Jenny Greene moved to Sangster, Michigan ten years ago when the town had more occupational opportunities. She fancied the town for its convenient location to Lake Michigan and the fact she had relatives there. The town was being eyed as a potential site for casinos, similar to Atlantic City in New Jersey. Jenny, 35 at the time was tall, slender-built with perfect skin and had a penchant for entertainment. She worked in the gambling industry since she was old enough and was betting on the premise of a fresh start in a new town. The single mother being unemployed for over a year felt the economic strain firsthand and decided Sangster was no longer the right place to raise her daughter who had just graduated from high school. She reached out to one of her old friends in Plainsboro, New Jersey to see if she would allow Haley to attend college there until she was able to get back on her feet. With room to spare Eileen agreed that Haley could room and board with her and the girl promptly applied and got accepted to the local college.
Jenny was hastily packing the young girl’s belonging being careful to only include the necessities and her best outfits that could fit in the small duffle bag. Haley would be travelling over a thousand miles by herself on the bus to Plainsboro in a few hours. Eileen had inquired in their last conversation whether Haley would be able to travel by herself and her mother knowing the innate tenacity of the girl felt that she was capable of being on her own for the first time. She had witnessed her daughter’s fierce determination to take care of herself and how she excelled in school and felt confident that the travel instructions written down on a piece of paper would be enough for Haley to find her way. The bus would be making several stops and the arrival would be during the day time so she felt Haley should be fairly safe.
“Jen, why don’t you accompany Haley? I’ll help with the fare if you’d like”, Eileen had said.
Jenny thought it over and then declined just in case he came back and she wasn’t there. One of the reasons she did not want to leave Sangster was because it was where she had met Kyle, the one man who really meant anything to her and made her feel loved and wanted. He had left on special mission with the U.S. Army not providing the least detail of his whereabouts or when or if he would return. He was not Haley’s father. She was the result of a drunken one-night stand with a high roller at the casino where she last worked. Would have been nice if she knew his full name but he was just passing through and had no intention of anything lasting and meaningful. Haley’s natural intelligence, confidence, adaptability and lack of fear must have been from his gene pool she imagined because it appeared to be a family curse where the women were rendered immobile after high school, choosing not to attend college and not able to hold a long-term relationship. The fact that Kyle had paid her any attention and the intense 3-month relationship they had came as a surprise. It had Jenny holding out for more, willing to wait to see if the curse could be broken with his return. It had been over a year now that she last saw him and one phone call 6 months ago renewed her hopes that he would be back.
“Let’s go Haley, the bus will be arriving in an hour”, she said anxiously from the living room, throwing her voice in the direction of Haley’s bedroom.
Haley was looking forward to the bus ride. Fourteen hours her mother had said it was. She had not left home before and was looking forward to see the world outside of Sangster.
CHAPTER 2 – Day 1, Wednesday
An unmarked medical transport unit missed a red light at an intersection a couple blocks from the bus station and ran into a semi-truck making a left turn. The impact to the right side of the unit caused it to spin 180 degrees then overturned while the semi-truck spun completely to the right crashing into the concrete sidewalk. The groggy passenger still strapped to a gurney saw this as his opportunity to break away from the experimental unit where he had at one time been happy to be their guinea pig. As blood streamed down his cheeks from his temple he felt for the release button beneath the gurney and added force to the lever latch. The loud snap signaled he was free from his restraints. A quick look in the driver’s cabin revealed the driver and his partner were slowly recovering from the side impact. The passenger turned his gaze towards the rear double doors, both now invitingly ajar. He blinked trying to adjust his vision that were accustomed to the dark cabin to make sense of the bright lights and screeching sounds of the approaching cars and the blinding lights of the stores that lined both sides of the road. Onlookers were beginning to gather, some getting out of their cars to take a closer look while others were busy dialing on their cell phones and walking closer to get a better look. The passenger staggered to the door and looked around. He saw a sign for a public park a few hundred feet away and then the clearing that marked the huge entrance.
Dragging his injured left leg, disregarding his less than modest hospital gown, he headed towards the park. He ran down the street as fast as his injured body could carry him, oblivious to his audience and continually looking back to see if he was being pursued and to catch his breath. As he neared the bus stop in Plainsboro, he could see passengers exiting a parked bus and what appeared to be family members or friends across the street waiting to meet the exiting passengers. He estimated he would be at the park’s entrance before the throng made it across the street to the parked cars.
Haley recognizing this as her stop collected her things and headed to the exit. Her instructions were to meet Eileen’s daughter, Cameron, in the nearby parking lot. Although Cameron and Haley had never met in person, Cameron was able to quickly recognize Haley from the photos her mother had sent and the red sweater she knew she would be wearing.
