Lung cancer is one of the least survivable cancers of all time. Less than 20 percent of those who are diagnosed with it survive past 10 years, making it exceptionally deadly. But perhaps that’s because of the restraint us humans have when researching the cure for diseases. What if we didn’t have these sorts of morals in place? What if we did whatever it took to save others from illnesses?
This would happen with the subject here: Nick Barnes. He was lying on the bed, watching on his cell phone, Carl Zoke-a new reporter-talk about an incident of a car crash in southern Kansas. Nick, who was giggling at Carl’s constant stuttering (Carl was an immigrant from Africa and spoke Arabic first.) had bright blue eyes that were close together, red hair, and small ears, which almost represented how he didn’t want to hear anybody criticize him.
Nick turned off the phone and got up, stretching his arms. He looked above and saw his dorm mate, who was also on his cell phone.
“Do you have to be old school,” his dorm mate asked.
“Nothing past the Iphone9’s any good,” Nick responded. He despised any technology that was made past 2020, especially cell phones. The only new tech he’d look forward too would be any related to his major-biology.
Nick yawned and laid down on his pillow. He pulled the blankets over himself and looked around at the posters surrounding his bed. They were all from various charities hoping to raise awareness of the disease and promote avoiding smoking. Nick closed his eyes and gave one last yawn. Within minutes, he was sound asleep.
The next day, Nick did all his morning rituals-getting dressed, eating breakfast in the cafeteria-and went to class. At lunch, he went to where he always sat, at an empty, seemingly abandoned table. Despite being with his dorm mate for all the time he spent trying to get his bachelor’s degree, he only had a friend he made back in elementary school. His name was Brad Connode, and he was in the military. They became exceptionally best friends in 2022 when they protested against the corporations responsible for The Pill Crash of 2022, which made many medicines removed from pharmacies because the ingredients for them were becoming rare and it was making the medicines too expensive for the drug stores to buy.
Halfway through lunch, Nick’s cell phone rang. He looked at the name on the screen. It was Lara Barnes. He flinched as he pressed answer. Nick and his mom were not close ever since his dad, Larry Barnes, lost his ability to work thanks to his lung cancer. It made his gasp for air all the time and gave him high fevers. Since then, Lara irritated Nick with how she only talked about how Larry was getting worse, which always made Nick feel like he was in a dump, despite asking her politely numerous times to stop. Nick sighed and put the phone to his ear.
“N…Nick,” Lara said. Nick didn’t respond. “L…Larry is…” She trailed off. Nick fists began to shake. He wished that Lara texted him instead so as not to make bad news overly dramatic with pauses. “Larry…can’t go…much more. He’ll b…be…dead when you’re out of school.” Nick’s mouth fell open. He didn’t say a word. Had this had happened at a different time, he would have maintained a blank stare, but with so much preparation for the final exams on his mind, there wasn’t much room for any other stressful events.
Nick’s phone beeped, signaling the call was over. Nick turned his phone on sleep and twiddled his thumbs, staring at the ceiling. It was getting to be too much for him. If only these final exams were already over, he thought. He didn’t need them. After all, they were merely proof that he had learned everything. He had, and could probably start helping others already.
Then it occurred to him. He had plenty of spare time on the weekends. Perhaps, he thought, he could use that time to work on, and it crept onto him, a treatment for lung cancer. He continued to stare above, but with a wide grin on his face now. His head was spinning with possibilities. Being reunited with his now cured dad. Winning an award for his miracle cure. And yes, there was a bit of the idea of making piles of money from the cure on his mind too.
After school, Nick rushed a few blocks from the school. He worked as a janitor for a local supermarket to pay the bills. A few hours later, after work, he wandered through the supermarket in the materials section and looked at his options. Wood, bricks, and the like. What was he going to use to make a biological 3d printer? He couldn’t buy a professional grade one-which could have a code for an invented germ species typed in rather than using a pre-set one from online-since they were expensive, but his school taught him how to make a good one for around 100 dollars.
Finally, after an hour, he picked out some wood, along with an interpreter, which would process the code, and a cheap 3d printer. He also bought some food that contained the proteins he would need to make some cells. He headed home.
He placed his bags down on his bed. His dorm mate looked at him. “What’s in there,” he asked.
“Oh…uh…groceries.” Nick wanted his cure to be a surprise. Plus, he didn’t need so much distracting attention now. He glanced at the window, then at his watch. Night was getting closer, and it was around 5:30. The hospital was closed to visitors at 7. “Mind if I use your car,” he asked his dorm mate.
“Sure thing, buddy.”
Nick got into the car, started up the engine, and drove away. His car pulled into the driveway just before 6. He got out and walked inside to the front desk. “I’d like to see my dad,” he said.
“Are you associated with him?”
“Uh…he’s my dad.”
Nick walked into one of the rooms. His dad was lying on the bed, tubes connected to his arms. Larry’s eyes fixated on Nick. “Hello, son,” he said.
“Hello dad,” Nick responded.
“I made the choice to stop undergoing chemotherapy. Makes me violently ill.”
“M…maybe you should go back to it.”
“Why? The treatment is only capable of increasing my time left.”
“I think I heard…on the radio…some guys…think they can…cure this.”
“I wouldn’t count on them. You must do me this one favor.”
“I wish that you continue doing whatever you are attempting in life and pretend that I never existed.”
“I know that is harsh and difficult to accomplish, but it must be done. You would be punishing me if you hoped these…people you speak of would save me and forget to live your own life.”
“Oh, uh…” Nick was having trouble saying something appropriate. His father had once again demonstrated how selfless he was. Just like that other time.
Nick and Brad gathered outside the building of Hand-in-Handy, a new but already gigantic pharmacy corporation. Like the 200 or so people around them, they held up signs that said “We have the right to have medicine.” The hope was that the corporations could bring back the pills whose ingredients were becoming more expensive. As they waved the signs as high as they could, they heard a roar from the end of the street becoming closer and closer.
