I'm impressed by the number of genres we're seeing in this contest. You Sparklers have range! Today's story, by clarissavandell, is science fiction. Enjoy!
"Epperly, you have to do it today.”
Before entering his office, Dr. Epperly turned to his comrade, a bald man in black with a firm expression on his face. “Not today. Maybe another month with her, but not today. James, there’s so much we learn without cutting her open; we have the clues we need, all we have do is put it together.”
“The FBI does not like to play games. You may like riddles, puzzles… but do you know what I had to go through just to let you take care of her in the medicinal wing? In the same wing as your experimental drugs? It’s now or never; the FBI’s breathing down my neck about spies in the government, Russia or Korea infiltrating us. If they find another ‘organic robot’ or whatever you call it, they won’t be happy.”
Evan just shook his head. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable, James… she has nerves, she feels pain… It would feel wrong… like carving up a human being…”
“They aren’t human. It’s a robot that happens to have organs.” James sighed then adjusted his sunglasses. “Listen, we can’t rely on nuclear weapons every time with have a disagreement with North Korea. We need to know what they’re up to. We need to know if this thing is one of their secret projects or not. Got it?”
Dr. Epperly nodded, and muttered a goodbye to his colleague. As soon as the agent was out of sight, the doctor entered his office. The room was filled with steel carts, glass syringes, and other works of a dedicated scientist. Lauren sat on the cot against the wall. She looked bewildered, and Dr. Epperly realized that while he was gone, she had one of her episodes. “Lauren? Do you remember anything?”
She seemed like a healthy human being, despite a fraction shaken; her hair was healthy and long, a deep gold in color. She wore neutral clothing, perhaps too big, but comfortable; a white tank and shorts suitable for the desert, where they had found her. “I don’t,” she said. Her white teeth clicked together on her ‘t’s, and her head seemed to droop lower and lower the more they talked. “I was someplace hot. And now I’m here. Who are you?”
“I’m Dr. Epperly, but you can call me Evan.” He waited, patient while Lauren processed thoughts in her mind. He had gone through this many times with Lauren, even though his career had nothing to do with Lauren. He worked with drugs, used to administering medicines and recording results. But Lauren had requested to stay with him, and her origin was too mysterious to pass up.
“I don’t feel like talking,” she finally said, as Dr. Epperly knew she would. “Would you leave?”
He nodded, and started for the door; one step, then to two, three, four-
“Wait.” He turned around, and found her at the medicine cabinet, as expected. “What is this for?” she asked, holding a vial of something. Insulin, this time. “Is it a medicine?”
This was the first clue that Dr. Epperly had. The questions kept coming, and Dr. Epperly answered them as best as he could, but he imagined that whoever had sent her wanted her to ask these questions. She never asked the same question twice. If only he could bring out her secrets… Yet whenever he asked, she became either cold and distant, or else she became angry.
“It’s for people who can’t break down blood sugar.”
“What is that?”
The doctor tried to repress his smile; she seemed perhaps nineteen, yet her continuous questions gave the impression that she was very young. “Sugars in the food we eat are absorbed into the bloodstream. Some people can’t absorb it into their body from the blood, so they take insulin.” He watched as she traced her finger around the bottle, reading the label with her brown eyes.
Cameras, the doctor reminded himself. Those eyes were hooked up to a computer somewhere in her skull, and her ears were most likely tiny microphones.
Why was she here? What was her purpose?
Glass shattered on the floor. Epperly looked back at Lauren in time to see her collapse to the ground, her limbs shaking in convulsions. The doctor did nothing; this had happened so many times in the last few months, and all his interference ever seemed to do was harm her. He told himself that his job required him to take the tranquilizer from his pocket and walk toward her.
Still, the humanitarian in him worried for her.
“I don’t know how her mind will react to the surgery… she has what looks like epileptic seizures, which might be the result of electric components exposed to certain areas of the brain.” Epperly stared down at Lauren, unconscious on an operating table. “I don’t know if the memory loss is a result of the seizure, or if it’s the other way around.”
James stood across the room, watching. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re qualified for the job, but you’re young. You’re nervous… there’s not a girl in there, remember, there’s a robot. Somebody built her.”
“When you work here for as long as I have, you accept that some days you have to do things you aren’t comfortable with. I’ve killed men plenty of times. All you have to do is open her up, look around, and sew her back up…” James sighed. “…Nobody said it was easy.”
Epperly sighed, and then started hooking up machines to the girl. “Alright.”
A steady rhythm of beeps from her brain activity was soothing. Her heart monitor was showing steady waves, and a mild tranquilizer flowed through a needle in her arm. Dr. Epperly put one last stitch in the incision at Lauren’s ear, and then took up the knife again. A phone lay off the hook next to him, connected to the man in charge of international technology. “Microphones, as expected,” he told the man on the line. “I’m… about to commence with cranial inspection.”
