In a science facility in Australia, late at night, a scientist sat alone in his private laboratory, encompassed in a haze of yellow light, in an otherwise dark room. He was looking through a simple light microscope, his glasses clicking against the ocular lens as he tried to get a better look at the compound he had created. Notebooks, files, folders and sheets of paper were scattered over his desk, but each was placed neatly in a specific place. The scientist despised disorganised messes.
The man frowned, intrigued by his own creation, and looked away from the lens to write down some notes in one of his notebooks before looking through the microscope once again. He adjusted the focus, keeping his eyes on his work. He cared for not much else.
The scientist was in his late fifties. His hair was grey and kept short, and he had creases under his eyes, showing his history of lack of sleep and too much stress. He wore a white lab coat over his flannel pants and woollen vest. Though he strived to keep his possessions clean, his coat still had stubborn stains.
His spectacles were pushed far up his nose. They were always close to his eyes when he was content and working, but they slipped down his nose whenever he angered, which was quite often, especially in the company of his assistant.
It was almost always dark in his personal lab, as there were no windows besides the one on the door to the hallway. A cooling chamber and photocopier hummed in the corner of the room, out of the way. There were various supplies and equipment stacked on shelves and in cupboards all around the room. Pipettes hung from the shelves and trays, jars, boxes, bottles and other various contents covered every available space. There were no labels anywhere, but the professor had long since memorized where everything belonged.
There were also numerous benches along the walls with models of molecules and organs, but especially DNA. One bench stood in the centre of the room, where he had placed five test tubes, in a stand; of the moss green, liquid substance he was viewing under his microscope.
The entire room was white from ceiling to linoleum floor, but for the dark blue carpet at one end of the room, by the door to the desk where Ramirez was working. The only light was coming from the lamp on the professor’s work desk and the one under his microscope lens.
Most of his fellow employees had left for the night, going home to see their families, have dinner and get a good night’s rest before continuing their own projects the next day. The man couldn’t care less about his co-workers and their priorities. For him, having a proper meal or a night’s sleep would be a reward for after he had finished his work.
Professor George Ramirez was intent on finishing his work as soon as possible. He was on the verge of a breakthrough, a discovery that could change the world forever. ‘Deoxyribonucleic acid Evolution, test-compound number twenty-three’, better known as DE-23. DNAE-23 would have been a name that would have made more sense, but Ramirez wasn’t fond of words that were a mouthful.
A young man in his early twenties strolled into the room, a smile on his face. He had black, messy hair and wore a lab coat that was a little too big for him over his baggy jeans and t-shirt. He was scrawny. Daniel Reid was working with Professor Ramirez to get extra credit for college, but some would say he wasn’t fit to work at the research facility due to his ‘quirks’.
He held two mugs in his hands. They were filled with hot coffee, and they were steaming in the cool air of the unheated room. As the assistant was nearing his boss, he stumbled over a ripple in the carpet and lost his grip on one of the mugs, but before he even had a chance to realize what was happening, the professor was standing in front of him, grasping the coffee that had almost fallen to the floor.
The assistant regained his composure then smiled at the professor. He was about to say something, but the professor glared at him, set down his coffee, pushed his spectacles up his nose and turned on his heels to continue with his work, silencing Reid before he had even spoken. Ramirez found happiness irritating. Sometimes he wondered by the world had cursed him with only one option for an assistant, the most incurably happy person on earth.
The assistant’s smile faltered at the professor’s obvious display of dislike for him, but only for a moment. He made a few quick strides to the professor’s side. He watched for a minute, and then began to fidget a little, shifting his weight from left foot to right foot. He’d signed up to be an assistant at the facility because he’d expected exciting and awe-inspiring experiments, but Ramirez spent most of his time observing samples and taking notes, then typing up reports and filing them away. Reid had never met a more boring and grumpy person.
Reid made a quick glance at the professor’s face, and then looked back at the man’s notes, then at his face, then back to the microscope. He wanted to help somehow. Maybe just try and understand what Ramirez was doing for a start.
He hesitantly leaned forward a few inches over the professor’s shoulder, then paused and checked his boss’s reaction. No response. Reid took this as a sign of encouragement and moved forward with more confidence. He bit his lip and inspected the work being done, trying to make sense of the scientist’s notes. The page was filled with scribbles of diagrams with annotations and observations in illegible handwriting.
Suddenly he felt a cold chill run up and down his spine, causing a spread of a familiar tingling feeling over his shoulders and down his arms. He slowly turned his head, and found himself looking right into the professor’s eyes as he glared daggers.
The assistant moved back in shock and bumped into the bench behind him. The force caused the bench to shake. The test tubes atop the table wobbled until one gave in and fell. The uncovered contents spilled all over Reid’s right hand. He gasped in shock at the burning sensation from the green liquid. The pain seemed to spread up his arm to his shoulder, but the strange substance remained spilled on his hand. The sensation was like acid burning through his skin, and Reid feared the substance would eat away at his skin until it reached bone.
Professor Ramirez jumped up, knocking his chair over with a ‘clang’ in the process. His face was fuming, and his spectacles were on the edge of his nose.
“GET OUT!” he screamed. His voice was so loud, it echoed around the room for a full five seconds before dying down. He had no sympathy for the young man who had almost ruined many years worth of work that would take almost as long to replicate.
