Originally published in Sick Lit Magazine
Test Subject 65382 came out of the vat at 16. Older than most, older by far, but no matter; she was beautiful—perfect, really. Dr. Gilpin couldn’t have asked for better, and he secretly congratulated himself for the decision to leave her in past the customary gestation period. He was alone in his thinking; his colleagues disagreed with his methods, thought he’d become obsessed—dangerously so—and that his disregard for protocol would put the entire team at risk.
“Gilpin, you can’t,” Rogers had warned him when the time came to pull her from the vat and Gilpin had decided to leave her in. “You don’t know what will happen. The protocols are there for a reason!”
And Mern, he’d been the worst. “Gilpin,” he’d said one day, his thin hand firmly gripping Gilpin’s left shoulder, as if to contain him. “You know she’s not human, right? She’s just an experiment. She’ll never think or feel. She’ll never laugh or cry. She’s no more than a test subject, on the same level as a lab rat. You’d do well to remember that.”
He’d held Gilpin’s gaze for a minute longer, letting his words sink in, before removing his hand and walking away.
They were all like that: afraid. He decided early on that he didn’t need their approval. They were cowards; simpletons who couldn’t see genius even when it turned and looked them directly in the eye.
It was true that he’d given her a name: Maelynn. Another decision that went against custom, but he’d felt it necessary. Her subject number was a mere label, like a white tag on an experiment. It was cold, indifferent, and Maelynn was neither of those things. She was warm, and she was present. When you looked into her cool blue eyes, you knew she was looking back at you, and for that Gilpin had decided she deserved a name.
The others said he was crazy, that it was dangerous to name a subject, to give them identity, but he ignored them. What did they know? Their subjects had all failed. They were jealous of his success, didn’t understand why his methods—questionable as they were—had worked when protocol had failed.
While the other subjects were wasting away and dying, their bodies failing to take shape from the formless mass of bone, tissue, and genetic syrup that was their origin, Maelynn thrived. From the beginning she was different, and his colleagues knew it. They watched him nurture her, care for her, raise her. Resentment clouded their eyes. They were afraid of his methods, yes, but they couldn’t argue the effectiveness of them. For even though they’d never admit it, and certainly not to Gilpin, they agreed she was perfect. Some of them even understood why he’d fallen in love with her.
Still, it was discomfiting. From the moment Gilpin pulled her from the vat, she’d begun to learn and grow. She’d come out curious and thirsting for knowledge. She wanted to know everything, about who she was, who they were, and the world outside the laboratory doors. Contrary to Mern’s predictions, she could think quite well, and it was obvious she had feelings.
For all intents and purposes, Gilpin had successfully grown a human being. Among the protocols and instructions in the lab books, there was nothing that told them what to do, how to proceed, if they succeeded to such a degree. That wasn’t supposed to happen for many years to come. With Maelynn, Gilpin had defied all expectations and accomplished the impossible.
The team’s apprehension grew once it became apparent that Gilpin was sleeping with Test Subject 65382—with Maelynn. She was 23 by then, and they’d all begun to call her by the name Gilpin had given her. They never forgot what she was, but as the years passed, it became harder and harder to see the test subject for the woman standing before them.
To Gilpin, a woman was all she’d ever been. When he was with her, he felt transported. She’d wrap her long legs around him, the muscles strong and firm, and bury her face in his neck. When she whispered his name, her soft lips brushing his ear even as her hips thrust against him, he was lost.
To be fair, Gilpin was lost in Maelynn long before he ever knew the pleasures of her body. He was lost in his ambition, in his eagerness for success, and most of all, he was lost in those cool blue eyes. It was only natural that love would follow.
Though many of the team had left over the years, some had stayed behind. The excuses they gave were varied: Hartley said she wanted to study the lab books more, find out where she’d gone wrong in her calculations; Boag was loathe to go home to his family a failure, and he still had some hypotheses to test; Mason was a loner with no family to go home to, and she figured her time was better spent in the lab, helping the others with their experiments, than at home in her lonely apartment.
But for all their excuses, they shared a common interest in Maelynn and Gilpin. What would happen? How would it all end?
For end it must; they all agreed on that account. Gilpin’s affair was safe enough within the walls of the laboratory, but no one could ever know about it. The world wasn’t ready for Maelynn, no matter how beautiful and smart she was, and it certainly wasn’t ready to accept the idea of a human mating with a test subject.
When Maelynn’s belly began to swell with Gilpin’s child, a decision had to be made. Maelynn, and probably Gilpin, too, had to die.
There was no cause for concern that Gilpin or Maelynn knew anything of the team’s decision. The two were completely absorbed in each other, spending most of their time having fervent conversations in the lab’s indoor atrium, or ensconced in the dark confines of their sleeping quarters for hours at a time.
Plans were laid for Maelynn’s 24th birthday. It seemed fitting that she should be taken out of this world on the anniversary of the day she’d been brought into it. Of the three of them, only Boag felt some remorse at what they planned to do. He’d watched Maelynn grow from the beautiful girl Gilpin had pulled out of the vat into the mesmerizing woman she’d become. He even loved her a little himself, but not enough to change his course.
They had to do what was right.
They didn’t know that Gilpin had come to the same conclusion. He knew that his love for Maelynn was toxic in the way that it had poisoned every fiber of his being. He’d forgotten who he was, and because he loved her, he knew there was only one way out. Now that they’d conceived a child, a child that could never be allowed to live, their fate was sealed.
On the morning of January 17th, before the sun had risen high enough for its light to kiss the wall across from their bed, Gilpin pulled Maelynn to him and hugged her close. She pressed into him, her warm back against his chest. He could feel her breathing softly and imagined he could hear the heartbeat of the life that grew inside her. He took a breath, inhaling her aroma one last time, and then plunged the knife through her body and into his own.
Her gasp was short, for he’d aimed for a quick and painless death. He kissed the skin below her left ear and closed his eyes, allowing the death that he knew was necessary to sweep over them both.
It was how Gilpin’s remaining colleagues found them later that day when they entered the bedroom to carry out their plans. For all their ill intentions, what they saw in the bed shocked and horrified them. It was clear that Maelynn and Gilpin were joined in death, as they had been in life.
Afterwards, the doors of the laboratory were closed forever, and no one who’d been there ever spoke of what had happened. Test Subject 65382 was forgotten, and with effort, so was the brilliant doctor who’d given her life. The only proof of her existence was between the pages of Gilpin’s research journal, which Boag quietly retrieved from the bedside table on the day they’d found the pair dead in their bed.
Boag never told his colleagues what he found written on the last page. It wouldn’t have been right to share it. Boag shouldn’t have read it himself, but he couldn’t help it. Even so, he swore he’d keep it to himself until his last day. Maelynn and Gilpin deserved that much.
Test Subject 65382
Born January 17th, 2600
Died January 17th, 2608
Maelynn, my love, forgive me. This world is not ready for our love, and so I go with you to the next.