Chapter Sixteen

"Is she going to be okay, Doctor?" A man stood, fidgeting, wringing his hands worriedly. He was in a white, sterile room. A woman framed by long, curly black hair sat shivering on a raised bed next to him. She was wearing a thin, plain gown, which was open in the back.

Another man, much older than the first, was standing across from the other two, holding a clipboard and looking somber. He had closely cropped gray hair, as well as a thick mustache of the same color.

"I'm afraid that it's not good news, Mr. Malcolm, Mrs. Malcolm," the older man said sadly. The younger man, Mr. Malcolm, went pale. The woman's face tightened, and she grabbed the man's hand for support. They shared a quick glance before the woman spoke.

"What- what's happening to me?" she asked shakily. She looked from the older man to the younger, her face marred with a look of confusion and fear. The younger man closed his hands around hers protectively, and she smiled tentatively.

"Well, it's hard to explain," the older man said tiredly, rubbing his eyes. He began to pace around the room, sighing, giving off the air of a man used to delivering bad news, yet one who couldn't stand to do it. The couple stared at him silently, awaiting his explanation.

"You have a disease, Mrs. Malcolm. A disease we've never seen," the older man said, ceasing his pacing and sitting in a nearby chair.

"What do you mean a disease you've never seen?" the younger man asked sharply, jumping forward. The woman grabbed his shoulder.

"Oliver, please," she said, patting his arm soothingly. The younger man looked at the woman, then pulled back, disgruntled. She looked over at the older man and smiled sadly. "I apologize, we're both just a bit, well, on edge."
"It's quite all right," the older man said. "I'll explain." He stood up and began pacing again. "It's not quite like anything we've seen before. You've been experiencing some dizziness, memory loss, weakness, and aches, correct?" He looked over as the woman nodded.

"Yes, those are fairly common symptoms," the older man continued. "But we couldn't discover the cause for the longest time."

"And now?" the woman asked. The older man sighed.

"We've located an anomaly in your genetic structure, Mrs. Malcolm. Your DNA is, well, there's an instability- how do I say this?" The older man sighed. "I'll explain it like this: It's like your DNA is fraying, unraveling. You're dying, Mrs. Malcolm, from the inside. As you age, your cells will lose their ability to multiply. Your body will break down. Your mind will deteriorate. Your memories will disappear. At the end of the process, you'll die."

There was silence at the end of the older man's speech. The younger man, Oliver, was ashen. His wife's face was drawn, dejected.

"How long do I have?" she asked quietly.

"Leanne-" Oliver began, but the woman cut him off.

"No, Oliver. I want to know." Oliver sat down beside Leanne on the bed and hugged her. They stayed like that for over a minute, silent. When they broke apart, they both looked better; color had entered Oliver's face, and Leanne's shoulders were set, almost defiant.

"So, how-how long, Doctor?" Leanne asked shakily. Despite her defiant appearance, she was still shaken. Her hand reached out to her husband's for support.

"It's hard to say," the doctor said, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "It won't happen immediately, it'll be a process. I'd say three to five years, at the absolute most. I'm so sorry."

"How did she get this disease?" Oliver asked quietly, speaking for the first time in a while.

"It's almost certainly genetic." The coupled looked at each other.

"Your father," Oliver said.

"Yeah," Leanne answered. "I always wondered how he died…the doctors were never able to tell us." The older man nodded sadly.

"Yes, well," he said. "There is a bright side to all of this."

"What?" Oliver asked, voice raised in anger. Leanne looked towards the doctor with a confused expression on her face. "What could possibly be good about this? My wife is dying."

"Er, yes, I didn't mean to offend," the older man said, stumbling over his words. "It's just, from what we've learned about the condition, it would be difficult to pass this condition on hereditarily. The fact that you got it from- your father, did you say?" Leanne nodded. "Well, that in and of itself is surprising, considering-"

"Just stop," Leanne said. The doctor froze, taken aback. "My father passed it to me. It's not impossible. I'd never take the risk of condemning my child-" she broke off, looking over at her husband.

