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After Nicol had agreed to see Laverick’s final revelation – with the caveat that it had better be quick – Laverick had fallen into a stunned silence.
He moved much more slowly, deliberately.
It was like the life had been kicked out of him.
‘Please, follow me,’ he said, his words hushed, a million miles from the euphoric zealot he’d been a mere minute ago.
Nicol was puzzled by the change in his demeanour, but the doctor was strange, there was no doubt about that.
He just put it down to being yet another character flaw.
Laverick brought him into a room with grey breezeblock walls. It looked like the kitchen area of the converted garage.
There was a small sink on the right hand wall.
Next to it was a fridge that let out a loud and irritating hum.
Over in the left hand corner was a large chest freezer.
It was hidden beneath a tartan blanket, but even from here, Nicol could see that the freezer was perfectly clean, to the point of obsession.
It looked to be the only thing in the entire place that had actually ever been cleaned and it stuck out like a sore thumb.
‘This is it here,’ Laverick said, indicating the freezer in the corner, his expression that of chief mourner at a funeral.
Nicol tried not to show his bemusement.
There was obviously something close to Laverick’s heart in here, and he didn’t want to further upset him.
Already Laverick’s eyes were glimmering as though they were filling up with tears.
‘Are you ok?’ Nicol asked.
Laverick ignored him.
‘When you see this – my motivation and inspiration if you will – I think you may reconsider. At least I hope you will.’
Nicol stood, stunned.
All the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up.
His blood seemed to have dropped in temperature by a few degrees.
Laverick let out a world-weary sigh and approached the chest freezer.
He removed the blanket from the top, tutted as he saw what he took to be a stain – Nicol couldn’t see anything, but he got the impression that this freezer had to be kept obsessively clean – then picked up a cloth from the worktop and scrubbed at it for thirty seconds.
He stood back, inspecting his handiwork, gave it a few extra scrubs, nodded to himself as if satisfied, then put the cloth back.
His hand grasped the handle of the freezer, his eyes closing as if daring himself to do it.
He took a deep breath in.
Opened the freezer lid.
Steam came out as the cold air in the freezer met the warm outside air.
Laverick’s glimmering eyes were bleeding tears which fell into the freezer and its unseen contents.
He bent down slowly, scooped something up in his arms and stood up straight.
His body shook with sobs, his face reddened.
His composure and confidence had vanished like piss in the wind.
Nicol tried to see what it was he held, but he could only see a white woollen blanket draped over whatever Laverick cradled so carefully.
‘This… is my son… Martin,’ Laverick said, his voice cracking with emotion. ‘He was taken from us one day after he was born.’
Nicol was gobsmacked.
He had absolutely no idea what to say to Laverick, who by now was in the midst of a full-on breakdown.
It was as though seeing the tiny, frozen corpse of his son had renewed his feelings of the day he’d been taken from them.
‘This is why you have got to help me. Because one day I will hold him, watch him learn to walk, listen to him speak his first words. One day I will read stories to him, chase him around the house and listen to his sweet laughter. There’s a huge hole in my life that can only ever be filled when this little chap breathes again.’
Nicol said nothing.
There didn’t seem to be anything he could say.
‘I know that this is within our grasp. I know it. But I need the technology to be perfect before I risk defiling my son’s body. In short, it has to work for him before I’ll even try it.
‘This is my obsession, my purpose. The reason I was put on this earth. To stop others from feeling this emptiness that I feel every day. It stains my soul. It corrupts even my happiest moments. And I will not rest until I see him draw his first breath. Now do you see why you have to help me?’
Nicol looked up at him gingerly, scared to meet his eye and see the sorrow and heartbreak and madness that dwelled there.
Laverick was staring down at his son, muttering to him, stroking his frozen cheek like he was a normal living baby.
His tears fell, making tiny sounds as they landed on Martin’s forehead.
He scowled and hastily wiped it off with his thumb.
‘I’m sorry, Martin,’ he said. ‘Not today, my love. But one day… one day.’
He held him close for a minute, his entire body shaking with the force of his grief, then he reverently wrapped Martin’s body in the blanket again and placed him back into the freezer.
He blew a very tender kiss to him then closed the lid.
Again, he picked up the cloth and scrubbed at the same section he’d cleaned before.
After replacing the cloth, he knelt beside the freezer for a second, his forehead bowed against it, in a manner that reminded Nicol of a mourner beside the coffin of a loved one.
He then kissed it, stood back and replaced the blanket.
‘Dr Laverick, can I first say that I am deeply, deeply sorry for your loss. I can see your dedication to your work. And now, having seen Martin – he’s beautiful by the way – I can understand it. But I have a number of concerns about what we are doing here.’