“Haley!”, Cameron called and waved from across the street to get the girls attention. Haley instantly made eye contact with her and began to make her way across the street passing through the covered bus stop. She felt herself airborne and as her body slammed against the asphalt of the road, she felt the weight of another human on top of her.
He was startled to see that he had run into someone, being distracted as he checked to see if his transporters had realized he was on the run. He looked into her frightened face, the words escaped him to make an apology. He tried to push himself off her body when his blood-soaked hand made contact with the fresh scrape on her exposed calf. She opened her mouth to scream, not from the pain or the crazed bloodied look of the half-clothed man trying to get on his feet but from the large guns his pursuers were pointing in their direction. The man finally got to his feet and saw what startled Haley. His heart pounded erratically as he saw his chances of escape begin to narrow. He regained his balance and just as quickly as he had appeared he disappeared into the nearby park while two men pursued, apparently as injured as their target.
“Haley, Haley are you okay?”, said Cameron, running towards her. She was still lying on the ground and her earbuds dangled loosely onto her torso. Her leg appeared smeared in blood giving the impression she was bleeding profusely.
“What in the heck…!”, she said. “What just happened? Oh, my lord, I’m missing Sangster already”, she said half- jokingly and still in shock as she watched the two heavily armed men chase her accidental assailant into the park.
She wondered what was going on as she looked around for her duffle bag and the small purse she carried which were knocked from her hand by the fleeing stranger. Cameron spotted the two bags not too far away and gently pulled her up to get her back on her feet.
“Are you okay?”, said Cameron, repeating the question after glancing at the crimson red liquid running down Haley’s leg.
“I’m good as new”, she said, brushing off the dirt from her clothes.
“You have a bad wound on your leg”, said Cameron, pointing to the bloody calf.
“It looks worse than it feels”, she said, looking from the wound to Cameron’s face. “Really, I’m alright”
Cameron looked puzzled and thought she must have a concussion.
“These are my favorite shoes”, she said, not paying attention to the seemingly large wound and instead looking at the scoffed leather sandals she had begged her mother to purchase earlier in the Summer.
“Okay then, let me get your things and get us home”
A nearby couple inched closer to check on the girl and when they saw the injured leg urged her to have it looked at. The girl insisted she was in no pain. They walked to Cameron’s car on the other side of the road and she placed the duffle bag in the trunk. Both girls replayed the collision and speculated about the background story during the short ride to Cameron’s home. In the far-off distance the cracking boom of a bullet escaping a gun chamber silenced the commotion of the gathered crowd whose attention was redirected to somewhere deep within the park.
Two years earlier 1st Sergeant Mark McDonough and his platoon were engaged in enemy combat a few miles south of the hostile territory in Kirkuk, Afghanistan. Intelligence had reached the platoon leader that a well sought-after renegade leader was hiding in a small village previously identified as a residential zone with non-threatening farmers and their families. The order was given to search every home, being careful not to dismantle the touch and go relationship the locals had with the American soldiers.
It was uneventful as the soldiers entered the village and as they got closer to the center of the town a loud shout in a foreign tongue emanated from one of the rooftops. This was the warning the hidden renegades were waiting for as the platoon was surrounded by twenty men and boys with hand grenades, rocks, machetes and automatic rifles that were aimed in the direction of the Sergeant. Before he could turn to take cover in one of the neighboring buildings a shot rang out piercing his throat. As one of his comrades ran towards him to drag him to safety a loud explosion sending shrapnel 200 feet from its source found the soft tissue between his 12th and 13th vertebrae.
He woke days later in a medical facility somewhere in the United States. The Sergeant a devoted soldier learned in the coming weeks that his vocal cords were severely damaged in the ambush and he would not be able to speak. Additionally, his spinal cord was fractured in numerous places and he would not have been able to walk on his own again without the immediate surgical procedure they performed using a new experimental regenerative approach. The news left him emotionally weakened. How could he serve his beloved country with his injury? So, when he was asked to participate in one of the experimental trials being conducted in QUAD 600, a double blink of his eyelashes indicated his consent to voluntarily enroll in the experimental medical program referred to by its abbreviation H.T.R.S. Human Trans-Genome Regenerative Studies was a private research organization focusing on finding ways to transform the broken into physically and mentally super men and women.
HTRS was based on the theories of evolution. They believed through a series of complex regenerations beginning with the single celled bacterium to protozoa to complex eukaryotes, after thousands of years men came to be. They observed human beings as being great in their own right, however inherent physical weaknesses that if strengthened could be the key to making them better, even super. They observed some of these strengths in animals such as the power of an ox, the vision of an eagle, the auditory skills of the owl, the watchfulness of the hawk and the regenerative abilities of some reptiles and theorized the possibility of harnessing those attributes for human use.