(Back to the present)
They small-talked until 6:30. Nick went back to the car and drove home. As he walked into the dorm, he went onto his bed and closed his eyes. It was Saturday tomorrow. With no activities other than more janitor work in the afternoon, Nick could spend the day focusing on making a cure.
The next day, Nick got up and did all his morning rituals. As he scooped cereal into his mouth, he wondered, where could he work? He needed somewhere where he could keep all his supplies, yet somewhere empty so he could work in peace and surprise his colleges when it was done. Obviously, his dorm, or any room in the college wouldn’t work. Then it occurred to him. There was an old garage/abandoned auto shop a couple miles away, on no-one-lives-here-anymore street. He had gone to the garage to work on some of his hardest projects, so he could convince his dorm mate to borrow the car again easily.
Nick got the bags containing the supplies he bought and got them and himself into the car. In a few minutes, he was at the garage. It was made of decaying wood, had pieces of car parts all over the floor, and many loose floorboards. Barely intelligible paint was on the front door that said “B---- Auto Shop,” with the rest of the letters in the first word too blurry to read. Nick couldn’t care less whether it meant “Barry’s Auto Shop” or “Beth’s Auto Shop.”
Nick got out of his car, carrying the bags, and went inside. He reached around in the darkness blindly until he felt a string and pulled it. A lightbulb switched on, casting a dim glow over the place. There was a table in the corner which Nick installed so he could do assignments on. He placed his bags on it and smirked. “Let’s do this,” he said to himself.
Nick pulled out the pieces of wood, the 3d printer, and the wires, as well as the Interpreter or DNAI. It was what looked like a walkie-talkie with a long, thick, transparent tube protruding from the top. In order to avoid creation of bio-weapons, a permit was required to buy one of these. Nick acquired one for projects in school years ago.
Nick inserted the wire of the DNAI into a hole at the top of the 3d printer. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He went online and found a database for the genetic codes of various microscopic creatures, and searched for lung cancer cells, but to no avail. Then it occurred to him, perhaps he could find them on the deep web. Using a few downloaded programs, he soon found a text file containing the genetic code he wanted. Nick then opened his app for biological printing, and transported the text file to the DNAI.
Next, Nick took out some yogurt he bought from the bag, opened a little storage in the DNAI, and put it in there. He then pressed the “print” button on the printer, and watched as a bit of yogurt traveled down the tube to the printer, and it began to move. Its extruder moved toward the print bed and seemingly stayed there. Nick knew that it was moving, but only microscopically, and transferring the protein of the yogurt into a lung cancer cell.
Soon, the extruder lifted back to its default position. Nick opened his phone again and opened an app that would film what was in front of the phone, but magnify it to the point that you could see germs if you wanted to. Nick lifted the phone above the printer and pressed the zoom button a few times. Eventually, he saw only a blue cell with orange tentacles. They squirmed back and forth like worms. Over the next few minutes, Nick made several more lung cancer cells.
Next, Nick needed something to study on. Some abandoned houses also existed on no-one-lives-here-anymore street. Since plenty of farming was done here before the people became rich and moved to better houses, animals were abandoned and had to escape. Human beds were now chicken beds and cow beds.
As Nick headed for the nearest house, his phone rang. He looked at the text on the screen: “Theo Barnes.” Theo was Nick’s little brother. When they were younger, Theo had taught Nick all sorts of skills from his books that neither of them would ever use, like how to fake your death, pick locks, or fool a lie detector. He answered it. “Hello,” Nick said.
“Hey-o Nick. ‘Member last month?”
“You said you’d meet up with us in the hospital today.”
Nick’s heart sank. He couldn’t do it right now-he was busy. But he couldn’t tell them what he was doing. After all, the cows and chickens he was going to catch might die in the experiments. Possibly killing animals was not what he had in mind, but Nick was a man willing to break the law and his promise if that meant saving millions. He took a deep breath and said “Sorry, I visited yesterday.”
“And you don’t wanna do it again?”
Theo groaned. “Shame,” he said, with a hint of disappointment in the word. The voice on Nick’s phone said the call was over. He put his phone back into his pocket.
Nick walked into the house. As he came closer, he heard clucking. Nick hesitated for a moment, then opened the door. Abandoned houses terrified him. There was always a risk of the room collapsing, since the place was older than his dad was. The door creaked as it opened, and Nick stepped inside. Dust gathered on his clothes as he entered.
Wood creaked under his shoes. He turned to the left, hopefully toward a bedroom. It was so dark that he could barely see his own hands. He felt along the cracked wall as he went, until his hand bumped into something. He felt a switched and flicked it. Nothing happed. His hand slide downward and he felt another switch. It seemed to be some sort of dial, which he flicked.
Lightbulbs across the room flicked open, and Nick saw that he was standing in a kitchen. He looked at a door at the end. Surely, the bedroom was there, he thought. Nick creeped toward the door and opened it. He heard a strange hum and louder clucks as he walked in. He looked to his right and saw an old TV tucked into the corner, playing static.
He looked to the right and saw a chicken sitting on the bed, glaring at him. Nick ran up to the chicken and grabbed it. As it struggled to break free, Nick carried it outside and back to the garage and set it on the table. It was time for step 2. This would involve extracting the chicken’s lungs to convert to cancer lungs so he could experiment on.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Lara and Theo watched Larry on the bed. “Nick claims some dudes are gonna do that,” Theo asked.
“That’s…that’s nonsense. Nick’s just coping,” said Lara.
“I am unsure.” Larry responded. “Perhaps he received the information from a reliable source.”
“And maybe he got it from someone two-faced,” Lara suggested. “I’m calling him.” She took out her phone and called Nick.
“Hello. I’m sorry I couldn’t...” Nick began.
“Where did you learn about the people trying to cure cancer,” Lara said.
“Oh…uh…The Kansas News.”
