The Next Step

Adam’s world is falling to pieces around him – literally. People are dying in the streets, the world is under populated, and any sickness can be fatal.
So he understands when his wife and friend are concerned each time he coughs. The part he doesn’t understand is why, when he goes to the doctor, the man keeps muttering things like ‘you’ll be lucky to survive.’ His disease is curable. Why would he be in any danger?
Things slowly begin coming together in his mind, and that’s when he discovers the truth. He isn’t safe in his crumbling world – nobody is.
And there’s nowhere to hide.

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3. Chapter Three of Three

Chapter Three

As soon as David had shown him to his room (which was pitifully small), Adam made his way to the room where Dr. Louis said he would have his promised phone call. Adam really didn’t see the point in having the phone call recorded or monitored, but Dr. Louis had deemed it necessary – probably just to annoy him – so that was that.

                There was bad reception down here, but at least the phone could still get through. His wife answered timidly, her voice shaking, as if something were wrong. Well, Adam reasoned, she does think I’m dead.

                ‘G’day, Evlyn.’ He greeted her. ‘It’s Adam here.’

                Surprisingly, she almost seemed to be expecting this. ‘How are you?’ She asked, too quickly.

                ‘Pretty good thanks. Hey, you wouldn’t believe where I am. I mean, I’m underground, like… like… like in some sci-fi story! Or some fantasy book with a zombie apocalypse… it’s crazy!’

                Dr. Louis was shouting at him from the other side of the glass, but he couldn’t hear him. If he was making a legitimate point about anything, Adam didn’t doubt for a moment he’d burst in and end the conversation.

                ‘But I’m fine,’ he continued answering his wife’s question, ‘and getting better every day.’

                ‘Dr. Louis is taking care of you, isn’t he?’

                Dr. Louis’ assistants were all screaming at him now, and the man himself was charging to the door. Adam begun to understand why: his wife’s question was a strange one.

                ‘Well, um,’ he stammered, unsure of what to say in reply, ‘I guess…’

                The line went dead, and in stormed Dr. Louis.

                ‘What did you just do!?’ He screamed. ‘Why didn’t you hang up when we were all screaming at you out there?!’

                ‘I didn’t want to.’ Adam replied simply.

                ‘No, of course not, you never want to. Well here’s news for you: sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to. You just endangered everyone here – that whole conversation was taped! The authorities are probably sending the entire army down here right now!’

                ‘Why!’ Adam shouted back, frustrated by his ignorance and the doctor’s condescending tone. ‘Why are we all in danger? If we’re alive, why can’t they just let us live on happily!?’

                ‘Because they don’t want us to.’ Dr. Louis replied, deliberately trying to echo Adam’s words from seconds ago. Adam’s face fell, as he realised what the doctor was saying.

                ‘I’d let you live.’ He muttered. ‘I don’t know why I’d bother standing up for you, but I would.’

                ‘You don’t even know why.’ The doctor returned bitterly. ‘You have no idea what’s going on and you’re too stupid to work it out.’

                Adam snarled. ‘I’m not stupid!’ He cried. ‘Why do you keep saying that!?’

                ‘Okay, look, who’s the one who just attracted the entire Indian army?’

                ‘Who‘s the one who let me make a phone call?!’

                ‘It might have been me, but I wasn’t the one whinging like a two year old and refusing to listen to the doctor’s orders!’

                ‘I wasn’t whinging like a two year old!’

                Dr. Louis only glared at him this time. ‘I have no time for fools like you.’ He finally spat. ‘We have to move, stat. As for you…’ he eyed Adam up and down. ‘…you can’t afford to ever go back up there.’

                As the doctor left, Adam’s spirits suddenly sunk.

                Fool, he thought to himself. You foolish, foolish person. What have you done? What did you do? But you know what you’ve done, don’t you? You’ve just signed a death warrant for every single person in this building…

                … and all because you wanted to.

xxx

‘We can’t just move!’ A healthy young man was arguing. ‘There are too many of us, and this place is too big.’

                ‘Well what do you propose we do?’ Dr. Louis shot back. ‘We have no weapons on sight, we can’t defend ourselves. And they could just bomb us if they feel like it.’

                ‘Sir.’ David cut in – why was the kid even here? ‘I think it’s time for Operation Opposition.’

                ‘We’re not ready for that yet!’ The doctor objected.

                ‘I think I have enough proof.’ David returned. ‘My mice are as devolved as they’ll ever be, and I think conditions upstairs are poor enough for them to listen to us.’

                ‘They’ll never listen to us!’ The young man objected. ‘We have to hide until they all die off! If we ever got out there we’re all…’

                He was cut off by a ringing phone.

