“Dr Erika West beginning experiment forty-seven of Project Azoth. Attempt twenty-three with Specimen Eldritch. Single subject; male, albino laboratory mouse. Commencing with matter collection from the specimen’s right lung.”
Erika stopped the dictaphone with a click before setting it down on the tool tray. Her latex-covered fingers drifted towards a scalpel, newly cleaned and gleaming under the spotlight. For a moment she hesitated, hovering over the other tools one by one, before picking the scalpel up and turning her attention to the table.
What lay there was at least seven feet tall, composed of stringy flesh stretched over muscle, tendons, and organs like cobwebs. It was pale; every inch was a different shade of white, cream and even grey in patches. On the right was an arm and a leg, the leg splitting in two at the knee, fingers and toes ending in pointed, nail-less tips. On the left two arms jutted from the shoulder, while the leg was composed of a twisting mass of tentacles. At the top was a bulbous head cleaved down to the neck, the gaping wound bridged by thin strands of cartilage. Both halves were featureless except for an eye, surrounded by needle-thin spikes and staring at her sightlessly.
Erika stared back, then returned her attention to the scalpel.
She moved its tip to one of the shoulders, piercing the stringy skin then moving down to the creature’s chest. There was a little resistance against the blade, requiring more pressure than if she was cutting human flesh, but she was able to slice up to the other shoulder, then down to the pelvis. Once the Y incision was complete, she put down the scalpel, fingers now wrapping around a pair of forceps. It took a few pairs to hold the skin open, some parts beginning to stitch together even as she did so. Her tongue clicked in frustration, but at last the torso was exposed, and she again picked up the dictaphone.
“Regeneration is still present but lessens upon separation. Preparing to extract the right lung.”
She instinctively moved towards the rib cutters; that would be next in a normal procedure. Yet just as her fingertips grazed the instrument, she stopped. There were no ribs here, or bones of any kind. Skin and cartilage were all that held the insides… inside.
“Twenty-three attempts and I still forget every time.”
Instead she picked up a pair of scissors and another pair of forceps, using the latter to carefully grip a large, yellowish lung. Her hand trembled with the weight as she pulled, slipping the scissors into the gap. Slowly she snipped and snipped the connecting tissue. It took longer than the initial incision; while the tissue was easier to cut it fused together far quicker. She bit her lip, toes tapping as she worked.
At last the organ was separated. By now her forcep hand ached and trembled, struggling to keep her grip on the lung. The scissors were dropped to free her other hand, banging off the table and hitting the ground with a loud clatter.
“Fuck.” She cursed. “This is where an assistant would come in handy.”
As if in answer to her muttering, something stroked her hand. She didn’t flinch, only narrowing her eyes as she watched a small tendril of tissue wiggling two and fro. The tissue stretched out from the left lung, a brighter yellow than the rest. Erika glanced at the other organs, seeing similar tendrils all squirming free of their fleshy beds. It was fascinating to watch, like seeing a tadpole growing its legs, and Erika found herself entranced.
But a dull ache in her wrist brought her back to reality; the lung was heavier than it looked.
She carried the lung to a workbench set a few paces away. It gave a wet thump as it was dropped into a silver tray, close to another set of gleaming tools, three syringes (two empty, one full of green liquid) and beakers full of various solutions. There was also a cage, currently housing a small white mouse. The little rodent gave a squeak at the sounds being made but became still soon after, watching her through tiny pink eyes.
Erika paused, walking back to the operating table to grab her dictaphone.
“Matter showing sentience in a condition not previously observed. Memo; consult with colleague at first opportunity.”
The detached lung had already begun growing tendrils of its own. It even started rocking back and forth in the tray, forcing Erika to hold it with one hand while another pushed an empty syringe into its centre. The organ stopped rocking, shuddering for several moments before growing still as a statue. She released the plunger, watching the syringe fill with a thick, milky substance. Once it was full she moved to a beaker, half-full with a bright blue solution, and squeezed three droplets out of the syringe. They clouded in the blue, zig zagging as she gave the mixture a stir before dispensing some into one of the empty syringes.
The dictaphone clicked to life once more.
“Matter successfully extracted and added to the protein solution. Preparing to inject the subject.”
A loud squeak erupted from the mouse as the needle approached it. Using a small flap on the other side of the cage, Erika slipped her hand inside and grabbed the flailing rodent, forcing it still the needle pierced its side. There was a moment of silence, broken only by short squeaks from the now twitching mouse.