“He said Kansas News,” Lara told the others. Larry shrugged
“Good, then it’s fine,” Theo said. Lara and Nick hung up. As Theo and her left the hospital, she looked at The Kansas News archives. She searched every key word she could think of, but did not find the article Nick was talking about. Lara began to wonder, what was Nick hiding? Was he so devastated over Larry dying that he had gone mad and hallucinated the article? No, nothing could be wrong. Nick had always been an honest and sane boy. Unless, Lara thought, Nick had changed somehow.
Back at the garage, Nick looked over his “pet.” He took a deep breath and laid it on its back. The chicken began to kick its legs, banging them against Nick’s chest. “I’m sorry,” he said. He began to pull apart the chicken’s chest with shaking hands, and dug into the ribcage. The chicken screamed in agony, kicking its legs even harder. But Nick held it firmly in place. As felt under the ribcage, he felt something spongy, grasped it, and yanked it out. The chicken made one short-burst scream, before it collapsed on the table and closed its eyes.
Nick looked down at the lung he was holding. Now separate from the rest of the body, there was no immune system to reject the cancer cells. Nick placed the lung on the print bed where the cancer cells were. He walked away. By tomorrow, the lungs would have some of their cells converted to cancer cells. Not as bad as Larry’s lungs, but it would be enough to work with. Nick walked into his car and drove away. He had been here plenty of times and knew that only he had gone here for several years.
As Nick drove home, his phone rang. The screen said “Mark Tibal.” Nick almost jumped. He had missed work. He hesitated for a moment, then pressed “accept.” “Nick, you missed work,” Markus said.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I have the final exam,” Nick responded.
“Alright. If that’s the case, I’ll let you take a few days off to get ready for that. But you’re going to be in serious trouble if you don’t come back afterward. Understood?”
They both turned off their phones. Nick’s heartbeat was back to normal. Although he had always pleased his boss with his organization and efficiency, he didn’t expect to be left off the hook that easily. As he pulled into the driveway, he thought about step three. He would need to type the genetic code for an antibody for lung cancer. He would then inject it into the chicken’s lungs to see if they were cured.
In the dorm, as Nick rested on his bed, staring blankly at the sky, his phone rang again. He picked it up. It was Lara. “Nick,” she asked.
Nick didn’t say anything.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Have you…heard any voices or seen something…odd?”
“G…good. Because I was sure you were…seeing things.”
“I looked at the records, and didn’t find the article you talked about. Could it have been an illusion?”
Nick began to shake upon hearing this. He never thought of his mom as being one to investigate. All he wanted to do was convince his dad to go back on chemo so he would have more time to find a cure. His mind began to race. Was she going to call the police? Follow him to the garage? The idea made him sick to his stomach. “I don’t have hallucinations,” he said firmly. “Must have been in some other newspaper.”
“OK, OK,” Lara said. “Oh, meeting coming at work soon. Got to go.”
“Bye, son.” Lara paused for a moment. “I love you.”
Nick and her both turned off their phones. Nick stared at the ceiling, deep in thought. He wondered how much he loved Theo and Lara. He loved Larry, there was no question on that, but what about the others? He kept telling themselves he loved them, but not enough to postpone his work? Nick took a deep breath, then decided that once this was over, he would make his family his first priority, period. Surely, they would understand how hard curing lung cancer is. Nick yawned, stretched a bit, closed his eyes, and was snoring within minutes.
An hour or so later, Lara walked away from the school meeting. Hopefully, there wouldn’t another one until Tuesday. She was as troubled as Nick. Was he lying about something? He said he misnamed where he saw the article, but if it were real, wouldn’t it gain an abundant amount of coverage from the news? Lara was still sure that Nick somehow hallucinated the article, and didn’t want to say so because he wanted to believe he did. She decided that she would arrange Nick to see a therapist.
The next day, Nick went back to school. Throughout the day, he was struggling to focus on his teacher, clouded by his plans of what to do next. At end of the day, he did his homework quickly and went back to the garage. He opened up a text file on his phone and in another tab, opened up the genetic code for the lung cancer cell. He would use it as a reference to print out an antibody, which he would test on the chicken lung.
Nick’s eyes squinted tighter and tighter as he typed letter after letter.
Over the next few weeks, Nick repeated this, character by character. Line by line. During that time, he had to buy some ice to cool the chicken lung so it didn’t decay. One day, he was approaching the end of this typing session. As he did so, his phone rang. It was Lara. “Hello,” she said. Nick didn’t respond, as usual. “You’re going to see a therapist,” she said.
“I think you’ve had a delusion.”
Nick’s eyes darted all over the room, as if searching it for what to say. Nick thought of what he claimed to Larry to get him back on chemo-that a group was trying to do what he was doing. Looking back, he saw a hole. Surely, if he was telling the truth, all news sources would know. Nick took a deep breath and decided to cave in. If he could convince his mother it was a delusion and perhaps fake a recovery, she wouldn’t call the police or investigate herself.
Shortly before the appointed time, Nick drove to where Lara said the therapy was. As he drove, the phone rang. It was the dean. “Nick,” he said.
“Y…yes,” Nick asked.
“The grades we received from you over the last few weeks indicate you are slipping in multiple subjects. Can you explain this?”
“The…stress of this coming test.”
“I acknowledge that the final examination is hard, but it is no excuse to throw away your grades leading up to it.”
“I’ll…I’ll get back on track.”
“OK, but if you don’t improve, then we’ll have problem.”
The conversation ended. Nick drove into the driveway of the bright house where his therapy would be. He walked in and explained at the front desk that he was coming for an appointment. He was led into a waiting room and soon, he was called to his session.
Nick walked into a room. It was a calming place, with soft chairs in the corners and walls with bright purple and green patterns. On one of the chairs, there was his therapist. Nick sat at the chair opposite from him. He waited for his therapist to say something, who ironically, from the way he looked at Nick, seemed to be waiting for him to say something.