                The young man turned to Dr. Louis, who turned to Adam. Adam instantly put his hands up in defense.

                ‘I’m not doing anything!’ He cried.

                ‘Should we answer it, Sir?’ The young man pressed.

                Dr. Louis eyed the phone as if it were a deadly weapon. Then, slowly, he articulated one syllable: ‘yes’.

                The young man answered the phone quickly, determinedly; making sure it was on speaker. Then he handed the device to the doctor, who seemed to be the leader around here.

                ‘Hello?’ The doctor answered nervously, trying to mask his fear with false courage.

                ‘Greetings,’ another male voice came, this one trying to mask hostility with open-mindedness. ‘We have reason to believe you have a whole population of civil threats living underground in your care. Is this correct?’

                ‘Do you really need to ask?’ Dr. Louis growled.

                ‘Sir, if you co-operate I’m sure we will be able to work with you to find the best possible solution for everyone.’

                ‘And by everyone you mean everyone upstairs.’

                Adam felt even more disheartened as the doctor used the term ‘upstairs’. That meant he felt the situation was hopeless. He believed they knew everything already.

                He believed they were all about to die.

                ‘Okay, sir, I will cut to the chase,’ the speaker continued, ‘we will bomb your institution – we know your location – and if any of you try to escape we will shoot you on sight. We have guard surrounding your so called ‘haven’, and I must warn you they are all well supplied and extremely trigger happy. So I wouldn’t try anything funny if I were you.’

                ‘Just bomb us already.’ Dr. Louis said, successfully sounding bored and conveying his impatience.

                ‘I’m afraid we cannot.’ The speaker said, as if it were the saddest thing he’d ever said. ‘At this present moment we have no-one who knows the location of such arms yet alone some-one who is skilled in the working of the weaponry. And from what we can gather, the only bombs in existence at the moment are powerful enough to wipe out everyone on the planet. So we may even have to construct an entirely new weapon…’

                Dr. Louis rolled his eyes, knowing full well what the man was really saying. Their little civilization had been built for a situation like this, it was indestructible. The speaker was only pretending he was in control. Well, what was the harm in going along with the joke?

                ‘How long have we got?’ Dr. Louis interrupted the man.

                ‘Eight to nine months.’ Came the approximate reply. ‘And you may continue your work at the clinic as normal. Why should we care if you ‘save’ people when we know they’re all going to die eventually anyway? But I warn you, if you try to escape, you will suffer a painful death.’

                ‘Okay, fine. So is there any way I can save anyone involved?’

                ‘You can save yourself.’ The man returned. ‘By recanting your position and assisting us in the creation of an appropriate weapon. Everyone else must die.’

                Dr. Louis sighed. ‘Why? Why, if they’re not bothering anyone?’

                ‘You’re not needed.’ Came the simple reply. ‘You’re not wanted. And you’re not human.’

                The line died, and Dr. Louis’s eyes narrowed. Hanging up the phone he turned to David, who said what was on the man’s mind.

                ‘We are. It’s them that aren’t human.’

                The doctor nodded tiredly and walked out of the room.

xxx

How long had he been here? Not even a day. Not even a day, you fool, and you’ve already ruined everyone’s lives. Including your own, because you’re going to die. You silly, silly man… human… am I human?

                Adam sat up.

                David said the people upstairs weren’t human… was that a figure of speech or did he mean it? Did his mice have anything to do with – wait, those posters!’

                His thoughts were disconnected, but he was sure he had worked something out. Running across the small bedroom to his even smaller wardrobe, he pulled out a wire coat hanger and readied to sneak around the building.

                He checked left and right before carefully closing the door to his room. Then, quietly, he ran past the glass room where Dr. Louis and his comrades were arguing over what to do next. Let them save the world, Adam thought. All I know how to do is destroy it.

                He reached the end of the left wing, where the locked door to the science wing faced him, reminding him of how little he knew about what was going on in the world. But no longer, he thought. He would fix this problem.

                Carefully, and with a fair amount of difficulty, he picked the lock open with the wire coat hanger. A great sense of satisfaction overwhelmed him as the door flung open, but he knew he didn’t have time to dwell on it. Tip-toeing to the other side, he carefully closed the door, satisfied when he heard the click that meant it was locked again.  

                Creeping down the hall, he heard terrible noises coming from one room – shrieking and gnawing that made him shudder so badly he considered turning around and going back to bed. But he wanted to find out what was going on, and found he was incapable of turning around even for a moment. He only hoped it wouldn’t be a case of curiosity killing the cat.

                Entering David’s lab, he found a torch on the front table and turned it on. That was when he saw where the noise was coming from.