Erika removed the needle, then began counting.
“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one. Goodnight little one.”
The green syringe went in next, quickly sinking it into the white fur. A slight squelching noise sounded behind her, but she ignored it, removing her hands from the cage and stepping back.
The mouse started convulsing.
Its tiny body heaved, clinging to the floor of the cage with pain-filled squeals as it coughed. The mouse suddenly grew still, causing Erika to frown as she tapped the workbench.
Then the mouse wretched, bringing up a thick clump of bile and organs.
“Subject appears to be deceased; there is no visible sign of regeneration or sentience. Conclusion… failure. Again.”
You will hear the song soon.
The voice was layered, as if two people were speaking at once, and filled every corner of the laboratory.
“I told you before,” She began, rolling her eyes as she turned back towards the table. “you can’t speak while I’m recording. You’ll corrupt it.”
A throaty, high-pitched chuckled from the creature now sitting upright, running one of their left hands across the mass of organs still spilling out from their torso. The two halves of their head swayed independently of each other, various small slits splitting open along the neck which moved up and down as they spoke, We cannot help that the waves do not like us. They get confused.
“Well confused waves equals” Click. “a tainted record.”
Several of the mouths crinkled together in what she could only assume was a pout. No need to be cross. We were quiet during the cutting.
They started folding their torso skin together, using another hand to keep the organs in place while the pale flesh stitched itself up. Erika sighed, walking over to help remove the forceps still grasping some parts.
“You know El, that’s the first time I’ve seen them show sentience while still attached.” El cocked the left half of its head. “Your insides were wriggling.” She explained.
Hehe, we think they get confused as well. They become exposed to air and think it is time to walk. But they do not have the key to leave… all they can do is tug at the doorknob.
“They never did it before.”
Some exits take time to find.
The forceps clattered loudly into the tray. “Interesting, I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on that. Meanwhile we need to try and figure out what needs to be adjusted next time.” Erika walked over to the workbench, running a viscera-stained glove through her hair. “Alright, I’ll keep a few samples of this mixture on hold to examine later. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing with main solution. Or I could be ignoring something… something from the previous… we could use multiple subjects for the next one. Assuming Croft doesn’t limit my animal access again… the miserable old grouch.” Her fingers tapped the surface of the bench, watching the mouse corpse. “I was sure I had it right this time.”
Your skin is darker.
Her brows creased. “Considering my relationship with the sun is non-existent I highly doubt that. Unless they’ve added UV lights in… here…”
Erika had turned to see two pale fingers barely a millimetre from her eyes. She could almost feel the tips grazing them. Her limbs grew stiff, and she felt her breath beginning to rattle unsteadily. But after a few moments they moved down, touching the lids underneath.
Here. and here. Darker.
“Huh? Oh… ha-ha, I understand you now. No they’re just bags.” She moved the fingers away from her face. “It’s a sign that I’m tired. I haven’t been able to sleep much.”
El watched her, quiet for a moment before wrapping their fingers around hers.
“Because I’ve been doing this for nearly a year and even with your help… I haven’t been able to make a real breakthrough.” She could feel the crack in her voice before she heard it. Years of keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself went out the window whenever the two of them talked; El had a knack for getting her to say exactly what was on her mind. “I need results from this if I’m ever going to move on to human trials. With my funding getting slashed, no extra hands available and Croft putting me on the bacterial squad, plus having to keep you under wraps… it’s a lot to think about. And thinking about it frazzles my brain, which leads to lack of sleep. Hence the bags.” The right half of their head twisted slightly, then they let go of her hand and walked back over to the operating table. “What now?”
You said we cannot go in because you need to be clear. Yet you allow this madness. It is unfair.
“I’m not sure I’d call my life’s work madness… even if this experiment does fit the mad scientist gig.”
It affects your mind. It makes your body weak. It keeps you on edge. We have seen a great deal of madness, and we see it now in you.
Erika sighed again. “El I can’t avoid this stress. This is what I have dedicated my life to, making it a permanent part of my existence. It’s the madness I can handle. You… you’re a lot more intense.” She cocked her head, giving a half smile. “And you know that, otherwise you wouldn’t wait for my permission.”
We know. But it is unfair.
“Are you jealous of my stress?” El didn’t answer, instead idly playing with a single loose scrap of skin. “Look, most of my stress comes from lack of results. When we make the next breakthrough, I will feel much better… maybe even enough for you to go in. But there’s a lot more work before then and I need your help to get there. Ok?”
