MaryAnne lay awake in the darkened room, dimly illuminated by the streetlight that reflected through the partially open blinds. Through tired eyes, she had been staring at the dancing shadows on the bedroom ceiling for almost an hour. The rain had lessened and now beat a steady rhythm, tapping lightly on the bedroom windows. It lulled her senses and sapped her will to stay awake. She was exhausted, had gone too many nights without sleep, but knew that when she closed her eyes, the terror disguised as a dream would return. It was so real; the smell of dank, rotting jungle vegetation, screeches and roars of unimaginable beasts, huge winged creatures swooping from the sky without warning, the guttural sounds of the strange, people-like creatures. People? They never spoke, just grunted and made faces while gesturing, hairy arms and hands cutting the air, punctuated with slapping motions to their sides and chests. Small, misshapen and covered with hair, they were quite ugly. Except for the children, their miniatures and unthreatening, each lovable in a way like the runt of a litter. These dream creatures had names like none MaryAnne had ever heard. Strange beings with strange names. Now she was beginning to recognize them, even to understand them. And what was most frightening, she could read their thoughts.
The dream had started, when? Three, four weeks ago? Little glimpses of disorganized scenes that grew and melded as it replayed night after night in her mind. She was certain that the injection she had received last summer had something to do with it. Without conscious thought, her hand crept to her hair line, fingers probing. They located the small indentation, almost healed, where the high speed drill had bitten into her skull, puncturing a hole just large enough for the long needle of the syringe. She shivered, and for a brief moment wondered whether the treatment that had saved her life would eventually frighten her to death.
Eyes burning now from lack of sleep, they fluttered closed. She stiffened, fighting sleep, then finally relaxed and went limp. As if on cue, the projector of her mind turned on, and the dream sequence unfolded anew.
Ab came awake with a start, realizing a dull pain in her lower back where the sharp edge of an angry rock had intruded during the long night. The shallow cave that had served as her bed was not much more than an overhang of rock, barely enough to protect her from the dense mist which now enveloped her. It was almost dawn, the sky lightening imperceptibly due to the fog. Her senses were immediately alert; clutching the crude club fashioned from the leg bone of a huge beast, she looked about, then raised her head and cautiously sniffed the air while listening for sources of danger. Hearing only the morning calls of the small winged ones, Ab rose and stretched. At full height, she stood barely five feet, somewhat taller than other members of her tribe. Her body was covered with a fine hair and her skin was lighter than most. Her blond hair immediately set her apart; it flowed in profusion over her shoulders and almost reached her waist It was matted now as she ran her fingers through it to rid it of the beaded mist and crawling things that had nested there during the dark time.
The hot, burning light would soon rise in the sky, making this another difficult day for Ab to expend the energy needed to find food. The thought of eating made her stomach contract and she grunted with hunger. Yesterday she had missed killing two of the furry creatures that lived under the ground, and her stone had not brought down the small one that lived in the sky. She had eaten only a few berries in two days and was growing weaker. Today she must find food, or would soon become easy prey to one of the many beasts with sharp teeth. She crept from her narrow shelter and scrambled down the rock outcropping. Before entering the surrounding jungle she paused at a broad-leafed plant and carefully tilted the collected dew into her mouth. She repeated this several times until her thirst was quenched. After squatting in the bush to relieve herself, she moved on.
Ab wondered if she would track down her tribe today and be reunited with her two small ones. They had become separated four darknesses ago while she was out foraging for berries and had been forced to climb into the tall growth to escape one of the long tooths. The beast had been relentless in pursuing her, and when it had finally given up on taking her, it was dark. She knew that she could not risk the dangers of the night creatures while trying to find her way back to camp, so she spent the dark time in the tall growth. When she returned to the camp the next day, she found it abandoned. Her tribe was small, the grown ones numbering only three males and five females. There were eight of the small ones, two of them were hers, and she missed them. The tribe would take care of her small ones for a while, but if she did not return soon to care for them, they would be left behind.