                The mice had escaped.

                They were hissing, gnawing everything in sight. There were five mice in one corner eating another one, which was struggling to escape. Other mice were clawing at the cages of the normal mice, which had frozen in terror, and still others were devouring entire chairs.

                This was not right, Adam thought. Mice were not meant to be this feral, they were not meant to eat one another. How could this happen? This was impossible!

                ‘Ah!’ Adam cried, as a sharp pain shot up his leg. ‘Ah!’ He cried again, as there was another, then another, and still another pain. His heart fluttered as his mind instantly drew one conclusion: the mice were eating him.

                Slowly, he shone the torch downwards, and saw it. Saw the mice – tens, maybe even hundreds – chewing on his leg, crawling up at an impossible speed. He screamed and began shaking his leg in an effort to get them off. He didn’t care if he accidentally crushed a few under foot, he just wanted them off.

                Blood began running down his legs, and he became more frantic.

                ‘Get off!’ He cried, swatting them away with the torch. His eyes burned with an intensity that was close to madness, not that it made any difference to the mice. As soon as they fell off his leg they crawled straight on back.

                Finally he swatted the last one to the other side of the room, but he knew the battle was not yet one. He decided to retreat, and ran out into the hall, closing the door madly behind him. He heard a crunch, but did not dare to check if a mouse had been crushed by the door. He was satisfied that they could no longer reach him, and moved on.

                He came to the poster next, the one of evolution that was marked with a red arrow and the words ‘THIS WAY’. Whatever was going on here, the people definitely seemed to believe in – what had David called it? – reverse evolution… devolution, that was it. An impossible theory which assumed evolution produced complexity and thus concluded its opposite produced simplicity. But what had David said? His mice weren’t simple… they were… complex. That’s what he’d said. He’d said they were complex.

                Well, they had to be, didn’t they? They had impossibly sharp fangs and impressively aggressive natures.  And yet – they weren’t really mice anymore. Were they?

                That was when things suddenly clicked in Adam’s mind. Devolution – what was happening to the mice. That was what was happening upstairs. That was why Dr. Louis kept saying he wasn’t an intelligent human being –he wasn’t a human being. He was sure of it. That had to be what he was saying.

                He was a devolved human being.

                Adam staggered backwards, swaying a little. That was insane! Things devolved for a reason, like the mice that went blind because they’d been living in darkness. And besides, species were constantly evolving to ensure their survival. Why would human beings just – go backwards? Unless they wanted to die of course, which was scientifically proven to be impossible. Species didn’t just wish to die… it just didn’t make sense. How could anything possibly make sense?!

                There were footsteps to his left, and he turned his head in terror. There stood Dr. Louis. Adam shook a little as he waited to get it, but nothing came. The man actually seemed to be suppressing a smile.

                ‘Good to see you here.’ The doctor began, but Adam wasn’t sure why. ‘Taking up the initiative, beginning to work things out. Took you a while, but we’ve had men in this building for ten years who haven’t even wanted to find out what’s going on. In fact, I’d be surprised if they thought anything was going.’             He paused. ‘No, Adam, an intelligent man like you is hard to find.’

                Adam screwed up his face angrily. ‘Oh, so I am a human now, am I? What was the whole ‘you’re not an intelligent being’ speech for!? Was that just to freak me out to test if I could feel the human emotion of complete and absolute terror?! Addoff, I am a human being, I can feel, I can think¸ I can love, and want, and desire, and aspire, and hope, and get angry, and, above all, I can work out what on earth is going on around here, regardless of whether you tell me or not!’

                Dr. Louis only smiled. ‘I can jump, I can walk, I can swim… yes, these are all very good statements. But you never get to the point. Ask some questions, man!’

                ‘I have asked questions!’

                ‘But none of the right ones! You’ve asked so many questions, but you’ve failed to see how they’re all connected. You’ve failed to see where this has all started.’

                Adam closed his eyes and racked his memory for a hint – he’d begun to see that Dr. Louis liked dropping hints. But all he could remember was that time in the clinic when he and the doctor had had that argument over the cancellation clinic.

                That was when he understood what was going on.

                ‘Devolution.’ He said, unable to believe a word he was about to say. ‘It’s related to abortion…’

                The doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that a question, or a statement?’

                ‘A statement.’ Adam answered. Then, taking a step forward, he smiled a little. ‘You have to teach me. Teach me everything. I want to learn. I need to know what’s going on.’

                The doctor looked deep into his eyes for a long time, until – finally – he nodded. ‘All right.’ Then he unlocked the room directly behind Adam. ‘There’s no time like the present.’ He eyed the man’s bleeding legs and chuckled. ‘And… uh…. I guess I’ll fix them up for you.’

