The screaming wound slowly upwards, fraying as it reached its apex before abruptly ending in a guttural spasm as the lungs of Subject #37 mercifully collapsed. Preternatural silence rushed in to fill the space as the scream abated. Even the constant rushing of the underground air reclimators faded into the background. For the first time in days, something like peace dwelt in the laboratory. The sudden stillness was as a desperate truce forged by nature to blanket all the pain that had come before. The armistice was finally broken by the sound of violent retching.
“Another failure,” Langston sighed as he recorded the results with a few deft keystrokes from his lithe, hairless hands. “Adjust part seventeen of the procedure by 2.7%. Perhaps the extra protein will help the cells to stabilize and prevent the separation of the dermis. Also, alert janitorial to proceed with level four cleanup in the chamber…” He trailed off and turned as he realized that Minerva had not affirmed any of his directions.
She was buckled against the wall, inelegantly wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She made a sour face and spat into the trashcan again before straightening with aplomb that was only slightly tarnished by furtively toeing the wastebin away. Recovered, she focused her brilliant, bright eyes directly into Langston’s. “This is wrong,” she said as she resumed her argument. “Wrong. These are not animals Langston. These are people, with—”
Langston held up a hand wearily, “Subject #37 was named Diana. She had a daughter, Sabina, who is seven.” He stared unflinchingly into Minerva’s eyes as they welled with tears. “Her husband, parents, and entire extended family were exterminated in the cleanse. I know her name, Minerva. She was of sound mind when she signed the papers. She knew she would die. You knew she would die. Now Sabina will never hunger. You know this, yet you persist with this hopeless argument.”
Minerva wavered in fury, her eyes flashing as Diana’s scream seemed to clamber back out of her mouth. “I am here to try to stop you from playing God! There are other avenues, Langston. I heard the whispers but could not believe them. That you would turn to human subjects so soon. That you would inflict such torture on human flesh…” she finally sputtered out. The fury of Diana’s scream was spent. As before, sadness and disappointment surged in its wake.
For days he had endured being cast the monster by his oldest, dearest friend. Each morning she fitted him with Frankenstein’s mask while she donned the priestly robes of St. Igor and berated him whilst paradoxically assisting with each grisly task. “Enough!” Langston roared, and flung the small tablet across the room, where it slid to a disappointing stop without shattering. “Enough, Minerva. I know your arguments. I have endured them without cessation. We have tried everything else and there is no other choice. Everything else has failed.”
“We could stop trying,” Minerva replied staunchly. “We could decide that this,” she waved her hands at the testing chamber, “That all of this is not worth the cost.”
“Every day,” Langston replied through gritted teeth, “hundreds of Dianas die. They are cleansed because they follow the wrong man in the wrong hat. Their lungs fill with cancer because some rich fool cannot be bothered to stop burning poison. This death,” he shouted, stabbing a finger at the chamber she had so casually waved off, “has meaning. This is a death to end all deaths. I am doing this because there is no other choice. Humanity will end unless I push it to the next stage.”
“The world is changing, Langston. The Guardians—”
“The Guardians!” Lanston sneered. “Oh the mighty Guardians, who cower behind their masks. Which Guardian in particular? Enigma, who could purify all the water in Africa, but instead gallivants around the globe fighting other idiots in pajamas? Or what of the mysterious woman we see on the news, healing those who are harmed when the vaunted Guardians destroy half of New York? Imagine what she could do if she wasn’t cleaning up after their mess? No. I will not leave the fate of humanity to those fools. I will unlock the potential in every Diana. I will let nature run its course.”
“And what will you do when people act as humans do with all this newfound power? What if these unlocked abilities bring about the apocalypse? Are you God, or the Anti-Christ?”
“Perhaps powers will destroy this world,” Langston replied as he bent over to scoop up the undamaged tablet. “The end of the world will come one day, whether I am the cause or not. What I can ensure is that we are strong enough to survive it. I am neither God nor the Anti-Christ. I am the cold hand of nature.”
Her beautiful eyes bored into him with a mixture of horror and sadness that would forever be etched upon his soul. The next morning, she was gone.