the birth of a child is- and has always been- a very personal, individual
thing- it would be untrue to say that the experience is unique. It is true that there is always a variety of
happenstance and serendipity that can occur- perhaps two mothers are waiting in
the delivery room for their child to be born, or two fathers on the verge of
seeing their adopted infant for the first time. It could even be that there was
no one in the room with the mother- or, perhaps, the father was there- simply
passed out with either the exertion of worry... or from having gotten too close
to the mother during a hormone-empowered violent mood. Suffice it to say, the experience- though
precious- is rarely so different from any other that it deserves to be
commented upon. That is, however, not
the case- when dealing with the
In a world turned upside-down- where the natural law was merely a catalyst for a brilliant man to reverse, and man was turned into beast, the first child of the new generation was being born. In this equation of new life- the mother was the only recognizable variable- a woman panting with the pain of her efforts and crying out in labor, half-upright in a hospital bed with thousands of thoughts running through her mind- all tacked together in a colossal marathon in which the grand motif was pain. However, there… all reason and rhyme ended. For the father was not in the room with her- nor was he off somewhere, exercising his rights to be a distasteful human being by not witnessing his child’s birth. Instead, he was outside the gates to what was not a hospital- but rather, a lab built to the specifications of a fortress- howling, running, and begging to be let in to see his wife. For the man, Ambrose Maurlias, had completed his transformation to that of an anthropomorphic wolf years before, and his wife Angelina- had been a genet for nearly as long.
A man did pace outside Angelina’s room, looking in at the uncomfortable genet with anticipation for the birth that suggested he was a relation. However, the tall, imposing man was no relative- nor was he an islander, though- to everyone’s lack of knowledge… he had more in common with them than any would have supposed. No, Dr. Duvert waited for the birth with something other than loving concern for the pair’s health- or even for a genuine desire to see the child. To him, this birth was a project- a fascination and a vindication of his abilities. This child was a symbol- and with his deep love of mythology and mystery- Sabin Duvert appreciated symbolism. To Sabin, anything that was had to be figured out, explained and discovered- was worth more to him than the obvious or well-known. It was why, in his own personal library in the labs (one that was monstrously dwarfed by the size of the ones he’d had back home, and would have again once he left the island) there were books of all different languages… even those that Sabin did not speak. There was something that prickled the hair on the back of his neck with pleasure- a sort of tingle of excitement he’d feel when there was something new in the air- something that had to be plotted through, untangled. He’d spent many a night poring over his maps and piecing together the mysteries of life.
The strangely-garbed doctor created quite a picture slinking down the hallway- more so than usual. There was no use calling Dr. Duvert anything but original; he stood out from the other doctors and lab assistant as they hurried by in their self-important white coats and professional shoes. That morning, Sabin had clothed himself according to his mood- a thing he did every morning. More often than not, the mood of the peculiar man was one to suggest a very bizarre, almost unwieldy wardrobe which he would parade before the others with an almost proud, impish demeanor which seemed to say “I don’t care what you think of me”. A fact which was both true, in a way- and also false- for although he did not care, per se, of other’s opinions- he was at least extremely interested in them.
The white-haired doctor had always possessed a peculiar need to shock those around him- to elicit any reaction but normalcy. He had no problem donning a full-length lab coat, complete with top hat, or to walk outside in Bermuda shorts, flip flops, and a pink shirt emblazoned with the less-than subtle phrase “Real Men Wear Pink”- whatever possessed him to don, and also- whatever he believed would garner the greatest reaction from those around him. However, therein lay one of the many paradoxes within the man- as he had no problem being unnoticed, slinking about in the background while others worked, watching- waiting- and absorbing everything. He was neither a wallflower nor a ‘center-stager’, content, instead, to linger in between in a sort of nebulous limbo- one moment, he would be present himself as the greatest eye catcher in the room, nearly impossible to look away from- and then the next, disappear into the background as if with the shadows.
That day, Sabin had donned a pair of long tweed trousers, a white shirt on which the sleeves had been rolled to his elbows, and a dark, wine-colored vest sealed over his chest with pearl buttons. His shoes were dark with unobtrusive silver buckles- the final flourish that said he had been pleased upon waking. His hair was undone, falling in gentle white waves around his ears and down to his shoulders- free, but combed. Outside he might have had it bound- for despite his many mind games, Sabin was not a fool, and dressed for the island weather. Hair as long as his would soon find itself transformed into a sopping sheet of sweaty cling pressed up against his neck, were it allowed to hang free. Only in the labs- which were kept a cool median every moment- was it possible to be so informal with his long tresses.
“Dr. Duvert.” A lab assistant said, the picture of politeness as she walked by Sabin where he stood, hands in his trouser pockets and his toes tapping with a sort of rhythm-free tempo. Sabin only nodded as the technician passed, pleased at the hierarchal moment. It had only been a year ago that he’d regained his favor with Moreau- and every day that he was deferred to by the lower staff, or given precedence with something as seemingly unimportant as being the first in the elevator- reminded him of that fact. To a man whose true passion is watching people, understanding their reactions and trying to elicit them at nearly all costs- the greatest punishment is certainly ostracism. Sabin hadn’t relished his half-year in purgatory, paying for those sins that Moreau, the only ‘god’ upon this island- had decided were on his shoulders.
Sabin continued to wander- up and down that hallway, pausing in his repetitive pace only when he heard a particularly loud cry from Angelina, or when it took the form of a hiss or growl. He also peered his head in the door whenever someone new went into her room, whether it was to check the status of her labor or to check to make sure the windows were secure, he was there, right in their way and wondering if their presence meant that the time was near. The doctors and nurses indulged the bizarre Doctor’s curiosity and stood clear when they saw his white head peer around the corner, or asked him with the most polite tones whether or not he had questions for them, or if he wanted anything. Usually Sabin would ignore them, waving them off with a meatless ‘thank you’- but once, he grinned at a particularly eager young lab technician and told her to fetch him some tea. The girl’s eyes had gone wide- obviously, that was not what she’d intended by her offer- but she’d spirited off anyway, scrambling down the hall as if her job depended on finding the exact type of tea the Frenchman had specified. It did Sabin good to laugh, watching her anxious reaction and subsequent departure- but his shenanigans came to an end, soon, at the arrival of someone who was not beneath him.
“I heard you’ve been harassing my techs.” The voice belonged to one Aubrey Lockheart-Moreau, and she spoke with a low, matter-of-fact tone as she walked down the hall towards him. She was not a small woman- rounded in her features by a generous swell of femininity, and certainly not miniscule in presence. Even if her face seemed weary from a long day, her glasses slipped to the edge of her nose as if they might fall off at any moment- this was no lab tech Sabin might send scurrying. He beamed a smile, instead.
“She asked if there was anything I could do for me. I couldn’t think of anything that I might like but some tea, so I asked. Why, were you using her?”
“She was supposed to be checking Mrs. Maurlias’ blood pressure.”
Aubrey blinked. Those heavy eyelids, seemingly weighed down by a fringe of dark brown lashes- were the only things on her that moved- and they were dropped so slowly and deliberately, then brought back up with such little hurry that Sabin knew the answer.
“Well, no bother. I’ll take it, then.” He made to move nearer the door- but Aubrey put a single arm out, blocking his path.
“No. I’ll do it. …I just came to tell you to find something better to do.”
Sabin crossed his arms in front of him, creating a crisscross pair of paleness before his vest. “Hm…” he hummed, as if considering, “And what would you have me do?” He smiled, enjoying this sort of makeshift game he’d begun to play.
Aubrey placed her hands back into her pockets and shrugged, narrowing her eyes for a moment as if the light in the hallway overpowered her. “Anything. Go to your little lab; play with one of your projects.”