                Adam smiled, enjoying the doctor’s company for the first time ever, and followed the man into the lab.

xxx

 The months passed quickly, and Adam realised he had much to learn.  The first lesson he had to learn was on economics.

                ‘People in poorer communities relied on their children for income, to a certain extent.’ Dr. Louis explained. ‘They could sell children, or send them out to work when they were older. So poorer, sicklier families continued having children, whereas the rich people – well, they wanted time to enjoy their riches didn’t they? They didn’t want to fuss over offspring. And so you have the richer, healthier people dying off because they won’t have children. Or at least not enough.

                ‘Then of course, in countries such as China, girls are almost useless. So you see a rapid decline in female birth rate, simply because nobody wants them. And then we’re left with this problem: our population is poor, sickly, and primarily male.

                ‘The good news is, because we’re dying out, the environment is doing exceptionally well. The bad news is, we’re dying out. The human immune system is just about gone, because – after generations of poor nutrition (because they’re primarily offspring of the poor, remember?) – the poor health is being passed on to children. It’s exactly like evolution – only it’s not helping anyone. No-one, that is, but the plants.’

                Adam was astounded by this information, as he finally worked out what the doctor was saying. ‘Evolutionists always supposed natural selection worked in man’s favour.’

                ‘Yes.’ Dr. Louis affirmed. ‘But now they should be discovering that it does not. It’s survival of the fittest, Adam, and when you have a species killing off their own kind, ridding of possible helpful mutations and supposed ‘disabilities’, then the tables indefinitely turn. We may not want to thrive, but someone else – something else – does.’

                Adam worked hard to understand the genetics behind the problem, and begun to see what the huge issue was. There were warning signs in the DNA that mutations were about to occur, but there seemed to be no bridging period. People were simply fully evolved people one generation, and devolved people the next.

                He learned about America, the country that had seen the most severe effects. People over there were literally tearing each other apart, just like the mice, and it was primarily due to cancellation. Genetic modification had never been fully embraced, but removal of genes all together – that had. As for countries like Australia, once the hard times had hit, people had simply moved away for work. The countries were left virtually uninhabited, breeding grounds for plants and animals. Wildlife was thriving. Man’s extinction was the best thing that had ever happened to the environment.

                But it would not happen.

                Rubbing his legs – his now scarred legs – he thought how strange these theories (facts?) were. They were strange, but Dr. Louis promised Adam that he was human – fully human. After all, his parents had come from a well-off family, and so there had been little genetic mutation there. He was not smart, and he was not inquisitive enough, but he was human.

                ‘How do you know?’ Adam suddenly asked, putting down a map of some-one’s DNA. ‘How do you know I’m not devolved too?’

                Dr. Louis only smiled at him. ‘That’s why, Adam. You ask questions. You search for answers. You feel sympathy, you can be gentle. You’re not all about survival; you could sacrifice if the situation required it.’

                Adam looked down. ‘I don’t think I could, sir. After all, haven’t I already gotten this place into danger because I couldn’t sacrifice one phone call?’

                The doctor shook his head, the kindest thing he’d ever done. But he didn’t say anything. That would be taking things too far.

                As the months dragged by, Adam grew fond of the doctor. True, he was incredibly annoying, but he was amusing too, and fun to be around. He spilled information like a fountain once he thought he could trust you.

                David was great too, but he was still pre-occupied with his mice. He wanted to see how far back he could take them, and now had to wear protective gear for his own safety when he visited the creatures. Their noise and clawing grew louder and stronger every day, but he was certain they would die soon.

                ‘Just give them another week.’ David would say. ‘They’ll be dead then.’

                But they weren’t dying, and not even David could put his finger on it. Adam wished he would hurry up and work it out, because he was tired of their shrieking.

                ‘Sir,’ he shouted over their noise one day, ‘do you think we’ll ever get out of here? Really?’

                Dr. Louis did not reply for a long time. When he did, his answer was not positive.

                ‘Adam, I’ve been out of here many times in the past few months, and let me assure you, no-one up there sees anything wrong with the world. If something is not done quickly, it will be too late.’

                ‘Yes, but what can be done? Tell me so I can do it!’

                His eyes shone with eagerness and zeal, which made the doctor smile kindly. Perhaps, he thought, in his own way, he liked Adam. The young man was kind of like a cancer in that he soon became a part of you that could not be removed.

                ‘I don’t know what can be done.’ He returned despondently. ‘Not any more. If anyone besides me ever sets foot out of this place they’re going to be blown sky high, and I don’t see how anything’s going to change. So I’ll just keep on pretending to save people at the clinic, and you’ll keep on learning about why we’re all going  to die.’