“OK,” Nick finally said.
“This appointment was started because of…” Nick’s therapist squinted. “Delusions. Is that correct?”
“Well, I thought that…uh…I was sure some group was trying to cure lung cancer.”
“Your mother mentioned that your father is dying of it.”
“Striking,” said the therapist as he took a notepad off of a table nearby and began to take notes. “Most delusions are of something malicious. That the CIA or NSA is out to get them, or that their spouse is cheating on them.”
“S…so, I’m cured?”
“You were convinced that it was fake so quickly?”
“I…I guess I’m a lucky boy.”
“Then it’s probably not a delusion. They are held very firmly, to the point that nothing can alter their views.”
“T…then what do I have.” Nick’s hands began to shake. He searched for some sort of alternative explanation to explain his supposed fake beliefs.
“I’ll compare it with previous cases to find out what you’re suffering from. In the meantime, surround yourself with friends and family. Do anything to keep your symptoms under control.” For the next 15 minutes, his therapist went into details on how he could keep his symptoms at bay.
The following day, Nick was more excited than ever. Today would be the day he finished writing the genetic code. All he’d then have to do was inject it into the chicken lung to test it, then inject it into his father, and then his fight with lung cancer would be over forever. His excitement seemingly made him go faster on the road, and along the way, he bought a syringe and some water. Afterward, he went to the garage and continued to type the remaining lines.
After a few hours, he scrolled through his work, and saw that it was complete, and thousands of lines long. He connected it to the DNAI and connected that to the printer. The protein from the yogurt moved through the tube and into the printer. The extruder rubbed ever so slightly against the print bed. Then it moved away, and it was complete. Nick zoomed into the print bed with his microscope app, and saw the new cell. It was bright blue and shaking back and forth.
Nick poured the water onto the print bed and sucked it up into a syringe. He looked over at the chicken lungs, which were looking worse than ever. A section looked as though there was a pulsing balloon in it. Nick approached the lungs, looking at them as though they were going to kill him, and inserted the syringe into the lung. He then sat in front of it, and watched the tumor seemingly deflate over the next 2 hours or so.
As Nick watched the result of his brilliance shine, something crept into his mind. This was a school day. Not only that, but it was the day of the final exam. His heart began to beat faster. He missed it! Then he remembered something else. It was not for another 20 minutes or so. He could just get back, if the traffic wasn’t too big, with 5 minutes to spare, and do the test. Great, he thought, but then once more, something came back to him. He was told that his father would likely be gone by the end of the year. Since it was so close to that time, he could die any day now, maybe any hour.
2 of Nick’s instincts began to fight each other. He loved his dad, and he wanted to get an education. His pondering seemed to lead to what his dad would think of him delaying his dream to save him. He would be proud of him for doing something as great as a cancer cure, right? Then it occurred to Nick. His dad said that if he troubled himself over lung cancer too much, he would be punishing dad. Nick took a deep breath. He had wondered too long. 10 minutes had passed, and there would be no chance to get back in time, even if there were no cars or red lights in his path. He would continue with the plan.
Nick reprinted the cell, and extracted it into the syringe again. While he was stretching before getting into the tight car, he heard a knock nearby. He jumped to his feet and looked around frantically. Who was it? His mom? Theo? The police? A random stranger who wandered onto no-one-lives-here-anymore street? No, it wouldn’t occur to him to knock before entering. He then heard the knock a bit closer. It seemed to be coming from the house across the street.
Nick looked around the room, but found no hiding place. But then remembered: the floor! Nick grabbed the chicken lung, the decaying corpse it came from, as well as the syringe, and opened a loose floorboard, and threw it in before slamming it shut. A knock came from right outside. “Hello,” said a firm voice. Nick searched for larger floorboard for him to hide under. There wasn’t one.
“Come in,” Nick said. The door opened and a man stepped in. When Nick looked behind him, he saw that it was a man in a blue suit and cap holding a walkie-talkie. He was quite old, based on his gray mustache. His eyes darted around the room, as if bombs could be in the walls and floor.
“Mind if I search,” he said.
“B…by all means,” Nick responded, trying to force a smile onto his face. The cop walked around the room, glancing over everything.
“You work here,” the cop asked.
“N…n…y…yes. I do. I do.”
“Do you work with syringes frequently?” Hearing that, Nick could confirm the cop followed him.
“Lara said you’re very good in school, but I don’t associate truancy during the final exams with that.” So it was Lara who called the police, Nick thought. He felt like cursing at himself for not covering up what he was doing well enough, but he couldn’t do that now.
“I…I…I…I…” Nick couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Let’s get in the cherry top. We’ll clear this up at the station.”
“W…what can you arrest me for?”
“You aren’t being arrested. But we can hold you for a bit for now.”
“C…c…can I get 15 minutes?”
“T…t…to talk to my brother for a sec.”
“OK, but I’ll watch.”
Nick picked up his phone and dialed the home phone number first. It rang a few times, then a voice was heard. “Hey-o,” Theo said in his usual high-pitched, child-like voice.
“I’m sorry about not attending the visit to dad.”
“No problem. Should see him before he croaks, though. He’s in a coma now.”
Nick felt a weight lift off his shoulders, now that he apologized. They small talked for a bit, then hung up. Afterward, Nick and the cop got into the police car and began to drive to the police station. When there, Nick was guided into a gray room with a table, a few chairs, and nothing else. Nick sat across from the cop, looking at him as though he were some monster ready to eat him up. The police officer got up and left.
The silence around the room was beginning to annoy Nick. He got up and sat against the wall, looking at the ceiling. He wondered, would he be able to retrieve and administer the syringe, or would the police find out about his experiment and lock him in a cell for…how long? 5 years? 10 years? For life? The thought made him shake. So he tried to distract himself by planning. He would say that he was losing his mind and found himself walking around. Faking multiple personality disorder was not something he wanted to do, and it would be a tough feat to pull off, but if it meant curing his dad, he was ready.
