The beakers and test tubes were arranged neatly on the table top. They were grouped according to their use and arranged by size. The air was getting dense as steam rose from the sink. Hot water poured into a basin filled with stainless steel tools. The rest of the room was bare. The walls were white and unadorned. The singular stool was gray and wiped clean of any marks. The laboratory’s metallic casework gleamed beneath the fluorescent lights. The only anomaly that could be found was a crude drawing of the milky way galaxy on one of the hanging cabinets. The picture was spangled with silver dust dancing around a chalk-white swirl that, in turn, circled the grainy black background. It stopped short in the middle and left a gaping core of darkness at the centre. At the lower right corner, yellow letters were written out with the brisk strokes of an unsteady, almost spastic hand. “For Dad. Sorry I ran out of white crayons!” The drawing was carelessly taped onto the cabinet, dangling above a sizeable microscope; its shadow waved back and forth and was cast over the man below.
Dr. Nichols stood before the microscope with the natural grace of a nobleman. His posture, completely erect, exuded the regal air of the absolute monarchs who once ruled the Empire with the divine right of kings. As a world-renowned scientist, he carried himself in a manner perceived as confidence by his admirers and pompousness by his critics.
The microscope was nearly triple its usual size. It stood alone on its bolted base, towering over anything in the lab. Its height was such that a step-ladder was needed to properly operate it; its massive knob required the turning of the whole hand instead of the gentle manipulation of the fingertips; its objective lens resembled a small cannon in shape.; its body tube was akin to a telescope in length and functioned just the same with its advanced ocular (how fitting. It’s Galileo’s birthday today) Dr. Nichols thought; its magnifying capability enabled the user to see the tiniest particles in any specimen; its efficiency was likened to a telescope seeing the farthest edges of the universe; its clarity could penetrate the darkest depths in existence. The device was christened Oculus Dei. And despite its innovative components, its complexity made it difficult for any scientist to operate. The privilege was therefore extended only to the most experienced scientists, a fact that Dr. Nichols boasted about to his colleagues. (Being Oxford’s top geneticist comes with its perks).
The university was tapped to lead the Royal Genomics Program — a government program that aims to screen and select specimens exhibiting immense potential to serve King and Country. The Nazi experiments on eugenics have reached new heights and the war was taking a toll on continental Europe. Oxford had been tasked to counter the measures with its own genetic exploration. Dr. Nichols was at the helm of the program — a task that has proven to be a taxing one. Parliament has been opposed to experimenting on adults due to ethical standards (self-righteous pricks). The alternative was to extract samples from the incubated embryos of volunteer parents (a far too sensitive undertaking).
Dr. Nichols soaped and lathered with a thoroughness that left his hands raw. He deftly put on his white, rubber gloves and proceeded to place the specimen underneath the lens.
There were scores of specimens to be examined each day, a fraction of the thousands of embryo samples lined up for the program. A selection process had been sanctioned to seek out the offspring of gifted individuals but the criterion failed to narrow down the search; the sheer quantity was exhausting. Mornings were filled with a vigorous excitement as the energy wanes throughout the day. It was fast approaching midnight when Dr. Nichols examined S-1842 — the one-thousand-eight-hundred-forty-second specimen.
Despite his weariness, the scientist conducted his inspection with the thoroughness he was known for. He dabbed the lens with a piece of cloth and wiped it clean. He peered into the microscope and adjusted the multiple knobs with methodical precision. The various bead-like shapes fused together into a chain, producing a bright spark at every collision. Soon, however, the double helixes emerged in the vast emptiness around it. Their white light was a spectacle to behold. The nucleic core was much larger than Dr. Nichols expected. Its massive cells blazed with a fury of a thousand suns, fuelled by an endless series of powerful combustions. Its sheer brightness struggled to be contained as it burst out in little flashes. Its overwhelming radiance threatened to obliterate all that was around it. The light was too blinding. Dr. Nichols stepped away from the lens to prevent any trauma to his eyes. He immediately jotted down some notes. “The subject exhibits immense intelligence,” he was relieved to report. (God knows this country needs more competent citizens).
The helixes continued to burn bright. Its translucent form allowed him to see through its inner fibres. They beamed with great intensity. Dr. Nichols noted the core’s resemblance to a star ( a tiny, Red Giant casting its light across its own subatomic universe) “S-1842 shows genius level faculties with a cerebral potency fit for battle strategy. It can design weapons.” Dr. Nichols watched eagerly, energized by the possibilities the sample showed. He had been examining countless specimens for the past few months and this one displayed the most potential.
The Red Giant swelled to an immeasurable size. Its outer cells began duplicating at a furious pace; their movements emitted a bright glow that amplified its mass; its rays formed outstretched claws, reaching for the darkest corners and radiating a soft light on the surrounding cells. Their scope and speed baffled Dr. Nichols. (Their going past the speed of light) He reached for his journals, skimming through the pages, chapter by chapter, to look for an explanation. Having found none, he returned to the Oculus. His eager posture betrayed his newfound sense of curiosity as it bent forward and shifted its weight onto his shoulders.
He took note of every development. The immense energy carried by nucleotides was startling. The subject’s capability for rapid cell division was unprecedented. No deterioration can keep up with such a pace.”S-1842 displays boundless energy. It can sustain work efficiency w/o supervision.”
Dr. Nichols turned the knob up another notch.
