Already I miss him. Every passing moment of time is painful. I miss him. I loved him like a brother. In my life I spent more time with him then I did anybody else. He knew everything about me and I knew everything about him.
…….. And now I know he is dead.
……………. As am I.
……. And so are you.
Nathan had a lot of redeeming qualities, including his boyish charm and dry wit but he was my dear because he brought out both the best and the worst in me. Not once did he say, ‘No’ or, ‘who do you think you are that’s crazy?’ and he never said ‘You can’t do that.’ So maybe, technically, it’s all his fault because he encouraged me.
No, that’s not fair, I’m incorrigible and I never said no to him either. To deny each other was to betray each other. It was how we became so successful in our field and ended up at the Chicxulub asteroid impact site in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Foolishly I believed we were some kind of invincible dynamic duo, only if Robin was a girl. How wrong I was.
But I’ll admit it now. We didn’t know what we were doing. That was the problem and it was only compounded by the fact that neither of us would admit it to the other. A paper had come out ‘proving’ via testable hypothesis, confirmed by multiple lines of evidence, that the dinosaurs had been killed by a large asteroid impact nearly 65million years ago in what is now, modern day Mexico. BULLLSHEEEET! We called ‘bullshit’ and we wanted to prove it. Being biologists we didn’t care about asteroids or tectonic plates. Microorganisms and paramecium are our thing. It was our belief that it was the evolution of germs that destroyed the previous occupants of this planet.
We drilled a hole, a big fuck off travesty over 14 kilometers deep, the deepest ever. The Russians had tried it in the 70’s but we did it quicker and easier with carbon tubing – technology that just wasn’t available back then. Oh we were leaving our mark……literally. Only a handful of people were given permission to be based down the hole, we were the only two working on this particular project. The venture itself was funded by some secret government agency looking for new sources of fossil fuels, or some such shit we didn’t care about. Turns out someone important also thinks there is more than fossil fuels down here and so we worked our way down as a sort of extra hush hush side project. Let me tell you 14km’s down in an elevator is a long trip too. We gave the planet a giant penetration point, we should have known it was about to be fucked!
About to be fucked good!
Finally our wildest dreams had come true. By a stroke of luck we made the biggest discovery of our lifetime, a small DNA sample preserved in solid iridium. Iridium is a silvery-white transition metal of the platinum family. It is the second-densest element and is the most corrosion-resistant metal. Of course we decided not to tell anyone of our discovery. Why would we, they would tell us to stop and wait, and then it would take years before they would tell us ‘no’. Hearing the finality of the word ‘no’ wasn’t a risk we wanted to take, so we simply didn’t ask.
Toxoplasma gondii is a species of parasitic protozoa in the genus Toxoplasma. It has been nicknamed the Zombie Parasite because of its ability to hijack and manipulate its host’s normal brain functions. Fuck me! What were we thinking? Its great, great, granddaddy had been peacefully resting, left alone for millions of years.
That is until we woke it and poked it with the stick of science.
Before this find the oldest living DNA we had ever found was only 800,000 years old. This was way different. It was encased completely in iridium and dated over 60 million years.
It was a miracle, the discovery of the decade, find of the century, but we weren’t happy with that, we wanted more. We always want more so we studied the DNA make up. Like Morlocks we lived 14kms under the planet’s surface, slaves to ourselves. It is amazing how crazy you can go and how quickly without the constant of natural daylight. Our home had become the pressurized laboratory embraced by the earth’s crust. Power and paranoia had taken over our minds. We had to work fast before anyone found out what we were doing. We refused to go to the surface and answer questions. I don’t know how many hours or day’s straight we worked but nobody was going to deny us this.
As is the norm in this situation we found it, we name it. We called it ‘Toxoplasma Ma’Kiem’. This place, Chicxulub, was named by the Maya and translated, Chicxulub means Devils Tail. Iridium, like what we found our parasite DNA in, is known to have been found largely in asteroids and asteroid tails. Chicxulub was named by the Maya after the iridium rich asteroid that landed here so long ago, the iridium that has perfectly preserved our parasites DNA for millions and millions of years. The parasite that was Ma’Kiem. For those of you that don’t speak Mayan, Ma’Kiem translated means Not Dead.
Previously we’d studied Toxoplasma parasites that affected the brains of rats and made them fearless and in love with the smell of cat piss. Toxoplasma invades the brain of the host and settles near the amygdala, a region involved in a wide range of fear and emotional behaviors. You see, it manipulates the behavior of its intermediate rat host in order to increase its chance of being predated by cats, its feline definitive host, thereby ensuring the completion of its lifecycle. The cats would eat the rats and the parasite would live on.
