a look of pure horror. Then, screaming mentally and vocally, she doubled over again, dropping to her knees and clutching her stomach as tears fell from her eyes. She gasped and coughed and gurgled between shrieks of mortal agony as though being pierced with a thousand white-hot scimitars. She looked up for a moment through one half-opened eye, teeth clenched. The look on her face was almost one of reserved fury. But... fury toward him? Quintaine moved forward, wanting to help. But he felt himself slam into something solid and was knocked backward. Bethany screamed again, as though the pain came on and off. Was this her body's way of reacting to the extreme genetic differences? Already she had exhibited some incredible characteristics: she preferred to communicate mentally rather than with spoken words, she could somehow notice and heal at least minor phsyical injuries, and... her eyes were red. But was her body paying some sort of ultimate price? Or was it still reshaping itself? Did the multitude of cells within her body that were rearranging themselves hurt more than the most fiendish hell anyone could possibly imagine? Judging by her reaction, it hurt even more than that. Quintaine was horrified. His little girl was dying... again. She looked up, again looking afflicted yet furious, 'What did you DO!?' she screamed in his head as she continued to vocally wail and cry.
"I gave you what you always wanted!" Quintaine told her, having to yell both over her physical and mental barrage, "In bringing you back, I have you a body that could fulfill your every wish!"
Bethany's head lowered again, her eyes strained and bloodshot. The coat around her little body suddenly shredded itself, unravelling into fibrous strands that seemed to disintegrate in some invisible hurricane of conflicting, unseeable storm of psionic power. He'd heard about psychics and how dangerous they could be. But a psychic in pain could not normally use their power! Yet... none of them were born with a triple helix, for they were born normally but with a heightened sense of the subconscious. What he had done here... had broken every boundary the human genome and human body had ever set. She stopped crying out for a moment, 'So... you did this!?' she actually started getting to her feet. The gunk coating her body had someho vaporised itself, for her body was dry now, 'YOU did this to me!' she screamed.
"No! Bethany, please!" he called out. He knew this would be troublesome. He was actually begging to a naked ten year old girl. His daughter, of all people, "Let me help you! Something went a bit wrong but I know you and I can work through this. I did this for you because I love you and I want you to live the best life you can!"
Bethany raised her head, no longer showing anything but bitter fury on that haunting face. Her crimson eyes burned, 'SHUT UP!' she mindscreamed at him. Quintaine extended his arms in a sign of goodwill. Bethany instead tried to shrink away, wanting none of it. His mind could hear the storm coming from her, raging in his own head as well as hers. His breathing was sporadic, and he shook his head.
"Please! Stop this! I'm your father, Bethany!"
'You call me by that name...' she glowered. She didn't seem to be in pain anymore. But her face showed nothing but a morbid hatred, 'The name you gave your daughter. Your daughter is there!' she informed him, 'And I am not her! You call me her name but you don't know me! You can't know me! You're nothing like me, you have no idea of knowing what I am!' she wailed. Tears were forming in her eyes, 'You gave me something I cannot control... you gave me this... pain... you did this to me! YOU did! WHY WOULD A FATHER DO THIS TO HIS OWN CHILD!?'
"Because.... because... I love you and wanted you to be perfect."
'YOU! DON'T! LOVE! ME!' she screamed, bringing her hands to her head and screaming both in thought and voice again. The PC monitor's cabled snapped before it was flung across the room to smash into the far wall. Her screams continued a moment longer before they died down again and she whimpered. She sank to her knees and snivelled. 'You don't... no, you don't...' she mindmuttered, traumatised by whatever it was that she could hear, see, feel and think. Something on a level Quintaine could never understand, not even as the closest person to her.
"What.... what have I done....?" he murmured as a tear fell from his eyes. His gaze rose to the machine behind his agonised little girl. Still two clones left. Perhaps he could try again, and get things right.