"Our child," her husband continued. Leanne's face softened at his words. "I agree with my wife. We'll be leaving now." They walked out, leaving the doctor, whose face was lined with sorrow. The door closed behind them, and the white, sterile room disappeared from view. As soon as they were out of the room, Leanne began to shake.

"Oliver, what are we going to do?" she asked.

"We'll go back to the facility, Leanne. We have equipment and staff there. With the advancements Lazarus has made in the medical field-"

"Lazarus can't help me, Oliver, it's genetic. Using my DNA to grow replacement organs would be pointless."

"We can figure this out, Leanne. We can do this, together. We can take the research further. I don't care what it takes." Leanne smiled.

"You certainly are dedicated, Oliver." Her smile faltered for a second, and fear showed through her expression.

"What is it?" Oliver asked, looking closely at his wife. She was still smiling, but it was hiding more than it was showing.

"Do you- do you really think we can do this?" Leanne began to shake harder than before. Oliver hugged her.

"We'll figure out something, honey. I promise. I won't let this take you from me." Leanne smiled and looked up at Oliver. He nudged her, smiling, and they began walking hand-in-hand.

"You promise?" she asked, hugging Oliver as they walked.

"I promise," he answered quietly. The two faded from view as the world melted around them, swirling into blackness, before sharpening into view again.

The man, previously smooth-faced and well-dressed, now looked ragged. He was dressed haphazardly, like he had put his clothes on blindfolded. His face was unshaven, and stubble dotted it like weeds in an unkempt yard.

He was in a dark, gray room. Various panels and monitors covered the walls around him, and a wooden desk sat in front of him. He held his head in his hands, as if defeated, but his eyes were still alight with an intense, burning fervor. A pile of complicated-looking papers and notes was strewn across the desk in front of him, as well as a small stack of old newspapers.

His wife sat in a chair across from him. Her face was pale, and looked as if color hadn't seen it in months. Her hair was a disheveled mess, but her clothes were clean and orderly. She stared at the wall blankly, as if half-conscious.

"I'm close," the man mumbled to no one in particular. "Genetic replication's the key, but I need to strengthen the base subject in order to compensate for the anomaly…I need more subjects."

Suddenly, the man shot up from his chair, scattering papers around the room. His wife looked as if she had barely noticed.

"More!" he shouted at the ceiling, smiling madly. He ran from the room, and as he did, his wife seemed to awaken. She shook her head and held it in her hands for a brief second, her expression pained. Then, she stood up.

"Oliver!" she shouted, before running out of the room after him. The world seemed to melt again as she ran, swirling into unclear, gray shapes with every step before reforming.

The couple was again sitting in the gray room, which had since been cleaned. The woman, while still pale, looked slightly better. The man, however, looked even more disheveled than before.

A third occupant filled the room this time, and the couple's attention was on her. She was tall, with dark hair and skin. Her hair was put back out of the way, as if it were little more than a nuisance. Her eyes were ragged, tired, and her whole countenance spoke of exhaustion.

"The genetic replication was successful, sir," the woman said. Oliver nodded tiredly.

"And has the anomaly been successfully eliminated?" he asked. The woman shook her head.

"I'm sorry, sir. Fifty out of the fifty subjects tested positive for Leanne's Disease. It seems that pure genetic replication is the best we can do at this point."

"Well, we need to do better!" Oliver shouted, pounding his fist on the desk. The woman jumped, and Leanne patted her husband's arm.

"Calm down, Oliver, it's okay," she said quietly. Oliver looked at her, and his expression softened. He nodded.

"We need to find a way to eliminate Leanne's Disease at the genetic level, before replication. Make more subjects."

"What should I do with the last fifty subjects, sir?"

"Take them up to the surface, or kill them, or, hell, put them up for adoption. I really don't care, just get rid of them and make more!" Oliver said, his voice raising as he waved his hands through the air exasperatedly. The woman nodded quickly and ran out. Oliver collapsed in his chair after she left.

"Are you okay?" Leanne asked him, her voice full of concern. Oliver laughed.