At last, 2 cops came in. They looked at him in a manner that said “Don’t think we’re fools. We know what you’re thinking.” Nick forced his mouth into a neutral face. He tried to pretend he was talking to Lara, who Nick would have an emotionless face while listening too, generally to cover up how he rarely felt too close to her. “What’s that face supposed to be,” the first cop said. Nick shrugged. The two cops sat down and the first cop smiled. “So,” he said. “Who is your family?”
“My little brother, my mom, and dad,” Nick said.
“Good, good,” the second cop added. “And what are you like?”
“I’m…very…very…uh…” Nick never really thought about himself, making him the worst person to describe himself in the history of the universe. “I’m not the be
st person to answer that.”
“OK. Understood,” said the first cop. “Now, what the fuck were you doing in that garage?”
“Mind your language,” said the second cop.
“I was…” Nick couldn’t seem to word his story. “I just…found myself wandering…”
“And you didn’t call anyone?”
“I…I went to call Theo, but then I found myself in some abandoned town, and then here.”
“Theo’s your mom?”
“No, he’s my brother.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“It’s like you had, oh snap,” the first cop exclaimed.
“What,” said the second.
“Two personalities! I’m a genius! I figured it out!” The first cop jumped up from his seat. “Better start on the report.” He dashed out of the room. The second cop walked up and sauntered after him. Nick was left alone. It felt a little painful to have to trick law enforcement, but he gave the cop credit for his brilliant idea. Wrong, yes, but brilliant. And Nick was relieved that he had tricked the cops in the exact way he wanted to. He was going to have to be a bit more careful in the administration, so he wouldn’t end up where he was again.
After a few hours, the reports were done, and the police agreed to let Nick go on the condition that he arranged to see a therapist within 2 weeks. He’ll be taken back into custody if he doesn’t do so. Nick agreed. Hopefully, he’d be able to fake a mental illness more convincingly this time . He’d just have to do some research. In the meantime, he could administer his medicine.
After Nick was dropped off at his school, he walked back to his dorm. When he slumped onto the bed to go to sleep, his dorm mate tapped him on the shoulder. “Where were you? You missed everything!” he said.
“I…It’s hard to explain but…” Nick tried his best to stutter. Surely, no one would come out and say what they have instantly. “I have MPD.”
“Maybe you have not heard me. You missed the final exams! Know that means?”
“I have a different personality. One who slacks off, apparently.”
“Oh…that’s…that’s, I’m going to sleep.” The dorm mate grabbed his blankets off the bed and ran into the closet. The sound of a lock was heard clicking from inside.
“I’m not going to kill you,” Nick said.
“Go away! Good night!”
Nick groaned and went to sleep.
The next day, he woke up. Initially, he wondered why he was excited, then he remembered. This was the day the first lung cancer cure was administered! Nick jumped up from his bed and drove down to the garage. It took quite a bit of convincing to borrow his dorm mate’s car again, since he was supposedly an MPD sufferer. Turns out, his friend walked out there and got it when Nick didn’t come back. Nick went to the garage and searched the floorboards. Inside, among many gory things, Nick found the syringe. He then drove to the hospital.
As Nick approached it, his heard began to beat faster. This was it. The end of lung cancer. He went down to the section with the hospital bed that Larry slept on. Larry was in a coma. Nick started to walk toward Larry, but then his eyes darted to the right and saw a nurse. She didn’t seem to care enough to notice Nick. The syringe was in his pocket, and he was just a visitor in her eyes. The nurse looked through her papers, then found one. Glancing over it, her eyes widened and she dashed to the next room. Nick saw his chance and ran up at Larry. He inserted the syringed deep into Larry’s chest, then pulled it out. He then dashed out, hoping nobody saw what he did.
(2 weeks later)
Nick was leaning down, cleaning a floor where a customer vomited because a shopping cart him in the stomach pretty hard. It was mundane work, as Nick hadn’t found a place to become a biology scientist yet , but it was paying the bills. He was going to have an interview with a diabetes organization that was looking for people with degrees like his. He was proud of having convinced the school that, since it wasn’t his fault he had MPD, to be allowed to take the test after everyone else did.
During break, Nick took out his phone and called Theo. He could hardly wait to hear his reaction upon learning that his dad would be fine. “Hey-o,” Theo said.
“Hello. Heard you visited dad. How long does he have left?”
Theo sighed. “Got a bit better, but it didn’t last. He has…maybe…2 weeks left.” Nick’s pulse skyrocketed. Without thinking, he turned off his phone and stared at the ceiling. What did he do wrong? There was some success, or else Larry wouldn’t had been alive by this point, but that didn’t change the fact that he was still going to die. Then it occurred to Nick. He experimented with a chicken, so the antibodies only briefly helped before the immune system rejected them, recognizing them as chicken antibodies and therefore ones that were foreign. But then his heart sank at what he realized must be done. He must use a human.
Nick wasn’t sure he would be able to do what he had to do. His mind traced through every possible thing he could do, and he realized that he had no other option. After work, he collected his paycheck for today, then dashed out of the store. He got into his car and pondered for a few minutes, planning out where he was going to get a human from. And soon, he had a fully formed plan. Nick drove back to his home and waited a few hours before the sun went down. Surely, by now, the hospital would be closed. He got back into his car, and drove to the hospital.
The hospital was surrounded by little other than grass, roads, and signs for a mile or so. At night, it had the look of a haunted house, with a gigantic stature and how empty the parking lot was. Nick got out of his car and began to creep toward the front door, flinching as stones cracked under his weight. But as his hand was on the door and he was about to open it, he saw a security camera looking the other way. He backed up a bit. As he did so, he saw a foot emerge from one of the rooms. Nick dashed behind a nearby sign just in time.