QUAD 600 was the laboratory for experiments that could possibly create a true universal soldier. The latest in their experimentation included enhanced non-vocalized communication. They hypothesized that some animals communicated through auditory signals, others communicated without making a sound detected by the human ear and without any obvious gesticulation of their bodies. They theorized whether humans always communicated by auditory speech. The source of non-auditory communication was theoretically credited to the cerebral cortex in these animals’ brain. Lacto-cerebrum fluid is a gel like substance capable of magnifying and projecting a thought internally that is audible to animals of the same species. It was impossible to prove that animals could communicate this way over many miles so they tested removing the lacto-cerebrum fluid in catch and release test subjects and noted that when these animals were returned to their natural habitats, they consistently veered from their groups, often lost when their communication mechanism was altered in this way. It reduced their ability to survive when they lost contact with their pack and for those that found a way to keep up, the pack at times shunned them. If human beings once had a similar communication mechanism that was forgotten due to disuse, they hoped to resurrect it and bring it to the forefront of Trans liminal Communication, a communication method using projected thought, with help from 1st Sergeant McDonough, the first recipient of the lacto-cerebrum fluid to his temporal lobe.
Cameron and Haley arrived at the suburban home to find Cameron’s younger brother Peter watching cartoons as he does every evening in the small family room.
“Mom, we’re back”, Cameron said excitedly as she entered the family room.
Eileen walked in from the kitchen where she was preparing dinner.
“Hello Haley! It’s so good to see you. How was your…?”
Before she could ask what happened Cameron gave her the full details about the fleeing stranger colliding with Haley as she got off the bus.
“Get me the first aid kit Cameron”, her mother said, moving towards Haley to get a closer look at the streaks of dried blood that ran the length of her calf.
“Oh, I looked at it Mom, it’s only a minor scrape. Not sure how she managed to lose so much blood though”, said Cameron.
“Okay, get the witch hazel and a gauze bandage. At least we should clean it up and keep it from getting infected. We wouldn’t want you losing your leg over this, right Haley?”, said Eileen, heaving a sigh of relief while Cameron rolled her eyes at her mother’s exaggeration.
“Right, Ms. Scott”, said Haley playing along. “I am glad to finally meet you and Cameron. Cameron told me she’ll be leaving for medical school in a couple days”
“Yes, the house will be quiet without her. You’ll have her room to yourself”, she said, while standing from completing her inspection of the leg in a stooped position. She headed towards the kitchen when her eyes caught Peter totally engrossed in the show on the TV and she realized they had not been properly introduced. “Say hello to Haley, Peter”
Without removing his gaze from the screen, he lazily responded, “Hey Haley.” Peter was much younger than Haley and would be entering the seventh grade in the Fall. Something about him made Haley felt he might be annoying. She took a seat on the worn sofa and took in the small comfy family room painted a pea green that had the worn-out carpet to match. Two huge windows graced the front door provided a view of the porch, the mature oak tree lined suburban street speckled with black towering lamp posts and a tree filled lot across the street. Inside, the family room wall was dotted with portraits of Cameron, Peter and Eileen at various stages in their lives. No picture of Mr. Scott was anywhere and she tried to remember any conversation she might have overheard from her mother on his whereabouts. Two other large tan velvety covered chairs faced the sofa and a wooden oak colored coffee table had magazines below it from a subscription that appeared to have expired years ago. She made a move to pick up one of them and then decided against it when Cameron appeared like the doctor-in-training she wanted to be with cotton pads and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. She dabbed at the wound and marveled at the foaming action it created upon application to the wound.
“Dinner is ready kids. Haley, you must be hungry”, said Eileen walking towards the family room. “Do you like meatloaf?”
It wasn’t one of Haley’s favorite dishes but out of courtesy and afraid to offend her she said, “Sure, I like meatloaf. My mom makes it every Thursday for dinner”
“Mom, I’m going to miss your cooking. I heard the food at school is horrible. My sponsor said most of the students feed on pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m gonna gain my freshman 20 in no time living like that especially since it’s gotta be extra cheese for me”, said Cameron.
Her mother headed back to the kitchen turned to her and gave her the ‘really?’ look.
“You can still eat healthy if you learn to cook. I told you to get that hot plate from Super-Mart when we went shopping last week”
Cameron had thought the idea was silly and that no one on campus would be cooking entire meals in their tiny dorm rooms.
