The Symbiotic Man By Joseph Grant

Dr. Artemis Narcisco was harboring a deep, dark secret. He was taking his secret work home with him. This was grounds for termination as well as possible jail time should anyone be the wiser. He was an exceedingly brilliant but fastidious research scientist. It was frequently noted by his supervisors how clean his station always was and how detailed he was in his work and weekly reports. No one ever suspected not so much as a hair out of place on his neatly combed head.

Hair; it is a peculiar thing, Narcisco noted. It is pre-natal, grows throughout our lives and even escorts us into the grave. It can shape our personality and how we perceive others. We caress the hair of our loved one. We are attracted to it with our mate and yet if there is a strange hair in front of us or worse, in one’s food, it will end a pleasant meal very quickly, Narcisco thought with a shudder. Never mind if a hair winds up in someone’s mouth or during an intimate encounter. Narcisco didn’t have to worry about such things. He was a celibate by choice.

Religion played a big part in his choosing to be celibate, even though his fellow believers were entangled and disentangled in a variety all sorts of relationships. Relationships or lack thereof never interested Narcisco one way or the other. But therein lie the quandary.

Narcisco was getting older and at a time when most of his associates had already had children or even grandchildren, Narcisco had no such legacy to pass on. Not having children or a wife should not have bothered Narcisco the way it did, as his choice of celibacy was like everything else in his life, not one he made in an arbitrary manner.

Coming from a broken home, Narcisco often wondered if his infantile environment had anything to do with his lack of interest in pairing with another or his decision later in life to be chaste. He had watched his parents fight for as long as he could recall. His father, a union pipefitter and his mother, a school teacher; had been mismatched from the start but whereas the old adage of opposites attracting made for nice romantic twists in cheesy novels, it did not play any sentimental facet in cold and clinical reality when it came to his parents.

During Narcisco’s formative years and into his teens, he may as well have been invisible to women, not that it mattered one ion to him. He stuck his nose in the books and did not peek back up until he was a grad student doing an internship at a physics lab near the university.

When Narcisco received an offer to work at Soma-Cell under the auspices of the legendary Dr. Lusus, Soma-Cell’s founder and chief scientific officer, he was thrilled. Lusus was renowned for being a pioneering specialist of tissue engineering by discovering how to separate the complex DNA from delicate human skin cells for laboratory use. With his discovery came media appearances, books and documentaries as well as interested financial benefactors. He started Soma-Cell not long after this noteworthy breakthrough and the company was a leading innovator in stem cell research.

Narcisco’s improvement upon the original concept was to use a single human hair follicle. He was well aware that each human hair root contains living cells. These living cells possess nuclei with pristine human DNA, individual to their owner. It was important to use a live specimen as when the cells die, DNA breaks down. It was the glaring reason why a Frankenstein story could only exist in fiction, Narcisco knew. Otherwise, it was theoretically possible to reanimate the deceased. But there was a slight problem to his research.

If Dr. Narcisco was able to extract the DNA, he would need an egg to replace the nucleus in order to cultivate a specimen in a dish. At first, he wondered how and where he would get his hands on an egg in order to marry the DNA with another to produce a satisfactory end product. Then it came to him, he was surrounded by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of samples stored down the hall in their Cryo-Protectant Lab. These were held in vats labeled CPD, which stood for Citrate, Phosphate and Dextrose. It would likely not be a problem as the lab personnel were always going in and harvesting a few eggs for experiments.

There were further complexities. One could grow a sample in a Petri dish, as the scientists were always trying to do for study, but these were usually never carried out to any length of maturity and destroyed after about ten days. Furthermore, there would have to be a transfer to a willing participant in the program. Besides, these technicians were always doing bizarre mash-ups of human DNA with a chicken or cow or some such and seeing if they could grow a pig’s ear in a dish. These highly bizarre experiments were all done in the name of clinical research and harvesting alternative body parts should war, disease and dismemberment require such without violating ethical issues, of which the cause and effect were forever intertwined.

Locating a host in all of this might prove the most difficult, Narcisco knew. He had no luck with women and never had much of a need for one until now. It wasn’t that he was a misogynist, it was quite the opposite. Women scared the hell out of him. He saw what his mother did to his father and how his father treated his mother and she in return.  It shaped him for life.

