2 August 2011, Bar Harbor, Maine
“It’s time, Mýrún,” Anthony said. “We have to turn him over now.”
Mýrún pressed her fingertips to the observation room’s Plexiglas window. She’d made the room as comfortable as she could for the subject. She watched as he chased a red rubber ball. He was two and a half, not yet coordinated enough to keep from accidentally kicking the ball away whenever it got within reach. The boy, who squealed with delighted giggles, didn’t seem to mind.
There were times when Mýrún would look in on her subject and he’d be eerily still, moving only his lips in a silent conversation. The boy wasn’t talking to himself. And yet he wasn’t talking to someone outside of himself either. Anthony had called it evidence of their success.
Mýrún called it their last chance.
Her last chance.
The boy’s hair was white-blond like Mýrún’s had been when she was his age. Now, at seventy-two, her hair was just white, growing as thin as the years she had left.
Anthony took Mýrún by her shoulders and turned her to face him.
“Mýrún … he isn’t your son. He’s government property.”
Mýrún glanced back at the smiling, laughing boy. Government property. And where would he end up? Under CIA care until he properly manifested his chimerism? Whisked off to some black site where he’d be turned into a walking bioweapon—where he’d harbor a virus that she’d had a hand in creating?
When the CIA and the Department of Defense’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program had tapped her and Anthony to produce a viable weapon, she hadn’t thought …
Well, she hadn’t thought.
But now she was thinking furiously. Everything was ready. She was ready.
“He was made from my DNA,” she whispered.
Anthony sighed and shook his head.
Mýrún knew what he was thinking. He’d said it enough times over the past two and a half years. He was right, of course. She knew that too. It had been her last chance and the subject’s two-year expiration date would give her enough time to see what having a child would have been like. To ease her regrets. But this subject—LS061514—wasn’t like the rest.
He had survived. He was a success.
She hadn’t expected that, hadn’t expected a success from Group Fourteen of this trial run, just as she hadn’t expected any success from those before. She’d resigned herself to the whole mess just being a waste of nearly fifty years of her life.
“You knew he could never be yours,” Anthony said, not unkindly. “It’s time to turn him over, Mýrún. They have a handler ready for him.”
A handler, she thought, watching the boy stomp around and wave his arms. No, she couldn’t keep him, but they couldn’t have him either.
“When your government asked us to produce a virus …” Mýrún moved to close the lab door. She glanced once more through the observation window before withdrawing to the opposite side of the lab. The boy didn’t need to see this. “Knowing the intent for such a virus, knowing the damage it could do? I never questioned this.”
“How many children is it now? But do you know what is worse?” She thumbed the syringe in the pocket of her lab coat, letting the question hang on the air as she waited for Anthony to cross the room. To come closer, to comfort her and talk about reason and logic. To talk about the consequences of denying the government its expensive prize.
As she knew he would, he closed the distance between them.
“What’s worse is condemning a child to the kind of slavery in store for this boy.”
Mýrún thumbed the cap off the syringe in her pocket as she stepped closer to Anthony. With her hand hidden from his view, she pulled the syringe from her pocket and jabbed the needle into Anthony’s neck, whispering an apology as she depressed the plunger. She pulled back to look at his face. His eyes widened, then everything behind those eyes faded to nothing as he fell to the floor.
Mýrún tossed the syringe into the wall-mounted sharps container. She had to hurry. She grabbed the telephone receiver from the corner of her desk, the cheap red plastic slick under her sweating palm. She dialed three numbers in quick succession, an extension she knew by heart. The line clicked open.
“It’s time,” she said, then hung up without waiting for a reply. She opened her desk drawer and grabbed the second syringe she’d prepared, pocketing it before leaving the lab.
It wasn’t out of the norm for Mýrún to take LS061514 from the lab. He’d usually play outside once per day—weather permitting—on the playground behind the building.
It was monitored. Everything here was.
Mýrún opened the lab door, forcing herself not to move too quickly, not to draw attention. She tried to be discrete as she slid her ID card through the door scanner and hit the lock button to seal off the lab. Five steps brought her to the door of the observation room. She swiped her ID card and opened the door.
“How are you today, litla gymbr mín?” Mýrún cooed in her native Icelandic as she stepped into the room.
Her little chimera.
LS061514 ran to Mýrún, his gait teetering. She wished she could scoop him up and hold him to her, but she was too old and the boy’s modified genome made his unnaturally dense musculature much too heavy.
Mýrún squatted in front of LS061514 and took his hands in hers, waiting until she had his full attention. Sensing the change in his guardian, LS061514 stilled.
