The memories are inconsistent, jumbles of pictures and sounds but nothing concrete. A fall. A cut. Bleeding. Healing. I recognize these wet, fallen leaves, but not this naked skin or the blood on my hands.
“I have the schedule. We’re going to review batches one through eight from Sample Block E.” The lab coat, animated by some pale ghoul wearing glasses, spoke with authority. “We purged blocks A and B earlier this week. Only one batch had a slight improvement over earlier iterations. Strains were isolated and taken for further study.”
I hear water. Somewhere off to my left, the trickle of a stream. I try to move towards it, but my muscles ache from the gnashing cold. My bones feel like iron being dissolved by acid. The branches from these fallen trees jab my bare feet, poking and stabbing and torturing with every step. I can see my breath.
“I was disappointed with the results from number one. Do you concur?” One lab coat shuffled awkwardly next to another, hazy outlines of men washed out by glaring overheard lights. “Number two shows a lot of potential, but it’ll never work with those defects. We’ll extract the sequences and move on.”
The sun is dropping in perfect time with the temperature. As the shadows grow longer, my aches burrow deeper. I’m not sure I can outlast this day, not without finding some kind of haven. The water soothes my cracked throat. My teeth chatter.
“Ah, three-ee. Three-bee showed great improvement, but we had to remove it due to a psychological abnormality.” One lab coat marked something on a clipboard, pen skittering across the paper like a spider across a web. “I think this one is the first passable example we’ve seen. Except…”
The sun is gone. I don’t know if I’ll see it come up again. I can see a light in the distance, up high, casting a yellow glow over the clearing. My legs feel too sore to run, but I move towards the light. Towards the light. The warm, seductive beams of light.
“No, no. This won’t do. The project parameters specifically set the tolerances of variation. If we accept this batch, we’d be undoing years of meticulous splicing.” Lab coat one turned and whispered something to lab coat two. “No. I said no! Flush the chamber.”
The light is affixed to a wall of stone. Several more throw flat light in all directions. The wall is smooth and cold, but I can feel a hum coming from the other side. The leaves and sticks have been cleared here. Familiar.
“I don’t care if you think the progress is too slow. Natural evolution takes hundreds, thousands of years. We can speed it up, but these changes are subtle, gradual.” Several other lab coats had gathered, all of them moving away from Block E, ghosts moving from one life to the next. “We’re scheduled to review Blocks C and D tomorrow. There’s still hope our engineering will have the desired effect.”
I pass several large, round openings, most dripping water into shallow pools. Tracks, deep grooves in the mud, move off in every direction. I can finally see a door, brown and thick and metal. I run my hands along the concrete for guidance and support. I move slowly. I see a sign.
“Good, good. Three-cee appears to be within limits. Inform the director. We’re ready to move to live trials.”
The metal is cold, etched. Words. A language. Words I know: united, lab, genetics, states. My fingers are numb. I try to remember, but the memories are inconsistent, a jumble. I slump against the wall. I rub my hands across my chest, trying to keep warm. I find something. Raised skin, painful lumps. A three. A bee. I close my eyes.