“At last, Epperly, we’ve been waiting for this. This should be where all the important circuitry is, then?”
“Yes.” A thin line near the scalp, that was all he needed, he told himself. A thin line… The weight of the knife in his hand was a discomfort; the metal was cool, like the barrel of a gun about to fire.
Electrons, firing in his mind, sounded off the words.
It stopped there, and Epperly found his hand over her scalp, small knife firm in hand. Achingly lowering the instrument, the doctor’s left hand rested beside where the incision was to be.
Warm skin under his left hand and cold steel in his right, Epperly made a decision, and hung up the phone. It immediately rang again, yet the doctor didn’t pick it up again. He peeled the girl’s eyelid back, gentle as possible. “You really are quite lovely,” he said, then set his knife down. “I don’t want to hurt you, but they need answers from me. And I can only get those answers from you.” He let her eyelid fall back over the camera concealed there, then pulled the IV from her arm.
It only took a few minutes, and she stirred a bit; she blinked, and set a stare on the doctor. “What… Where am I? Who are you?” She struggled to sit up on the table, feeling at the wires attached to her skin.
“My name is Evan, and I’m a doctor here. Who are you?” he asked, determined to find out.
“I don’t…” she paused before she could finish the sentence, and her teeth clicked together once. “Dr. Epperly, this is the commanding intelligence personnel from the GLIES-581-C sector, and after careful thought, our superiors have allowed contact through the modified organism you call ‘Lauren’,” a voice said through her mouth. It wasn’t Lauren’s voice, but seemed harsher, like a machine.
“Glees, 85… never mind. I work for the FBI, and we need to know which country has developed this technology,” the doctor said, his voice hesitant. This was good, right? He was getting answers, right?
“Dr. Epperly, we are from GLIES-581-C. We have managed to send a partially functioning modified organism through many light years, and we have permission to grant your request for answers. We are communicating over many light years in space, and we are currently facing a war on our planet. Our weapons are well developed, but we are facing a severe depletion of our population.
“We managed to discover the process of producing a modified organism, such as the one you see now. The technique isn’t perfected, but it serves to create our emissary to your planet.”
Lauren stared the doctor with blank eyes, and waited for a reply. “So… you’re from another planet,” he said.
“Then why are you here? To invade us? Make friends? Why?”
Another click from her teeth. “To gain information. Our people are dying from new diseases, from violence, and we need to learn ways to keep them alive. That’s why we requested to stay with you.”
“To learn about medicines,” Dr. Epperly said, blinking a few times. “But… why tell me now? Why go to me, instead of the FBI?”
“We hoped to scope out the nature of your planet before establishing contact with your top organizations. And we have been both astounded and pleased with the care you’ve shown for our modified organism, despite its obvious differences from your species.” She looked up. “Agent James, a pleasure.”
Epperly turned around, and saw his friend in the doorway, wearing a perplexed expression. “…Is that her? They sent me down here when you cut off the phone line…”
“They’re aliens,” the doctor said. “They sent Lauren here to find out about medicine for their planet. That’s why she wanted to stay in the medicinal wing.”
“He is correct.” Lauren looked to the doctor, then back to the agent. “We understand your organization will want to contact us.”
“We will contact you. We are willing to negotiate; our weapon technology might be of some use to you?” James nodded, eyes wide. “Good. Listen on your radio receivers. We shall depart from the modified organism now.” Lauren turned her head to the doctor. “Goodbye, Dr. Epperly.”
Her teeth clicked one last time, and then the machines started beeping, wild pitches that mingled with the sound of feral screaming from the girl. Epperly started to rush to her side, stopped only by his friend latching onto him and holding him still. The girl’s screaming stopped, and she sank back on the table, eyes starting to close as her heartbeat slowed, and her brain activity trailed off. Soon there was only one long tone, and a pair of flat lines.
James released Evan, and the doctor found himself over the body, trying to resuscitate her with frantic compressions to her chest. “It’s too late, Evan.”
The doctor turned back to the agent, his eyes watering. “Why did you hold me back?”
“She wasn’t going to live. She was a tool of theirs, a living body with only a computer that allowed her to live.”
“You don’t know that!”
“She wasn’t a person, God damn it! You’re a scientist; you can’t get caught up in cases like this, it does things to you!” James sighed, pitying the doctor. “You’ve got to let this pass, Evan. I’ll call for an autopsy, and then we can figure out how they got her to work. It’s science, right?”
Evan was silent for a few seconds, sorting through emotions, James guessed. “It’s just a shame…” James shook his head, then exited the room, leaving the doctor alone with the girl and his thoughts. “Such a shame.”
Based on "The Scientist," by Coldplay
How did you like the story of Laura, Sparklers?
To review the contest rules and read past finalists, go here. Remember, the deadline to submit stories is March 31!
Topics: musical fiction contest