From inside, he heard the owner of the foot whistle a cheery tune. Nick leaned down, searched the hard stone floor, and felt a big rock, which he lifted. It took quite a bit of effort. He threw it onto the road. “Who’s there,” said a voice. Footsteps stomped closer to Nick, and he looked to his right and saw another sign, which he ran to the other side of to hide behind. The footsteps became overwhelmingly loud, and a man in what looked like a black version of a police officer outfit, emerged from behind the sign Nick was originally behind. As the guard looked around frantically, Nick, sliding along the sign, walked into the building, which the guard had left open.
Nick, to avoid the security camera and guard, walked through a door that was just behind it-the one the guard came out of . He closed the door as he entered. When he was in, he noticed, based on the mops and soap all over the place, that he was in a janitor closet. Nick could see why there were no security cameras here-who would want to raid the mop closet?
Nick jumped as he heard the footsteps again. Without thinking, he grabbed the broom. The door opened, but rather slowly. Nick, unable to stand waiting to knock someone out, opened it himself, and put his hand over the guard’s mouth. Before he could react, he hit him in the head with the broom, knocking him out. The guard fell to the ground and Nick looked at what he had done.
The guard would be OK, hopefully Nick didn’t hit too hard, but where would he hide the body? He looked back at the closet and saw a locker in the corner labeled “for the janitor.” Perfect, Nick thought. He began to drag the body toward it. He put his ear to the lock and with one hand and began to spin it with the other, noting where he heard the clicks. Soon, he heard three and began mentally listing the possible combinations. After 10 minutes, he found one that worked and opened the locker. He grabbed the body and shut the door. There were vents on it, so the guard wouldn’t suffocate. Guess Theo’s useless advice wasn’t useless after all, he thought.
Nick left the room, taking the broom with him; he could use it later, if he needed too. He looked up at his next obstacle; the camera. Nick went back into the janitor closet, and noticed something on the shelf: soap. He grabbed a bottle with his free hand and went back into the hall. He observed the walls until he found a power outlet. He dumped the soap inside. Within a minute, all the lights went out.
Nick ran past the deactivated camera. He needed to find someone to take quickly. Whoever was looking at the security footage would be here soon. He looked in each room, which had a patient sleeping in a bed. There was a note at the end of their bed, which said the diagnosis. Leukemia, kidney cancer. As Nick went from room to room, his hope that a patient who wasn’t Larry who had lung cancer began to fade. As he leaned into the room of one patient, he saw to his horror that he was awake. Nick jumped back. The patient said “What…what…” before Nick look at the note at the foot of his bed to confirm he wasn’t a potential test subject and ran up to him and knocked him out. Time was running out.
And then he found it. In one room, there was a patient with lung cancer. Nick grabbed her by the foot and hoisted her onto his shoulders. It was a female, so she would hopefully be easy to carry. She woke up, noticed she was being held, and tried to scream, but Nick put his hand over her mouth. He could just knock her out, but he didn’t want to risk damaging his subject.
Nick dashed outside and ran across the street, and to the next block, where his car was. At some point, he tripped, and dropping the women His hostage began to run. Nick tried to chase after her, but she was fast. However, lung cancer patients are not known for stamina. Soon, she was exhausted, while Nick was still running. He caught her, and as she struggled, dragged her back to the car and placed her in the trunk. He couldn’t risk her running away.
On the drive home, Nick tried to process what he did. It felt like trying to wrap his head around god, so he stopped. He had knocked out a security guard, kidnapped a young girl, and he was now going to experiment on her to save Larry. Nick tried to think of some positive look on this, but thinking about how many people he was going to save didn’t seem like enough to forgive what he was doing now. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” Nick mumbled. He was fairly sure he failed at mumbling, because he heard the girl demand from the trunk “What prize” between shrieks and pounding.
When Nick drove back to his new apartment, he wondered where to place the girl. He decided to just use some tape to ensure she didn’t break free and go away for the night and bring her some food and water so she would be OK in the meantime. Thankfully, Nick’s place didn’t have that many people around it, being the very cheap apartment it was, so when the girl tried to run away when he opened the trunk to bring her food, nobody heard the scream before Nick got her trapped in again. Before Nick went to bed, he bought some supplies for the experiment tomorrow.
The next day, a weekend day, Nick drove out to his old garage. He hoped he would never see the place again, given the bad memories from a few weeks it brought back. He grabbed the girl from inside the trunk and forced her into the room. Nick had bought a few belts with them, and pushed the girl onto the table before using the belts to tie her onto it. A tear trickled down his cheek as he did so. He didn’t want to imagine this situation from the girl’s perspective. Being kidnapped by a mysterious stranger, tied to a table, and no answer or even any clues in terms of why.
Nick opened the text file for his chicken lung cancer antibody. It wasn’t too far off from a human antibody-he’d just have to modify it a bit here and there. Little by little, he replaced sections of text.
And some hours later, Nick had done it. He made his antibody. He went to the floor and pulled out the floorboard he hid his supplies underneath. When he did so, an overwhelming smell invaded his nose. The chicken corpse was there, infested with bugs, and rotting steadily. As Nick held his nose, he reached in and pulled out the syringe, the DNAI, and the 3d printer. He slammed the floorboards shut. He never, never, never wanted to smell or see that again!
Nick set his supplies on the table, then went to his car. He was going to attempt another raid on the hospital, but this time for anti-rejection pills. He’d need them to ensure that the women’s body did not reject the antibody until it fully fought off the lung cancer. He could have done the same for the chicken, but he was not willing to break in to save a farm animal. If only The Pill Crash had never happened, then he could go out and buy them.
The crowd, Nick and Brad included, were so focused on waving their signs in front of the pharmacy that they didn’t notice for a second the crowd of people forming on the end of the street. They were almost are large as the first crowd, but unlike that one, they had signs that said “We have work to run and business to be done.” Most likely, that was referring to how expensive the pills were to purchase for selling and how bad that would be for the corporations.
