I have never done anything like this before, it’s just not in my personality. And I mean that literally: the genes that result in spontaneous and irresponsible behaviour were switched off. I was designed to be sensible and reserved but this, this was the exact opposite.
“Sarah open this door!” the doctors call as they futilely push their shoulders against the thick metal door I’m sitting in front of.
It’s now or never kid I think, worrying that my moment of recklessness was going to prematurely end. Taking a deep breath I banish the doubts that are sprinting through my mind and slide up the door until I’m standing.
I know what I’m looking for in this lab, Christian told me only a few weeks ago and this knowledge had seemingly replaced the blood in my veins, but I don’t know where to look. I make an utterly pointless attempt to read the virt-sheets scattered on the desk in the corner: illegible. Whether it was the traditional paper of my creation year, 2020, or the modern virtual equipment of today, 2145, a doctor’s handwriting is dire.
Getting desperate I start pulling drawers out and tipping the contents out onto the floor until a key clinks against my shoe. Relief courses through me until I realise that I am faced with a whole new problem: what does it unlock?
“Sarah let us in; you’re going to be late for your scans,” one of the doctors hollers through the door.
“Yes Sarah, we need to know if you’re healthy-” another crows.
“You mean if I still have the Cystic Fibrosis you gave me last month? Or to see if I have recovered from the sickle-cell anaemia you gave me the month before?” I screech in their direction, trying the key in every lock I come across with shaking hands.
“Sarah we’ll talk about this later, but now you need your scans.”
They said that in 2025 when I read Dracula and wanted to go to Whitby. They said it again in 2049 when I learnt Spanish and wanted to visit Valencia and again in 2101 when I saw a picture of a sunset and only wanted to go outside and watch it. None of those things ever happened. None of them have ever cared about me as anything other than a rat to poison, cure and repeat. Before I can be truly consumed by anger though, the key clicks in one of the locks- a small panel in the wall- and the semi-hidden door slowly swings open. At least Christian cared.
Christian was an intern doctor who came to the lab to do his PhD on the necessary, if controversial, ways of curing genetic disorders. And that was when he met me, the ‘necessary’ but controversial- if anyone knew I existed- possible cure to all genetic diseases. As soon as he saw me he was stunned. Not because I, a girl who still 25 years old, was the solution to the world’s problems but because he thought I was pretty. He told me that later: he said I was beautiful.
Staring at the inside of the secret compartment my eyes fill with tears because Christian was the only person in 125 years that had seen me for a person and not an experiment. After he admitted to me that he thought I was attractive, we became close. Not only did he see me as a human being, but I saw him as one- he wasn’t like the cruel and barbaric doctors who kept me prisoner, he was kind and gentle and seemed more like the human beings in the books that I had read over the years than the doctors did. He was the one who explained to me that I was the only successful human clone in history but the success had been short lived when the doctors who created me realised that I was aging at a rate that was five times the normal so by the age of three I was already fifteen. They had then sought to slow the aging process down but ended up switching off the genes and I never aged past my age at the time: 25. They therefore decided to play with my genetics further to see if they could cure diseases.
He went on telling me about the diseases I had helped to cure but I didn’t hear him, I just remember feeling sick at what he had told me. I had always known that my reason for being here wouldn’t be a happy one, but this was worse than expected.
“Sarah?” he had asked. “Aren’t you happy that you’ve helped people?”
I had looked at him, unable to answer. Yes I had helped people, I knew that and appreciated that, but happy? I could never be happy.
“Why did you think I was beautiful the first time you saw me?”
“Because- well I think I was expecting to see a monster but you’re so…normal.”
“That’s because I am normal Christian. I may not age but I am a normal person who wants normal things and I can’t have anything.” I carried on to tell him about the books I had read and virtographs I had seen, explaining that all I had wanted was to see the outside world, to make my own choices, but never got my wish. “Yes those people have a chance now at a normal life, but why do they deserve it and I don’t?”
“It’s not about deserving, Sarah, they didn’t ask for anything-”
“And I didn’t ask for this! They might suffer a genetic illness, but they have friends and family and loved ones to help them through it. Who do I have to help me?” The silence that followed made my blood freeze as though my fate, that I was doomed to be the living dead, was freezing with it. “They deserve to be alive, but so do I.”
That night the fire alarm had sounded for the first time in my life. I was practically thrown out of bed before being ushered down corridor after corridor until we came to a thick metal door. I was pushed in, along with every other member of staff, while Christian informed me that the room was fireproof.
“Look over there,” he had said as he pointed across the small chamber.
Following his finger I saw what he was pointing at. It was a window, the only window in the building, and through the window was the moon. It wasn’t the silvery orb that I had read about but a creamy crescent that curled around the top right hand corner of the frame. A large tree, I didn’t know the type nor did I care, hung from the top left hand side in a diagonal line down to the bottom right hand side corner but it didn’t spoil the view of the moon. The tree didn’t have many leaves on it and through its branches I could see the sparkling sky.
“The stars,” I breathed as Christian gently led me closer to the window, pushing people out of our way.
As we moved towards the view I became scared that it would disappear but when I was standing right at the window and the perfect picture was still in front of me, I was overwhelmed.
“It’s so beautiful. It’s so much better than I had ever thought possible.” The tree branches swayed slightly in an intangible breeze and the sky began to twinkle, as though the stars were smiling at my jubilation.