                There was a long, depressing silence.

                ‘You know.’ Dr. Louis began again. ‘They’re not creating a bomb at all. It’s all a perfectly ridiculous lie. Do you know what they’re really doing?’

                Adam shook his head, and the doctor was not surprised at all. But he didn’t force the man to answer any more.

                ‘They’re waiting for us to do something. Something that will save them all.’

                ‘Why don’t we?’ Adam asked his voice full of enthusiasm. ‘Surely there’s a cure!’

                Dr. Louis laughed. ‘Adam, surely you have seen how slow the process of devolution is! The process of evolution is even slower.’ Turning to the young man, he smiled. ‘It’s always harder to do good than make a mess of everything.’

                Adam turned away at these words. He wasn’t sure if they were meant to insult him or not, but they stung all the same.

                ‘Doctor.’ He said eventually, almost whispering. The older man looked up at him curiously, wondering what he had to say now. Well, this probably would surprise him. ‘Sir, has my wife come in yet?’

                ‘No.’ He answered, taken back. ‘I’ve been busy. She’s due next Friday.’              

                There was a silence.

                ‘I have to talk to her.’ Adam finally said. ‘I have to tell her not to do it. She has to keep the baby, she has to have it.’

                Dr. Louis sighed. ‘Yes, Adam, I agree, but you can’t just go up there!’

                ‘Why not?! You could take me as your assistant, we could go to your workplace together, we could…’ He stopped, seeing that the doctor wasn’t even listening anymore. ‘Addoff, I have to get out of here. I love learning, but I can’t stand it here anymore. I miss her, and I hate to think about what she’s going through. They weren’t kidding when they called her the only woman in town, you know.’

                ‘I know, Adam. But your left wrist is more than enough reason for you not to risk leaving this place.’

                ‘But we’re all going to die anyway!’

                ‘We’ll be fine, Adam. This place was built for such attacks.’ He sighed. ‘The only reason anyone here’s dismayed is because we’ll never get to see the light of day again. No-one but me, that is, and that’s under close surveillance.’

                Adam’s spirits sunk, and he boredly began scribbling over the DNA diagram. His mind was turning though, working through problems, trying to find solutions. He felt smart when he tried thinking – it was a good feeling. Not that he ever seemed to come up with anything useful. Dr. Louis made a point of telling him that almost everything he ever said was completely unintellectual and could be uttered by any animal in the zoo.

                ‘What about plastic surgery?’ He asked, hoping the doctor didn’t think that was as lame as he did. ‘You could remove the name branding, replace the skin, and get a new, fake branding.’

                Dr. Louis froze.

                Oh dear, Adam thought. That must have been my worst idea yet. It’s so bad, he doesn’t even know how to tease me about it.

                The doctor turned around, and he knew he was going to get it.

                ‘That’s ridiculous.’ The man said, and Adam nodded downheartedly. ‘But at the same time,’ the doctor continued, ‘it’s perfectly brilliant.’

                Adam instantly looked up in shock.

                ‘What?’ He stuttered. ‘Are you teasing me? That was a terrible idea!’

                ‘Yes,’ the doctor admitted, ‘but it’s our best shot. And if you’re willing to be the guinea pig…’ his voice trailed off, but Adam knew what he was saying.

                ‘I’ll do it.’ He replied confidently. ‘I’ll do it if you let me talk to her.’

                Dr. Louis closed his eyes and sighed. ‘You drive a hard bargain.’ He muttered, and Adam felt a certain sense of pride. ‘But I suppose I can allow you one visit.’ Then, gently, he added, ‘don’t expect the visit to go well, Adam.’

                Adam scowled. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

                ‘I only mean to say that she probably won’t listen to you.’

                Ah, there it was, Adam thought. The truth: Dr. Louis didn’t like him at all; he still didn’t think he was any good. Just better than all the devolved humans out there. The idea saddened Adam, and he curled up a little in self-pity.

                ‘She’ll be fine.’ He muttered. ‘Everything will be fine.’

                Dr. Louis seemed saddened too – probably, Adam thought, because he refused to give up – and                 quietly turned back to his work.

xxx

It was as his wife entered the room that Adam realised he had no plan.

                ‘Do you need me to leave you alone?’ Dr. Louis asked, making Adam realise what a good question that was. Did he? What did he need?

                ‘Um,’ he begun hesitantly, hoping inspiration struck quickly, ‘I guess so.’

                The doctor raised an eyebrow disapprovingly, shook his head, and left just as Evlyn sat down on a chair which looked suspiciously similar to a dentist’s.