The crowds began to move in toward each other shouting at each other. After 5 minutes of this, a brick was thrown from Nick and Brad’s crowd into the opposing one. The reactions to this were mixed on both sides. Some people backed away, worried this would escalate. They were right, as others began to search the ground for bricks or other improvised weapons and a riot broke out. The crowds began to mix as many from both charged at each other.
(Back to the present)
At sunset, when he got to the hospital, Nick noticed something odd. Police cars were gathered all around the building. Officers were dashing in and out, except for a few who were talking to security guards and doctors. Nick approached the building like he would a bomb. He tapped one of the officers on the shoulder. “Yes,” the officer asked.
“What’s going on here,” Nick asked. He knew the answer already, but surely the officers would get suspicious if they knew he already knew.
“Some guy broke in. Stole a patient. Could you help us?”
“How so,” Nick said, trying to keep his voice normal.
“Can you identify the guy in this picture,” the officer asked. Nick almost jumped. Did what he do fail to knock out all security cameras? Nick almost gave into the instinct to run, but he was glad he didn’t, because the officer held up a piece of paper with a drawing of a face on it. “This is what one of the guards described. He got knocked out by him.” The drawing looked like Nick somewhat, same gender, same age, but there wasn’t any other physical traits that could narrow down who it was. The guard likely only saw a quick glance before being hit in the head.
“Never seen him,” Nick said with a shrug. “How long are you going to be investigating here?”
“A month, give or take a week,” the officer responded.
“Thanks,” said Nick. It was almost painful to say. A month isn’t a long time, but Larry wouldn’t be likely to be able to hang on for that long. Nick would have to hope the police would be fewer at night so he could get the anti-rejection pills. He drove his car away for now, so the cops wouldn’t get suspicious of a man lingering near a crime scene for too long.
At night, Nick drove back to the hospital. He was disappointed. The number of cops was just as many. To make matters worse, there were also many more ordinary people visiting too, most of whom were talking to police officers while looking at the ground. The woman must have had a lot of friends and family.
Nick had prepared for a scenario like this. While waiting, he had went back to the garage and bought a tape recorder along the way. He recorded the woman’s screaming. Now Nick had the recorder in his hand, and he hid behind a rock in the parking lot, peeking out to watch the hospital. Nick took a deep breath, then pressed the record button. Just as it started, Nick threw the recorder into the trees around the hospital.
The police jumped to their feet and followed the recorded scream. Just as he planned. But something frustrated him. The ordinary people were not following. Since they seemed to be friends and family of the woman, Nick was certain they’d follow the police when they heard the noise, determined to see the kidnapper brought to justice. But they just watched in horror as the police ran into the trees. Nick’s brain searched every detail he was looking at, trying to find some way he could get in, but soon, the police were back, one of them carrying the recorder. “Where is he,” one cop said to another.
“It seems it has…been thrown…from there,” the second cop said as he pointed just around the place where Nick was hiding. Nick’s pulse skyrocketed as he peeked over the rock. Still crouching, he went onto the road and dashed with all his might. He turned around and corner and hopped into his car and drove away just as he saw one foot emerge from the corner he went around.
Nick’s pulse went back to normal, but as he drove back to the garage, he realized what he must do. Since there were no anti-rejection pills to suppress the immune system, he would have to extract a lung and inject it. Once he confirmed it worked, he would have to try to steal the pills again along the way to curing his dad.
Back on no-one-lives-here-anymore street, Nick, with trembling hands, got out of his car and opened the door to the garage, although it felt more like he was entering hell. The woman was fast asleep on the table, with her eyes shut so tightly that it looked like she was in pain rather than out cold. In deep sleep, you couldn’t feel pain, so when Nick got out a kitchen knife he bought along the way, he thanked heaven that she wouldn’t have to suffer.
Nick stabbed the knife in between the breasts, and began sliding it down, opening clothes and flesh. The sounds felt like styrofoam rubbing together. When Nick had finally opened the chest and stomach, exposing the organs, he dropped to his knees and began to cry for the first time. He had released tears before, but not for years had he produced the sound of crying. But unlike before, when he would just make the quiet, sniffling sound, Nick’s vocal cords created a loud scream.
After an hour, Nick finally stopped screaming. As he got to his feet to continue with the plan, Nick decided on something. Lara probably felt the same way when she learned her husband had lung cancer. Nick vowed he would stop being reserved and punishing her for not avoiding talking about Larry’s condition. He would apologize once this was all over.
Nick reached in and yanked out a lung. Like the chicken lung, it looked as though it had balloons inside of it. Nick took the syringe he set on the table that had the antibody inside, and injected it. Over the next few hours, Nick saw the balloons seemingly deflate. (It would take longer on Larry, since his age would make his body work slower, but Nick didn’t mind that.) He had confirmed that his cure worked, but he was not relieved. There was still a bit of work that needed to be done. But right now, Nick felt tired. He drove back home and collapsed on his bed.
The next morning, Nick went back to the garage, printed the antibody, and arrived at the hospital. It looked quite inviting in the daylight, unlike the haunted house look it had at night. Even more police officers were gathered around the place, talking to visitors and doctors. Nick hid the syringe in his back pocket, and entered. Hopefully, no one would be instantly suspicious of him just because he had been there twice. When a cop stopped him and asked him why, he said he was just going to visit his father. Nick thought deeply as looked at the hospital hall he was in. How was he going to get the pills this time? He knew they were in the back room, but how was he going to get there? Then it occurred to him.
Nick walked up to a nurse surrounding one of the patients. He couldn’t enter, but the doors had frameless windows on them. “How are you feeling,” Nick asked the man lying in the bed. At the end of it, there was a chart that read “Diagnosis: Severe Inflammation.”
“Better than ever,” the man said with a grin. “Nasty pain, as usual.”
“What do you take for that,” Nick asked.
“The anti-rejection stuff,” the man responded.
“Taken that yet?” Nick asked.
