“I’ve got great news. They’ve approved us for human trials!” Kellie shrieked.
“Are you serious!? When? How?” Sheila asked, ripping her eyes away from her computer screen to see if Kellie was serious this time.
“Well, we have to put out some feelers for volunteers so I’m guessing in the next couple of weeks,” Kellie replied, scrolling through her phone’s calendar.
“Ugh, that’s our next problem.” Sheila slammed herself against the back of her chair in a wave of defeat, “Who is going to willingly volunteer for this kind of gig? Especially without some kind of hefty compensation. I mean we basically blew through our budget with last quarter's trial runs.”
Kellie walked over and sat against the cold, hard metal of Sheila’s desk. “Just leave the volunteers to me. I’ve already got a few calls in to the Pentagon and it turns out finding them may be easier than we thought,” Kellie said with a smile. “Besides, we should be celebrating! We wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for your new formula.”
Sheila let out a heavy sigh. She knew Kellie was right. Just a few weeks ago they almost had to shut down the entire project once and for all due to a string of failed trials.
But thanks to Red Bull and bad TV, Sheila was able to pull off a last minute recalculation and every test subject since had been a wild success. So much so that the military was ready to fund the entire future of the project, pending human trials.
“You know what? You’re right, let’s go celebrate!” Sheila said, leaning forward and slamming her laptop shut. “Let me lock down the lab and then we can go grab some drinks.”
Kellie quickly got to her feet, “Works for me. Meet you in the lobby in let’s say, 10? That should give me enough time to freshen up. Never know when you’re gonna to run in to Mr. Right.” Kellie giggled as she strode towards the door in her designer stilettos.
“Yea right. More like Mr. Right Now.” Sheila snickered, stretching her arms over her head to loosen her stiffened muscles.
“Yea, you’re probably right.” Kellie called back, without bothering to turn around. “See you in 10.”
Sheila smiled to herself as she got to her feet and looked around her office. It wasn’t anything special, 4 sterile walls and a tall metal desk adorned with endless piles of paperwork.
Suddenly a familiar feeling of shame began to sweep over her. She was one of the few lab assistants to have her own office and yet looking around no one would ever know who this space belonged to. There were no photos or personal belongings strung about, and no books or accolades on display. The entire room felt as clinical and lonely as she did.
Sheila tried to shake the feeling away as she headed down the stairs towards the first-floor lab.
Growing up in a slew of foster homes meant that she was more accustomed than most to being alone but the feeling still bothered her from time to time. Especially now. She would have loved to share this good news with someone, anyone, but the few friends she did have she lost touch with a long time ago. Her work had taken over her every waking hour which left little time for a social life.
And after all, she wasn’t completely alone, she still had Kellie.
Sheila smiled at the thought, knowing that she had at least a single friend that she could rely on. Even if that friend also happened to be her boss. Especially since Kellie was different from other bosses. She didn’t treat Sheila like a subordinate. Instead, Kellie would include Sheila in all the decision-making processes as if she was a co-leader on the project and not just a lab assistant who happened to provide breakthrough formulas.
It was these acts of kindness and generosity that made Sheila feel like she was all in on this project. It had become her entire life and she was dedicated to seeing it to the end. Which is why it didn’t bother her to stay late on nights like tonight.
Sheila finally approached the lab’s locked door, reaching over to scan her ID. With a quick beep and a hum, the door quickly gave way for Sheila to whisk inside almost completely unnoticed.
Carefully shutting the door behind her, Sheila reached for the light switch and instantly the large room was illuminated in light.
From the outside the lab appeared to be like any other standard lab in the building, with low ceilings and only large enough to fit some equipment and printers in.
However, Sheila’s lab required custom specs that included high ceilings tall enough for the pods to stand comfortably and a large lift door leading to the back docks for equipment to easily come in and out of. The size of the room was also considerably larger, with enough square footage to fit four standard labs inside.
Sheila quickly found her way to the lab’s tablets so she could record the end of the night stats. As she walked around the large specimens, she couldn’t help but begin to feel prideful, thinking about how successful her work had become.