“We must go now. You must do exactly as I say, litla gymbr mín, do you understand?”
The boy nodded.
“Stay close. Stay silent.”
Mýrún stood and turned, waiting for LS061514 to latch onto the back of her lab coat as he usually did. Stay close and stay behind, Mýrún thought. I will protect you.
Mýrún smiled at passing coworkers as if she wasn’t closer to becoming a fugitive with each step she took down the hallway. She wondered whether they would deport her if they caught her, or if she’d simply disappear.
She spotted Effie Connell as she and LS061514 rounded the corner. Effie worked in the company’s childcare center, where she tested the social and cognitive behavior of LS061514. She was one of the few in the building who knew the nature of Mýrún and Anthony’s work—if not all the details. The company claimed that the childcare center was for the children of employees who couldn’t arrange an alternative, but it existed to camouflage the presence of Mýrún and Anthony’s test subjects.
Effie slowed as she drew closer and smiled at LS061514, who giggled quietly and hid his face in Mýrún’s lab coat.
Effie slipped Mýrún a ring of keys, one of which had a black triangular sheath with the letters GMC imprinted on both sides.
“I heard you weren’t feeling well,” Effie said for the benefit of passersby who might overhear, “so I parked your car around back. It’s the only place where security would let me park at the curb. They put up a bit of an argument, but they shut up fairly quick when I asked if they wanted to take it up with you.”
“Thank you, dear. Getting old is not a wise decision.”
LS061514 tugged at Mýrún’s lab coat. “Can we go play now?” he whispered.
“Of course, litla gymbr mín, of course.”
Mýrún, eyes stinging with gratitude, put a hand on Effie’s arm. Effie took the syringe hidden in Mýrún’s hand, nodded, and was off again without another word. Mýrún continued down the hall with the boy clinging to her lab coat. They headed for the back entrance where the lawn had been outfitted with various playground equipment surrounded by benches.
Mýrún nodded at two agents posing as security guards as she passed, then stepped outside into the cool autumn air. It was a beautiful day. Effie had parked Mýrún’s SUV just outside the video surveillance field. Mýrún smiled.
She led LS061514 to the playground, forcing herself to relax.
The playground was deserted, Effie having scheduled the children’s outside playtime for later in the day. A potential red flag, but a necessary risk. Fewer witnesses meant less danger for everyone. Mýrún sat on one of the benches, her attention split between LS061514 and watching the third-floor window for Effie’s signal. She should be creating her distraction by now, leading the agents away from the back door.
Mýrún smiled at LS061514’s wails of delight as he slid down the plastic spiral slide.
And then she saw it. Three flashes of light from the third-floor window.
“Come now, litla gymbr mín, we must hurry,” Mýrún said.
The boy ran toward Mýrún without a moment’s hesitation, clutching the back of her lab coat as he followed close behind her. Mýrún opened the SUV’s front passenger door. LS061514 climbed inside.
“The floor,” Mýrún said, guiding the boy to settle on the floor between the passenger seat and the dash.
As Mýrún walked around to the driver’s side and climbed in, one of the agents stepped outside. He’d spotted her, she was sure of it. She sat unmoving, breath hitching in her chest.
And then he looked directly at her. She nearly cried out in frustration. In determination. But she didn’t want to scare LS061514, who was looking up at her, ready to do whatever she asked of him.
The agent started for the SUV, no rush in his movements, just a steady progression marking Mýrún’s downfall. As he neared the SUV, Effie burst from the back door. She looked around, then ran toward the agent as she spotted him. Mýrún could hear Effie’s voice as she pulled the agent’s arm, his uniform crumpling in her grip.
He shook Effie off and continued toward Mýrún. Mýrún looked down at LS061514 and forced a smiled.
“Stay there, litla gymbr mín, and close your eyes,” she said.
Mýrún stepped out of the SUV. She let the door shut gently behind her and took a step toward the agent.
“Is there something wrong, young man?” she asked, settling into the fragile old woman routine.
“Where is your grandson, Mrs. Ylva?” the agent asked.
He knew the boy wasn’t authorized to leave—even if the why of it was classified. But he did know that if anyone should try to take the boy off the premises, he was authorized to use whatever means necessary to stop the individual and secure the boy.
“I sent him back inside with one of the childcare aids. He wasn’t feeling well,” Mýrún said.
“I already told him that, Mrs. Ylva,” Effie said, holding up the syringe behind the agent’s back.
Mýrún shook her head, the barest of movements. Effie lowered the syringe.
“I’ll need to search the vehicle,” the agent said.
“Perhaps you should have verification from the childcare center before invading my privacy,” Mýrún said.
