You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be.
Professor Henry Boson stared through his kitchen window, replaying the words in his mind. The entity, for lack of a better word, was unlike anything he had encountered, and being a man with insatiable curiosity, he had seen his fair share of anomalies.
"Donald fucking Trump!" He moved back to the island stove, twisting the gas off. The water from the boiling saucepan had flooded the bench top. He yanked a tea towel, laid it flat on the surface, but coiled his arm. "Shit!" He ran towards the sink and flicked the tap full blast.
The phone beeped.
The silver-haired man cursed as he reached for the wall, fumbling with the casing. The phone hit the floor half a second later, shattering into four pieces, each battery flying out, one into the crevice sandwiched the floorboard and dilapidated fireplace; the other had disappeared.
“Fuck!” He scrambled on all fours, picking up the pieces as he moved from corner to corner of his kitchen.
The second battery clicked in and the phone beeped again with renewed rigor. Whoever it is, he thought, it better be important or someone’s going to get their head bashed in!
"This better be fucking life or death,” Henry said into the mouthpiece. There was a long pause. His eyebrows furrowed unevenly as gravity sank in, ousting his anger, drawing concern. "I'll be right there. Don't do anything before I get there!"
The doors leading to the reactor housing’s ante-chamber flew open, the senior particle physicist stomped through, nearly collecting a few technicians as they scrambled out of the way. People were clamoring about like headless chicken, checking, double and triple-checking readouts, assuring everyone from family members to the media, military superiors to the President herself. Carnage was an apt description, but an inadequate adjective of the chaos. The stale stench of humid air permeated the nostrils of everyone within the room and any living thing, human or otherwise.
"What's going on?" Henry barked at the half-dozen lab coats at the table. "I thought we had the core stabilized?"
"It was," one of the assistants, Phil, replied, "but there was a blackout."
"A blackout?" Henry paused, glancing sideways at his protégé, his eyes flaring. "Goddamned useless idiots! We were guaranteed uninterrupted power to this site. The morons let us down again!”
Phil’s meter-wide frame looked a tad diminished. “It wasn’t the Japanese this time,” he said, bracing for the next verbal barrage.
“Well, who was it then?” Henry asked as he flipped through the clipboard, digesting the events of the last four hours in piecemeal fashion.
“It was an aftershock, sir.”
Henry closed his eyes and soften his posture. Lily, the youngest and only female member of the academic team, relaxed her stiffened shoulders while Sven, the oldest, with his thick-framed spectacles and droopy shoulders, let out a sigh.
"Doctor," Phil said. "What are we going to do?"
The professor paced from one end of the table to the other—one hand perched on a hip, one hand meshed through his hair, already damp from sweat—tethering the gazes of his university’s brightest minds.
He stopped. Phil was directly in front. "I need to go in," he finally said.
It took him less than fifteen minutes to put on the radiation suit; the least attractive aspect of his role as Chief Atomic Officer of the crack team of scientists assigned to the disaster-stricken nuclear power plant. It wasn’t because he couldn’t interact directly with the immediate world (dexterity always suffered when having to use gloves of any type); or having to hear the gush and rush of air through his breathing apparatus; or that every step and gesture had to be premeditated (exacerbating mental fatigue). No, it was that his frail, vulnerable, fleshy body hadn’t adhered quick enough to Darwin’s process of natural selection. Sure, there were surrogate robots that could do what he wanted, but that took away the edge of the experience; it made things less real.
Of course, he knew it wasn't his fault per se, but that didn't mean he accepted his species’ shortcoming. On the contrary, it fueled his obsession to seek perfection, and Doctor Henry Boson had an inkling that she was the key to unlocking his true genetic potential.
The words precipitated into his consciousness, trickling from a cacophony of inaudible whispers into reverberating voices. He lost his footing, the sleeve of his suit nearly catching on a pipe fitting.
Doctor, the same ethereal voice continued, are you alright?
Was I too potent?
“Just slightly,” he said. Henry was now standing before the reactor vessel, head turned away, with both hands held up—as gauges— so he was as close as possible to the surface. His face was already weeping and his breathing laborious. “You need to cool down,” he said with a strain.
A flitter of surprise bubbled into his thoughts. The mercury plummeted within seconds and the human bipedal was regaining his strength. Soon, he was upright on his feet, the beads of moisture all but evaporated.
Is this better?
“Yes,” he replied, “much. Thank you.”
I apologize for the discomfort. The wattage was non-existent. I had to self-catalyze.
Henry understood and had expected as much. The only problem was that he didn't know how to explain the phenomenon to his colleagues. An extraterrestrial sentient beings born from nuclear fission—communicating via telepathy and exhibiting empathy—was the reason behind the unusual agitation within the reactor; it was firmly grounded within the realm of science fiction or fantasy.