“Ah, but Aubrey…” he leaned down, arms still crossed, and faux-whispered in her ear, so close his breath was against her neck. “My only… ‘project’… is currently occupied.”
He then expected any one of a few reactions that would be typical for the freckle-faced Doctor. Either she would roll her eyes at him, give him a witty remark- or shrug him off- either by ignoring him completely, or by acting as if he’d never said a word. He was anxious to see which would be her pick… and so, was startled when he pulled back from his whisper and saw a very particular look on her face. Her eyes were wide and yet, the corners seemed dragged down with some sort of invisible weight, her bottom lip hidden from sight- tenderly pulled between her teeth… and all over her features, a general sense of unspeakable emotion seemed to dance. Sabin said nothing- and finally, in the din of silence, Aubrey responded in a way he might have supposed: she turned and walked away from him. Sabin did not follow her- instead, he dropped his arms to his sides and fell with one shoulder against the sterile-colored wall, remembering the only other time she had given him… that unforgettable look.
* * *
The ‘little lab’ of which Aubrey spoke was a floor up and deep into the heart of the mountain. The entire Lab Complex had been carved into the great behemoth of nature- and more rooms than not found themselves seeping into its depth, surrounded by hundreds of ton of rock on all sides. To most of the lab techs who made their homes there, it was little comfort that the entire structure had been designed and built by some of the greatest minds in the world of architecture, and that no amount of money had been spared in its execution- for there were few who did not wake up in terror at least once in all their years at the labs, harshly awoken from a nightmare in which the mountain was collapsing, or they were being crushed by rocks.
Most of the main rooms- those that were used for injection purposes, lab work, and the other day-to-day menial necessities that kept the island running- faced the west or the south- nearest the lab’s gates, and readily accessible to the open air. Those rooms had windows, beautiful exposures- and were where the bulk of the lab’s ‘day life’ took place. The only floor that had no combination of those rocky rooms which were lit by artificial means and the outer, exposed spaces- was the highest tier of the massive structure. Because it had been settled upon a great shelf of the mountain, every room was blessed with a perfect view, sun kissed exposure from nearly every angle. Of course, that choice selection was set aside as Moreau’s mansion. But of those rooms that were situated beneath the Doctor’s excessive splendor, well in the rock’s deep, most were sleeping quarters, others converted into lounges or other recreation spots for the staff… and a precious few were deemed ‘special purpose’ and marked priority-staff only. Sabin’s lab was one of these.
The cozy room, which had spent the past year filled with Sabin’s research notes, his equipment- and of course, his animals- had only been bestowed to him after Moreau decided that Sabin’s work could speak for itself to redeem the man for his earlier sins- and, more importantly, that the eccentric Doctor was the only one who could save the project that was very near and dear to his heart. It was not unlike Moreau to show such passion that it consumed everything else- even earlier grudges and anger. Of all the things that could be said about the fiery, redheaded doctor- it could not be uttered that he was apathetic- distant, and cold. Although he could use the ‘chill factor’ to his advantage- particularly when he was displeased with those around him- the true core of Nicholas Moreau was one of fire. The flames of his excitement burned so brightly, once they had received enough tinder to impassion them- that they would consume all else in the conquest for their survival- no, their thriving. It was what had brought the man as far- and as deep- as he was. Although there were scientists in the world who possessed the knowledge, perhaps even the ability to do what Moreau had done- he was the one among them who could burn so brightly with his desires as to blot out all else: implausibility, morality… even cruelty. He did not think of himself as an evil man- and was often baffled, angered- when the islanders described him so. The man that stared back at Nicholas Moreau in the mirror every morning was a man of vision- of accomplishment. He was the God among men that was not held down by the anchors of a so called ‘right’ and ‘wrong’- words that meant nothing when the greater good was at stake. He was a creature of the ends justifying the means- and Moreau… would stop at nothing to push the ‘ends’ beyond what any man could ever imagine.
It was what made him so dangerous- Sabin knew that more than any other. Wasn’t he a study of the human psyche, of the responses that can come from all manners of stimuli? He had witnessed Moreau’s passion many a time, and catalogued it, realizing what emotions, what needs it fed off. More than anyone, Sabin possessed the possibility of cracking the wealth that was Moreau’s psyche- to stay away from his anger and engender himself to his praise- but, unlike others who need merely to be understood to be conquered- Sabin could not hope to understand how to manipulate Moreau. The man’s moods- so accurately likened to fire- could be explained… yet not possibly predicted. Any gust of wind can change the direction of fire- and that tumultuous element, again like the fevered ardor of the Doctor, was not choosy about what it feasted upon- or who it trampled beneath its feet on the way to its goal.
It was that change-bringing wind that had turned Sabin from the pariah of the labs into the new golden son and, true to his quick-moving element, within the weekend of Moreau’s epiphany, Sabin was reinstated to his prior security level, his new lab was outfitted and presented to him- and the word around the labs spread like a virus: Sabin Duvert is to be honored once more. It was a delicious feeling, and Sabin had relished the challenge, diving into his new project with a characteristic thirst for the unknown.
The night which would remain in his memory as the one in which Aubrey had given him that look- was one of his many nights in his lab concocting various bolsters to try and support the complex mixture of DNA he’d sampled. The night was still young as Sabin pored through his work, and yet, by the standards of that deep-seated mountain lab, it could have been any hour. He had no reference of time in his little haven- no clock, no other people at nearby workstations who might yawn and betray the hour… and certainly no natural light to see dwindling out a window. But that was the way Sabin liked it. He could while away hours in that space, working less for Moreau’s purposes than for his own- but, towards the same goal. The work itself consumed him- and yet, at the same time- nourished him.
He was working diligently, bowed over a test tube and wondering if its solution would ever solidify- he’d had it primed for weeks- when he saw Aubrey step into the doorway.
“Aubrey. To what do I owe the pleasure?” He stood, and a sudden crack in his back made him realize how long he must have been hunched over in wait. Aubrey heard his bones pop in protest, and saw the look of discomfort wash over Sabin’s features.
“Are you alright?”
“Oh, fine, fine,” he waved off her concern. “Just long hours. ...Can I help you with something?”
Aubrey nodded, still on the edge of the doorway, eyeing the piles of books and animal cages and various other haphazard sundries that he’d collected to go towards making his lab more visually stimulating.
“Nick sent me. He said you were ready for the sample.”
Sabin rubbed his hands clean- dusting off the powder residue left over from the latex gloves he’d just stripped off, and furrowed his eyebrows in thought. “Actually, I didn’t know we were starting with that phase until after I finished the bolsters.”
“I can come back.” She gave him a smile and pointed back the way she came, a jerked thumb over her shoulder in a cute motion that made Sabin smile, as well. He shook his head and beckoned her in- it might be nice to have the company of a friend for a while.
“No, really, it’s alright. I just didn’t read Moreau’s mind, is all.” He stepped over a guinea pig’s cage, careful not to kick the bars as he gave a soft laugh. Sabin pointed to a seat near a bookcase, and moved towards a drawer to pull out a fresh syringe.
Aubrey returned the smile as she took the offered chair, slipping her lab coat off her shoulders and letting it settle in a pile around her. “He’s very excited about the project. I just think it worries him when he doesn’t hear from you with every new development.”
“Umh,” Sabin said, the syringe’s sheath in his teeth as he fiddled with the main body of it. The sound was neither an agreement nor a dissent- merely a space filler as he concerned himself with what mattered- continuing with the meat and bones of his project, rather than the gristle of what Moreau thought or felt.
He turned to see Aubrey nodding- as if he had made a genuine point rather than a noise.