The agent hesitated a moment. Then his face hardened. “Step away from the vehicle,” he said.
Mýrún stepped to the side. The agent opened the door and locked eyes with LS061514. As he opened his mouth to sound the alarm, Effie administered the cocktail.
The agent slumped against the SUV, and Mýrún hurried to open the hatch as Effie held him upright against the vehicle. Together the two women pushed him into the SUV.
“You must get out of here,” Mýrún said, placing a hand against Effie’s belly. She wasn’t showing much, but it wouldn’t be long now.
“It’ll be suspicious if we both leave. I’ll tell the receptionist that he went home sick,” Effie said, indicating the agent with a nod.
Mýrún hesitated briefly before grabbing Effie’s hand and squeezing gently.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Effie said, placing her free hand on Mýrún’s. “Be safe.”
2 August 2011, Skowhegan, Maine
Mýrún pulled up outside a tenement building. Its red brick face was covered in graffiti. Trash was strewn in the dead grass. Mýrún could feel LS061514 watching her. He hadn’t made a sound the whole trip, secure in his faith in her.
Her sweet child, made in a lab and grown in a synthetic womb. Children, she reminded herself; the boy carried two genomes. Genomes she’d synthesized with Anthony, altering the genetic code of one to make the boy strong enough to help the shared body live through the added stress. Strong enough to repair the damage inflicted by an impossibly devastating virus.
LS061514 reached out to Mýrún and wrapped his hand around two of her fingers. His grip was tight. He would have to learn to control the strength as he grew.
Mýrún smiled at the boy. “Do you trust me?” she asked.
LS061514 nodded, his blue eyes bright.
Mýrún stepped out of the vehicle and retrieved LS061514 from the passenger’s side floorboard. Hand in hand, they walked into the tenement building.
It was uncomfortably hot inside. The odors of the building and its occupants mingled in a scent that Mýrún could only describe as despair. She led LS061514 to the basement. It was cooler there, with only a small amount of light infiltrating through the tiny window high on the wall.
Mýrún pulled at a cord hanging from the ceiling and a light overhead came on, pushing back the shadows. She steered the boy to a cot against the far wall, next to which was a table with a lamp and a small black case. The boy sat. Mýrún pulled up a small stool, turned on the lamp, and opened the black case on the table to reveal a handful of surgical instruments.
“Now, litla gymbr mín, I must do something unpleasant,” Mýrún said, her voice soft. “But it must be done. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mama,” the boy whispered.
“I need you to lie on your tummy and stretch your arms forward. Can you do that for me?”
He did as she asked without hesitation, without question, his face pressed between the cot and his left arm so he could watch her. Mýrún pulled the boy’s shirt up around his shoulders, then moved the table lamp close. She took a magnifying glass from the black case and searched the boy’s back until she found what she was looking for. The scar was barely visible, even with the magnifying glass.
“You must stay absolutely still now,” Mýrún said.
“Yes,” LS061514 whispered.
Mýrún retrieved a scalpel from the black case. Scalpel in one hand, magnifying glass in the other, Mýrún began to cut a line between the boy’s shoulder blades. The boy made no sound. He didn’t flinch, didn’t blink, just watched Mýrún as she worked.
The tracker was deeper than she’d expected. She didn’t want to cut too deep, afraid of permanently damaging the boy. After just over a half-hour of steady, careful work, Mýrún found it. She set the scalpel and magnifying glass on the table, then picked up forceps and a retractor to handle the rest.
Several minutes later, Mýrún held up the tracking device. She placed the forceps clutching the device on the table along with the retractor, then took the suture kit from the black case. After cleaning and flushing the incision, she began to stitch.
“You did very well,” Mýrún said when she was done, wiping the boy’s tears as he sat up.
LS061514 smiled proudly. Mýrún kissed the top of his head.
“You’ve done so well this whole day, but I need you to listen very carefully to me, yes?”
“Yes, Mama,” the boy whispered.
“I must leave you now. Effie should be here soon to collect you and take you away. Do you understand?” LS061514 nodded. “There is food here for you in the cooler.” She pointed to the white-topped blue box full of pre-cut fruit and raw vegetables. “Just in case it takes a little longer than expected. I will lock the door behind me so that no one can get in except Effie. You must stay here, litla gymbr mín. You must not leave this room.”
Mýrún hugged LS061514 tightly. “If I never see you again,” she whispered, “you must know, always, how I love you so.”
Now the boy wiped at Mýrún’s tears. Despite his strength, his touch was gentle. “I love you,” he whispered.
Mýrún got up and walked to the door. She stopped in the doorway, a slight hesitation.
And then she was gone.