But this, this was from another planet, maybe literally, we thought we had stumbled across a cure for old age. Somehow our tiny parasitic germ had survived for millions of years. Through our rose colored lenses of our daydream existence this is what we found. Basically, the shorter your telomeres (the caps at the ends of your chromosomes that keep the strands of your DNA from fraying), the faster you age. This Toxoplasma Ma’Kiem boosts production of telomerase (an enzyme that allows for the replacement of telomeres). Walah! You’ve got yourself a cure for the one disease that nobody can escape…….old age. It affected the brain in a way that we had never seen before, in a way we didn’t fully comprehend. We tested on rats. We tested on pigs and monkeys. All of them lost the emotion of fear but most importantly cell degradation stopped completely. COMPLETELY!
My brain wasn’t working properly anymore, I couldn’t function correctly. When I wanted to sleep I couldn’t, when I wanted to be awake I would fall asleep. We’d both pushed our bodies too far and our minds were paying the price. Drugged up on our own arrogance and high on selfishness we found ourselves too deep and there was no going back.
I remember with contrition when Nathan came to me and said he wanted to test on human subjects, I knew it was wrong. This should have been the first time for me to say no. Nathan would have listened, he was probably hoping I would say no, but when I didn’t he selflessly volunteered to be the guinea pig. We were so spent. Our decision making was not the best. Stopping to consider the implications of such a finding never crossed our minds. Whatever happened we just wanted our names to be attached to it. Who wouldn’t want to live forever and to be a God amongst men? Hindsight is a cruel bitch.
I should have said no…….he would have listened.
When I was smaller, in primary school science class, I saw a planetary scale. Did you ever google maps your house and then zoom all the way out. I did. I realized that where I lived on the planet, what I had seen of it was insignificant. Then I saw a scale of our planet compared to Jupiter. Shit our planet is tiny. Jupiter next to our Sun, Jupiter is nothing in comparison to our Sun. And our Sun is minuscule compared to the sun Arctus. I felt like a spec on a spec on a spec, smaller than microscopic. I figured there was nothing I could ever do that would affect anything in the scheme of things, on this planet or in this universe. So FUCK it! I’ll do what I want when I want!
……… We began human testing.
It didn’t take us long to figure out something was wrong. He was hit with an astonishing fever almost instantly. It became real, too real. I think he knew he was dying. I think I knew it as well but I didn’t want to believe it. It’s the biggest FUCK UP you can ever make. An overwhelming, unthinkable, extremely FUCKING painful FUCK UP! Grief and sadness piled up on me, the weight of it all causing me to be physically ill. He lost his fine motor skills next and from there his body just went in to automatic shutdown. There was no reversing it. Nathan was going to pay the highest price, all because we blindly, selfishly rushed in. All hope seemed lost but still we tried everything we could, from a full blood transfer to radiation therapy, ice baths and every drug you can think of.
But it was too fast.
Before I knew it my best friend was dead…. and I had killed him. ….
An extremely fucking painful fuck up.
Try as I might I will never forget those final moments. The salty tears that streamed down his pained face or the stare he gave from his frightened, blood shot eyes. In moments of silence I still hear his sobbing and the repetition of the apology I do not deserve and didn’t want to hear, over and over again, that single word, “Sorry.” When I close my eyes all I see is him smiling in disbelief as the essence of Nathan trickled out. I held his hand tight until he no longer possessed the strength to squeeze it in return.
Just like that…..
I closed his soft blue eyes, never to open again, and stayed with his body, weeping freely and openly on his chest. A flood of sorrow gushed out of my soul. It was probably the most honest and real moment of my life. Without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was say the word goodbye, turn around and walk away.
There was no funeral, I made no phone calls, and his body was put in the cold storage room. I don’t know what to do, who to turn to or how to go on. I sit here abandoned, waves of hurt and emotion burden me down, slowly drowning me. My reflex is to screw my face up with each crashing roll of pain. Persistently I slap myself across the head, crying and screaming but nothing helps. I want literally to explode. There is nothing I could ever do to free myself from this. So much of me perished with him, my appetite, my need for sleep, all my motivation, even my will to succeed.
My will to live teeters toward the dark.
Stranded 14km below the earth’s surface deserted and forsaken. Grief and sorrow are my only companions.
I am so exhausted, I think I fell awake. I am all shaky and my vision is blurry. I don’t remember falling asleep but I don’t remember when I started to feel this way. For a fleeting second I forgot where I was and what I had done…….a wonderful, scary moment of bliss……then I remember all over again.