“So… how has it been coming along?” She thrummed her fingers on her knees, and Sabin wondered if her words were jittery wadding for her nerves- or if she was actually curious about his progress. Sabin came up alongside her and rolled up her sleeve, the syringe in his other hand. Then he reached back for an alcohol swab and prepared a fleshy circle of her upper arm while he spoke.
“Well. But there have been some setbacks. The bolsters for one aren’t cooperating. …Little pinch.” He paused to see if he’d anchored in a vein- and once the telltale sign of red flowed back into the syringe’s belly he nodded and continued to draw.
“What about them?” Aubrey hadn’t flinched for the stick, although she winced a bit at the draw, just for the sake of knowing that there was still an implement in her arm, rather than at the slight discomfort of it.
Sabin smiled- they had gone beyond a charade of ‘small talk’ and into his actual work- something that pleased him no end to discuss.
“Actually, it’s fascinating. You realize about the bolsters we created to hold up the changing DNA structures- those place fillers that gave the mutating genes something to fall back upon?”
“I’m familiar with the process, Sabin. I helped develop it.”
“Mmn,” he agreed- not answering to her offended tone. He was not so easily affronted. “It seems that as complicated as the faux-strands had to be for that of the mutation of existing human DNA and animal- it just doesn’t hold up with an animal-human, animal-human mixture.” He pulled the needle from her arm and pressed down with a cotton pad to keep a bruise from forming there as would the blood so surely rush to try and fill the wound. Aubrey put her own fingers up and took the place of his, and Sabin was free to turn and throw away what he’d used and empty his blood sample into a marked vial.
“Doesn’t hold up? Is it collapsing?”
“No. But I thought it might, too. That’s the really fascinating part. The structure itself is strong enough- it’s just that it can’t possibly keep a reasonable shape with all that DNA interaction. The bolster does its job- but not uniformly. Trying to make a faux strand mimic that hodgepodge is… well, chaos.” Sabin grinned, the explanation a beautiful mystery to him. He’d been working for months on the problem, gaining just enough knowledge from each of his mistakes to move forward to the next step. He knew it was just a matter of time before he’d perfect the process- and although he looked forward to that day as his triumph, it was still sad to think that his long road to discovery would soon end.
“Can’t you just make a more rigid bolster- one that won’t try to reformat the new strands, but accept them?”
“Ah, but accept which ones? All of them? Then there’s too much DNA competing for only so much genetic space. How many noses can someone have, eyes, tails… brains? Even if it were possible to live like that, the body would never stand for it. Each cell would be alien to its brother- it would be practically mutiny within one body. Early mistake. …Are you on your lunch break?”
“What? Oh… no.” Aubrey said, coming out of what seemed to be a moment of thought.
“But do you have time for the skin sample? …You can come back tomorrow, if you want. I won’t be able to process the blood alone until tonight.”
Aubrey shook her head. “No, better get it now. That way I can tell Nick it’s out of the way.”
Sabin nodded, and went to prepare his tray. Aubrey, in the meantime, pulled the swab away from her shoulder and eyed beneath it. Then she pressed it back to her arm and returned to the previous subject.
Sabin didn’t know if she was suggesting or questioning, but he pointed the scalpel he’d just unwrapped at her with a smile.
“Bingo. That’s what I’m working on now- trying to format something to accept only choice aspects of a subject’s DNA, and to also extrapolate on them to create something beyond just a clone.” He put the scalpel back on the tray and carried it over to the table near Aubrey. As he pulled up a chair of his own, she took the cotton swab from her arm and threw it away, giving the spot beneath one last rub and inspection before focusing back on Sabin.
“So… what good would that do?”
“Well, it would mean that your children would not all turn out as little twins of each other no matter how many years apart they’d be born. They’d be different- yet still, all related, all a genetic mix of their two parents. …Hand me that box of gloves? …Thank you. …Just like regular children except- created from regular cells from the parent, rather than the more genetically superior egg- which is basically a form of what I’m trying to create. …A faux egg- or at least, the DNA of one- that can take and blend and become a zygote. Slight pinch.”
As he spoke, Sabin had slipped on his gloves and swabbed the area with an alcohol-based red disinfectant that stained Aubrey’s arm a burnt umber. Then he pulled her arm out towards him and scooted in closer to her, placing a hand on the underside of her arm to pull the skin taut around the armpit. That was where he injected her with a slight needle- filled with a delicate stream of poison. More aptly, it was a numbing solution that would penetrate only the first few layers of skin, preparing it for the next step. The second, shallow shot he gave her a few centimeters away would sting less- and the third registered to her mind as just a little pressure.
“But you’ve not perfected that process yet.”
“Perfected? Lord no. It still goes haywire on me every time. The… how did you phrase it? The ‘selective acceptance’ is still in the planning stages. …Hold still.” He pulled her skin taut once more, then made a tiny incision with his scalpel on the underside of her arm, right where it tucked under. Aubrey didn’t watch- for even if she wasn’t squeamish with blood, and although the sights she had seen as a doctor had given her a tough hide and an even tougher stomach… there was still something disturbing about watching a man cut away a section of your skin and peel it back, disconnecting it from muscle and blood vessels.
“If you’d like help with the bolsters, I can assign you some of my team. They don’t have full loads right now.”
Sabin smiled, though he did not look up from his work, slicing a square quarter-inch sample of skin. If Aubrey’s team was wanting for work, he knew that must mean that Moreau had not filtered any down to them, a thought which suggested to Sabin that the redheaded doctor must truly be passionate about Sabin’s project, and unwilling to commit much thought to others.
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m closer than I’m making out to be. Here, let’s just sew you up and you’ll be ready to return to work, Doctor.”
Aubrey nodded, and was silent in thought as the small square of exposed blood and muscle was cauterized, then drawn together with a few well-placed sutures. When he’d finished, Sabin put the small square of blooded skin in a sample tray and closed it off. Then, he raised his eyebrows at Aubrey with a smile- a sort of goodbye as he went to put the sample in his walk-in freezer.
There, in its shallow but icy depths, an entire wrap-around shelf had been dedicated to his current project- samples of genet and wolf DNA, test tubes of liquid bolsters that had failed by precious few molecules, and, in the corner, genetic samples from very specific islanders, marked with ‘AS’ and ‘AM’. It was there that Sabin placed the square he’d retrieved from Aubrey, and gave an approving glance over the progression of his project. Even the early bolsters that had failed him so- even those, Sabin kept… to remind him of his journey. How could he not- when it represented not only the great portion of his existence that craved discovery, but also the return to his station in the island hierarchy?
Sabin did not relish the day in which Moreau showed his true colors once more- not to see that look of intense hatred and fear that had shown in the man’s eyes so many months before when Moreau had told him that his ‘pet project’… had been terminated, and so had his status as a respected doctor on the board. It was not only for the sake of Zach- the very ‘project’ that Moreau so impersonally referred to- that Sabin had felt a sudden pang of confusion and anger- but also because he had realized that Moreau must have watched the security tape from the night before. Moreau must have seen how Sabin had tried to talk to Zach- and take some samples and see how their ‘management regimen’ had affected his system, and if it had done any good for the dragon-man. But the drug protocol, the alterations to his growths- even the shock treatments… could not completely quell the overwhelming, contradicting natures within Zachary’s combination serum- and, as Sabin had attempted to take a blood sample, the dragon-man had come alive in a fury, lapsing into a state he’d experienced all too frequently the previous few months. He broke the bonds on the bed that had always held him before- a sign that he was becoming too strong for their safety impediments- and lashed out at the only person nearby. Sabin.