‘As any sane man would,’ Laverick smiled, thumbing tears from both eyes. ‘I apologise for my loss of control a moment ago. It’s just… so hard.’
‘Not at all.’
‘Yes, I agree this is not your everyday situation. But, in terms of your concerns about money, if I could have Martin alive and breathing in my arms, I would happily give every penny I have ever made. We could charge pretty much what we wanted, especially as we have got the market cornered.’
‘That is a fair point, and one I hadn’t considered until now.’ Nicol got the impression that Laverick was steering him away from the awkward questions that he was going to ask.
And doing a damn good job of it too.
‘Dr Laverick, may we please address the concerns I have?’
Laverick looked around the room for a second.
It was clear by his body language, which had become very stiff and awkward, that he didn’t want to answer these questions.
This put Nicol on edge already.
He got the impression that he didn’t want to know the answers.
‘Ok, first of all, the child that had the battery in its skull. Where did it come from?’
Laverick shifted from foot to foot, tutting loudly.
‘Where do you think it came from, Dr Nicol?’
Nicol debated coming straight out with it and decided that it was the best course of action.
‘Well, judging by the little coffin-shaped box and the muck on the handles, I’d say you dug the poor mite up out of the graveyard.’
Laverick let out a low chuckle that chilled his colleague’s blood. ‘Very astute, Dr Nicol. I neither deny nor acknowledge this accusation.’
Nicol felt a jolt of alarm.
‘Did you have the parent’s permission to bring him back here?’
Laverick shook his head, a smile on his face. ‘I thought it would be a lovely surprise for them.’
Nicol could feel himself becoming angry.
Despite the honourable intentions behind his research, Laverick wasn’t within a transatlantic flight of his right mind.
‘But surely you must realise that digging up someone’s dead baby and experimenting on it might be something that the parents would find upsetting?’
‘Of course. But it’s a case of omelettes and eggs here, isn’t it, Dr Nicol?’
‘Omelettes and eggs?’ Nicol spat.
‘The risk of offending the parents is more than worth it if the child is successfully brought back to life. Imagine their faces when I tell them their child is once again drawing breath.’
‘You’d really show them that pitiful fucking thing in there?’ Nicol snapped.
‘Well, probably not that one, but, once we’ve established the methods, the future generations of my digital children will be something that would inspire awe in even the most immovable of people.’
Nicol sighed, shook his head hard.
He went to talk, but stopped himself.
After taking a couple of deep breaths, he began again: ‘Laverick, I understand why you are doing this. I really do. If I was in your shoes I’m sure I’d do the same. But what you are talking about is five, ten, maybe even more years in the future. If we can sustain the funding and the research into the technology. And that, given the area you are working in, is a huge if. I honestly don’t think it is going to come to fruition.’
Laverick went to butt in, no doubt to defend the project that he was willing to take to his grave, but Nicol cut him off.
‘What you are doing to the bodies of these children is barbaric.’
‘But they are already dead, Dr Nicol. They can’t feel anything. And they may get the chance to live again.’
‘But what of the failed experiments? They’re being reborn into a world of pain and despair.’
‘Omelettes and eggs, Dr Nicol. Omelettes and eggs.’
‘And if the parents ever found out what you were doing you’d be wide open for legal action. I am deeply sorry for what happened to your son, Dr Laverick, but I really think you need to lay this to rest. You need to forget about all of this and, in my opinion, you need very thorough counselling to come to terms with the loss of your son. All of this is just prolonging your torment.’
‘I’m sorry, Dr Laverick. But I am not going to work with you any more on this. Please think about what I’ve said. And I hope one day you find the closure that you so desperately need.’
With that, he was out onto the drive.
Laverick followed him, shouting at the top of his lungs.
‘Please. Don’t give up on this. On him. I can do this. I know I can. Please… help me to make this happen.’
But it was too late.
Nicol was already in his car, the modified garage and its macabre contents in his rear-view mirror.
Laverick sat with head in hands for a few minutes after Nicol had gone, but then he focussed himself.
If Nicol wasn’t going to work with him on this, he would do it without him.
His quest to re-animate Martin would continue until he was successful or he was in a box in the ground.
Those were the only two outcomes as far as Laverick was concerned.
He did as much as he could, finding that as he became more focussed on his work, the problem of losing Nicol’s backing soon faded into the background like a radio being slowly tuned out.
He did a few more hours, feeling that he had managed to add a little progress to his cause.
Sighing, he laid a kiss on the top of the freezer that bore Martin’s frozen remains.
‘One day, my love,’ he said. ‘One day.’
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