Ab remembered how difficult it had been when she was small. She had come from Em, who had been captured by a tribe in the land near the Great Water when she was half grown. Em had been forced to hunt and forage for the tribe, and in return was given enough food to barely stay alive. The tribal leader, Ru, had crossed the Great Water on a crude log raft when he had reached his full size. Ru was taller and stronger than other tribe members. He had claimed Em as his property, and began mating with her as soon as she could bear small ones. The following year Ab was born.
The females of the tribe usually made a fuss over a new small one, touching, caressing and grunting encouragement to the mother. But Ab’s birth agitated them. She was different, larger and with less hair on her face and body. Her skin was lighter than either Ru or Em, and she had inherited Ru’s blond hair. Ab was shunned during her early years, and had it not been for Em protecting her, she would have perished.
Em taught her the ways of finding berries and fruits in the places of small growth. She taught her how to prepare rocks and bones for use as weapons, how to surprise and take the shiny ones that lived under the water and how to climb the tall growth and conceal herself while waiting for her prey to pass beneath. She taught Ab how to track these creatures and how to throw stones to wound them, then, when they were helpless, to crush their skull with a large rock or with her club. Em also taught Ab about the deadly attacks of other tribes and how to ward them off or hide from them. And about the large beasts that stalked them and the huge winged ones with sharp claws that swept down from the sky to seize the small ones. She taught Ab how to survive. Now, all these skills were needed if Ab was to ever see her two small ones again.
Suddenly she stopped and sniffed the air in several directions. The acrid smell of blood raised the hairs on her arms and neck. Her senses alert, she found its source on a trail leading into the growth. Cautiously following the scent, she came upon a tall, striped beast that had been wounded by the long tooth, but had somehow managed to escape. It was moving slowly, limping and in obvious pain. She kept it in sight, tracking it with great stealth as the bright light rose higher in the sky and warmed her skin. When the animal stopped to rest, Ab crept up on it, keeping the wind in her face as Em had taught her. The creature was too big to subdue with a sharp stone, so she leapt at it with her club, shouting the attack cry. The animal wheeled and rose on its hind feet, shrieking with fear and striking out with sharp hooves that narrowly missing Ab’s head. Her club missed its target, but struck the shoulder muscles torn by the long tooth. The animal screamed and fell to the ground, thrashing wildly with fear and pain. Ab was on it in a minute, pummeling its head with her club until it lay motionless. With her cutting stone she quickly sliced through the throat then the soft underside of the thick hide, exposing the entrails. With cupped hands she caught the warm blood spurting from the severed arteries and greedily drank it. Then she sliced off and devoured chunks of the steaming flesh while smacking her lips and looking furtively about. She knew that she must hurry for soon the long tooth or great winged ones would arrive to challenge her for her kill.
“Oh, God!” MaryAnne cried out and bolted upright, clutching her chest. Harvey, who had been peacefully sleeping beside her, came awake with a start and quickly switched on the lamp on the nightstand beside the bed.
“What is it, MaryAnne, another nightmare?” he asked, grasping her shoulders and holding her close. “It’s okay, now. Was it the same dream?”
Her heart pounded like it would explode from her body and she fought to catch her breath. After a minute she found her voice. “Oh, . . . oh, God, Harvey. It was so real. The blood, and the screams. I could smell it, Harv, I swear, I could smell it just like I was there.”
Harvey held her at arms length and stared into her eyes. “Calm down, sweetheart. You’re okay. It was just another dream. Nothing to worry about.”
She shivered and started to sob softly. “Oh Harvey. Why does it keep coming back? What does it mean? Who are those creatures and why do I keep dreaming about them? Will it ever end?”
“Give it time, MaryAnne. You’ve been through a lot lately. We all have. Look, I’ll leave the light on and you can just relax here in my arms. Can I bring you something? A brandy or a glass of water?”
She shook her head and snuggled close. He could feel her trembling through the sheet. He tucked the blanket about her, then lay back on his pillow. After a while, he closed his eyes. The rain that had been fingering the windowpane earlier had increased in intensity, and now he could hear the first traces of sleet tapping against the glass. It had been sleeting that day last Spring, almost seven months ago, when this all began. He wondered if he would ever know the full story. It involved so many people, some that he loved, and some who had tried to use him. Soon it would be over. One way or the other, it would end soon. Had it really only been seven months? It seemed an eternity. How could something that had started out so right turn into such a nightmare?