Moreau, reviewing the security cameras, would have seen the bonds snap back from the red, scaled arms and legs- the dragon-man’s jaws opening practically unhinging with the unearthly cry. He would have sat, rapt at the surveillance tape- when the subject lashed out at Sabin, leaping to tear out his throat. Perhaps Moreau even held his breath, wondering what would happen- whether Zach would be able to get to Sabin’s jugular before the sleep command could be spoken. Maybe he even laughed, or thought how ironic it might be for Sabin to have been attacked by his own project, or to feel some comfort in knowing he wasn’t the only doctor that the islanders would think to try and destroy. However, whatever the initial reaction- Sabin knew what exactly what Moreau would have done for the rest of the tape beyond that point.
When Zach didn’t connect with Sabin’s throat- and, also- no words came from Sabin’s mouth- he would have been shocked to see that the islander fell back anyway, arms about his head and a cowering whimper the pathetic replacement for his earlier battle cry. He would see Sabin straighten his collar and brush off his vest before reaching for a syringe. It was filled with the calming drug he’d created specifically for Zach’s combination. Moreau would have seen Sabin inject the serum through the spot on the dragon man’s arm where Sabin had kept a scale from growing- just for the purposes of his management protocol. Moreau would watch, incredulous, as Sabin finished the injection and left the room- the still cowering Zach waiting for the medication to take hold. Then Moreau would have rewound the tape and improved the angle- intent to see what he must have missed- he had to have missed. And Sabin knew exactly what Moreau would have seen, as he stood in his office the next day.
He would have seen- for merely an instant- a flash upon Sabin’s face that seemed anything other than human… red blurs appearing on his forehead and his own eyes glowing with a red intensity beyond mere bloodshot. He would have seen how Sabin’s hair seemed to be pushed back, picked up and licked by an invisible wind- a Medusa-like possession as it snaked up and fell again. He would rewind the tape again and again- freeze-framing on the glowing eyes- the pointed teeth captured by a sudden snarl- the look of pure terror on Zach’s face as something- intangible, seemed to flow from Sabin to him. Moreau would snarl, himself, and be confused, afraid… and even insulted, wondering why he didn’t understand what was going on.
Moreau never mentioned to Sabin that he’d watched the incident on tape- or that he had seen something more- or less- than human in his underling doctor- but Sabin knew that Moreau would have had to watch the tape to condemn Zach to death- he would have had to have seen it to make the declaration that he had that morning. He’d called the project ‘unstable’- a mockery of his resources, and a waste of his money. Then Moreau had called into play the incident of years past- that same one that had left Aubrey scarred for life, an attack that had come within a hair’s breadth of killing her. In that moment, Sabin knew that Moreau had never forgiven him for creating Zach- for putting together the serum that would ultimately lead to the demise of Aubrey’s ability to have children. He truly loved Aubrey- enough to stay with her even when the possibility of his own progeny- was nil. In that respect- he was an ordinary man, loving a woman, and mourning for something that they could never have. But that did not mean- that he was an ordinary man- in all respects.
Zach was buried outside the lab walls- in a plot not far away from the village- and Sabin was stripped of all privileges, his team reassigned and his future with the labs- uncertain. It all happened so quickly- one day, Sabin was happy, adjusted and reveling in his discoveries- and the next, taken away from all his projects, a man dead, and all the time in the world to sink into a black depression- an endless hole populated by the guilt and self-disgust he’d not let himself feel when he had been otherwise occupied. Without something to focus on- Sabin had nowhere else to set his gaze- but to himself. Sadly, Sabin did not like what he saw.
But with his return to Moreau’s good graces- Sabin had no need to think on all his terrible things- his past- his future… what he was… but rather, throw himself back into work with a cheerful abandon for the nature of it all. The past few months had been engaging and- distracting. Two of the doctor’s utmost favorite things.
With the sample on the shelf, Sabin left his walk-in and intended to return to his work on the bolsters. What he’d not expected- was for Aubrey to still be in his lab.
“Aubrey?” He asked the woman’s back- for she was in the far corner, turned away from him. She did not respond, and so he said it again.
“Aubrey? Was there something else? Want to donate some more samples?” He asked with a joking smile.
Only then did Aubrey turn- and, at seeing her- Sabin stopped smiling. Something was wrong. Her face was a duplicate image of the one that Sabin would see many months later upon the birth of Ambrose and Angelina’s child- eyes were wide and yet, the corners sunken with an unbearable, invisible weight- her bottom lip hidden from sight as she held it between her teeth- and across her entire personage, a general sense of unspeakable emotion danced its terrible dance. Sabin was struck to where he stood. Although he could understand the minutest complexities of the most difficult principles of nature… he often found himself puzzled by emotion.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling ill?” He wondered if he’d drawn too much blood from her- or if she might be anemic. But Aubrey did not answer- only stepped to the side, revealing what she’d been looking at.
It was a collection of four stasis chambers- no more than a foot and a half in diameter each, set in rows of two atop one another. They looked not unlike a set of modern fish tanks- four half-bubbles protruding from the wall- or perhaps a set of washers and driers. But instead of fish or laundry, what floated in the liquid within- were early attempts in Sabin’s project. Only one- the bottom left- was empty. The other three were occupied by creatures that were beyond anything science had ever attempted before.
In the bottom right- the earliest attempt by Dr. Duvert in his gene-splicing efforts- was more wolf cub than genet, although its shorter, shriveled genet legs and genet eyes- forever open in death- pointed to the input of the smaller creature’s DNA. It was mostly bald- its pink skin bubbled up in places as if it could not reasonably adhere the muscle and bone beneath it. It was a frightening sight- but, of the three, the easiest to set eyes upon.
In the half-bubble above- the creature was more genet than wolf- the genet body, long tail- and a genet head. However, that was not the only head on its tiny shoulders- for there was a second, proto head of a wolf protruding off its neck. The tiny head was no bigger than a chicken egg- its eyes, mouth and ears shut with the blue tint of a premature baby where it hung- limp, off the tiny form. The insertion of the wolf DNA had created more than the second head, however- somehow, it had suggested to the overall form of the creature that its ribs should be that of a wolf- but, instead of the combination of genetic material compromising- or even ‘speaking’ to itself to learn what changes should be done- it simply grew the suggested part- and now, the tiny form was pierced on either side by long, canine ribs that had forced itself through the skin and fur.
The third- the one that Aubrey’s eyed had lingered upon- and the picture that would remain on her mind as she turned to look at Sabin- was the latest in Sabin’s attempts to create the infant that would decide whether or not the process was perfected for Moreau and his wife. The top left stasis chamber contained an infant that looked… more human that animal- its ten tiny toes all perfect and pink, chubby infant legs and a rotund little helpless body that would make any mother coo. But there- it ended, and upon a head that should have been whole and beautiful- most of the skin on its face was replaced with raw muscle- its eyes protruding forth from its face like those of an animals- but unlidded and forever open. It had no nose- instead, half a canine muzzle, skinless yet filled with sharp teeth. Its arms- those too, seemed beautiful and innocent- until the wrists, where the bone split- not into hands- not even into paws- but rather, long, black claws that curved under where infant hands should have been. It was a monstrous sight- doomed for death as soon as Sabin had begun to grow it there in the stasis chamber. The only blessing with those creatures existence- was that no mother had ever been burdened to carry such doomed children. They had lived their short lives tied to tubes and suspended in liquid designed to mock embryonic fluid. They had never taken their first breaths- and never would. Only stare blankly out of the cloudy glass that held them, inviting all to stare at the mockery of what they were.
Sabin did not know what to say- not to those indescribable eyes. So he waited- hoping that Aubrey would speak. They stared at each other for several minutes- both at an impasse. It was Sabin who finally broke the emotional interlude.