He heard a chuckling coming from the floor and looked down. Bethany's shoulders were jiggling a bit as she giggled. A childish giggle. A playful giggle. But Quintaine didn't like the sound of it. Then she looked up. She had a smile on her face. She tilted her head as she mindspoke 'You're thinking about those two girls behind me, aren't you?' she asked. Quintaine's breath caught in his throat again and his heart skipped a beat. T....Telepathy? 'You're scared now... you're afraid of me... and you think that you can get rid of me and instead try again and create another little girl who you will never understand.' she was giggling a lot, her mental voice overlapping and sounding most strange when heard together, 'Oh you... if you really loved your Bethany, you would have let her stay dead.' Suddenly, his still-extended arms wrenched out to the sides as though hung upon a crucifix. Terrified, Quintaine tried to jerk his arms away but what felt like iron shackles clamped him in place, not letting him go. He was bound to the spot by forces he could not see. Forces coming from the little monster before him. That helix had done this. That freakish triple helix. What kind of lifeform was this!? Bethany approached him slowly, her naked body graceful in her steps. Then she paused for a moment, smiling and looking down toward his waist. Quintaine felt a strange jerking sensation coming from around the area of his pants, and he looked down as best he could from his precarious spot. It was his belt. And it was coming undone!
The belt snaked out through the loops of the trousers and floated out toward Bethany buckle-first. She was smiling to herself like she would do when playing with Squiggles. As it reached her, the belt suddenly snapped tight, being pulled from both ends by invisible hands and hanging there for a moment. Then, the buckle separated into little silver pieces, breaking apart into the smaller segments that made up the whole. The rest of the leather peeled apart like banana skins before turning into an ash-like powder that fell to the floor. Bethany looked up at Quintaine as the little buckle pieces spun around playfully before her, 'I think I'm getting the hang of this!' she beamed as the buckle pieces likewise disintegrated in the air before her. Suddenly, like a gust of wind blowing past, Quintaine felt something slam into and through him as the front of his grey pyjama top tore open, exposing his front but leaving his unbuttoned labcoat untouched.
"Bethany, what are you doing!?"
'You hurt me!' she told him sincerely, 'You said you loved me but that's a lie! You wanted to get rid of me and try again as if I don't matter! I can see so much! Feel so much! I can do so many things you can't even begin to imagine, 'Father'!' she smiled. A sad smile. 'But... I cannot share those things with you. All you did was hurt me. And now... I need...' she broke off. She didn't need to say anything more, anyway. Her eyes narrowed very slightly.
Quintaine felt an odd itching on his left, one that grew and grew and grew. He could not scratch it, for his arms were bound. The itch quickly turned into an irritating pain, one that throbbed and stabbed at him as though stung by a wasp. He didn't know what was happening but it felt as though the side of his face was about to catch fire. Another itch built up on his right cheek before it, too, started to burn. Bethany was smiling cutely. Another itching/burning sensation, this one much larger, began upon his midriff at the base of his ribcage. This one he could look at, so he lowered his head. "AAAAGH!" he screamed as he saw his skin breaking out into large welts that were rapidly multiplying across his skin. More itching and burning, this time on his hands, as his left cheek suddenly seared with a pain he had never felt before. The contusions were growing, expanding, almost bubbling up like dermal volcanoes about to erupt. He wanted to scream but couldn't. The pain on his cheeks started travelling outwards as he closed his eyes to the excruciating agony. But the pain disappeared from the point where it began from, so he felt that area of his mouth with his tongue. Only... his tongue could not find any flesh to touch. He opened his eyes for a moment, the pain so intense he was going numb. He glanced down at his midsection, and then at his hands. The wounds were moving outwards and as they did so, the skin was bubbling as though splashed with acid, and his skin was literally corroding away.