El glanced at her, some of the needle-points around the eyes scrunching together before giving a nod. She smiled, turning back towards the bench and starting to pull off her gloves.
Can we use this again?
El was holding a small stryker saw, the wire dangling down.
“The stryker saw is for bones. You don’t have bones. I told you this before.”
It tickles though.
Erika opened her mouth to respond but they were both cut off by a loud banging outside the door. She dropped her gloves and walked over to the door, raising onto her tiptoes to look through the glass. A group of security guards were bringing a large set of boxes while an older male scientist signed a clipboard.
“New delivery. Must be the newest specimens. Which I’m not going to see anytime soon unless they’re microscopic. I bet all the other teams are popping open the champagne because they got some new cold capsule off the rack.” She bit her lip, walking back over and turning to stare at the dead mouse. “It works under the microscope… why won’t it work here?”
Why are you so sure this one is a failure? El said, lumbering over to join her by the cage.
“Because nothing has happened.”
Erika turned back, visible confusion contorting her face. “Yet? Your regeneration begins almost immediately, even under the microscope. Why would it be different in a living creature?”
That creature is not alive.
“You know what I mean.”
Not everything works to order. Chaos is a factor.
“Every aspect of the experiment has to be controlled.”
But a discovery is just a form of chaos, is it not? Something otherwise unknown suddenly appearing? Treat it not as something to be controlled but something to be observed. A variable. Erika couldn’t stop herself smiling; more and more El had begun using scientific terminology. It was strangely endearing. We hear the song. It is faint. But it is there. Listen.
She sighed and closed her eyes, trying to listen.
There was the soft hum of the lights and the thud of her own heartbeat, but everything else was silent. She certainly couldn’t hear any ‘song’. Her foot started to tap of its own accord, but she stopped it, aware of El watching her. Odd language aside, she knew they had a better understanding of how this worked than she did. And while the rational part of her brain struggled with patience, there was no doubt she had made far more progress with El’s help than she ever had alone. Sometimes it was better to just go with the flow.
Her eyes flicked over the cage again.
There… a twitch! In the mass of intestines there was a twitch! Then a pulse as the tiniest little tendril made its way through the skin. She leaned even closer, all but pressing her face up against the cage. More tendrils appeared, starting to flex and cling to the bottom. It slowly lifted itself upright, guts and body wobbling. There was no movement from the mouse itself; only the trembling entrails made any motion.
But motion was motion… and motion was good.
“Heh… ha ha-ha. It’s working! It’s actually…” She smiled, genuinely smiled as she watched the little abomination hobbling about. “I can’t believe it.”
Is that a breakthrough?
She turned towards El’s face, watching the two halves flutter together like butterfly wings. “Yes. It’s exactly the breakthrough we needed.” Her eyes started to itch, happy tears threatening to spill at any moment. “Ok, you were right. I guess I’ve got to start treating time as another variable, but at least we have results.”
Does that mean we can go in?
Their voice had an inflection to it, almost begging as they started to move closer to her.
Erika hesitated. “Well… I do still have some work to do. I need to write up the results, clean the equipment…” A pair of tentacles started wrapping around her leg, squeezing slightly as they did so. “… and we need to make sure to lock everything up before the cleaners get here…” Her back was pressed into the workbench. “… you know we can’t let anybody know about you…”
Please. The begging tone was stronger now, pleading as they added We will not break anything. We will keep you wrapped up safe and tight. We will not let you shatter. We promise. Please.
Erika glanced back at the cage.
The little mass of viscera was still shuffling about, blissfully enjoying its newfound mobility. It was what she had been aiming for. Maybe not exactly how she imagined but it still brought her closer to her goal.
Perhaps they did deserve a break.
“Alright… but just for a little bit.”
The many mouths curled into smiles, the eyes glistening with unrestrained joy.
A hand appeared on either side of her face, while both halves of their head leaned forward. One needle point from each eye began to extend. Further and further, they stretched. She took a deep breath, letting El hold her eyelids open as the sharp tips hovered close. They cocked their head, waiting for her to nod before the needles pushed deep into her pupils. Her whole body jerked, feeling them pushing deeper and deeper… all the way through into her brain.
Colours and song overtook her consciousness.
I think this might be a self-indulgent piece… but it might also be a decent concept… I genuinely can’t tell.
It was fun to write.
And I definitely like how it turned out.
Oh well. If you like it then great, if you don’t… nothing will change.