“Okay, dinner is served. Haley, you can sit here”, Eileen said as she brought out the meatloaf and mashed potatoes to the dinner table.
Six layers deep below Haley’s skin the unwitnessed metamorphosis had begun. The Sergeants trans-mutated blood found an opening in Haley’s bruised skin and made its way through the broken capillaries before they could clot. Specially designed virulent cells used for tissue and bone regeneration replicated exponentially and began to proliferate in her blood plasma.
Meanwhile, another organic activity was taking place as the new blood coursed through her spinal cord inching towards her brain. Like a message finally being received her cerebral cortex was ignited and a small cavity formed in the pathway that separated the left and right hemispheres of her brain below the corpus callosum—the sheath that connected the two hemispheres-- to now house the storage of the lacto-cerebrum fluid. The complex tissue composed of a gelatinous substance interlaced with a mesh-like fibrous tissue began to be formed. It would be intricately woven into one inseparable organ. In a few days the regeneration would be complete unbeknownst to the host except for a slight headache and ensuing dizziness that would gradually pass. It would remain unnoticeable. The new thing she had become could lie dormant for years, awaiting the final piece of the puzzle to bring it to life.
Mid-West – Moments later
Back at the lab the researchers were glad to hear their protégé was retrieved, contained and delivered to the new modernized facility more conducive to their elaborate testing. They were equally amazed at the speed his body had healed itself similar to the way his spinal cord had restored itself after the experimental treatment was applied that lead to his ability to walk again. That was their one major success allowing them to switch their focus to communication by trans liminal means, a topic which comprised the bulk of their conversations lately.
“Ben, if we are operating on the premise we have evolved from a conglomeration of cells to one complex being, then it is quite possible that as we evolve a more complex dimension is added to our ability to communicate. The part of our brain where vocalized speech is controlled is much larger today than in the average human 300 years ago. I would argue our communication has evolved since their time and maybe pre-historic humans initially relied on non-vocalized communication using an internal way of communicating to the more audible and physical way we express ourselves today. The disuse of the chamber probably caused it to shrink so now there’s hardly a trace of its existence and therefore no need to produce the lacto-cerebrum fluid. The infusion we gave Mark is holding steady. We are not sure how this is happening—whether it has adjusted itself to an optimum level or if his body has re-learned to produce it”
“Kathy, we really ought to pay more attention to Mark’s humanity and not see him as just a test subject. We have to do a psycho evaluation so we know what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling. We can’t risk another episode of him trying to abandon the program when we are so close”, said Dr. Carl Perry, the head researcher for the HTRS program.
“Yes, but he has to trust us and want to help since only he can tell us if the lacto-cerebrum fluid is compatible with humans”, said Dr. Benjamin Stoker, another researcher on the program.
“It seems he is missing human companionship. I don’t think we can allow him to have external contacts, at least not yet, not until we have more information. He is not exactly like us, or even other humans with his ability to quickly heal, and he has the lacto-cerebrum fluid constituent that makes up his blood”, said Dr. Katherine Wilder, the only female researcher on the team.
“He doesn’t know about the lacto-cerebrum fluid. To him, he hasn’t changed and probably has never felt better in all his life since he produces a high level of cortisol that lowers his chances of depression. The regenerative spinal treatment reversed his arthritis and removed any traces of his inherited MS and made him walk again. Though, I can empathize and understand his needs. He’s been alone in the lab for over six months with only us as his prodding companions. Maybe he used the accident as a chance to reclaim his life and make a run for freedom. I can only think it must be lonely and frustrating since he can’t readily communicate with us and anyone else for that matter. We should meet with him to discuss this further”, said Dr. Perry.
“Okay, let’s get on with it then. We’ll evaluate Mark first then continue where we left off”, said Dr. Stoker, as he headed out the underground lab and headed to the waiting SUV that would transport them to the new research facility in Delaware.
The medical transport unit pulled into the new research facility in Delaware and brought the patient to a holding room in section 112.
The sergeant laid semi-aware of his surroundings recovering from a sedated state. He knew he was once again with his captors and would be subjected to continued experimentation. Given his condition when he first arrived at Quad 600 he was sure he would die and the last good thing he could do was to donate his body to further research that might benefit future soldiers. The speed of his recovery was shocking to him. He had survived against the odds and life was once again possible but he had made a commitment.
If this technology exist, then why isn’t it being used on a larger scale. There are many soldiers who have endured my plight but have been relegated to a life in a wheelchair, he thought. I can’t continue with this endless experimenting. I have to let my family know I am alright. I have to get out of here.