Bethany grinned, glad to be in some form of control. She felt no pain now. Perhaps the only way to avoid it was to give pain to others. Her father tried to scream again as his craned his neck back. He would not be able to do so much longer. The skin of his face melted and peeled away, revealing muscles and tendons and bone beneath. His veins clogged up and his blood solidified as his skin tore away, and a moment later he made no more sound. His grizzly, skinless body looked like a mass of reds and browns and various other fleshy colours clothed in a labcoat and pants which were becoming stained with blood that had managed to spill. She had no idea exactly what she was doing, only that it felt good and she wanted to do more. She saw the still-beating heart beneath the ribcage. She kept it beating, for it was the part she was looking forward to. She could see every cell of his body experiencing the agony she perscribed to them, and she could choose to simply end it here if she wished. But no. She had felt pain so great that killing this human now would seem merciful. Instead, she reached out with her mind and took his heart within her mental hands. She had no desire of dragging this out. She simply wanted her morbid pleasure. So she held nothing back.
With the violence of a grenade, the man's heart exploded into fleshy chunks that flew outward, tearing the ribcage apart and splashing Bethany with a torrent of red fluids. The muscles on his body one by one began to swell. Arms, legs, torso, back, all began to grow larger and larger. One by one they split apart and exploded with the same violence as the heart, sending popcorn-like chunked of bloodied flesh everywhere as Bethany's tiny, naked body was drenched in her father's own internal liquids. His internal organs began to melt into a soup-like mess that cascaded to the floor in a multicoloured ooze. She wasn't smiling anymore. She just stared blankly ahead, eyes glazed over. The last of the muscles peeled away as the glasses that rested upon the bloodied skull cracked and turned into dust. The eyeballs turned into a sloppy juice that melted out of the sockets and left them empty. The filthy skeleton that remained turned from bone-white to charcoal-grey in a matter of moments, the jaw twisting into a silent scream as the teeth wore away and either crumbled or fell out. Then, with a final telekinetic thrust, the body was thrown backwards into the far wall. The skeleton smashed into it, a metre or so above the ground. Instantly the bones disintegrated into powder as the clothing remnants fell with it, hitting the ground and coming to rest in a sooty jumble. Bethany blinked, snapping out of it. She blinked again, shaking her head a little. What had just happened? She looked down at her hands and the rest of her body. Her shoulders, her arms, her tiny breasts, her stomach, her waist, her legs, her feet... all of it was covered in a sticky red fluid. 'D-Dad?' she mindwhispered, realising. The man who had given her life... given her this pain... was he dead now? She couldn't remember when she gave into the power that felt so good. But she knew that it was over now, and she would be seeing him again. She glanced at the clones behind her. Were they a threat? No... they couldn't have been. They were... just like her. Were they designed to feel this? To see what she could see? She blinked, the vastness of the basement world around her disappearing for a fraction of an instant before it returned. Her eyes fell upon the testbed nearby. Bethany's body. Her own self... wait, no, it wasn't her... it was... someone else, who had... who was the basis for... 'Dammit...' she mindmumbled. A throbbing pain in her stomach began to build. She never really had control at all. What kind of superior life was this even supposed to be?
She moved to the head of the table, where she stared down at the half-blackened, half-untouched face of her forebearer. It was herself... yet she was so different. Living in that body of a regular ten year old, she never would have felt the way she now felt. She had moved on. But at great cost. She could see the world around her so easily, so diversely. Atomically. Molecularly. Cellularly. She had torn apart her father piece by piece, block by miniscule block, and it seemed so easy... but in seeing so much, she was blinded... and she wished to see in the way this little dead girl would have seen. She absent-mindedly brought her hand to the girl's face, touching her on her unhurt side. As though an electric current passed between the two of them, she jolted as, once again beyond her control, something left he and entered the corpse. And then she almost wanted to scream as, all of a sudden, the dead girl's eyes flew open, two bright blue shining orbs, and she took a gasping breath of air. That breath was released as a scream a moment later when she saw what was standing over her. She scrambled to her knees and spun around, looking at the red-eyed girl directly.
"WHO ARE YOU!?" screamed Bethany.
'I... uh...' mindmumbled Bethany.
"Why are you covered in blood?" Bethany asked.
'Wha...' Bethany whispered, through her thoughts and her mouth.
Bethany brought her hands to her ears, "Stop talking like that!" she screamed, "Why do you look like me!? What's going on!? Where's Daddy!?"
'Don't yell!' urged Bethany. There could not be two. It was impossible. There had to be some sort of mistake! How did she just... wake up? Did... did she do that herself?