“They didn’t suffer, Aubrey. And look- you can see the progression. Each time, I get closer to finding out how to make this happen. Sooner than you know it- it will be possible to create a genetically viable, non-clone offspring from DNA samples alone. It can be done, Aubrey. It really can.”
But the woman did not answer him. She did not shake her head- she did not cry. All Aubrey Lockheart-Moreau did… was stare at him with those eyes- then turn… and leave. Sabin was left standing, wondering- what the woman could have possibly been thinking.
* * *
His thoughts were no different on that day of the birth as Aubrey walked away from him again- that poignant look speaking volumes of a language that Sabin could not hope to understand. It gnawed at him- gave him doubts, and almost pulled him back under the tide of feelings he’d hoped never again to become trapped in the undertow of. The only thing that drew him back into the situation at hand was the sound of howling- a mournful, bellowing cry that caused all who bustled about with their seemingly unruffled appearances to stop and cower for a moment, afraid of the sound of intelligent nature- even behind all their walls and fences. It was only a moment- the briefest moment of instinctual fear- before everyone stepped back on their heels and returned to their tasks with expressions on their faces that said the moment had never occurred. But Sabin had observed it- even reveled in it- his nose turned into the air as if the smell of lingering feel was palpable, scented with something sweet. He knew that the moment had been one of irrational, instinctual terror- just as he knew that the sounds had come from the husband of the woman who moaned nearby. Ambrose must be at the gates.
It wasn’t long before Sabin saw a flurry of movement- one of the guards that normally protected the vaults was moving double-time down the hallway towards the elevator that led to the main antechamber. The white haired doctor grinned as the guard disappeared to his new post- delighted to see that a non-issue knife had been surreptitiously tucked into his boot- and another, it seemed, in a sheath tucked into the back of his belt. If there was to be a reaction worth watching- that- would be it. Sabin abandoned his own, less official post of hovering outside the delivery room- and made to follow the guard, intent to stand at the glass doors downstairs and watch through the clear bits in the Feral Labs logo as man and beast collided. He’d made it to the elevator doors before a new figure appeared- Aubrey, coming from one of the back labs- thankfully, Sabin noted- without the pained look on her face. Instead, it had been replaced by the same, weary visage she’d worn earlier. She hadn’t noticed Sabin standing there before she’d pressed the call button on the intercom- but as soon as the red digit was firmly down, she looked over and gave Sabin a disapproving once-over, knowing exactly after years of working with the man where he was going- and what he was intending to witness.
“Don’t you have anything better do to?”
Sabin did not have an opportunity to answer, for a voice came through the intercom.
“No, I don’t. Give me back my wife. Please, let me in.” The breathless plea which crackled through the intercom was from none other than Ambrose himself. Sabin grinned- not only for the sake of realizing that his assumption was right- the man was at the gates- but also at the obvious confusion that had been created with Ambrose assuming the doctor had been speaking to him. Aubrey was still looking at Sabin as the response came through the panel before her- and she mouthed a ‘thank you’ at him that, had sound been applied to it, would have been a perfect sample of sarcasm. He merely grinned, and raised his eyebrows at her as if to say ‘You have to deal with this one.’ Aubrey sighed, then, and turned back to the panel.
“Hodgkins, don’t you have anything better to do than stand outside?”
A new voice answered her. “Ma’am? I was instructed to this post.”
“Aubrey, please, listen to me,” And back to Ambrose. Sabin watched as Aubrey closed her eyes, begging away a headache and banishing the light from her tired pupils.
“That wasn’t actually a question, Hodgkins, but an order. You’re to return to the labs.”
“But the doctor told me…”
“Are you hard of hearing, Hodgkins? Your orders have just been rescinded. Return to your previous post at once.”
There was silence on the other end for a moment, then, only slightly fuzzed by the mechanical hum of the intercom, a “Yes ma’am” sounded. Aubrey opened her eyes and turned them to Sabin, opening her mouth to speak- but before any words came, a second voice came through, mechanically fuzzed and desperate.
“Aubrey please, you have to listen to me. I went to the village and they told me that you have Angelina. Please just let me see her. Let me see my…” She removed her finger from the button, and the system went dead.
“…That wasn’t very nice.” Sabin said it after a pause, a wide grin still on his face.
Aubrey narrowed her eyes. “Please. Not today. I have an awful headache.”
“Think of the doozy Mr. Maurlias must have.”
“I can’t even imagine. I’m not expecting a child and being kept away from it.” She threw up her arms- a gesture that either meant she gave up, or to set up a sort of barrier that would deflect Sabin’s teasing. Sabin couldn’t tell. “But it’s for the best.”
Sabin moved away from the elevator, then- for a light dinged above them that signaled the guard was returning upstairs to his post as ordered- and went closer to Aubrey, taking her upper arm and pulling her gently to the opposite side of the hallway. There, he kept his hand on her arm, and smiled- this time, one more reassuring than the ones he’d been peddling all that day.
“You know I’m just kidding, Aubrey. …I know you’re tired, but it’s all been worth it. It’ll work for you just as it did for them. This is a great success.”
But if he’d expected Aubrey to be comforted by that fact- he was mistaken- and puzzled. The woman only shook her head, looking at the ground as if to find something she’d lost there amidst the tile.
Her voice was waxen and heavy. “Sure.”
“You… don’t seem very happy, Aubrey.”
She just shook her head. Sabin didn’t know if it was in agreement or in correction.
She turned, as if to leave the conversation. “I’m just tired.”
Sabin held her arms- not firmly- she could have broken free with minimal effort. But she paused as if his hold had locked her in place, still looking down, rather than up into his light eyes.
“No, I mean it. I’ve seen you pull all day and night shifts before to work on a project and come out the other end, dancing down the hall singing songs from ‘Weird Science’. You’re never like this. Are you sick?”
“No, I’m not sick. Well… maybe I’m sick.” Her words all had that same quality- waxen, unreal, and weighted down by some invisible anchor.
“Sick like… depraved?” Sabin questioned.
“Sick as in- tired sick. Sick of sick.”
“…Was that a question, or an answer?”
Aubrey finally looked up at him- and in her eyes, Sabin saw a woman who was genuinely exhausted. But by what… he had no idea.
“Sabin, this really isn’t a game to be playing with someone that has work to do.”
“Mrs. Maurlias isn’t even completely dilated. And I doubt that Moreau has you working on much else but this right now.”
“No. …This is it.” She looked down the hall, as if to find someone standing there- but it was empty, devoid of everything but an expanse of sterile white. “This is really it.”
He furrowed his brows- her reactions were so atypical of her- and, what’s more- they did not seem to answer his questions, but sidestep them and land in a place where she was describing… something else. Something deeper than the outer veneer of what they discussed, lay something in wait that Sabin wish he were privy to. He had the eeriest feeling… that he was providing half the input to a conversation… that he didn’t have the foggiest idea what the subject was.
afraid I don’t understand, Aubrey.” The man spoke with a voice still tainted by
a long-ago affectation- a birth, and raising- in a quaint village in
Aubrey shook her head immediately. “No, the baby is fine.” But Sabin put a hand up to silence her, cutting back to what he’d been saying.
“If you’re worried about the baby being born… imperfect… you don’t have to. She’ll be sublime. The process has been utterly perfected. We won’t have to try again. …What? It’s wonderful news.” He questioned the appearance of a sour look on her face.
“I can’t believe you. No, actually- wait. I can’t believe me, actually thinking you were concerned about the baby’s health. No- you just care about if it’s a little mutant or not, and if you get to run back to your lab again and play with everyone’s DNA. Excuse me. I have work to do.”
Sabin grabbed her again. “What is the matter with you? Why are you so edgy?”