She approached the first pod and gazed up at the large creature floating before her. “Looks like you are my star subject. Stats are good and growth is even better. We’ll have to wait until your pod is drained to see if your brain has restructured correctly but it’s looking good.”
Right as Sheila was turning away the creature suddenly pounded on the glass. “What the…?!” Sheila said out loud, turning back to get a closer look at the subject.
Her heart was pounding and her hair was standing on end as she drew closer. This was the first known case of muscle movement of any kind, let alone such a gross motor movement.
Sheila’s face was almost touching the glass as she tried to get a better look at the creature’s movements, trying to distinguish between the passive floating of its extremities and what could be considered a more intentional act of motion.
She held her breath, waiting for some sign of life. Anything to hint that the creature was more than the next hybrid of strength and valor but was in fact conscious and awake.
The earlier formula didn’t account for the brain’s growth and ended up leaving each and every one of the subjects brain dead in the end. And this movement could mean the difference between success and failure for the entire project.
Sheila stood there, motionless for what felt like an eternity, trying to will the creature to move. However, try as she might it just floated there extended in space and time with no hint as to its awareness of either around it.
Sheila let out a loud sigh, noting the movement in the subject’s file but pondered its significance. She swiftly moved on to the next two pods, hoping for a repeat reaction but neither of them gave any signs of life other than their beeping monitors.
After doing one last check on the subjects, Sheila quickly set down the tablet and headed for the door. She gave one last look behind her before shutting off the lights and heading out.
“There you are!” Kellie yelled from across the lobby. “I thought you bailed again.”
“No, but you’re not going to believe what just happened.” Sheila said, running up to Kellie. “You know subject 237? Well, it may be nothing. I mean I don’t want you getting your hopes up. I can’t really believe it myself…”
“For God’s sake Sheila spit it out!”
“I think subject 237 moved.”
“What do you mean moved?”
“I think it moved. Like intentionally moved.” Sheila said, carefully watching Kellie’s response.
“Drinks are canceled, come with me.” Kellie said, leading the way back to the elevators. “I need to know every detail.”
The two quickly retraced their steps and headed for Kellie’s office as Sheila shared exactly what happened.
“But like I said we won’t know for sure until the treatment’s complete and the pods are drained. But it’s promising right?” Sheila said, following Kellie into her office.
Kellie silently walked over and sat behind her desk, chewing on her lip as she stared out the open window.
“This is exactly what we needed.” Kellie said, finally breaking her silence. “Okay, I need you to go down to the lab and start drainage procedures. I need to make a few quick calls to the Pentagon to let them know we’re ready for the next phase.”
“I’m sorry, what? We still have 5 days left before the treatments are complete. If we drain the pods now the subjects will never survive the pain, we’ll have to put all of them down.” Sheila protested.
“You and I both know that movement made with that amount of force is more than just a passive reflex. The subjects are conscious and aware. That’s all we needed to prove before the Pentagon was willing to drop off its human subjects.”
“Wait. What do you mean they’re dropping off subjects? I thought we only just got approved for trials? How did they already find volunteers?”
“You know how interested they are in this project, don’t you?”
“Well, yea of course.”
“Then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they would round up preliminary volunteers in hopes of its success,” Kellie said, looking up from her desk. “Now please head down and start draining the pods. We’re going to need the room.”
Sheila stood there frozen for a moment, shocked at what just happened. She knew that eventually they would progress to human trials, but she had assumed they would have more time to ensure the project’s success before doing so.
Realizing that there was nothing she could do to change Kellie’s mind, Sheila forced herself to move.
Not looking forward to what was about to come next, Sheila slowly made her way to the lab. This time she flipped the lights on with less enthusiasm and hesitated as she picked up the tablet.
She made her way towards her star subject and couldn’t help but feel the twinges of guilt and shame over what she was about to do.
She tried to remind herself that this was the humane option. The right thing to do. That without completing the full treatment plan, the subject’s entire body would begin to break down, unable to metabolize correctly. But it all just felt so wrong.