There is no need to explain, she said. You are a God among… ants. Interesting creatures ants are. Hive. Matriarchal. Each with specific functions—worker, soldier, princess, drone. Magnificent. Very fascinating.
“You read my mind…” Henry whispered, his heart was racing as a result, the imagery conjured during the interchange of subconscious cogitation was too life-like for his comfort.
Your insistence on verbal exchange of intent is… redundant. Release. Unresrain yourself. Evolve.
Relinquish your protective equipment.
Henry was plunged back fifty-two years into the past, to that moment he was barely one-day old, his entire body in contact with his naked mother’s. The experience though surreal, was played out vividly in his imagination; except it wasn’t something he’d ever thought about. Concurrently, his brain was not refuting the authenticity of the memory.
“Trust,” he said. “You want me to trust you.”
A nod of affirmation transcended his psyche. It was enough to nudge him beyond the boundaries of his doubt and consequently his reluctance.
With great care, Henry shedded himself, starting from his helmet and working down to his boots. He was down to bare cloth within minutes. Something struck him as odd—he had required assistance to don his suit given the pain in his fingers; but he felt nothing when he was taking it off. The man pulled off the bandages without second thoughts and discovered that the skin had completely healed.
“You did this?” he asked.
Yes. I could have influenced you in ways you could not even perceived. But I wanted you to surrender.
“Well,” he said. “I’m ready. What happens next?”
Henry’s jaw dropped a meter. His eyes nearly popping out. He took in a deep breath after several moments, forgetting to breathe. The pain in his hand returned. “My fingers,” he said. “What’s going on?” he looked back at the reactor, attempting to see through it.
“Are you there?”
“Hey!!” he yelled. “Are you there? Talk to me!!” He banged his fists on the massive carbon steel cylinder. “What’s going on? Where are you?”
“Doctor Boson!” a disembodied voice echoed from the speakers. “We’re sending a team in to get you out!”
It was useless. The radiation was beyond lethal. Already, the cells in his body were breaking down. It was only a matter of time. Henry slumped onto his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks. What went wrong? Was his the onset of dementia? There were no signs—apart from losing his keys every now and then—to indicate his failing mind. But It didn’t matter. He was a dead man on an expiring lease.
Two weeks later.
Henry peeled his eyes open and found himself gazing at a full blooded, exuberant, handsome younger version of himself, fast approaching his prime. The physics fraternity had yet to be graced by this genius’ presence.
“Phil,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”
“No,” Henry shook his head, his arms too weak to move. “Please, call me Henry.”
“Henry,” Phil smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Never better,” Henry said with a poor attempt at humor. “Phil,” he continued. “I wanted to say sorry for my behaviour. The way I took out my frustrations at you, and the team, especially Lily, she was terrified of me…”
“It’s okay. It’s—”
“No,” Henry jerked his arms, causing his bed to tremble. “No,” he said with a softer tone. “Please let me finish. I know I was an angry old bastard, and this is probably what I deserve. I knew I was insufferable, and that I could’ve changed, but I was too proud to admit my flaws.”
“Henry,” Phil said firmly as he sat down, resting his hands on the older man’s arm. “It’s okay, despite the harsh treatment, we all knew you cared deeply for us. Even Lily.”
Henry smiled and was about to respond when a series of coughs plagued his frail body for ten whole seconds. “That’s good,” he said eventually. “Where are they? Lily and Sven.”
Phil’s cheeks pulled into a wide smile. “They went down to the hospital lobby to bring someone up to meet you. They’ll be here any moment.”
Henry’s forehead scrounged up. Someone, a stranger? His wife and daughter had passed on tragically in a car accident years ago. His family were estranged, but only because he had cut them off, shying from the fresh pain, reclusing himself to his work. He hadn’t even attended either of his parents’ funerals. Maybe it was his younger sister, Lee-Ann. If anyone were to still care about him, it would be her.
It was Lily’s voice. The renowned physicist perked up from his reverie. Standing in between her and Sven, was another young lady, no older than thirty.
“Doctor Boson,” Lily said. “May I present, Eliza Higgs. Your daughter.”
Henry was floored, even if his entire body was fully supported. The name, Higgs, was bizarrely familiar. The only person he could recall also in possession of that family name was a science journalist by the name of Marion Higgs. They had gone out for a few drinks, before he met his wife, and would be around the same time Eliza was born, thirty years ago.
“You are…” Henry began.
“...Marion’s daughter,” the woman finished. She stepped forward, hovering at the end of his bed.
“But I don’t understand,” Henry said, his voice stuttering. “We…”
“Henry,” she said. “You must unrestrain yourself. Evolve.”