Lainey slapped away the muzzle of the beast before her and tightened the three locks on the cage with a twist. The scaly beast of a subject inside curled in on itself, only extending its torn muzzle to gnaw on one of the polished iron bars of the cage.
“Come on, you sorry excuse for a dog, cooperate.” She placed one hand on the top of the cage, only to withdraw it a second later as the subject attempted to gnaw on that as well with yellowed and serrated teeth. “If we don’t get anything done today, there won’t be any outside time for you tomorrow.”
The beast locked one bloodshot eye on her and gurgled in response, jerking back and allowing the cage to propel it to the floor. The cage clattered onto the tiles, ripping out one of the murky brown scales on the subject’s back and leaving a bright pink rip in the flesh. Its mangled paws pushed against the cage, hoping for it to pop open and release but receiving nothing.
“You’re a bother, you know that?” Lainey slipped around the table and nudged the top of the cage with her foot, knocking it over and sending the subject somersaulting inside. “Administration isn’t going to be pleased when he doesn’t receive that blood sample, and that means that Anders will be upset.” She took hold of the transportation straps and tugged the cage back onto the table, this time strapping it down with bungee cords. “And when Anders is upset-”
The beast let out a piercing shriek, cutting Lainey off mid-sentence. It launched its body against the iron bars separating it from the woman, but the locks on the cage only rattled as Lainey took a few steps back against the wall.
“What’s going on here?” Giles slipped through the door as the beast convulsed and then laid still. Its pink tongue slipped out of its muzzle, and the scales faded to black. “Did…”
“Yes, I do believe that we’ve witnessed another spontaneous subject death.” Lainey adjusted the buckle on her belt, laying a hand on the brass door handle. “Should I go inform Anders before administration catches wind of it?”
“Probably not.” Giles tiptoed towards the deflating corpse. “What’s he going to do anyway?”
“I’m going to go anyways just in case.” Lainey ignored Giles as she exited the room and headed for the staircase, brushing down her clothes with her palms. As she approached the suite doors, the soles of her shoes picked up a few of the scraps of notebook paper strewn all over the staircase. When she reached the doors, she pushed it open and leaned over to pull off a few of the scraps. “What could possibly…”
Her words trailed off as she looked up and encountered Anders, who was standing on his toes and engrossed in examining the dust on the fireplace mantel. She stood up straight and creeped towards him, but he made no acknowledgement of her presence as he dragged a finger through the heavy coat of dust at his eye level.
Lainey poked his shoulder. “Anders?”
He blinked slowly, taking a deep breath before turning to face the young woman behind him. “Yes, Lainey?”
She mentally took note of his furrowed eyebrows. His face was stony and emotionless, and he folded his hands together in await for her to continue. “I just thought that you should know that another one of your subjects has died.”
A vein in his neck twitched, and Lainey backed up a few steps. She put her hands up, fearing a burst of rage from Anders directed her way, but it was soon proved unfounded as he closed his eyes and otherwise remained motionless. “Which project?”
Something in Anders’ mind snapped, and he slowly sunk to the floor, clutching his face in his hands. Lainey caught him and helped him to lie down as he gasped for air, concealing tears behind his fingers. “Sir?”
“It- it’s-” He sucked in a few quick breaths, and Lainey helped him onto his side, opening his airways. A few tears slipped through the cracks between his fingers as he sobbed, “This is where it’s going to end, isn’t it?”
“Anders, what in the world are you talking about?” The thought of pulling out her walkie-talkie and calling for Giles to assist her crossed her mind, but she let it be as she unbuttoned Anders’ jacket. “None of the purebred humans have perished yet.”
“I-” Anders sucked in another shaky breath, and Lainey reached for the device on her belt. “I don’t want to be the first, Lainey. But every day- there’s this voice in my head sometimes, and it pulls on my strings like a marionette. And every day we continue with this Nevermore project, I feel like I’m increasing my mortality instead of getting rid of it.”
“Negative side effects are expected as your body bolsters its immune system, sir. We’re well aware of the psychological effects of your mind preparing itself to live a much longer lifespan.”
Anders peeked one of his eyes out from behind his hands. His voice warbled as he whispered, “Do you really, Lainey?”
“Sir…” She pulled her walkie-talkie into her lap, allowing Anders to see it. “I can assure you that you are in no danger of dying.” She stroked Anders’ hair, and he made no movement to push her away. “The police has caught a lead on Miranda. He’ll be back here soon, and then you can focus on how you’re going to regain some semblance of a normal life after you’re done with treatments.”
“But I’m so afraid that I’ll hurt Miranda while in this fragile state…”
“Okay, that’s it. I’m calling Giles.”