The assistant didn’t move. He was frozen in shock and fear, and it showed on his face. His petrification almost made him forget his agony. Almost.
Reid couldn’t help it. Tears began to overflow from his eyes and stream like river rapids down his cheeks. At this, the professor’s gaze softened slightly. “Go wash your hand, Reid,” he said, his voice a little more hushed. “I haven’t tested what effect the compound has on skin contact.” Reid paused, unsure of how he should act. He was a little shocked by the professor’s unusual display of compassion. “Now, Reid!” The professor’s voice had returned to its customary angry tone.
“Yes, Professor Ramirez.” Reid hurried from the room.
Professor Ramirez stood alone in his lab for a full minute before bending down to put his chair back in place. He glanced at the spilled contents of the DE-23 compound. It was a thick substance. He’d have to clean it up, but later. He was too close to completion of the greatest creation man was ever going to see.
Reid raced to the nearest bathroom. He could have washed his hand in the lab, there was a sink there, but he was afraid of Ramirez, plus he wanted some privacy. He’d already cried in front of the boss, if he started blubbering like a child, his life would be over.
Reid cursed under his breath. His hand felt like it was on fire. What was in the DE-23 compound? Acid? Likely, knowing Professor Ramirez.
He reached the bathroom and rushed to the sink. He turned on the tap and put his hand under the running water. It was cool against his burning skin. He left his hand under the running water until the green compound was completely washed away. He didn’t dare use his other hand to speed up the process. He could risk both his hands.
When he couldn’t see any more green goo on his hand, he turned off the tap and brought his hand to his face to have a closer look at the damage. His hand was red and blistered, but at least it hadn’t burning through to the bone like he’d originally suspected. He’d need to find the first aid kit. Maybe use some cream and bandages. Reid sighed. Figures something like this would happen to him. He was a klutz in a scientific research facility. What could go wrong, right? Reid remembered thinking before he took the job. He mentally hit himself.
He opened the door with his good hand and went in search of the first aid.
Professor Ramirez removed the slide containing a sample of DE-23 and placed it in the sink by his desk. He had found the information he was looking for. He knew exactly what he needed to make his compound complete. He walked to a cupboard near the back of the lab wear he kept his samples of elements and other compounds and mixtures. He knew exactly where to find what he was looking for, and he took the small bottle from the top shelf.
He smiled to himself. He was about to do it. He hastily strode to the bench where he had left his test tubes. The one that Reid had spilled was still lying where he had left it, but Ramirez didn’t notice. Excitement was consuming him and it was a new feeling for the sour man.
He used an eyedropper to take a small amount from the bottle he held, and hovered the eyedropper over one of the test tubes. He then let a drop escape and land in the test tube, and without observing its effects, then repeated for each of the three remaining.
Not long after he had placed the cap back on the last ingredient, the test tubes began to release a gas, a similar green colour to the liquid substance. Ramirez did not notice this until he returned from placing the container back where he’d found it. Curious, he leaned over the test tubes, inspecting them. He took a breath, but realized his mistake too late. He coughed from inhaling some of the strange gas emitting from the compound. It burned his throat. He ran to the cupboard where he kept the rubber stoppers and placed one on each of the test tubes, stopping anything from escaping.
After coughing for a number of seconds, Ramirez took a deep breath, and then sat down, exhausted. He heard some noise coming from outside in the hall and looked up in time to see Reid walk into the room with a bandage around his hand. He stood in the doorway.
“It’s okay, Professor Ramirez. I’m okay,” Reid waved his hand a little, in front of his face. “Would you like to inspect what the green stuff did to my hand for your re-“
“No!” Reid jumped at Ramirez’s response and looked down at the floor, a little disappointed at not having a chance to really help the professor with his research. “The test did not go as expected at all. Get those test tubes away from me,” Ramirez continued. “Put them in the storage room. Just get them out of this room. Right now!”
Reid ran forward and placed the five test tubes on a rack as best he could with his injured hand, then picked it up, resting it on his chest, more than really holding it.
Reid had just reached the doorway when Professor Ramirez quickly gave one last warning. “And Reid,” Reid turned to look at the scientist, only just realizing how exhausted he looked. “Whatever you do,” Ramirez looked at Reid carefully, “do not, I repeat, do not take off the rubber stoppers.” Reid nodded and turned the corner, leaving Professor Ramirez alone, reflecting over the occurrences of the night.
Reid walked down the white halls of the research facility with confidence. He had just done something stupid, but the professor had just given him an important task. Maybe he would be keeping his job after all.
The only sound was Reid’s shoes as they clicked against the linoleum floor.
When he reached the storage room, he pushed down on the handle with his elbow and pushed the door with his back. The sensory lights flickered on as he moved towards a free space on a desk where he could put the vials.
He was about to leave when he glanced down at the rubber stoppers. Why had the prof. told me not to remove them? He asked himself. He gently held one of the test tubes with his right hand, and used his good hand to wriggle the stopper. He slowly, cautiously moved the rubber stopper closer and closer to the edge of the test tube until it finally came off. The green gas was released from its confinement and burst into the air. Reid stepped back, away from the desk.
“Oh no, not again!” he said before rushing from the room, coughing, and closing the air tight door, leaving the gas to freely spread throughout the room, waiting for its next victim.
Known Mutated Specimens
(In order of occurrence) By Daniel Reid