For a moment, he half-expected her to strike him- he’d seen that glare in her eyes before. But the flash only lasted an instant, and then, she became a rag doll- limp, her hair falling down around her glasses.
“I’m just… just…tired. Really, really tired.”
“You’re going in circles, Aubrey. Tell me. What’s wrong? If it’s not the baby you’re worried about, the process- what?” Sabin paused as a certain other thought came to his mind. “Don’t you want his child?”
The rag doll in his arms shook a little- it was an infant shudder, or perhaps a sigh that rocked her body beneath his pale grip. Aubrey brushed the hair out of her eyes, and then left her hand up on her chest, resting over her heart, as if to protect it.
“I don’t know.” It was just a whisper, but Sabin heard it as clearly as if it had been spoken into his ear.
“It’s just nerves.”
“I guess so.” Her words were anemic of conviction.
“You love him, don’t you?”
“Of course I love him. He’s my husband.”
“You can’t stand behind those words forever.” Sabin had known Aubrey- and been close with the woman- for years. Such words, he would have never had the presence of mind to speak to someone he’d not built such an understanding rapport with. For although Sabin Duvert was a man of reactions- both gauging and creating- (of man and science alike) there was something lacking in the department of understanding the emotional world. More often than not, the man found himself lost within its complexities, confused that the laws which governed the emotional realm seemed to constantly shift. It was only a deep, firsthand understanding about Aubrey and her relationship with the ‘mad doctor’ that gave him the ability to speak as he did.
“Does this have to do with…Billy?” His words were hushed, breathy whispers, spoken between lips he barely moved.
“No. At least, I don’t… think so.” Her lips moved less than a stroke victim’s- and the sound that came from between them was stilted, at best. For who knew better than the doctors- how watched they were?
“Aubrey, this is a dangerous game to play. Not only for you- but for him as well.”
“Nothing is going on.” It was more of a hiss than a whisper.
“But something is wrong.”
As if on cue of his words, a cacophony rose from the outside. The sound was one of true, terrifying nature- a roar befitting a man… turned tiger… turned madman. Few in the labs knew the source of the terrible noise- just assuming it was one of the ‘beasties’- but Sabin and Aubrey knew exactly which crazed creature from the Feral Enclosure was kicking up such a din.
A host of underlings ran to the windows- some with fingers taut over their lips, as if fearful that the creature was beyond the gates, rattling at the doors. In an instant, the entire populous of mature, accomplished doctors and nurses were likened to frightened children, huddling together at the windows. It gave Sabin a rush of adrenaline to see how quickly man bowed to nature, how apt they were to find the fear in their hearts- that remnant from the days their ancestry- at the sound of something that could overpower them. Sabin marveled how, deep down, each man, no matter how ‘evolved’ and how accomplished- was truly… an animal.
A lab assistant turned back to them, then, and, with a shaking voice, called out. “He’s rattling the Enclosure Fence! It… it will hold, won’t it?”
“Yes, of course it will. Get away from the windows, all of you.”
But even as Aubrey reprimanded the crowd, Sabin had turned to the panel on the wall and tapped out a long command code that activated a system that was, although tied into the com system- a much more dangerous working.
“What are you doing?”
He didn’t have a chance to answer Aubrey- the last two numbers activated the command Sabin desired, and a collective gasp from the remnants at the windows signaled that it had worked.
“What did you do?” Aubrey’s brow was furrowed- not a welcome change from her rag doll impersonation.
“I just sent a little shock through the Enclosure Fence. …What?”
She let out a long, angry breath- and Sabin knew the only reason she kept her composure as much as she did was for the sake of the score of underlings that walked around them on their way back to their posts.
“The only thing good about that…” she paused, then lowered her voice as one of the doctors assisting her with Angelina’s delivery walked by, “is the thought that Ambrose may be getting some peace, now.”
Sabin just smiled. He didn’t know what to say. Aubrey stood for a moment, waiting, but at his silence, turned on her heels and stalked off down the hall.
“What I wouldn’t give for a little peace.” Sabin didn’t know if he’d truly heard her words- or imagined them. But before he could decide, she was gone.
* * *
The night was destined to be a long one: several hours later, and Angelina had yet to give birth. Sabin resumed his post outside the genet-woman’s door, peering in often enough to keep everyone in a nervous fervor. However, if anyone felt that it was inappropriate for the white-haired pacer to remain there, nothing was said- and into the night, the one thing everyone could count on as they hurried about their business- was the sight of the elegantly- if bizarrely- dressed doctor.
Aubrey was somewhat less of a fixture. Sabin didn’t catch sight of his friend and colleague again for the next few hours, and even then, he turned just in time to see the auburn head nearly disappear into a side office- practically running from the elevator after the doors slid open. He thought perhaps to call out to her- give her an update on Mrs. Maurlias’ status- or perhaps continue their earlier, puzzling conversation- but a second figure followed her out of the elevator.
“Aubrey, that’s not an answer to my question.” The mellifluous- yet somehow imposing voice- cancelled both of their plans. Aubrey stopped in her tracks, and Sabin’s words died upon his lips, forgotten to the more interesting scene that was doubtlessly all but unfolded.
“I’m sorry, Nick. I have to check on Mrs. Maurlias.” She did not turn to answer him.
“There are others attending to her. Aubrey, look at me.”
She did- after a few, tepid seconds- tossing her hair over her shoulder with a jerk of her head, and showing, in that instant, more fire and grit than she’d displayed all day- or, really, Sabin realized, for months.
“Don’t do this here.” It was merely a harsh whisper all the way down at the end of the hallway. But Sabin heard it, anyway. He could also see them- so clearly- for they were so focused in upon each other that they didn’t look to see the white-haired man nearly 10 rooms away, staring at them, swallowing every minute gesture and stance with his eyes. Nothing was lost to him- not that Aubrey’s eyes were so wide and telling, that they spoke more to her husband than her words could ever possibly convey. He saw how Moreau stood, impeccable and frosty, his red hair falling around his face as his fire raged inside. Sabin even saw that Aubrey’s lab coat was slightly wrinkled at the arms where it had been rolled up in the midst of a many a long workday, and grayed at the elbows and around the hem- whereas Moreau’s was white, unmarred, pressed to perfection. To one- it was a piece of iconography, a symbol of status. To the other- it was a means to an end, to trial and error… and struggling towards a goal.
“If you answer my question, and stop running away from me- we wouldn’t have to be ‘doing this’, would we?” He spoke as if to a petulant child- ringed with a dangerous edge of impatience.
“Don’t you talk down to me like I don’t understand. I don’t have time for this.” The rag doll was gone. The angry whisper was not.
“I put you on the project. I can take you off of it, if you don’t have ‘time’ for your husband.”
“Fuck the project.” The expletive was a loaded weapon- practically rolling from her lips with a decisive ‘pop’, bursting on the air to unload its bile upon impact. “When are you going to learn that threatening me isn’t going to work?” Her face drooped- the walls fell- just for an instant- and a soft, sad creature spoke the words that followed. “I’m your wife. Not one of your lab assistants. Please, just give me the benefit of the doubt here.”
There they stood- husband and wife- no more than three feet away from each other- and yet… miles apart. Aubrey had her hands out in such a fashion that Sabin doubted she even realized what she’d done: palms up, supplicant to the hand her husband may choose to deal her. Silence surrounded them, and, for that instant, all their anger seemed to settle- and a calm wordlessness seemed to convey how much they loved each other.