                ‘Morning.’ His wife said friendlily, smiling as if she didn’t have care in the world. But Adam thought he could just make out weary lines on her face and dark patches under her eyes.

                He wanted to speak to her, tell her he was okay, tell her not to worry, to leave the clinic right now, that he would be home soon. But his voice caught, and he said nothing.

                He pulled the mask up self-consciously, even though it wasn’t falling down, and Evlyn raised an eyebrow.

                ‘Since when to cancellation nurses have to wear masks?’ She asked. It was a perfectly innocent question, but there was a glint in her eye. Did she know something? She always had been smarter than her husband.

                Suddenly, the woman stood up, walking over to him confidently; angrily even. Adam froze, unsure as to whether he should run or throw off his mask.

                ‘I know you’re not dead.’ Evlyn said, pulling the mask off for him. The look in her eyes made him tremble, but he didn’t know why. ‘Why are you trying to lie to me?’

                That was probably it: the reason he was trembling. Evlyn was angry, she felt abandoned, and he really couldn’t blame her. It was an idea that hadn’t occurred to him at the time, but suddenly he knew it was what he should have done. He should have taken her with him.

                ‘I’m sorry.’ Was the first thing he said, but that only made the situation worse.

                ‘Oh, you will be. Don’t you realise how closely I’m being monitored? Every man in town was waiting for you to try something like this, and I’m not going to get away with letting you just walk out. I have to take you to them or die myself.’

                ‘Come with me.’             

                ‘I can’t, Adam. They have guns out there; they’ll shoot us when we run.’

                ‘But we can try!’

                ‘We can’t, Adam!’ Her voice was intense now, and it should have scared Adam. But it didn’t, because he’d finally worked out what that look in her eyes was: it was fear.

                Guilt welled up within him, as he realised how miserably he’d failed. He had tried so hard to make sure that Evlyn, of all the people in the world, should be safe forever and ever, and he had failed miserably. One of them was going to die, and it had to be him. It had to be, or he’d die anyway, wallowing in his own self-pity and guilt.

                ‘I’m sorry.’ He said again. ‘I didn’t mean for you to be in danger. Evlyn, I just didn’t think…’ He wanted to say more, but realised the sentence was perfectly legitimate and accurate without adding anything more. So he shut his mouth and looked at his feet.

                ‘Why did you come?’ Evlyn finally asked, beginning to think perhaps her husband did have some intelligent reason for risking everything.

                Adam did not reply straight away, as all he could think of was how much he would have to explain. How was he meant to tell his wife about devolution, cancellation, and the extinction of the human race in less than ten minutes? The procedure was only meant to take five, so he was nearly out of time as it was!

                ‘I came to tell you not to.’ He finally decided to reply. ‘Not to do it.’

                ‘Do what?’ His wife returned.

                ‘What you came to do.’

                Immediately, more anger flared in the woman’s eyes, so much so that he actually took a step back.

                ‘How dare you.’ She hissed. ‘How dare you run off on me, leaving me alone and struggling just to stay alive and then show up how many months later telling me to keep a baby I can’t afford to have! If you want the baby, you come back, Adam!’

                ‘But I can’t!’ Adam pleaded with his wife. ‘Evlyn, you don’t understand, we’re two of the few human beings that aren’t devolved…’

                ‘Oh, you’re trying to sell me that speech are you? Adam, the human race can fall in a well for all I care. What matters to me is you, and you’re not even around.’

                She turned away, and Adam could see if he didn’t say something more convincing, she would leave completely unmoved. So, desperately, he tried the less logical approach, remembering what Dr. Louis had said to him and the twinges of discomfort he so often felt in this world.

                ‘Evlyn!’ He cried, and she turned around angrily. No, she was not angry, she was hopeful. She wanted him to convince her – convince her of anything. So, standing a little straighter, he said what he had come to believe: something his grandparents and Dr. Louis had known all along. ‘Evlyn, I can’t agree to this procedure anymore, regardless of the effect it’s having on the human race. It’s so obvious, for crying out loud!’ He moved towards his wife and held her hands fervently before continuing. ‘Evlyn, when I asked Dr. Louis why he saved me, do you know what he said?’

                His wife looked at him expectantly. ‘Of course not.’

                Adam looked deep into Evlyn’s eyes and tried hard to find her, to touch her, reach her soul so that she could not help but understand what he meant. But it was so difficult; she seemed so far away. Either way, he thought, I have to try. I have to say it. And so, taking a deep breath, he said it.

                ‘He said it was because I was alive.’

                His wife’s face hardened, and Adam waited for the debate to begin. There were so many points she could throw in his face now, all of which he could answer scientifically (leaning back on devolution, the mice, and David’s hard work), but she would never listen. Not if she didn’t want to hear it.