Without a human female in the experiment, the growth of the specimen would only get so far, if it developed at all. For ethical and legal reasons, humans were never used, just lower form mammals. This did not interest Narcisco. It was holding back research one hundred years, he felt. Science was all about evolution of the species not keeping it stagnant. If this were true, then why have science research labs at all? While he understood the moral implications, science, he thought, should have no boundaries. Otherwise, it was relegating research to the days of Gregor Mendel and his peas.

For Narcisco, Mendel had been a childhood inspiration. After his work on plant hybridization, he worked honey bees and animals. He wished to further Mendel’s direction.  Narcisco’s ultimate problem came from working with the single hair cell sample. The hair cell sample was specialized just as any cell in the body is specialized. There are cells for eyes, teeth, muscle or indeed, hair. Hair cells did not recognize other needed cells in order to grow anything but hair. Narcisco was well aware of scientists using a variety of electrical currents to circumvent this quandary and confuse nature, as well as working with chemical reactions to facilitate a positive result. It didn’t always work and typically, the samples displayed disturbing cellular aberrations and defects. Some of the younger, more irreverent researchers held onto their specimens instead of destroying them and would name them as pets, permeating  their stations with very peculiar life forms.

A miracle, of sorts, came in the guise of the latest breakthrough, of which Narcisco played a major role; a colony stimulating factor. Colony stimulating dynamics was something new, a top secret substance which was scientifically manufactured in the lab. It allowed bone marrow to produce and reactivate long dormant stem cells within the body stored from birth and be reintroduced into the blood stream. These would be readily available from his own blood sample. This advance allowed Narcisco to use these cells which weren’t specialized and manipulate and marry them with the DNA from both hosts and for the original hair cell to multiply exponentially as it would recognize the DNA. This would permit his research experiment to develop almost naturally.

But, Narcisco was under a rigid deadline. Normal embryos implant at 14 days. He would have to find a willing participant who would somehow not have the moral compunction to turn him over to his superiors, not to mention the authorities. Given the research team they had, it was mostly men and a couple of dowdy-looking women either quickly approaching, in or well-past menopause. The youngest of this matronly group, Eva, had given up raising a family and having children in lieu of having a career.

Eva Miller was a soft target. No matter how she tried to deflect the idea of having a child, it was always something omnipresent. There were those around her who persisted in getting into her personal life. Her mother, for one, dropped not so subtle guilt-bombs in conversation. Her girlfriends would ask over and over as each one of them was either getting married off or having their own babies.

Such constant stress would lead to Eva having crying jags at work and taking days off for depression. This did not go unnoticed by her superiors or co-workers. It surprised them, as she seemed to be happy in her work. She never took a day off and was always the first one there and the last one to leave. But then again, this had been her work ethic from very early on in her life.

In every way, she had been the perfect girl to her parents. She had been the model child that other parents pointed out to their children. “Why can’t you be more like Eva?” was a question privately posed to many of her friends. She took dance class, played classical piano and excelled in linguistics.  When she was a little older, she became a Brownie and won many patches, awards and medals. In school, she was the ideal student and as a result of her impressive school exams, she was assigned to assist as a teacher’s aide from an early age. Many educators told her that she would make an excellent teacher. She not only exceeded academically, but also had excelled in school sports, student council and belonged to other programs and was her class president. She went on to a prestigious East Coast Ivy League University and had graduated at the top percentile of her class with top honors in the field of genetic science. She had been recruited by Soma-Cell right out of college, was given an astounding salary for a college grad, bought her own house and moved in with her college sweetheart, Brad, but the economy had hit them hard and they squabbled over his inability to get a job and she finally broke it off with him. Even though she was the apple of her parent’s eye, her mother was deeply disappointed in her and that she had split with her boyfriend. Not only was her perfect daughter still single at the age of 30 but after the debacle with Brad, she had also recently informed her mother that she was not interested in getting married or raising a family but following her career path.

The echo of their last fight ran through Eva’s head as she tried to put her mind on a report she was filling out on her work with synthetic DNA Replication.

“You know, Eva…by the time I was your age I was married to your father and had already given birth to you!” She recalled her mother railing at her.