“It’s your decision, Aubrey. …You can either report to the lab to begin the process… or you can continue to ignore me. In which case- I have nothing to say to you. Go on with your work, Doctor Lockheart.” With that, and a look of cool derision, he turned and walked back into the elevator. As he disappeared- so did the feeling that Sabin had mistaken for love and understanding. If anything- it had been the calm… before a very terrible storm. The remains of Aubrey where she stood, hands still up to the empty air, and a look of miserable half-anger, half vindication on her face, was an awful thing to see- even for Sabin, a man who relished the most powerful responses of life. He made to go- to comfort her, or maybe just to return her mind to her work as a preoccupation. But he only managed a few steps before she turned to the wall and pushed a button on the intercom system.
“Ambrose? …Ambrose?” She waited a moment- as did Sabin. But when she received no more answer than the garbled, half-fuzzed, half-mechanical growl from the system, she let out an irritated huff and turned- poised to leave. When she saw Sabin, however, she stopped- paused, reconsidered- then came towards him. Her head was tilted forward, and down- her eyes cast into shadow, and she walked with the pace of a furious woman.
“You. God damn you.” Her steps were the soundtrack of an invading army, buoying her words up to a fevered, angered position.
“Aubrey…” A futile attempt to pacify.
“You stand there like some sort of gargoyle, don’t you? You just lick lick lick at all everyone’s wounds, you have to watch every little thing. Angelina doesn’t need you standing there listening to her pain, watching, smiling at it, loving every damn minute of it! Fuck. She just wants her husband. She needs him to be there for her. And all she gets is this patronizing crap.”
“…Are we still talking about Mrs. Maurlias?”
Her fingers curled under. They were veritable claws, held together by taut knuckles that protruded as enraged knobs of bone. It was those shuddering, furious talons that she lifted up before her, palms up, and shook at Sabin where he stood- not three feet away from her.
“You think you know everyone so well. Sabin Duvert, master psychologist, diving deep into everyone else’s business, lapping up the blood from everyone’s emotional wounds. Why don’t you ever look at yourself? Take a swim in something other than your own ‘shallow waters’.”
“You’re overtired and overworked, Aubrey. Don’t say things you’ll regret.”
“I’m not ‘overtired’. I’m fucking exhausted, and sick to death of everything and everyone! And I’ve held my tongue for too long already. Ever since you walked off the deep end and threw your humanity away, I’ve been holding it all back- hoping it was just some cruel phase and that you’d come to your senses. But now I know that this is what you truly are.”
Sabin’s eyes went wide with a kind of shock- or fear. “What are you talking about?”
“No one can do the things you’ve done and still play innocent. I’ve done things I regret, but at least I’m human enough to feel badly about them. To let them keep me up at night. What do you do? Where’s your guilty conscience?”
“Everything I’ve done, I did in the name of science.” His words sounded too calm, too rational- as if he was putting extra effort into sculpting them. Aubrey would have none of it.
“Bull. You enjoy it. You feed off it- this past year you’ve been going for days on end, holed up in that little freak museum you call a lab.” Her hands fell to her side- exhausted from their shaking gestures of anger towards the white-haired doctor. Aubrey followed suit. Her voice- though still pained and angered, did not hold the same enraged tone that had so quickly emptied the hallways around them. “Did you ever stop to think about what you were doing?”
“I was working under orders. But,” he added quickly, seeing a new flash of anger on her face, “I also thought I was helping out a friend. Do you want a child or not?”
If he expected a quick, solid answer- he was to be disappointed, for Aubrey Lockheart-Moreau stood, instead- drowning in her own thought and emotion. Her expression, her pose, her very self seemed to spiral downwards into a fog. There was true, almost inexplicable pain in her eyes- and Sabin, for all his love of strong reactions- held onto a fear real fear that she would burst into tears.
“I don’t want anything at that price,” she whispered.
Sabin didn’t know what to say. He moved a hand- one long-fingered, pale hand up to touch her arm. For looked as though she would accept the comfort, readying to open herself to someone who could understand her pain.
“You knew from the start what this all entailed,” he said, then. And just before his hand reached hers, she hesitated- pulled away. The look on her face was one of an angry, hurt disbelief.
“I’m just not ready.”
“Ready for what? For a child?”
“For… I don’t know. For this!” She didn’t try to hold her voice back anymore. Wherever Moreau was, Sabin knew that there was the possibility that he was already privy to this conversation. The white-haired doctor had, in his time on the island, appreciated the cameras, for the most part- they provided surveillance for the ins and outs of the effects of the serums like no other form of research could possibly hope to obtain. That didn’t mean, however, that the man appreciated his own life being documented- catalogued… mostly for the sake of the trouble it had often gotten him into with the ‘mad doctor’ himself.
“Aubrey.” He kept his voice low, as before, and strained to keep it steady- even calming. “You’re overreacting.”
Then, another sound joined in the fray. It was a terrible cry, only barely piercing the lab walls through the howling, whistling storm.
“Aubrey! ….Aubrey, I know you’re in there! Please, if you have a heart, let me see her! Angelina! Aubrey! ……ANGELINAAAAA!” The name evolved into a howl, clashing with a thunderbolt as it erupted through the storm. Sabin was struck with amazement that the man’s voice could be heard at all. Or was he simply imagining?
He had no time to wonder. Aubrey had dropped her face into her hands and shook her head back and forth. She made as if to cast off some heavy burden- and Sabin reached out to comfort her once more- to calmly explain to her that she was being foolish- when she suddenly picked herself up out of the cradle of her palms.
The look on her face was raw, and ugly in a way- how it was twisted with vengeful mourning. Those tears Sabin had feared would come had arrived- though they did not glom down her face with thick, sniffling sobs. They were angry, alive puddles that eclipsed her eyes and spilled over onto her freckled cheeks. They ran, from there, into unapologetic streams that ended on her lips, and dripped down onto her chin.
“That is a man.” Her voice did not hold evidence of her so-visible tears.
“What is a man?” Sabin’s tone was mocking. He did not know why.
“That! Out there! He screams and calls for her, he’s here to take care of her, to love her- no matter what else! He would never hurt her. Too many men try to hurt. Too many men just don’t care.”
“I care, Aubrey.”
“Oh, you care. But what you care about is measured in scientific gain- in the sick limits of your own curiosity. You don’t are about anyone but yourself. They call him a monster,” she pointed out towards the thunderous skies, tears shining on her furious lips, “but you… you’re the real monster.”
His brows narrowed into an angry line. “Now you’re just taking out your frustration for Moreau on me. I am not your husband.” It was an accented hiss, and he himself was startled- taken aback by his own reaction to her attack. It had been a long time since he had felt his back up against a wall. And Sabin didn’t like it.
Her eyes were colder than he’d ever seen them- and suddenly, she didn’t look ugly anymore. “No. …No you’re not. I love him. You… you I think nothing more of than the lowest creature on this island.” Then she stopped, and, for a moment looked stunned at her own words. Sabin half-expected her to swallow her words, to apologize. But what came from her lips next was anything but an apology.
“I don’t know when you lost your humanity, Sabin Duvert. But if I wasn’t so disgusted by you… I’d pity you. What have you become?”
With that, Aubrey Lockheart-Moreau spat on the ground near Sabin’s feet- and, with one last, final look that sealed her words into their hateful intent, she turned heels- and disappeared into the elevator.
Sabin was left… stunned, and suddenly- very cold.
* * *
After all his anxious waiting, Sabin would miss the birth of Elizabeth Maurlias. By the time Angelina’s labor came to a climax, the genet woman practically bent over with Aubrey at her legs, insisting that a single, additional volley of effort on her part would bring her daughter into the world- Sabin Duvert was deep within the mountain, in his personal quarters. In the beginning, the higher ranking staff was given the opportunity to choose quarters near the exterior of the labs where the rooms were more spacious and the light was not strictly the bottled, manufactured sort. However, it was just those reasons that made the deep-mountain rooms unsavory to others that had made them so suitable for Dr. Duvert’s purposes. He had no need for the sunshine- and the secluded space had pleased him. With the walls stocked with every manner of text that spanned the odd man’s many interests- from ancient languages to the obligatory mythological dictionary, and every inch of the room practically consumed with papers and peculiar baubles that he had collected in a lifetime of travels- the room looked as if it were being strangled by his life. It was a distracting room- not one that easily led to a single focus or daydreaming. For Sabin- who had spent the past few years of his life trying only to be distracted from several very poignant truths… it suited him fine.