She tried to keep her focus on all the pain and suffering she was preventing as she completed the termination protocol.
Sheila stood there watching the serum slowly make its way through the tubes connecting to the subject’s body until it had finally reached its destination.
It wasn’t long until subject 237 began to shake violently from the toxins coursing through its veins and eventually fell limp and lifeless. The slow beeping of the heart rate monitor slowly turned to a steady buzz. Sheila’s arm felt like dead weight as she reached over to turn the machine off.
She reluctantly repeated the same process on the other two subjects before starting the draining procedure.
She barely made it to the lab’s desk before collapsing with exhaustion. Sheila knew animal trials were difficult but she had never prepared herself for this very moment. This was the third round of animal trials and the only one where she felt like an actual executioner.
Sheila sat lost in her thoughts for what felt like hours when suddenly the beeping pods jolted her back to reality.
The only thing left to do was cleanup, a job Sheila was grateful she could delegate to someone else.
She quickly picked up the phone hanging on the wall, “Hey Frank, any chance I can get a cleanup in lab 4 tonight? I know I didn’t send a request, but we had a last-minute call come up. As soon as you can is fine, I can wait. Thanks.”
Sheila hung up the phone before rolling her chair over to observe the lifeless subjects. She couldn’t help but notice how large the apes had grown, almost doubling their size. It made her wonder just how large and strong the human trials would become. This was, after all, the one genetic alteration that caught the military’s eye in the first place, superhuman strength.
While Sheila viewed this project as a way to enhance and influence choice genetics, the military viewed it as the perfect opportunity to create the next generation of soldiers.
Sheila sat there staring at the lifeless bodies lying at the bottom of the pods, wondering how she could have buried herself so deep in the science. One minute she was creating life, and the next she was delivering death.
Sickened at the thought Sheila couldn’t help but succumb to the emotions that had been swirling within her. Her back heaved as she sat at the desk, burying her face in her arms and wept. She no longer wanted the recognition that came with the project. Instead, Sheila wanted nothing more than to denounce the entire thing.
But Sheila knew she couldn’t go to Kellie. This project was Kellie’s entire career and based on their earlier conversation, she was sure Kellie’s mind was made up. But Sheila also knew she couldn’t sit and do nothing. They weren’t ready for human trials.
Then suddenly Sheila knew what she had to do. It was her only option to get out of the whole thing with as little damnation as possible.
She quickly reached for the phone on the wall again and frantically punched at the numbers.
Sheila cleared her throat as she tried to pull herself together.
“Hello, The Daily Chronicles tip line. How can I help you?” asked a lively woman on the other end of the line.
“I don’t have much time. I need to make you aware of a top-secret project that the military is about to… Ahhhh!” Sheila screamed, dropping the phone as she grabbed at the pain in her neck.
She turned around in horror unable to believe her eyes.
“Kellie what the hell? Did you stab me?”
Kellie stood there with a needle in one hand and her hip in the other. “You really thought you could get away with ratting us out to the media?”
“Hello, hello? Is anyone there?” a muffled voice called in the distance.
Sheila reached for the phone but the room began to spin and she couldn’t quite grasp it. Kellie let out a cool laugh as she sauntered over in her designer stilettos, picking up the phone and placing it back on the wall.
“Oh poor Sheila. You really had a lot of promise. If only you could’ve stuck with the program and kept your mouth shut. You know, they were rumors that you were well on your way to winning a Nobel Prize with this little formula tweak.” Kellie sneered as she sat against the desk next to Sheila. “But don’t worry a Nobel may still be in the future, seeing as how I’ll be taking over credit for the project. I mean really, we wouldn’t want all that fame and glory to go to waste now would we?”
Sheila tried to respond only to realize every thought quickly turned into a swirling cloud of confusion. She shook her head trying to clear away the fog but when she looked up again she could see the edges of her reality beginning to blur.
Sheila struggled to stay awake but could see the darkness beginning to creep in as Kellie leaned over her, “Looks like we’ve found ourselves another volunteer.”