UPDATED IN #10
The unnamed NARRATOR grew up in a strict household, where his mother once killed a beloved pet out of pettiness and a need for control, and his father never even dared smile without his wife’s permission.
His life changes at the University of Chicago, where he is finally able to escape his childhood prison and think for himself. He can wonder about the people around him, wonder what’s wrong with them, why they can’t just be – well, he doesn’t actually know what they should be like. Just not like this.
Animals, though, are far easier to understand. Especially these poor little lab rats. What did they ever do to deserve this fate of becoming test vessels? It’s this combination, his love of innocent animals and wariness of humans that he takes with him when he finally graduates.
Soon after, he’s on the subway when the smell hits him first. Some guy had drunken himself into a stupor, fell asleep, and proceeded to shit himself. Such disregard. Such simple-minded idiocy. He’s filled with a rage that he’s never felt before. It takes over his mind and takes him to thoughts he shouldn’t have: if brains were bigger, would people be smarter? And if so, how could he make brains bigger?
The research begins. Combining diseases, picking and choosing traits for an abomination. And he knows it. He knows it’s dangerous and he should never have done it. He knows he should really destroy it.
But before he can, the little vial of disease vanishes.
Panic becomes relief that it’s gone, that it’s out of his hands. And he hopes and prays that it really is gone, that nothing will come of this carelessness.
Two years later, he sees a newspaper headline, proclaiming “Seven Dead from Mysterious Cause.” Whatever it is has caused brains to expand to enormous proportions, spilling out of the skull and pushing through eye sockets and ear canals.
For a moment, he feels proud of his scientific achievement before everything comes crashing back down. People have died and it’s his fault. Or is it his fault? He never did manage to test it, so he can’t know for sure.
He doesn’t know how to deal with any of this and his conclusion is that he needs isolation, only to be pulled back out by a phone call from an old classmate. She informs him that the disease has killed millions and she too has been infected and off to die in quarantine. She’s calling to ask him to join the team for the cure.
He hesitates. Even though he knows that all of this is his fault, he doesn’t want to admit responsibility. Eventually, he agrees, thinking he could end all this misery. After all, he made the disease, he should be able to destroy it.
But soon he finds out that the disease has mutated beyond anything he’s ever thought possible. All he can do is keep going, keep trying, and especially now that his father has been sent to quarantine.
Days and weeks blur together. The long hours and the constant failures finally start to catch up to him and he feels himself breaking. It’s after he hears of his father’s death that he can’t take it anymore.
He wakes up in a hospital, the nurse informing him that he was found surrounded by a broken mirror, long gashes running down his arms.
He tries to leave, claiming he needs to go back to work. But they refuse, determined to send him and his infected body to quarantine instead. The day is saved when one of his coworkers comes to secure his release, arguing that there’s so few of them left now that it doesn’t even matter who’s infected. They need people to research.
Together, they escape, careening down hallways and through parking garages before finally reaching safety. And then it’s off to Chicago, where he searches for an answer where it all began.
Back in the library, the beautiful glass dome, he sits and watches the students, admiring their lack of concern for the national health crisis. They’re still out and about, studying, complaining about exams, working late nights in the library, just like he used to. And he realizes that he’s not making the cure for himself, for the people who have died, he’s making it for them, for these students, for their future.
And suddenly, he know what he’s been doing wrong.
He rushes back to the lab and a flurry of experiments later, the lab sends it off to be tested. And then they wait. And wait.
Finally, they get the call. Everything will be okay.
And now, he can cry for the billion lives he’s destroyed.