The Red Giant’s core now began to settle down. The chain-like helixes coiled up to a sphere, its light slowly concentrating at the centre. Ripples of flashes going towards it. The core appeared to be vacuuming the energy from the darkness around it (An unheard of phenomenon!) “S-1842 shows signs of being fiercely independent and obstinately assertive.”
The scientist’s interest was further piqued, his body was now bent from the waist in an ape-like hunch.
Around the edges of the radiant core, the intense light began to flicker. The solid red glow disintegrated in the farthest corners leaving a phantom-like trace that floated away into the darkness. Shadows emerged beneath it. “S-1842 has poor eyesight. Bifocals recommended.” The scientist stepped back from the Oculus and wiped his spectacles. (It’s almost ridiculous to include such petty details but even appearances are noted in the selection) “It has a lean frame, big ears, wide lips.” Dr. Nichols grudgingly jotted down. “a sharp nose, a pleasant smile, thick hair.” The outer layers were now shrinking, dashing towards the centre. “and challenged hand coordination.”
Suddenly a sizeable chunk vanished as the core accelerated its pull. Dr. Nichols was alarmed at the rapidness of the change. The pace of the reduction indicated the age of effect. The speed of decline exceeded normal standards. “The subject shows symptoms of an early onset of muscular atrophy.”
The core rapidly devoured the outer layers. Its sheer force created a powerful suction that no particle could escape. Dr. Nichols pulled away from the lens, stretching his heavy shoulders. “It exhibits properties of rapid neuron deterioration.” He wrote down as he arched his back. He was reminded of the pains of poor posture.
The light was swiftly sucked into the core. All at once the dazzling brightness collapsed into a dense ball of light whose crushing force could not be contained. The powerful force violently expelled the outer particles as it exploded with an intensity that annihilated the neighbouring cells. There was a blinding flash followed by a brief and haunting afterglow and the Red Giant was no more. “It manifests the properties for a fatal motor neuron disease.”
The only thing that remained was an invisible force at the centre of the little star. A gaping hole, pitch black, swallowing any vestiges of light in an all-consuming darkness. It was the powerful nucleus of the disembodied cell (the overlord brain). Dr. Nichols breathed a heavy sigh. His shoulders hunched from exhaustion. (The intellect’s overpowering, it’ will devour the remaining faculties). “S-1842’s genius cannot be contained in a primitive primate body whose brutish mechanisms are not equipped to handle the sophistication of its advanced cerebrum,” he wrote. A single sentence sealed the embryo’s fate. (That kid’s going to die young. He’s going to die way too young).
Dr. Nichols stepped off the ladder. He took off his gloves and left them dangling on the microscope’s tube. He reached into his lab coat and produced a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and took a long drag. The ashes fell onto the freshly polished floor. He opened a giant directory and went through the pages. He found the subject’s name and called.
“Good evening, professor. I’m Dr. Nichols of the University of Oxford. This is regarding the Royal Genomics Program…Yes about your son. May I ask you to come here with your wife for an important notice. It is rather urgent….Thank you.”
Dr. Nichols put down the phone and took another drag. He leaned onto the microscope, staring blankly into space. (How the fuck am I going to tell them?) The pain on his shoulders grew unbearable. The fatigue was kicking in. He crossed his right arm and rotated his shoulder blade, leaving cigarette burn marks on his crisp, white lab coat.
In the corner of his eye, the milky way galaxy waved along, casting its shadow over his vision. He stood there and admired the drawing. The pain began to throb. He took one final drag and put out the cigarette on the Oculus’ lens.
Dr. Nichols tidied up his files. He stacked the folders of information sheets on the lab desk. S-1842 was on top of the pile. He read the data over and over again as he waited.
“Dr. Nichols, we came here as fast as we could. How is my son?”
A woman in a white dress walked in briskly. She was puffing. Her shoulders were hunched from her shortness of breath. She was followed by gentleman in a coat and tie. He sauntered into the room with an air of unwavering confidence. He stood with Dr. Nichol’s regal posture.
“Good evening, Dr. Nichols. It’s an honour to meet a scientist of your calibre! I am-”
“How’s our son? Aren’t urgent calls for grave circumstances?” the woman interrupted.
“Isobel! Don’t be rude. We haven’t even introduced ourselves. Dr. Nichols, I am Dr. Hawking. A fellow alumnus of Oxford. This is my wife Isobel, a professor from this university as well!”
“I know who you are, doctor. It’s all on the data sheet,” replied Dr. Nichols. “Mrs. Hawking, would you like a glass of water?” he added, noticing her short gasps.
“It’s fine, doctor. I just need to know how my son is.” Her worried expression made Dr. Nichols anxious. He pretended to skim through the data to avoid looking at her.
“Relax, Mrs. Hawking. Have a seat first. You too, doctor.”
“Oh, please, Dr. Nichols. I cannot bear the anticipation. I must know my son is!”
Dr. Nichols silently read S-1842’s information sheet. Keeping his eyes on the findings as he figured out what to say.
Dr. Nichols let go a sigh. He looked across the laboratory, at the milky way galaxy, and forced a smile.
“Dr. Hawking. May I ask what you plan on naming your son?”
“Why my wife and I agreed on ‘Stephen’!”
“Stephen? That’s a nice name, doctor. I’m sure Stephen will be a great man one day.”