It’s not real anymore, it can’t be. Nathan, I just saw him. He doesn’t look right and instinctively I know something is wrong, but still my heart skips and I smile. He must still be sick. His eyes are sick that’s for sure, they are no longer a clear blue sky but instead are cloud covered and murky and he walks all funny, like a puppet with invisible strings, like he isn’t controlling his body. Logic tells me I must still be asleep. Nathan sees me and starts in my direction. Unbelievably my dead friend is alive. I open my eyes really wide to try and wake up but it doesn’t work. So I close them real tight instead.
Now I know I’m dreaming. I can hear Uncle Brian eating BBQ chicken wings. Visits from Uncle Brian were the worst, when I was thirteen years old I once told to him to fuck off and eat his banana in another room. He was a disgusting eater, all slurpy and crunchy. He treated every meal like he might not get fed again, like a feral dog.
My arm itches all hot. It fucking burns! I open my eyes and hope that none of this is real. The excruciating pain lets me know that it is. Nathan is still here, blood covering his face, his new fish eyes looking thru me, my forearm muscle hanging out of his mouth, my blood on his face. A shocking scene snatched from a nightmare fresh and agonizingly real.
Brachioradialis is a muscle of the forearm that acts to flex the forearm at the elbow…..mine is being chewed up like a raw chicken breast by my best dead friend.
With my good arm I make a fist and start punching Nathan as hard as I can manage in the head. Shit, I’m getting tired really quickly. The Nathan thing doesn’t seem to mind though. He doesn’t think it’s weird that he has shreds of me stringy, curled up and stuck between his teeth. One of my frenzied blows breaks his jaw. Now he can no longer chew but throws his head back and starts swallowing like a bird about to regurgitate for its new born.
I take flight.
Unable to control his movements he can’t quite run but shuffles pretty fast. He is still hungry. Fear hits me with a cold sweat as I know I won’t be able to keep going for much longer, the blood loss and exhaustion add up too quickly. The elevator trip back to the surface is a long one and I don’t know if I will survive the journey. I don’t want to die, I want to see the sunlight again, smell fresh air. I’m sorry I killed my best friend. I’m sorry for most of my life but I’ve decided I don’t want to die.
I don’t deserve to die.
I realize I’m crying. My vision is blurred from the tears, and my heart is pumping faster than it ever has. I worry that I might die of a heart attack. A trail of blood for my dead friend to follow marks the walls and floors. I’m so hot. Off balance I bounce off a few walls and cry in agony from the gaping wound in my arm. Struggling I can’t control my limbs. Anger rises within me because my body isn’t doing what I want it to do. It’s like that dream where you are trying to run as fast as you can but everything is in slow motion. Everything is so hard. I just want to see the sun again. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
Groans from the monster, my dead friend, echo in my ears and let me know that he still pursues me, his prey. Glancing back over my shoulder I see his tongue thrashing in his mouth as if it would fly out if only given half a chance. His bottom jaw dangles and swings left to right while blood, my blood, mixes with drool and slags off his chin. He is getting closer, he only manages a drunken type stumble but still he gains. Although my eyes are open darkness threatens to steal away my sight. Up ahead I see the shiny metal doors of hope, the doors to the elevator that will lead me to the surface, maybe to forgiveness.
Clumsily I slip in something red and copper scented. Somebody should do something about that. The thing that was Nathan groans its appreciation and lunges for me, grabbing and clawing at my leg with menacing glee. Fresh wounds appear down the length of my calf but it doesn’t hurt, there is a sound like tearing fabric and more of that tangy, sweet smelling blood. Frantically I kick and scream and lose a shoe but I escape his craving grasp. Like a dead fish I slap around on the floor till finally I get some forward momentum. With false relief I get to the elevator door, push the button for up, close my eyes and press my body tight up against the cold metal, willing the doors to open……..and I wait.
And I wait, but like at the gates to heaven, I am to be denied.
The thing that was my friend, the person I grew up with, laughed and cried with, the human being I shared my dreams with and who I mourned so deeply, my brother, bites into my neck. His teeth pierce my skin. I hear the ripping of tendons and popping of sinew, animal snorts of joy, and the gurgle of too much blood. My nostrils are filled with the sickening acrid stench of death and rotted meat wafting from his cadaverous breath and grey loose skin. With dentist chair numbness I sense the pulsing flow of my life liquid as it spills out, splashing and staining, so very much blood, and I thank God that I feel nothing.
The doors open and we tumble inside, the two of us, just what we always wanted, about to change the world. Hell awaits us.
I accept it. I deserve it. I am sorry …for everything.
The doors close.
‘SURFACE’ lights up.