There would be no distracting the man as he walked into his room that night, however. The storm that raged outside was buffered by a hundred feet of rock which surrounded his room on almost every side- Sabin would not see the lightning crash against the side of the monstrous mountain, or hear the thunder as it broke the sky. But the storm inside- that he could hear, and feel- and, once his alit upon the mirror on the wall- he could see, as well- that the true storm- the one that raged inside- was stronger than ever.
The acquisition of the mirror had been more for the sake of the man’s love of the antique, rather than for any shred of vanity: the glass itself was cloudy, dark spots showing where the silver sheeting had bled through, making dark discolorations on the once perfect surface. It had only ever been décor- a testament to a lifetime of indiscriminate collecting- but that night, he turned to it almost immediately, and stared at the reflection of a man who he barely knew, anymore. Behind him on the bed, the animal he called Beastie rested, its sleep not hindered by those extra limbs he had carefully sculpted into its genetic structure so many years before. Sabin saw him there in the glass- but did not pay any mind to the creature- other than to take a winsome moment to wish that he were able to manipulate his own nature so easily.
It took only minutes of staring into himself until what he saw lost all meaning: everything he recognized muddled into merely a blur of shapes and shadows- he could be looking at anyone or anything. In his mind, many things mulled, stewed and took on new meaning, as did those now so ill-defined shapes that made up his face. He thought back on the past few years… the lockout experiments, Beastie’s creation, the practical jokes he’d pulled on Joliette to make her life miserable- even those ‘punishments’ he had levied on Thom after the dragon man had decided to consider him an enemy.
Zach. The name set off a ping of regret deep in the man’s stomach. That was where it had all ended- the jokes, the experiments- the attempts to clutter his mind with anything other than what was the most important- the most painful. After Zach’s death, he’d not only been stripped of his duties and pastimes- those ‘fillers’ he had used to get through the days- but also… there had been no more denying that his actions had dire consequences. There was one thing to filling a chocolate Santa with blood and giving it to a vegan… or even to locking a man in a duplex filled with cockroaches until the insects carried away the last shreds of his sanity but quite another… to looking out the southern window of the labs- and seeing a gravestone. Even if he had not been the one to order Zach’s death- Sabin did not delude himself that it was anything but his fault. A man was dead… and his memories came to the surface with full force.
Sabin Duvert had hated himself for so long. It had been a thickly veiled, even …self-kept secret. Once, there had been enough to distract him from the past- and from what he was- but, no longer. That night, a dire reconciliation between Sabin’s nature and his self-loathing occurred- collided, with a force not unlike the cruelest forms of nature.
He looked away from the mirror, distraught with the sight that solidified as his emotions crawled closer to the surface: as he lost control. He recognized those whispered image of eyes- red and insidious, and could sense the hair which had lain against his face licking up and against the air as if in love with an imagined wind. A single one of Aubrey’s many, hateful words played in his mind as he closed his eyes and turned from the mirror. Monster…
There had been a day, long before- when Sabin Duvert had come to terms with his differences- and with the monstrosities he had done in the years since his combination with the creature of nightmares itself. Quite a large part of that acceptance had come through the eyes of the woman who smiled out from the portrait kept next to Sabin’s bed. He picked it up, then, cradling the frame in his hands and staring down at the beautiful, warm eyes- of one now dead.
“Oh Samantha…” he said, his voice a hoarse, ragged whisper. “I’ve lost you again.”
It had been
more years than Sabin could accept since his wife’s death- he had done anything
in that painful time to make himself forget.
In time, however, the hurt always caught up with him- gnawing, insisting
upon the half-man… half-anju. And
without the woman who had been his moral center for all those years, and the
source of his feeling of belonging- the white-haired man often filled that void
with terrible things. He would always
start with trivial distractions- research, expeditions- but, like any drug
injected with a needful, addictive frequency- there always came a time when
Sabin Duvert needed more. His work on
“Where am I headed?” He asked the portrait again- not out of some macabre expectation for an answer- but rather, just to hear the sound of his own self-loathing voice on the air. It admonished him, taunted him- and Sabin found he couldn’t stop. “Where do I go from here, but somewhere… dark, and terrible? Oh god, Samantha- why did you leave me?” He sank to the bed, emotion tearing him to the core. More and more of his humanity slipped into an almost shadowy state- sharp teeth found themselves in the mouth of this duplicitous man- and red eyes flickered where no eyes should rightfully be.
“I’m not a man without you. …I don’t even know what I am. I can’t even go back to the children. They… wouldn’t understand. How could they?” In the portrait, they lay in their mother’s arms- two pink-faced, beautiful bundles held by the tired- but still glowing- Samantha Duvert. The picture had been taken directly after the twins’ birth- the happiest day of Sabin’s life. The image- and the memory- gave him no joy now, however. In his mind he found it difficult to think of his children as anything but those soft, helpless little creatures in their arms. Those had been the golden days- when he had very nearly come to grips with his dual existence, relishing in Samantha’s unconditional love and feeling even a sense of self-acceptance from the sake of their ideal life. He remembered that day as clearly as he could close his eyes and still see his wife’s face- he recalled taking the small form that was his daughter and rubbing her tiny cheek with his finger. She was so small- they were both so small, and perfect: pink and chubby and round. Nothing like the monstrosities in the chamber- an image of those malformed claws, curling under where helpless baby fingers should have been suddenly caused his stomach churned, and finally, he understood the look on Aubrey’s face. She had looked at him… as if he were a monster.
And he was. He knew it- recognized that horrified look as surely as he would never forget the look on his daughter’s face when she realized her birthright. She had been disgusted- appalled- at what her parents had concealed from them. He did not begrudge her anger- or blame her accusations. Not when he believed them… all so much more than her.
Sabin returned the picture to its place next to the bed, turning it down to the wood while the tears collected in his eyes. It was the last gesture of humanity his body would allow before slipping into a more dualistic state- the shadows creeping from the corners of the room as though bidden, gathering around Sabin as sure as did his emotions build a tower around him.
Already, at the mere reminder of his devastating loss- he was wracked- overcome with anger and loss. He knew that if he continued to spend his grief this way- throwing himself into so many projects- feeding his pain with the death of his morality, his humanity- there would be nothing left of the man that Samantha had loved. Something had to be done… or he would consume himself.
That night, the man who sat in his room, destroying his own soul with every wracking sob, gave Aubrey Lockheart Moreau one gift. …Deep in the night, as Nicholas Moreau slept the comfortable, guilt-free sleep of an immoral man- a nightmare that was anything but natural robbed him of the rest of his night’s sleep- and, truly- every night after it for several weeks. Even a man with the constitution of Nicholas Moreau could not soon forget the image of an army of monstrous children, each one more terrifying than the next- skin flayed from their muscles and blood pouring from their eyes, and others hobbling on legs whose bones split through their skin in shrouds of vicious pus. The message was clear- and Sabin knew that such a poignant nightmare- one that seemed as real as any waking moment- would long dissuade him from pressuring his wife into such an unnatural method of bearing children. Aubrey would never know what had changed her husband’s mind- surely; she would have never thought to thank the man who had spent the night of Elizabeth Maurlias’ birth in the form of a monster- slowly dying inside.