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Moya picked up the pistol and turned it over in her hands.
The car hit them both and she went flying...
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by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Anna called her back, reporting that the lab wouldn't talk to her, but one of the scientists who had worked with Cedric would.

The arranged meeting was like something out of a turn-of-the-century spy movie. Anna insisted that Gen meet her first at a restaurant that Anna frequented. Once there, Anna gave Gen handwritten instructions on how to find the scientist.

The directions took her to a concrete parking garage that was almost a hundred years old and had been condemned by the city. A closed coffee shop on the sidewalk level matched the number on the slip of paper. Gen gingerly tried the door, and was surprised to find it open. She slipped inside.

"Lock it," a woman's voice said.

Gen turned the deadbolt.

"Come on back."

Gen walked around the empty tables, past the steel counters and empty mugs, ancient espresso and cappuccino machines which still smelled faintly of coffee. A light burned in a back office, not visible from the street. Gen went inside.

The woman waiting for her was slight and trim, but she wore a thick protection vest and pants. On the desk in front of her was a laser pistol. Her hand rested on its butt.

Gen turned cold, but it was too late to back out now. "Hi," she said, hearing how inane the word sounded in this empty place. "Anna sent me. From the Chimera Mission. I'm—"

"I know," the woman said. "I have season tickets to the Portland Ballet. Have for years."

She moved her hand off the gun. "Sorry for the protection. We never know what types we're going to run into."

The stories of PETA and the conservative Christians came back to Gen. Were their assaults so severe that the lab workers had to take these kinds of precautions?

"I'm Moya," the woman said.

Gen took the only available chair. "Call me Gen."

"Gen." Moya tried it as she would a new dress.

"Anna tells me you worked with Cedric?"

"Look," Moya said. "I heard about you. I'm sorry for what happened to you, but you gotta know that the reason you're walking, hell, the reason you're even breathing is because of the work we do. You got to dance until the age of forty, and you could have gone longer because of our research. But you quit to have a baby, by yourself, and it was easy, not like it was fifty years ago for a first-timer your age, so before you go into the ethics of creating chimera, you got to remember how much benefit you've taken from them."

Gen took a deep breath. "I didn't come here to yell at you. I came to find out what happened to Cedric."

"What happened to him? He was in our lab until the experiment expired. Then I gave him to Anna for the Mission."

"He's violent," Gen said. "And he has night terrors, or so it seems to me. Anna said he was part of an experiment for Parkinson's—"

"Alzheimer's." Moya looked down. "A lot of the old folk had such poor medical care and nutrition when they were kids. They're still developing Alzheimer's. We can hold it off until they're a hundred or so, but with the lifestyle changes, they might live another twenty years. That's a burden on the families. We can slow the progression of the disease, but we haven't been able to stop it. Not yet."

"Cedric has Alzheimer's?"

"No." Moya sighed. "Cedric was a control. We used stem cells to give him the closest thing we could to a human brain, and then we tested our latest drugs on him. I can't tell you more than that."

"What did the drugs do?"

"Enhanced memory. Increased certain types of chemicals. Helped fortify connections between different parts of the brain. Some of the drugs failed. A few didn't. But drugs are iffy things. They can alter personality in humans. Cedric isn't human and he's not exactly feline. He became too erratic to work with, so we were supposed to put him down." Moya shrugged. "I don't believe in doing that."

She said that last very softly, and Gen understood where many of Anna's animals came from.

"Why do you think he became erratic?" Gen asked.

"I didn't have a chance to study him," Moya said. "He began to hate his cage, and he would attack anyone he didn't know. He hid on us a lot, and wouldn't let us find him until after testing times. He became difficult. I wanted to keep him on the study, but the team decided he was a hazard."

"How old is he?" Gen asked.

"About two."

Gen nodded. Then she straightened her shoulders before she asked the difficult question, the one that might make her seem like a fool. "Do you think that he thinks like a human? I mean, he has an enhanced brain, and you designed it to be like a person's."

"That was my argument. Hiding. Tantrums. Not knowing limits. It seemed to me like he was an out-of-control child. But the others wouldn't hear of it." Moya traced the barrel of the pistol with one finger. "Think of it. If it were true, if Cedric had developed a human mind, then what were we doing to him? We were as bad as those pro-lifers said we were. We're worse than PETA makes us out to be. We're real monsters."

Gen had no response. Her dance work had always seemed cut-and-dried. Elegant solutions without ethical considerations, not even in the fund-raising work. She didn't know what she would do if she were told her work would benefit millions of people, but to do it, she had to irreparably damage fifty innocents.

"Do you think Cedric can understand speech?" Gen asked.

Moya stopped tracing the barrel. "Yes, but he'll never be able to talk back to you, not in English anyway. His mouth isn't designed for it."

"But he could learn to understand a language."

"Probably," Moya said. "Cats have a twenty-one-sound vocabulary and seem to have a small verbal language. If we accidentally enhanced that even a little, he would probably be able to communicate with you quite well."

The words hung between them for a moment. Then Gen said, "Do you have any idea what's causing his night terrors?"

"A guess," Moya said. "We fine-tuned his memory. You and I, we remember only certain events, but he probably remembers every single thing that happened to him. Every moment of every day."

"Why would that scare him so?" Gen asked.