“That was your generation! When will you learn that I want to live my life, not yours.” She grimaced at the remembrance of saying it to her mother, but it was true. It was her life, not her mother’s. While maybe it was not right for her mother, it was right for her. As the scene played out in her head, an email popped up. It was from that nerdy Art Narcisco, she observed.  In it, he asked if she wanted to get coffee some time. It was non-descript and she saw little harm in it. It would also appease her mother and nothing would ever come of it, she told herself.

Narcisco had his eye on the comely brown-haired research analyst for a while. Behind her glasses, stiff exterior and hair pulled back tightly in a bun, there seemed to be a caged animal who needed only to let her hair down, he thought; knowing nothing about women except what he’d seen in movies.

They met for coffee after work at one of the ubiquitous coffee shops in town. Eva was her cool, calculating self, thinking maybe if she allied herself with this brilliant older man, he could teach her a thing or two and maybe mentor her in her career. Narcisco was his usual bumbling and nervous personage, but had already conspired in his mind that Eva would be a great catch for his experiment and not much else.

“I want to thank you for inviting me out.” Eva said, trying to break the ice. “We need to get out of that place more often.”

“Yup.”

“Boy, if only my mother could see me now. She’s always wanting me go out with her friend’s sons. I guess she wants me to settle down and give her that grandchild.” She rattled off with a laugh. It was something she always did when nervous.

Narcisco nodded.

“I’m sorry; I don’t mean to get too personal.”

“Uh-huh.”

“It’s good to get out. It’s like working in one big rat cage, that place.” Eva smiled and sipped at her very hot coffee. “Careful.” She cautioned Narcisco. “It’s hot.”

“Okay.” Narcisco nodded.

“You don’t say much.”

“Just making conversation.”

Not really, thought Eva and tried to change the subject to any subject. “So, do you like what you do?”

“Yes, I do.”

“You don’t know how refreshing that is to hear. Usually guys I’ve spoken with, well, their answer is usually less than gratifying. They usually say that it’s just a paycheck to pay the bills.”

“You know a lot of guys?”

“No, not really.”

“But you said the guys you speak with-”

“What I meant was that the typical response is that it’s a means to a very short end.”

“Oh.” Narcisco nodded and then said nothing for nearly the next five minutes and looked around the coffee bar.  He noticed that the barista looked like Eva Peron.

Just when Eva thought she’d go out of her mind, Narcisco finally spoke. “Do you like what you do?”

Eva could have groaned out loud. Narcisco’s social skills were lacking to say the very least. Instead, she sipped at her coffee and answered him. “I do like the work I do. I find it fascinating. I think we are on the cusp of a brave new world, so to speak. “I think it’s terribly interesting and there’s no telling what breakthroughs we will discover in the coming years. Think of all the lives we can save with all of our stem cell research and all of the regenerative medicine that we can use to better thousands of lives. There will be no use for artificial limbs and other body parts if we can grow such things in the lab. I am thrilled to be a part of this exciting time in forensic medicine.”

“I think it’s much more than that. I think that we have a chance to play God.”

Eva gave him a quizzical look. “Play God? Excuse me? What do you mean?”

Narcisco quivered as he looked at her and was excited someone was listening to him. “For the first time in mankind’s existence, we have the potential to skip the God quotient and use somatic cell nuclear transfer.”

“For what?” Eva asked naively.

“To create life.”

“What’re you talking about? God creates life.”

“Have you seen the life that God creates? Life that’s full of sickness, cancer and death. Children born with handicaps, deformities, terminal illnesses and mental degeneration? Science has it within its grasp the propensity to surpass God and create man in its own infinite, perfect likeness. We are on the threshold of creating human beings without disease and possibly burying death in the grave of history. Mark my words; there will come a time when death will be seen as one of man’s illnesses that we have surmounted. With science and medicine, we will live hundreds, maybe thousands of years.”

“But who do you think creates that life and lets it thrive?”

“Science.”

“No, you ass.” Eva snapped. “It’s God! Let me ask you. Are you religious?”

“Not really. More of an agnostic. Science hasn’t proven the existence of God and until it does, I’m afraid, I’m going to stay that way.”