When the package from Pele containing Eve’s cloned mtDNA arrived, Harvey, Dell and Jim worked through the weekend preparing solution for treatment of MaryAnne and other test subjects. On Monday morning, Harvey and Dell met MaryAnne at the clinic in the Elder Medcare Center, where the treatments were to be administered. Nurse Jane Burns and Dr. Marc Medford from the Center medical staff were also present. After a physical exam and an x-ray by Dr. Medford, Nurse Burns shaved a small one-inch square section of MaryAnne’s scalp under her hairline, swabbed it with alcohol, and applied a local anesthetic. Then she strapped MaryAnne’s head into a cradle attached to the operating table to prevent movement. Dr. Medford explained what he was about to do, and then cut a small flap of scalp with a scalpel, folded it back and secured it with a clamp. Using a high-speed medical drill, he quickly penetrated the skull where the injection into the forelobe was to be given. Throughout the procedure, Harvey was at MaryAnne’s side, holding her hand.
“MaryAnne, the penetration is complete,” said Medford. “Now the next step is much like any other injection, except you’ll feel no pain when the syringe enters. As you know, the brain is impervious to pain. However it is critical that you be absolutely still, do you understand?”
“Yes, Marc. Let’s just get it over with.”
Medford took a 5 ml syringe with a 38 mm needle from the tray and inserted it into one of the test tubes that had been provided by Harvey. He drew 3 ml of the solution into the syringe, and then deftly inserted the point into the small aperture in MaryAnne’s skull. He thrust the point of the needle almost 30 mm into the opening, emptied its contents, and then he withdrew it and placed it back on the tray.
“Now, just a little tidying up, and we’ll be through.” He secured the flap of scalp with stitches, and applied a sterile dressing. “There; I’ll take a look at that in two days. We should be able to remove the dressing and stitches in about a week. Dr. Irwin will also want to test that you’ve assimilated the genetic material we’ve just injected. After that, you can comb your hair to cover the spot until new hair grows back. How are you feeling?”
“That’s it? Piece of cake,” MaryAnne replied. “How soon can I get back to work?”
“We’ll make that determination after I check up on you in a couple of days. Until then, just take it easy. No strenuous exercise, no driving, no alcohol or medication. Now, just rest here for a few minutes, then Nurse Burns will check a few things and Harvey can take you home.”
“Thanks, Marc,” MaryAnne responded. “You have a great touch, but I hope that you never have to mess with my brain again.”
Over the next week, Dell and Jim assisted Dr. Medford with treatments to the balance of the second group, which had now been expanded to include MaryAnne Mather. It had been over two months since the start of experiments on humans. Most of the first group of test subjects continued to show improvements in age and regression of degenerative diseases. The video cameras continued to capture them as well as the second group of test subjects on a daily basis, and their symptoms and actions were closely monitored. One month after the second group had been treated, they appeared to be doing even better than the first group.
“All have improved locomotion,” Jim observed. “And MaryAnne and the other subject with Alzheimer’s are definitely in remission. It’s quite amazing.”
“What about the Winders?” asked Harvey.
“Well, they were in pretty good shape to start with, compared to the other subjects, but George is showing signs of increased vitality with improved appetite and stamina, and Betty reports much improved energy. They both confirm their sex life has never been better. I’d like to start treadmill tests on them and some of the other subjects next week.”
“Good idea,” Harv replied, ” the staff at the Center also reports definite signs of increased sexuality among both the men and women. And did you notice that most of the women are wearing makeup now?”
“Yep. And one woman, Helen Aiken, has started menstruating again. She wasn’t too happy about that, since she’s in her late sixties. Imagine having to worry about getting pregnant when you’re in your sixties!”
“I didn’t know she was married.”