Moya stared at her. "I think it would be awful not to be able to forget anything, don't you?"

Gen let out a small breath. She knew what it was like. If she could forget the accident, she would. If she could forget how Dar looked on the pavement, crumpled and broken, she would. She remembered other things about him, just not as strongly as that last moment.

Was that how Cedric thought? Were the painful things stronger than the pleasant ones? Or had he had so few pleasant experiences in his life that he didn't even understand what they were?

Moya picked up the pistol and turned it over in her hands. "Do you know what chimera originally meant?"

"No," Gen said.

"In Greek mythology, it was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. That was probably how those first biogenetic engineers started calling the hybrids we experiment with chimera. But when I started work with chimera my second year at Oregon State, I asked my computer what the term meant." She paused, and met Gen's gaze. "The definition I got was 'grotesque monster.' "

Gen waited. She wasn't sure how this related to Cedric's night terrors.

"Grotesque monster." Moya shook her head. "Sometimes I would look at Cedric and the other animals I worked with, and I would wonder which one of us were the real monsters. I think of some of the things I did—still do—and I realize I don't want to know."

"Anna thinks I shouldn't keep him. She believes I shouldn't have taken him in the first place."

"Anna's a kind-hearted woman who has seen a lot of pain and death." Moya pushed her chair back. It squealed against the concrete floor. "She tries to heal people and chimera. What she doesn't realize is how damage really works. Let's take you, for example. Those famous legs of yours are as good as they've always been, despite the destruction the car did to them."

Gen sat very still. Her legs tingled at the mention. She clenched her fists, dropping them to her side.

"But they're not the same legs you had before. No damage remains, but your legs are changed. They may be genetically similar, they might even be regrown legs from your DNA, but they are not the legs you were born with, and never will be again. All that exercise, all that muscle training, it's gone. Your legs are different, and there's nothing you can do about that."

Moya glanced at Gen's clenched hands, then back at Gen's eyes. Gen had frozen in her seat, like Cedric did when she made the darkness disappear.

"Healing is not the process of returning things to the way they were before. It's the acceptance of things the way they are now." Moya smiled ruefully. "Sometimes I think that's the biggest problem we created with our work. We created an expectation that everything will remain the same. It never does. No matter how much we want it to. It never does."

· · · · · 

Gen felt numb as she stepped out of the shop, looking both ways as Moya told her to. Moya had been worried about snipers; apparently attacks on chimera scientists were so common they weren't reported any more.

But no one took a shot at Gen, and she had gone half a block before she realized she was walking away from her car. She wasn't thinking. Her mind was preoccupied. It was as if parts of her had been cut off from the rest. She recognized this feeling; it had been with her in the first months after the accident.

When she finally got into the car, she hit a preprogrammed route home. The car took her down side streets, past the rivers and Portland's famous bridges. Her stomach clenched as the scenery grew more and more familiar. The scenery of her dreams.

She ordered the car to stop on Burnside. It pulled over, and she got out.

Her legs wobbled. She was nauseous and dizzy at the same time. But she went forward. Around the corner was Dar's favorite playground, in what had once been a brewery. The sky was grayer than it had been before, as gray as it had been that day.

She stopped at the crosswalk, looked down the empty street. In her mind, it wasn't empty at all. The car—blue and gold, without a driver—careened around the corner, bounced off the curb, and kept coming. She had one foot in the intersection. Dar was pulling her across.

The car hit them both and she went flying—above everything, spotlight on her, the world watching—like she had been when she leaped on stage. Only on a stage, someone always caught her. Someone caught her and held her up and twirled her while she arched her back and kept her toes en pointe.

But there was no one to catch her now. And when she looked down, on that agonizingly long flight, she saw Dar, crumpled, destroyed, bleeding, and she knew that she should have brought him with her, brought him into the air, where it was safe.

It was safe.

And then she landed.

Gen leaned against the edge of the building, the nausea so strong that she had to breathe deeply to hold it back. The second hit had happened, but not in the way she remembered it. She had been flying, she landed, and then the car spun into her.

And still she had crawled toward Dar.

· · · · · 

Somehow she found her way to her own car. Somehow it got her home. When she entered the house, Cedric was sitting near the door, his back to her. She scooped him up and cradled him like a child, ignoring his squirming, holding him close. She carried him with her into the bedroom, and lay on the bed.

He slipped out of her arms, stood uncertainly for a moment, then lay down beside her, not touching her. He wasn't a child. She knew that. He wasn't a child and he wasn't a kitten; he wasn't human and he wasn't a cat.

He was, by definition, a grotesque monster.

But only because of things that had been done to him, not because of things he had done to himself.

They weren't that different, he and she. She was a grotesque monster too, with enhancements and parts she had never been born with. She and Cedric were bound—not by loss, as Dr. Prichard had wanted Gen to bind with that dog, but by night terrors and mistrust and a conviction that life wasn't going the way that it should.

She petted Cedric's side, smoothing his fur. After a moment, he sighed, and eased closer to her, his feline face upturned toward the light.

Life hadn't gone the way it should have, and nothing would change that. No matter what she did, nothing would change that moment when Dar's hand slipped from hers. Life was different now. And, like Cedric, she had come out of a deep darkness.

It had taken her a long time, but she was finally ready. Ready to turn her face toward the light.

The End

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© 2000 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and SCIFI.COM.