“But science hasn’t disproven the existence of God, either.”

“Moot point.”

“So, why did you ask me out for coffee, Art?”

“It’s Artemis.” He said through clenched teeth.

Saa-reeee!” Eva said melodramatically. “You didn’t ask me here to talk about religion, did you?”

“You’re the one who brought religion into the conversation.” He stated incorrectly.

“Well, then what did you bring me here for?”

Narcisco eyed her warily. “I don’t know if I should tell you.”

Oh my God.” Eva muttered under her breath.

“There you go, bringing religion into it again.”

“You know, I think I’m gonna go.” She said and started to stand. “This was a bad idea.”

“Wait! Wait! I was joking…” Narcisco blurted. “I’ve been frightfully boorish. If I’ve offended you, dear Eva, I must apologize.”

“Uh-oh, somebody’s been reading his Jane Austen.” Eva rolled her eyes. “Nobody talks like that. Just say you’re sorry.”

“They don’t?” Narcisco said with a baffled expression.

“I guess you don’t have a lot of experience with women?”

“Is it that patently obvious?”

“Yes, dreadfully so.” Eva teased.

“Don’t make fun of me.” He said and folded his arms and started to turn away.

“Hey, I’m only joking, too!” She said and grabbed across the table at his arm. “You have to be able to take it too, ya know.”

He looked at her hand on his arm. She removed it. “I’m sorry.” He said. “Well, what I really want to ask you is if you’d be interested in taking part in a little experiment with me.”

“That’s got to be the worst pick-up line ever.”

“Oh, no!” Narcisco said. “That’s not what I meant at all.”

Eva laughed. “Oh sorry.”

“You sound like you don’t have much experience with guys.” Narcisco shot back.

“Touché.”

“I’d like to do a radical experiment.”

“Oh?”

“I’ll be blunt. I need one of your eggs.”

“Now that might be the worst pick-up line ever.” Eva said. “Before I throw this hot coffee in your lap…”

“No, please listen.” Narcisco started.  “I have an idea on how to clone a human safely and ethically.”

“How?” Eva scoffed. “There is no ethicality to cloning.”

“They’re doing it with livestock and they’re doing it with vegetables.  Why not humans? This could lead to a whole other science, as we’ve said. Later on, we could harvest body parts for people but if my testing works we won’t have to, like I’ve said. We could tweak the DNA and create perfect human forms.”

“It’s immoral and not to mention, illegal!”

“Laws can be bought, sold and changed. Laws are made up by men who are fallible. Those are just mere technicalities.” Narcisco waved the point back across the table.

“Yes, to keep other infallible men in line!” Eva argued.

“Anyway, we will negotiate the genome and create a human life form, perfect in its efficacy.”

“So, you need an egg from me and you can do this?”

“Without question.”

“Just for experimentation purposes, correct? I mean, after a certain interval, we’re talking, you’ll destroy the specimen, right?”

“No.”

“Art…Artemis, you can’t procure life by artificial means and keep it to grow in some lab like a mold spore.”

“That’s where you come in. I want you to carry it to full gestation.”

“Absolutely not.” Eva balked.

“But you said your mother wanted you to have kids.”

“Yes, but the normal way! Not by a scientific assembly line in some cold, clinical lab! Children are born out of love, Artemis, not by osmosis.”

“I wasn’t born out of love.” Narcisco said glumly. “I was a mistake. MY father said that to me over and over.”

“So…what? Are you trying to fix that mistake by doing this?”

“No.” He said and looked at Eva. “So, will you help me?”

“I think you do need help.” Eva said. “But not the kind I can give you.”

“You have to help me. You’re my only hope of getting this project off the drawing table.”

“Listen to you! You’re talking about it like some project.”

“Well, it is. It’s not like a natural childbirth.”

“Exactly and I won’t be a part of this. It’s diabolical.”

“But I need you.” Narcisco whined. “You must do this for me! For science.”

“Now you’re sounding pathetic, Artemis, really? You don’t even have the balls to ask me like any normal guy. You know, the older ladies in the lab said you were weird but I felt sorry for you. I had no idea how right they were.”