“She’s a widow. But if you saw the way she was flirting with everything in pants, I’ll bet it won’t be long before she has an active sex life.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to accept all those old folks being more sexually active than I am,” Jim said, with a wry smile. “June and I are usually too bushed after a full day of work and looking after the kids. Now I’ve got to hear about 70 year olds who are acting like teenagers just discovering sex. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right.”
“Jealous, Jim?” Dell asked with a grin. “Personally, I think it’s great. I’ve noticed some of the male subjects working out, and they’re showing definite improved muscle tone. Imagine a generation in their 70′s, 80′s and even 90′s who think, look and feel 30 or 40 years younger. It’s even likely that with increased oxygen intake and blood circulation, their brain will continue to absorb knowledge to pass on to the younger generation, sort of ‘super intellectuals’.”
“Whoa, Dell. I’m as enthused as you about these preliminary results,” Harv cautioned, “but let’s not trip out just yet. Every day brings a new surprise.”
“By the way,” Dell said, “they’ve started tests on animals in Belgium using the cloned DNA and test procedures that we sent them.” Catching a wary look in Jim’s eye, Dell added, “I was careful to explain the necessity of keeping them in separate cages to avoid contamination of test subjects.”
“So what’s the next step?” asked Jim.
“Bruckner wants to start testing on humans in Europe in about two weeks. In the meantime, we keep observing and documenting results on both animals and humans here. If things continue to go well, we may have a marketable program before the year is out.”
“Incredible!” Harv replied. “It’s not possible to get FDA approval that fast.”
“No way. But Bruckner feels that we could make treatments available through clinics outside the US, in countries with far less restrictive approval cycles. Those who want the treatment could afford to travel to Mexico or Europe or Asia to receive it. What’s a little inconvenience compared to the potential gain?”
“Hmm. But the largest market has got to be in the US,” Harvey observed.
“Sure it is. But it may be years before we can offer treatments here. In the meanwhile, we’ll gain valuable experience in treating thousands of patients at clinics outside the US. I expect public demand will speed up approval in the US once they see the benefits,” Dell said.
“I sure wish we could slow down a little and run more tests,” Jim remarked. “I keep thinking there’s a lot we don’t understand yet. We never did figure out some of the things we observed with the rodent tests. What if we start getting the same reactions in our human test subjects?”
“What kinds of things?” Harv asked, suddenly aware there was much he still didn’t know about the early stages of the program.
“Nothing to worry about, Harv,” Dell replied. “Besides, we talk to our human patients all the time. What could go wrong?”
The following week, Mary Maher, a cook at the Elder MedCare Center was standing on the back stoop of the Center with a saucer in her hand, calling “Here Muffin. Come get your din-din. I’ve got some nice tuna fish for you.” After several more attempts, Mary decided that Muffin was probably out prowling the grounds, giving the birds and squirrels a fit, so she placed the saucer on the step and returned to her chores. It wasn’t until the next morning when Mary happened out on the back step that she realized the saucer was still there, untouched.
Worried, she contacted other employees, asking if they had seen the cat. One remembered seeing it the prior afternoon near the recreation area, where the shuffleboard court and horseshoe pits were located. Mary went to the area, and poked through the nearby bushes before she found Muffin under a tree. At first she didn’t recognize the cat, thinking it was a piece of trash, or perhaps a dead squirrel. Examining it closer, she saw Muffin had been horribly beaten with a horseshoe that lay nearby, covered with blood. Pounded into a bloody pulp until there was not much left that resembled a cat.
“Holy Mother of God” Mary said, blessing herself. Then, tearfully, Mary wrapped the cat’s remains in her apron and carried it back to the Center, where she called the police.
“Probably some crazy transient or kids acting up,” they said. Then Mary remembered the bloody horseshoe, and told the police about it. They reluctantly sent a patrol car to pick it up, and took it back to their lab, but cautioned that since no human injury was involved, checking for fingerprints would have a low priority, and would probably take a few weeks.