"I should be asking you that question. Are you okay?" He turned towards her, eyes watery. Leanne smiled.

"Of course I am," she said weakly, smiling.

"Promise?" Oliver asked quietly. Leanne took his face in her hands.

"I promise," she said softly, before kissing him. The world faded from view yet again as they kissed, fading into nothingness. Sounds echoed from the blackness eerily before the world faded back into view, slowly at first, then all at once.

Once again, the couple was in the gray room .Leanne was sitting in a cylindrical chamber in the corner of the room. Oliver stood before her, chatting excitedly.

"This is it, Leanne. I can save you. I just needed more time, and this will give us that! More time!" Contrary to her husband's happy demeanor, Leanne looked apprehensive.

"Are you sure about this, honey?" she asked weakly, sounding like a frightened child. Oliver smiled and took her hands in his.

"Absolutely, Leanne. It's been tested thoroughly, and it works perfectly. It's similar to cryogenics-"

"Without turning me into an ice cube, right?" Leanne interrupted. Oliver laughed.

"Yes, yes, I skipped that part. It's similar, not the same. You'll be put into a state of stasis. Your mind and body will stop aging, basically frozen in time. It'll give me the time I need to save you." Oliver smiled widely, but Leanne seemed unconvinced.

"In stasis? So I'll be unconscious until you work out I cure? What if it can't be cured, Oliver, what if I go in this thing and never wake up?" Oliver kept smiling, despite her misgivings.

"I thought of that, too. You'll be in a semiconscious state, connected to the machine through your brain. We'll even be able to communicate. To you, it'll seem like you're having a normal conversation, even though I'll be typing out my responses on this side." Leanne looked down at the conduit she sat in, doubt still written all over her face.

"Come on," Oliver said softly, hugging her, "trust me. We can do this. You'll be out in no time. I'm not going to let you stay in there forever, honey." Leanne smiled at his words, but tears were flowing down her cheeks.

"I love you," she said through her tears. Oliver kissed her cheek, smiling.

"I love you, too."

"Promise me you won't leave me in this tin can. Promise me you'll get me out, Oliver." Oliver's face softened, and his eyes began to water.

"I promise," he said softly, holding his wife close as they cried together. Without warning, the world faded from view again, leaving only blackness. This time, however, no vision came to replace it.

For the longest time, the world seemed to only exist as blackness, empty and uninviting. Suddenly, a voice floated across the abyss.

"Mrs. Malcolm," the voice said.

"Who's there?" the blackness answered, forming together into the form of a pale woman with curly, black hair.

"My name is Owen, Mrs. Malcolm. We have met before, do you remember?"

"Delightful, one of my husband's lackeys," the woman said, watching as the voice took form in a light, which swirled together, forming a tall, broad man in a labcoat. "I remember you. Oliver brought you in after your family died. Promised to restore your daughter's life. Bigshot medical scientist, right? What do you want?" The man nodded his head.

"Your husband sent me to watch over you, and to assess your current condition. He believes he's close to a breakthrough."

"If anything, my husband is tenacious," the woman said, smiling and leaning backwards in the air.

"If I may ask, ma'am, how are you?" the man asked.

"Oh, I'm fine, just going over some memories. Thinking." The woman sighed. "So, what did you say your name was?"

"Owen, ma'am. I'll be watching over you while your husband pursues this latest lead."

"I see. Nice to make your acquaintance, Owen." The woman turned over completely, her hair falling. Owen didn't seem to notice. "This should be interesting."

"Owen, sir. Should we wait in the hall?" Several sentinels stood at attention, waiting for Owen's command.

"Er, yes," he answered, unused to ordering the soldiers around. He looked down at the screen in front of him as the sentinels walked out. The monitor was attached to a conduit in a large, gray-walled room. In the conduit was a woman, pale and beautiful, surrounded by a curly mane of dark hair. Words blinked on the screen, awaiting a response.

-This should be interesting, the screen read. Owen cracked his knuckles and began typing on his holodisplay.

Yes, he thought as he typed up an answer, this is going to be very interesting.