“Don’t leave!” He said in an anxious manner. His voice was louder than before and some people were looking over at him and Eva. He grabbed on to her sleeve.

Eva felt her face flush. “Let me go. I’ve had enough of your bizarre ideas for one night.”

“Eva, you can’t go! I won’t let you!”

“Oh no? Watch me leave.” She said and flung his hand away with a grand gesture. She walked out the door and around the office building where the cafe was located and towards the parking lot.

Narcisco caught up with her as she was cursing up a storm and stomping towards her car. “Wait, Eva! I need to talk to you.”

“Artemis, Art, whatever the hell your name is, if you don’t leave me alone, so help me I’ll start to scream! Leave me alone! I don’t want you to talk to me at work, I don’t want you to look at me at work, nothing. I don’t want any more emails, no contact, nada, zip! Got it?”

“But you’re perfect for this and it won’t hurt at all. You can have visitation rights, whatever you want.”

“Oh my God, you’re not getting this! Leave me alone!”

“Look, I’ll pay you.”

“Get another surrogate and leave me the hell alone.” She said as she fumbled for her keys.

“Eva, please, listen to reason.”

“No, you listen to it. I am not interested. It’s sick. It’s depraved. If you ever bring it up again, I will go to Dr. Lusus and to the authorities.” She threatened him and shook her head. “At least a normal guy would have tried to take me to bed. You really do need help.” She grumbled as she opened her car door, got in and locked it. She turned on the ignition and nearly backed up over him.

Narcisco watched her drive off down the street. He didn’t recall much after that, except for that the next day she did not show up for work. Her car was missing as well. The police questioned Narcisco as they did everyone at the lab. Narcisco had thought ahead to erase his and Eva’s emails on the server. The detectives even suspected her old college boyfriend who had been emailing her lately on her personal email and at work and put him on surveillance for awhile. The case went nowhere fast and then went cold.

No one ever suspected the timid lab technician of any malfeasance. Not the police, the newspapers who ran the story of the mysterious disappearance, nor his colleagues. No one suspected that he had gotten into his car that night in a fit of blind rage and drove her off the road, flipping her vehicle into a ditch which then rolled into the nearby lake. The way he saw it, he had saved her from drowning that night, although she had been paralyzed in the accident. He decided it was his responsibility to take care of her.

Nobody would ever believe such a story where his only defense would have been that he couldn’t recall. He had to produce an excuse more credible to save himself. He couldn’t remember much, but did remember putting her in his back seat and sending her car to the bottom of the lake by sticking it in neutral and letting it lumber clumsily downhill. He recalled the gurgled noises she made as the paralysis began to set into her vocal chords and how he took her to live in his house and how he cared for her that night when he should have really taken her to the hospital. He put her in his bedroom and then later on, he would build room for her in his attic and how he always kept the door shut tight. He would order the best medical supplies online and set her up in a quasi-hospital setting in her new room. He had kept her incapacitated frame nourished by intravenous tube and bathed her and changed her while he watched her belly grow with his progeny.

The look in her eye could be described as one of insurmountable fear but Narcisco liked to think it was the recognition of finding her one true love. Not long after the baby was born, he caught her trying to escape, as he reasoned even though she had only tried to move and knocked over the tube, she was slowly and most frighteningly lowered into a medically induced coma under his auspices behind a locked bedroom door.

The door had remained locked throughout Cain’s childhood. He was forbidden to go into the room. In fact, Narcisco had always held onto the key. It wasn’t hard for Cain to figure out the old man’s hiding place for the key. He had seen the old man get drunk and fumble around for the key and go into the room and shut the door and cry aloud. It was an odd way for a father to act, Cain knew.

That had been many years ago. Their child, as Narcisco liked to refer to him, Cain, had grown into a strapping young man of twenty.  Narcisco was pleased to note that there had been no deformities and no childhood illnesses, other than the occasional cold or flu. Cain was the spitting image of his father as was Eva’s own genetic offspring an identical clone, Lily. It was a prescient thing Narcisco had done, for Eva did not survive long after their second test subject was born. On one beautiful spring day, Narcisco buried his dearly loved Eva on a hill overlooking his century-old farmhouse. But now Lily would naturally take her place. In this way, Eva would live on through Lily. But there was a problem.