                She didn’t want to hear it.

                The door slammed, and Adam was shocked back into reality.

                His feet began moving automatically, leading him exactly where he had to go. His wife had spoken of gun-men outside, but they either did not see him or did not exist, for he had no trouble.

                She didn’t want to hear what he’d said. She didn’t want to see him.

                Dr. Louis was right behind him, and began leading the way. Good, Adam thought, because I don’t know the way. But that was all that was good at the moment.

                She didn’t listen to me, she didn’t even want to see me, Adam realised. She may have run off, but she’ll be back. She’ll kill our child – my child – all because I left her… I frightened her into murder.

                ‘Adam, hurry up!’

                Adam did speed up, and quickly broke into a desperate run.

                It was over, it was all over. There was no point in going back any more. Evlyn didn’t trust him, she didn’t want him, and she wasn’t going to keep his child. Everything was over. He may as well stay down here and die.

                He slammed the door to his room and collapsed in a corner, wondering what on earth he had been thinking, and suffering the oppression of the guilty thoughts he was currently having.

                Of course she was going to be angry, of course. Adam, you’re a stupid, silly, fool. You’re a fool, a fool, a fool… and you don’t even have to pay for your selfish actions.

                And don’t you dare cry now, fool…

                It’s your child… the child dies… because she’s angry and you left her, and she has every right to be angry – why wouldn’t she be angry?

                If you cry they’ll hear you, just stop it, stop this nonsense, get up and go to Dr. Louis. You promised surgery could start as soon as this was over….

                But it’s not over, because the child – my child – is alive. It could change the world, reverse reverse evolution, stabilizing the human race and bringing redemption for us all. Everything can change because it is alive.

                But it won’t be for much longer.

                That was when Adam gave in and burst into tears, curled up in the corner of the tiny room like his child would be in the womb.

xxx

                The next few months passed in a blur for Adam. The only one who had an inkling of the grief he was suffering was David, whose mice all died soon after chewing their way through the lab door. But no-one could understand the guilt he was feeling.

                Dr. Louis was kind, and did not force the surgery upon him, but Adam wanted things to be over and done with as soon as possible. The sooner he was used the better. It meant the test results could be gathered faster and he would be free to die – he deserved to die.

                ‘Adam,’ came the doctor’s voice.

                Adam winced, still convinced that the man did not like him and was only being condescending. Truth be told, Dr. Louis had grown very fond of Adam, but he didn’t know how to convince the man of it. What he was about to say was the best he could come up with.

                ‘Adam, you can make a difference, you know.’

                ‘Maybe.’ Adam muttered.

                ‘You can.’ Dr. Louis said again. ‘You can be the stone that starts the ripples. You can set off a chain reaction that will sweep the world and…’

                ‘How?’ Adam interrupted, looking up at the doctor who was removing his bandages. ‘How can you undo something that was never meant to happen in the first place? I mean, isn’t it all up to natural selection now?’ His voice had a bitter tone, which deeply saddened the doctor. Adam, however, was oblivious to all pain but his.

                ‘Adam,’ the doctor begun softly, ‘I thought you would have learned by now that we can control natural selection. After all, we are natural, and we’ve been selecting who should and shouldn’t be born. And in doing so we’ve somehow deemed ourselves unfit to survive. So then, we can just as easily undo the damage by stopping…’

                Adam cut him off again. ‘Yeah, you say that.’ He muttered. ‘But there’s no way you know it for sure.’

                Dr. Louis paused, trying to think of something brilliant to say, but nothing came. So he gave up and finished removing the bandages.

                ‘There’s a scar.’ Was the first thing Adam said, rubbing his left wrist gently.

                ‘But no name branding.’ Dr. Louis added. ‘Which was the whole point of all the surgery.’

                He turned around and begun searching for the appropriate tool, allowing a deafening silence to fall. He didn’t expect Adam to say anything at any point and didn’t plan on say anything himself. So he jumped when the young man quietly moaned, ‘she would have had the baby by now.’

                Dr. Louis paused. He wanted to comfort Adam, he really did, but there was nothing he could do. Evlyn hadn’t ever returned to the clinic, but it wasn’t the only one in town. There wasn’t a chance she had kept the child, so what could he say?

                ‘I’m sorry.’

                The words sounded so pathetic he wished he hadn’t of even bothered. But Adam seemed to appreciate them all the same.

                The doctor heated the iron tool and then motioned for Adam to lie his arm over the table. He eyed the young man as if to ask, ‘are you sure?’ and received a somber nod in reply.

