Art By Stephan Martiniere (Sources: Here and Here).
For the Terribleminds challenge “The Titles Have Been Chosen“. Pleased as I am that mine, “Always Have An Exit Strategy”, was one of the finalists, I didn’t want to just pick my own title. Maybe that’s just me.
“Cordelia! Where is that sulfur I asked for?”
Without the proper preservative, the professor’s experiments would not last into the reanimation stage. He looked down again at the first, he hoped, of many successful human subjects. The burst heart, damaged liver, and ragged kidneys had needed to be replaced, but the brain had been intact. He was not quite at the point of programming brains or toying with memories. However, Cordelia’s efforts in that regard had been promising so far. When the door to the laboratory opened, he smiled and turned to face her, beginning to loosen his heavy rubber gloves.
“There you are. How did it go?”
“The mortuary was empty, as usual.” Cordelia didn’t make eye contact with him. Her long, dark hair slid from behind her ear and obscured her face. The professor blinked, studying her. Usually she enjoyed sneaking into laboratories and mortuaries to get what they needed. But her body language was more nervous, even trepidatious. He moved away from his tray of tools.
“Cordelia? Are you all right?”
“Professor… I think I need to leave.”
The professor blinked. “What happened? What’s going on?”
Cordelia still didn’t look up. “When I was in the mortuary I saw a victim who looked like he’d been eaten by small animals.”
“That happens all the time.”
“How many of them have bites with acid burns?”
The professor furrowed his brows. “Weren’t you going to try and catch that mouse after it ate through its cage?”
“I did find it. I broke its neck and threw it in a hearthfire.”
“What? I could have used it! I could have rebuilt it!”
She shook her head. “No, Professor. I can’t let you do this anymore.”
“I don’t understand. Are you unhappy here? Have you forgotten the dreams we had when we attended university together? The notes passed during lectures given by narrow-minded fools? The long nights by the river, whispering of a better tomorrow?”
“They were foolish dreams, Professor. And I was a foolish girl.”
One of his gloves came off with an angry snap. “No. This behavior is foolish. We are so close, Cordelia.” He gestured behind him, at the corpse on the slab. “Everything is in place! We just need the preservatives, the excitable elements, the initial electrical spark, and…”
“We’ve stolen so much already, Professor. How much damage have we done? How much more will we do?”
“All science comes from sacrifice, Cordelia. It takes strength of will and clarity of vision to see past the tedium and roadblocks right in front of us, and stay focused on the ultimate goal. Think of it: a world where death is a mere inconvenience rather than the end. We’ll build a world of immortals, where the time you always felt you should have had can be purchased and gifted.”
“The price is more than money. We’ve taken these chemicals, these organs, from people that need them. In giving life back to one, we take it away from many. Science should make life for everyone better; it should not give us the choice of who lives and who dies.”
“Medical doctors make those choices every day. Are you going to stand there and tell me that they somehow have that right when we do not?”
“That’s triage. This is different.”
“It’s absolutely different! Imagine having the great minds of our age preserved and continuing to think and produce for ages to come!”
“Please. Just… just let me go.”
He removed his other glove and set them aside. “Cordelia, listen to me…”
“No.” Cordelia finally looked up, fixing the professor with her bright blue eyes. “No, you listen. I’m tired of this dreary laboratory. I’m tired of cleaning up all of your messes. I’m tired of simply being handed a dirty dish or container and being expected to clean it, without so much as a thank you. I’m tired of being used by you, for…” She shook all over. “For everything.”
He blinked at her. He struggled to find something to say, some way to keep her from leaving him.
“How about this… we start again. I get rid of all of this, and we start over. We share in the chores. We work together. And you… you don’t bring me dead things anymore. How about that?”
To his shock, she smiled a little.
“No. No, there’s one more dead thing I will give you.”
He hadn’t seen the revolver until that moment. He raised his hands, a gesture he’d always found odd in others. What, would the gesture magically ward off his scalpel, or his knife, or in this case, Cordelia’s bullet?
“I thought about simply leaving. Just going away with no note, no way for you to find me. But I know you would find me. And what you do… what we’ve been doing… it has to stop. There has to be an end.”
“I won’t follow this research any further, Cordelia. From this day forward. I promise.”
She smiled more. A bright smile, with teeth and dimples, the one that had captured his heart.
“Yes… I know.”
The revolver roared in the space of the laboratory.
He was cold throughout his body. That, he did not expect. His eyes dropped, and he saw the ragged hold in his lab coat, the red spreading out from it. He looked up again at Cordelia, as she stood in the doorway, strong and certain, smoking revolver in her hand.
He wanted to tell her he was sorry. He wanted to say he would stop treating her as he had, that he would not take her for granted. He wanted to ask her what he could do to make things right between them.
Bloody froth was all that came from his mouth.
His body dropped to its knees, disconnected from his brain and its command for him to remain standing. He hit the grimy lab floor a moment later. The door slammed shut, and he was left there, with the dead things.