His body contorted from the pain he endured during his attempted escape. He felt guilty that he had a change of heart but being quarantined from the public for the rest of his life while being able-bodied was a huge sacrifice. His mind flashbacked to the girl he had accidentally ran into not too long ago and the utter clarity of her face, the shocked expression, and the bright red sweater she was wearing replayed in his mind. As he was actively being pursued, he didn’t have time to check to see that she was uninjured and now it weighed heavily on his mind.
CHAPTER 5 – Day 4, Saturday
With Cameron away at college, Haley’s prediction that her brother would be unbearable proved true. He made it hard for her, continually reminding her that she was in his house and had no claims to the television. He would go through her things, taking what he wanted. At first, she thought she had misplaced a pair of gym socks she had bought before coming on the trip. It would be the first name-brand item she would own and was looking forward to wearing it to school. She asked him if he had seen it to which he insisted he hadn’t. A few days later the stench from unwashed clothing lured her to look behind a dresser in her room where she found the foul and filthy pair of worn Adidas socks. She threw it in the trash, taking note that she had no privacy while she was there. School would begin in a couple days and she looked forward to spending her days away from Peter and the quiet and boring neighborhood.
Today being Saturday, Ms. Scott would be home and she would have an adult around to keep her company. She looked forward to getting out of the house and accompanying Ms. Scott to the grocery and getting better acquainted with the town area. On Sunday they would go to church, as mentioned by Ms. Scott when she gave Haley the talk on how she ran her home, and on Monday, she would accompany her to complete the registration for the college she would be attending.
“Haley, I’ll show you the shortcut you can take to get to school before we go to the store”, Ms. Scott said. The college was less than a mile away and the available shuttle did not have a stop within a mile radius of the school to encourage other methods of eco-friendly transportation.
As she pulled out onto the road, she pointed to a path leading up a hill cleared of its grass from the trampling of human feet.
“You see that path in the hillside, you’ll take it to the main road and just follow the signs to the college from there”
They pulled into the parking lot for the supermarket and entered through the large sliding doors. She felt dizzy and found herself holding onto a shelf to keep her balance. Haley had not noticed her blouse was drenched in perspiration and her hair was matted to her head. Ms. Scott turned around to hand Haley half the list after locating a shopping cart.
“What’s happening?”, she said, looking at Eileen who was staring at the young girl in astonishment. There were dark circles under Haley’s eyes, her blouse clung to her body from perspiration that ran freely from her head. The girl looked like she had seen a ghost, pale and disoriented. Her body began to quiver from the coolness of the air conditioning and her body’s natural response to cool itself.
Eileen walked hastily to her removing the jacket she had put on earlier and wrapped it around the girl.
“We should get you to a hospital”, she said. “Maybe we should have had the wound looked at. You’ll be alright”, she reassured her.
The girl able to stand on her own noticed the nausea and dizziness she had felt had subsided and so did the uncontrolled flow of perspiration.
“I’m much better now. Thank you. Must have been the egg salad I had for breakfast this morning”, she said, as she tried to pry the damp blouse from her body. She would say anything as an excuse not to go to the hospital.
“Don’t scare me like that. When was the last time you had a check-up?”
The girl now feeling embarrassed said, “I’ve never been sick my whole life. The only time I’ve been to a doctor was to get shots for school. I’m okay, I really do feel much better but maybe it’s best if I wait for you in the car”
Eileen realizing this is the only time she had to do the family shopping for the week gave the girl the car keys and resumed her shopping.
In the newly restored corpus callosum cavity of Haley’s brain the first drop of lacto-cerebrum fluid had formed and spread itself within the fibrous layers. 200 miles away, Mark McDonough heard another voice in his room, only there was no one there. He heard it again a few minutes later, muffled and unclear.
Haley hadn’t realized when Eileen opened the hatch and began loading the groceries into the car.
“I promised Jenny I would take care of you and so far, I feel I am doing a horrible job. I’ve called the hospital and the clinic can see you today. After I drop off these groceries I’ll take you there”
Haley forced herself to be fully alert from the drowsiness that claimed her to dissuade Eileen, to no avail.
At the clinic a nurse looked at the wound Haley had received just three days ago and was surprised at how quickly it had healed. The wound was barely noticeable. After discussing her symptoms, she was assessed for a fever, and her pulse and blood pressure were taken. She was sent to the lab for blood work and was told they would call with the results in a few days. The preliminary results were food poisoning probably linked to the egg salad at home. In her mind she caught a view of the rambunctious Peter and wondered whether he had anything to do with it. She decided to be careful what she ate in the home.
It’s only for a year, not even, more like 9 months then I’ll leave and go back home. I hope mother will find something to do soon, she thought.