                He brought the branding iron down.

                Adam didn’t even scream.

xxx

 It was warmer now, and the flowers were blooming. The fresh air was nice for a change, and it was good to see people actually looking happy. Well, not people, Adam reminded himself. Devolved people. What difference did it make, anyway? They were all going to die sooner or later.

                Looking around, he realised how stupid he was, how much he didn’t know – how much he couldn’t do. It was true that he was so much smarter than he had been, but he was still completely thick-headed and dumb.

                Kicking a pebble, he rubbed his wrist tenderly. It still hurt a little every now and then, but it wasn’t red anymore.

                ‘JOSHUA’ it read, with one birth marking after it. Everyone downstairs had said the name suited him far better than Adam ever had, but he really couldn’t care less. It was a name, it meant nothing. He meant nothing.

                He saw Raj walking through the streets and turned away. He had to move sooner or later, but for now was waiting for the appropriate paperwork. Dr. Louis had promised some money too, which would be infinitely helpful.

                He was a test, nothing more. If he could assimilate back into society, then Dr. Louis would attempt to do the same with all – or nearly all – of his society. How long the test would take, Adam didn’t know, but he knew once it was over his life would be too.

                Looking at his reflection in the lake he realised he really didn’t care about survival anymore. Natural selection could have him.

xxx

 ‘This should be enough.’ Dr. Louis said, handing him an envelope. Adam didn’t bother checking how much money was inside before hiding it in his front pocket.

                ‘Thank you.’ He said, meaning it even though he wasn’t entirely grateful. ‘I guess I’ll get out of here now.’

                ‘That’s a good idea.’ The doctor agreed. ‘I’m sorry I don’t have anything more to give you.’

                Adam shrugged. ‘I’ve got clothes, money, a few papers, and a name branding. What more do I need?’

                Dr. Louis knew exactly what the poor man needed, but he said nothing.

                Adam stepped out the hotel room and handed the key to the doctor. ‘Thanks again for the room. It was good – good service.’ His words seemed hollow, his eyes empty.

                Dr. Louis nodded. ‘That’s all right. Now go on and do the world some good. Remember, you can change it.’

                Adam smiled tiredly. ‘Thanks.’

                But the doctor could tell he didn’t believe a word of it.

                Adam walked out into the streets and headed towards the train station. It was on the other side of town, so he wouldn’t run into anyone he knew. Part of him wanted to, but he understood why it was better for everyone downstairs if he protected his miserable life.

                Walking through the park, he noticed the weather was hot now – that meant people would be dying in the streets. He used to worry that he would collapse too, but he knew now he wouldn’t, so long as he drunk plenty of water and avoided full sunlight. He wasn’t devolved like they were.       

                How he wished he could help them! But the more he looked around him, the more he realised the enormity of the job. The more he realised it was impossible. The more he realised the truth of the matter.

                ‘One person can’t make a difference.’ He muttered, pausing to watch a young girl lie down exhaustedly in the shade of an Elm tree.

                He didn’t feel any better for saying those words. It just felt like he was saying a random fact, like, ‘the sky is blue.’ It meant nothing, and yet… it meant everything.

                ‘They can’t.’ He repeated, looking dismally at his feet.

                ‘But two can.’

                Adam looked up instantly. He knew that voice.

                His heart began pounding, life filling his veins for the first time in months. Turning round he saw the one person who could have possibly changed everything for him.

                ‘Evlyn.’

                She nodded. ‘I’m sorry… Joshua.’

                He glanced at his wrist distractedly. She didn’t miss much.

                ‘No, I’m sorry.’ He objected. ‘I shouldn’t have left you behind, I…’ He paused.

                Evlyn smiled at him, seeing he had finally seen the crux of her point. Slowly, his face flushed, his hands begun to tremble, and tears ran down his cheeks.

                ‘What did you do?’ He muttered, unable to believe what he was seeing. ‘How could you… Evlyn, this is unbelievable!’

                ‘Like I said,’ the woman returned, coming closer to him. ‘I’m sorry. I was angry – I shouldn’t have just left you there. I’m sorry.’

                But Adam wasn’t listening anymore. He was running. Running the short distance towards his wife, his beautiful wife who had never left him, even when he had left her, and who was always there for him, even when he wasn’t around.

                He kissed her on the head and held her close. ‘Thank you.’ He whispered in her ear. ‘Thank you so much.’

                Then, wiping tears from his eyes, but smiling all the same, he looked down at the beginning of change. He looked down at his daughter, and realised that finally, one day, there would be a change. It had started here with Dr. Louis and a handful of people, but it would soon spread, he knew it.

                It was only the next step.

               

The End

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