“I knew you’d like it but I didn’t think you’d be this enraptured,” he whispered in my ear with a chuckle.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, my eyes never leaving the stars and the moon.
“Well when I pulled the alarm-”
“That was you?” I exclaimed quietly as I tore myself away from the window to look at him.
“After what you said earlier I realised you were right, you deserve to go outside and see the world. I knew that that would be impossible but maybe during a fire alarm it would happen. I almost hit someone when we were all brought here- I should have known that they would have a fireproof room rather than risk you going outside- but when I saw the window…well I just hoped it was enough.”
“It’s more than I ever hoped for.” I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my ear against his heart. “Thank you.”
After we had been given the all clear by the firemen, Christian escorted me back to my room. He stopped me outside the door: “Sarah, I overheard the senior doctors talking in the chamber about a secret project that would start the aging process again. They called it alpha- 149 something. I know that although you’re suffering here, you won’t do anything rash or irresponsible with this knowledge, but I thought that you deserved to know.”
He began to walk away but I grabbed his hand and turned him back to me: “Why are you doing all this for me?”
“It’s not right what’s happening to you, like you said: you don’t deserve it.”
He had thought that I wouldn’t do anything rash or irresponsible with the knowledge that I could start aging again yet four weeks later and here I am, barricaded in the senior doctor’s office staring at a possible answer to my problems. I feel guilty for deviating away from Christian’s advice but he’s dead and it’s my fault: I was the one who told him that someone’s suffering for another’s benefit is never necessary and because of that he tried to leave and was killed for doing so. I feel guilty, but I can’t stay here anymore. I need to feel that breeze on my skin, I need to smell and taste the salt of the sea air, I need to see the sunset. I need to be free to be with someone without getting them murdered. I need to live.
My mind set and my determination steeled I pull out the small wooden box and slip open the ornately engraved lid. The wood smells rich and what I imagine the earth to smell like. It’s an intoxicating aroma that makes half-crazed in the desire to have more experiences like this one. Inside the box are two glass jars filled with a cloudy amber liquid and sealed with the type of lids you can push a syringe needle through.
Why are there two? Christian didn’t say there would be two I panic as I lift the jars out, turn the box upside down, and feel around the inside of the compartment they came from. On the roof of the nook I feel a wad of paper and, peeling it off, I start to sift through the papers.
From what I can make out the two jars contain similar things but not the same: one of them would start a normal aging process while the other would cause me to age at break-neck speed, so much so that I would have aged and died within a half
hour. The latter is being developed to be used in chemical warfare. The documents give no way of telling which jar is which.
I flip through the pages again numerous times but I’m not reading any of it. Eventually they slip through my fingers and flutter to the floor, scattering around my feet as I stare at the jars in my hand. So this is what it has come to, a decision on whether to stay here or risk everything for a chance of a life. And if I decide to risk everything, I then have to decide which jar I should risk everything for.
I cast my eyes around the room and try to take it all in. I would be leaving a life where I know that I am safe, where I’m valuable, and where I’m looked after. I help people here and perhaps, after this, I could negotiate with the doctors and be allowed outside sometime.
My roving eyes catch a mirror opposite me that I hadn’t known was there. I expect the face reflecting back at me to be as desperate and deformed as I felt but instead the girl in the mirror looks confident. Her pale skin looks flawless rather than sickly, her short hair looks like a personal choice rather than a clinical necessity, her brown eyes look excited rather than dull. She looks alive.
In that reflection, a glimpse of a possible future me, I commit myself heart body and soul to risking everything in order to be free. Before I can become too embroiled in which jar to choose, I select the one in my right hand and drop the other to the floor. As the glass smashes and the amber solution smatters in every direction, my blood begins to race and my heart pound. Whatever change this jar brings, my new fate is sealed- there’s no going back.
I locate a needle from one of the drawers I had previously discarded during my raid of the office and stabbed it into the jar, drawing up the sumptuous elixir. >
“Thank you Christian,” I whisper to the syringe before placing the sharp point against the desensitised skin at the nape of my neck where it will be injected straight into my spinal cord. I push the needle in and press the plunger firmly down.
It’s only a matter of seconds before I can feel it working. I rush back to the mirror even though there shouldn’t be anything to see. But there is. My skin is bright, my hair looks shiny and my eyes glitter with happiness. I wonder if this is what Christian saw the first time he met me because I feel beautiful.
I never noticed that I have wrinkles around my eyes though, or that the hair above my ears is a little bit grey. But as soon as I notice these things, I start to see that my black hair is being peppered with grey and my skin is wrinkling and sagging and
“No. NO!” I cry, crumpling to the ground. “I chose the wrong jar, I chose the wrong jar, I chose the wrong jar.” My chanted cries turn to mumbling as I rock backwards and forwards against the wall. “I chose the wrong jar, I chose…”
Another realisation hit me as I muttered my anguish: I had chosen the wrong jar. It had been my choice, for me. No one had made the decision for me, for the first time in my life it had been mine alone and while it was killing me, it was still my choice.
A sad smile pushes the now tired and decrepit skin back as something else becomes clear to me; I will never see the sunset nor feel the breeze nor go outside, I will never freely love and I will never live a normal life. But as my heart flutters and
my blood slows, I have never felt more alive.