“Oh, I almost forgot them today,” the nurse said. She went away, and Nick waited patiently. A few minutes later, she came back, and as she neared Nick, he bumped into her. “Sorry,” he said. As she went to help her patient, Nick walked toward Larry’s room with one pill in his pocket, which he had grabbed out of her front pocket. It was behind the security camera, so there would be no footage of it. Nick walked into the room he was looking for and saw Larry on the bed. Larry was in a coma, alright. Nick noticed that the nurse had left and he marched toward him. He poured the stolen pill down Larry’s throat and began to insert the syringe into his chest. He was so worn out by everything else, he didn’t account that the nurse was coming back any minute now.
Nick turned his head to see the nurse, who was looking at a man injecting a needle into the center of a dying man. And as Nick stared, all his hope of a jail-free life exploded. As the fact creeped into his brain, he almost heard a voice saying “Make the sacrifice worth it.” Nick pressed the button on the back of the syringe down, pushing the antibody into Larry’s body.
20 minutes later, 2 officers were escorting Nick through the hall of the police station, back into the interrogation room again, except this time, there would be no hope of seeing the outside world again. As the officers grilled him on what he was doing, Nick answered everything honestly. He told them about Larry’s condition, how he experimented on an animal and person, risking both of their lives. He told them how he broke into a hospital, and kidnapped a patient. As he responded to every question, the cops wrote down notes.
(8 months later)
Nick’s trial took 8 months to start, but was only 3 days long. There was no question he was guilty, and he was arrested for breaking and entering, animal experimentation, human experimentation, and second-degree kidnapping, as well as first-degree murder. Most of these offenses, on their own, would not be any longer than 5 years, but the last one meant a life sentence, until a death penalty 25 years later.
On the news, in the lunchroom, Nick, along with the other prisoners, watched a report. The reporter was Carl Zoke. If Nick had seen this months back, he would giggle at Carl’s constant stuttering and mispronunciations, but past events had drained Nick of hope and humor. He wasn’t confident that he’d laugh at anything again. Unless he escaped, he’d never see the outside of prison.
On the news, Carl Zoke said, “And in other news,” with his usual saying of the s as though it were a z, “the trial of Nick Barnes has ended. Judge Mason confirmed that he will ‘spend the remainder of his life in prison for experimenting on animals and humans with full knowledge that they could die.’ Controversy over his sentence has spread, though, as many, including many cancer patients, have defended him, claiming he was, in the words of one man ‘trying to go the extra mile to rescue when others wouldn’t.’”
Nick stood up and leaned toward the TV hanging from the ceiling to hear what Zoke was saying better. He continued “We’re now going to see what the father of Nick-who has made a full recovery-has to say.” The screen split, and on one side, there was Larry, looking healthier than ever. “Thanks for inviting me,” he said with a slight smile. Nick looked at his dad on the screen and thought of the thing he did that he loved him most for.
Inside the riot, Nick turned to Brad. Brad rarely spoke, but this time was an exception. “We gotta go,” he said. There was no time to argue. Nick and Brad turned away from the crowd and tried to run, but the surrounding people were like concrete, and it was hard to find an opening to go through.
Meanwhile at home, Larry was sitting on the couch, scrolling through channels. There was never anything good on TV except the news, so he switched to that. His mouth dropped open at what was going on. There was a crowd, the people who were fighting one another and some police cars were pulling onto the scene. Larry was generally silent in situations like these, but he noticed it was going on outside the Hand-in-Handy pharmacy. That’s where Nick’s protesting, he thought. He took a deep breath, which was somewhat difficult thanks to his cancer, and grabbed his keys. He could call the police, but he was certain their priority was stopping the riot.
A few minutes later, Larry saw the crowd fighting through the window in his car. He squinted and got out. He’d have to be quick. Where was Nick? “Nick,” he tried to call out, but his chest moaned in protest from how much air that required. He tried to run into the crowd to search, but his lung cancer didn’t allow that for long either, so he opted for a jog. He scanned over the people until he found Brad! That was Nick’s friend. He shoved through people toward him. Brad eyes widened upon seeing him, then he pointed right, saying “We got separated!”
Larry turned and found Nick trying to get back to Brad. He reached in and grabbed Nick’s hand, then pulled him toward him. They embraced for a second, and Larry began to lead them back to his car. They saw it just in sight, and it got bigger as they continue to ran, but they had to stop at one point because Larry was out of breath. Still, after that, they continue, until they were at the car.
As Larry and Brad were in, Nick was about to step in as well when a hand pulled him from the back of his collar. “Oh, no,” said the man behind him. “You’re not going anywhere. I saw you with that stupid crowd.” He began to beat Nick’s head against the body of the car, until it stopped somehow. He looked behind and saw that Brad had grabbed the man and banged him against the hood of the car, leaving a massive bloodstain.
On the ride home, practically everyone was rather silent. The only time nothing but the radio was heard was when Larry said “We’ll drop you at your home when this is over, Brad,” when Nick said “Thanks for saving me Brad,” and when he said “Thanks for saving me, dad.”
(Back to the present)
“You’re welcome,” said Zoke. “Do you think what you’re son did was worth it?”
“No. He punished me by punishing himself.”
“His cure saved you, though, didn’t it?”
“Yes. However, we had plenty of charities that could have done the work without anybody being at risk. Now, it wouldn’t have saved me, mind you, but it could have saved plenty without my son doing the things he did.”
“If you could visit him, what would you say?”
“I would say, ‘Why, son? I’m an old man, and you had many more good years than I did. Now you have none. Are you satisfied? I’m alive, but are you satisfied with me only being able to see my oldest child once in a while?’” Nick’s eyes began to tremble, and he fought back tears. He began to reflect on his dad’s words. Was he satisfied? He had done what he always wanted to do, but at the cost of everything else . His reputation. His freedom. His future.
After a few minutes of thinking, Nick settled on the idea that he wasn’t satisfied. 25 years to be executed felt too long. Was there a quicker escape from pain?