Narcisco had raised the spawn as they had been both originally raised. Both went to the finest schools and no expense was spared in bringing them up correctly. Cain studied science and physics while Lily took all the prerequisite courses and studies her mother took such as piano, ballet and education and sciences were also strongly stressed upon her. Lily was not in the least interested. Cain became a glaring problem to Narcisco. As a mirror-image to his creator, a self-realization hit Narcisco.

“Was I really that annoying at that age?” Narcisco wondered. Not to mention, Cain displayed a perpetual self-loathing and signs of sociophobia that became abundantly clear as to where he’d inherited these traits.

Sadly, he held no more pride in Lily. She was supposed to have been a pristine duplicate of his beloved Eva. Both of the children held such promise but had been such bitter disappointments. He learned of Lily’s immoral behavior with boys as well as alcohol and drug use and vehemently disapproved. This set the two apart. More than this, Lily was revolted by Narcisco’s attempts to flirt with her, let alone to try to romance her.

Unbeknownst to Narcisco, Cain had retrieved the key to the room and had gained access. The room had not been changed since Eva’s death. In this secretive sanctum, Narcisco had kept all of his scientific notes and books on genetic manipulation and how he had used Eva’s eggs and his hair cells to create life. It was a nightmarish discovery for Cain. He had long-suspected that the lady he had sketchy memories of who had lived in the room had been his mother but was not ready to learn such an atrocity. He waited for Narcisco to come home one day after work. Narcisco was startled to see the door off the landing opened and raced up the stairs. Inside, he found a room as though a typhoon had gone through it.

“Is this true?” Lily’s voice broke.

“When were you going to tell me?” Cain screamed at Narcisco as he stood in the doorway. Cain sitting in the middle of the room with books, photos and notes scattered about him. Lily stood nearby and had obviously been crying.

“You two should not be in here!” Narcisco stumbled for words.

“When were you going to tell us?” Lily corrected Cain.

“You shouldn’t have opened the door! I’ve told you two a million times never to open this door!”

“You’re insane.” Cain spat. “You always told me I had been born at County, now I see you’ve been lying to us all along.”

“Is this true?” Lily asked.

“You’ve got no right to be in here, going through my personal things.”

“Is this true?” Lily asked again, only this time screaming the question at him.

“Eva, please. I mean, Lily.” Narcisco awkwardly fumbled for words. “I was going to tell you.-”

“”It is true! It’s why we never saw our birth records or social security card or anything. Just worthless school i.d.’s. Enough with your lies.” Cain said. “C’mon Lily, let’s leave.”

“Is it true what you wrote here?” Lily cried. “That Eva didn’t love you so you created me to love you?”

Narcisco felt his face flush. “It’s true.” He nodded.

“You’re sick, old man.” Cain spat. “It doesn’t matter because Lily loves me, don’t you, Lily?”

“That can’t be!” Narcisco sputtered. “I made you for me!”

“Eww! Lily shuddered. “Gross.”

“But you can’t go with Cain. He’s your brother.”

“Not according to your notes. We just came out of the same test tube, pops.” Cain snapped.

“I do love Cain.” Lily said and went over and grabbed onto his arm.

“I won’t allow this!” Narcisco became enraged. “Over my dead body.”

“Out of our way.” Cain said as the two of them tried to get past Narcisco.

“No.” Narcisco stood firm.

“One last time. Out of our way. I’ll go to the police with all of this.”

“Cain, I’m warning you.”

“Fine, have it your way.” Cain said and lunged for Narcisco. The two grappled together and hit the floor as Lily shrieked. In the end, Cain beat the older man to death with the very heavy Erlenmeyer flask in which he had been created before it shattered in a bloody mess all over Narcisco’s head.

As there had never been any public record of the two, the police were baffled by the crime and as they collected and poured over the copious notes, they assured themselves that they were the ramblings of one very twisted individual. However, there was one positive end to this mysterious crime. From the long-winded notes of Dr. Narcisco, it was clear that he had been the culprit behind a most dreadful crime who conducted horrendous experiments on an innocent young woman. Interestingly, the cold case of Eva Miller had been definitively closed but his murder would remain forever unsolved.

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