Helen Aiken opened the door to her room a crack and furtively looked into the hall. Coast is clear she thought, slipping out. She was wearing a light dressing gown and had applied a subtle perfume behind her ears and between her breasts, thinking that ought to help the old boy get it up. She glided silently down the corridor until she came to Room 4C, Charley Rhodes’ room. She had observed Charley giving her the eye lately, so had she approached him after dinner that evening and engaged him in conversation. After some small talk, she asked Charley, “do these treatments make you feel as sexy as they do me?”
Charley was taken aback at first, but then admitted that he had experienced a sexy dream the other night for the first time since shortly after his wife had died, nearly 20 years ago. He said that he was thinking more and more of sex lately, but figured if he ignored it, it would go away, as it had so many years before. After all, he was in his early 70′s so he wasn’t sure he could do anything about it even if he wanted to. Taking that as her cue, Helen had asked him if he wanted to, and Charley admitted that he might be ready to give it a try. So here was Helen, rapping lightly on Charley’s door late that night.
“Who is it?” a voice whispered from inside.
“Charley, you stupid shit, it’s me, Helen, and I’m freezing my ass off out here in the hall. Open the damn door and let me in before I die of pneumonia.”
Charley quickly opened the door and admitted Helen, then peered up and down the corridor to see if anyone had seen them. “Just checking to see if you were followed,” he said.
“Yeah, right. Like the damned FBI is going to follow me down the corridor so they can catch us screwing. Honestly, Charlie, sometimes you act like such an old fart.”
“Well, up until a few weeks ago, I felt like an old fart. My thinking just ain’t caught up with the new reality, that’s all.”
“Your thinking ain’t caught up with the New Deal, Charley. But I’m not here to explore your mind. You got anything to drink?”
“Christ, Helen, you know they don’t allow no booze in here. If they caught me with a bottle, I’d be out on my ass.”
“That didn’t stop Pete Dawkins from bringing in a little nip. If we’re goin’ to get cozy, I think you should at least offer me a drink. A lady likes to be wooed, you know.”
“Pete Dawkins? That asshole? You been getting it on with Dawkins?”
“Oh Charley, you’re jealous. I like that in a man. I never said I was getting it on with Pete. I just said he offered me a drink, that’s all. If you were a gentleman, you’d do the same.”
“Okay, okay. Would you like a drink?”
“Sure. What do you have?”
“Not a damn thing, unless you like water. But I’ll buy you one tomorrow if you want to take the shopping bus into town and slip away for an hour or so in the afternoon.”
“Oh, Charley, how sweet. I knew you were a romantic. Sure, that would be swell. Almost like a real date.”
“Well, now that we’ve finished our drink, what would you like to do?” Charley asked expectantly.
“Before we go any further, I’ve got to ask you a personal question.”
“I don’t mind. Got nothin’ to hide. What do you wanna know?”
“Do you have any rubbers?”
“Why, is it raining?”
“Charley, stop playing games. You know damn well what I mean. Do you have condoms?”
“Condoms? I haven’t used those since high school.”
“You were active in high school?”
“Sure. We used to fill ‘em up with water and drop ‘em from the third floor window onto girls coming into the building. They acted embarrassed, but we knew they got a big kick out of it.”
“You too? Of course, we used to use balloons, and we dropped them on the boys. Called them water balloons.”
“So you want to play with water balloons?”
“Charley, get real. I’m worried about those things that worry all modern women. You know, pregnancy and AIDS.”
“From me? Helen, I think my pecker died the same year Reagan was elected. You got nothing to worry about there. Besides, why would you worry about getting pregnant? Hell, if you got pregnant, you’d have a 40 year old kid.”
“Show’s how little you know. I’m still a vital woman with all parts functioning, I’ll have you know.”
“Well, are we just going to talk about your functionin’ parts, or are we going to give ‘em a workout?”
“I told you I’d like a little romancin’ first. You got any music?”
“Just my portable radio. But we’re not supposed to play that after lights out.”
“We’ll play it low. I want to dance. Do you like to dance, Charley?”
“Used to like it alright. I was pretty good at it one time, but I’m out of practice.”
“Then tonight’s your night, Charley. You’re goin’ to get to practice all those things you used to like, but haven’t tried in years. Now turn on a little dance music and come over here and sweep me off my feet.”