"You look like me but with creepy eyes!" cried Bethany, "I'm Bethany, though!"
'No, I'm Bethany! The PROPER Bethany! The one you cannot be!' was the response that made the blue-eyed girl cringe.
"You're scaring me!" she cried, "I want Daddy!"
'Daddy won't come for us....'
"Stop talking like that! I'll scream! I'll do it!" she warned.
'Shut up, there's been a-'
"STOPPIT!" Bethany yelled, "JUST STOPPIT!"
'I can't believe I was such a pain!' Bethany grumbled, 'Will you just-" Against Bethany's demands, Bethany let out a high-pitched wail that even from this basement room would probably alert the neighbours. But the red-eyed girl couldn't stand it as this arrogant little corpse come to life was trying her patience. Unable to stand the point-blank screaming any longer, one hand wrapped around the wailing girl's mouth whilst the other seized her head. She clamped her hand over the girl's lips to try and keep her quiet. Again, something jolted between them like an electric shock, only this time it felt as though something was passing from the overall-wearing sapphire-eyed child into the body of the nude, blood-drenched red-eyed version. For a moment after, nothing happened as they just stared intently at each other. Then the blue-eyed Bethany gave a horrified gasp as her eyes flew wide again. Then, between red Bethany's hands, her head began to disintegrate, 'Shit! No!'
Those horrified eyes and the rest of Bethany's body distorted before breaking apart like trillions of tiny dandelion buds blowing away in a strong breeze, vaporising into the air and leaving the remaining girl standing and staring at her own two bloodied hands. The empty, ripped orange t-shirt and the dirtied overalls flopped back onto the testbed, devoid of a wearer, as the last of the pinkish flecks of her body dissipated. Bethany stumbled backwards, deathly silent. Not even her body in its melting pot of random bursts of agony decided to interrupt the fatal soundlessness. She stared at her hands, still soaked with the fluid that so very clearly matched her eyes. She was drenched. She had lost control of herself, given in to whatever it was that fuelled her hatred against the man who brought her back in such a wretched, haphazard body that hadn't even come close to settling itself down. She had picked him apart, piece by piece, and to her... to her it felt good. She wasn't breathing, for she did not have to. She could feel the independecy of every cell in her body as though each was a member of a huge, collective commonwealth. She didn't feel hungry, either. 'What.... what kind of creature am I?' she asked herself, staring in horror at the pool of body fluids that had spilled there not long before. But if that hadn't been enough... she had destroyed her previous self after first giving her life again. She didn't mean for it to happen... it just... did! And something passed between them for a moment just before those sapphire eyes turned to dust... something even she could not understand. She was a stranger to her own self. A baby in an adult world. She bumped into the machine that spat her forth, and slumped onto her bottom, her hands still in front of her, covered in the remnants of the man who made it possible. Was that gratitude? Better to be alive but in a cursed body than to be dead, right? Right?
She couldn't answer. She was too paralysed by the extent of her own unwillingness to comprehend herself and what she had just done. She didn't know whether to like it or to hate it. She didn't even know who she was anymore. She was not Bethany. Bethany was dead. And there were two more people like her, trapped in those containers, just waiting to be released. She was not Bethany. She was something else. Something more, quite obviously. But did she want it? Or would it have been better to have died and stayed dead. Perhaps, with time, she could answer herself. Her father had done this to her. And she had killed in response. Did that make her even worse than he was? She found herself almost laughing at the irony that, in her old body, these sorts of questions would have been to complicated to even think about. Was this how humans treated others like her? Did they consider her as less than a person and just another experiment? Did he deliberatedly make her this way? Did he know the agony it would cause her? I he did... then perhaps what she did was the right thing. And humanity was no better than he was, then. How would she survive in such a world? Her head began to ache. It was too early to be thinking. It just confused her more. All she saw right now were her hands, covered in blood. Her legs, her body, covered in blood. 'Who am I?' she asked, as the pain that nearly choked her began to rise inside again. Blood....... Blood.....
Story by: Matt Gridley