Chapter 1:

A [New Dawn] Under Twilight

Half Human [Patient Zero]

[[8:20 PM, August 8th, 2020. Serpho, Ohio.]]

[[Log 1. 100%.]]

The leaves flutter by me as I trek through the deep forest. Sweat beads on my forehead—it’s been a couple hours. A grin spreads on my face.

Heh. Kind of ironic how helpful that survivalist training was.

A tangle of vines blocks my intended course. Rather than finding my way around, I hack through them with my machete. Its curved blade reflects the sharp rays of the dusk sun. I keep on pushing.

Dad’s reaction would be priceless. ‘Niko’s out in the woods!’ Great. ‘He’s gonna find a laboratory for his thesis paper!’ Not so great. Swear to God, you couldn’t say the word ‘science’ near that guy.

I push myself up onto a high boulder, wiping the moss on my pants. A moment passes as I scout out my surroundings. I can see the city lights way far-off. It’s a feeling of isolation, but not an unwelcome one. Science makes sense. People don’t.

A dilapidated concrete wall comes into view above the treeline, somewhere nearby. Urban legend goes that a facility just… showed up one day, back a few years ago. It’s pretty remote, so it’s hard to get to—and there’s no cell service, so if you get trapped, it’s a death sentence.

Rumor has it that the laboratory was run by a group of mad scientists. Apparently they were doing human experiments, cloning, artificial intelligence; stuff way ahead of their time. The place is abandoned now. No one knows why.

I’m here to find out.

As a genetic scientist—well, genetic sciences major, I’m working on it—I’ve always wanted to find out what makes us human. Is there some specific part of us that separates us from other animals? Is that separation even real? If there’s any chance the abandoned lab found out, I’ve got to investigate.

I’m an innately curious person; I want to know everything I can. It makes me a great scientist, but a terrible son. My parents had a pretty particular image of what they wanted me to be. When I didn’t turn out like that, I was a failed experiment. They moved on to my sister, then my brother after her. It’s hard to say whether they’re bad parents, but I’m not fond of them.

My curiosity can be morbid sometimes. Venturing out into a massive forest for the sake of an indefensible rumor is a good example. I’m committed to it, at least. To me, it’s like owing a debt to the truth—I have to pay it back one way or another, no matter how long it takes.

So that’s why I’m here, standing now in front of the looming laboratory building. If it had a logo, it’s not here anymore. There’s yellow caution tape lining the front entrance, loosened and felled by time. I take the step over it into the unknown.

A low mist hangs in the air as the sun sets behind me, casting long, dark shadows on anything in its path. The room’s a lobby of some sort. Why would a bunch of mad scientists make a lobby for their secret hideout? That’s stupid.

Confused, I investigate—the first clue catches my eye underneath the overgrown reception desk. I kneel down and brush away some of the leaves to get a better look. It’s a plaque, or something:


Est. 1957

A better future starts with a deliberate present.

Yeah, better future, sure. I don’t think this is what they meant. But… 1957? They only found this place in, what, 2015? There’s a whole sixty-ish years there. It’s not like the lab just appeared overnight, right? How long ago did they abandon this place?

The sun just about dips below the horizon, so I take out my phone and switch on the flashlight function. I know a thing or two about survival, but I’m not high-brow on tools. Why buy a whole flashlight when a phone works fine? (I actually would have bought one. One of my greatest curiosities is that constant zero in my bank account.)

Unsurprisingly, the phone doesn’t do much, but it’s enough to keep looking. I hop over the counter and search for a map of the facility. If I can get my hands on a floor plan, scouring the place’ll be a lot easier.

I get lucky—inside one of the drawers is the laboratory’s layout, compiled in a dusty, wrinkly file folder. I sift through the floors and scan each document, trying to find anything suspicious.

Huh. It looks like most of the floors are office spaces. That makes me doubt the whole ‘mad scientists’ theory a lot. Plus, how do you get a thousand office workers commuting to an abandoned forest every day? Something’s up here.

Out of options, I use the floor plan to guide my path to the stairwell. I have to cut a few vines with my machete as I walk—the hallway is nature’s dwelling. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how long it takes a building to succumb to nature, but it can’t be less than a decade.

When I approach the stairs, I realize quickly they won’t be a great option. There’s a fallen tree blocking the door from the inside. Well, crud. How much you wanna bet the elevator’s down, too? I ask myself.

A couple paces later, and I find what looks like the elevator. The doors are ajar and worn, their finish rusted and decayed by the ages. I only see pitch-black behind them. I shine my flashlight between the cracks, and—

CLATTER! My phone falls down the empty shaft. I stare at the opening with an empty gaze, my soul hollow. “God. Dammit.”

Shit, I have to get that. I need my GPS to get home. I pry open the door with a heavy grunt and peek my head inside. I can see my phone’s flashlight shining back up at me, somehow still on. Thank God.

I can’t gauge how far it is down. It’s too dark—and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to know. With another tug, the doors open wide enough for me to squeeze through. I reach my hand out and grab onto the rusty pulley wire, hoping it won’t be a long descent.

By the time I make it down, my arms and legs are in agony. How many fucking floors does this place go down?! How’d they dig up this much dirt? I pick up my phone with a shaky hand and check the screen for cracks. I can only half-see the fractured display.

Whatever. I’m down here now. I should start looking around. I hop up to the nearest floor and scan the room with my newly-broken cell phone. This looks more like the mad scientists’ den I’d pictured. Vials, logs, chemical samples, computers—I feel my heart pick up pace. It’s a certain kind of uneasy excitement, like solving an ages-old mystery.

But as soon as my flashlight pans over something else, I lose all of that. I instinctively back off, shivering. Blood. Probably human blood. It’s… smeared all over the floor. Handprints. Fresh handprints.

I gag and look away, unprepared for a discovery like that. It takes me a minute to process before I’m able to investigate it. The blood is still liquid. That means, timing-wise, it was spilled about… well, I don’t know. I’m not CSI. But it’s fresh, I can see that for sure.

I’m no doctor. Genetic science usually only deals with blood in samples—nothing like this. I steel myself and try to ignore it as I look around the rest of the room. The floors are polished tile, the walls a clean, glossy black. I can almost make out my reflection.

Why is everything here so new? This place is abandoned, right? I start to doubt that, too. The slightest creak in the foundation puts me on edge; I can’t hold my flashlight straight.

I take a moment to get my thoughts straight and make a decision. I have a really bad gut feeling here. My body’s telling me to get the hell out of here. But… I want to know what happened. No, I need to know what happened. Morbid curiosity’s called that for a reason.

I start checking the logs. If I find anything interesting enough for my thesis, I’ll call it a day. Unfortunately, the only files I can get at are the physical ones. The computers are dead, probably because the laboratory is off the grid. Being in the middle of a forest, I question how it ever got power in the first place.

I find a slip of paper on the lab counter, affixed to a clipboard. I hesitantly pick it up and read it over:

New Dawn Experiment, Research Log | 8.9.19

Marin Beta-White, Ph.D.

The project is a failure. Because of a freak accident, our research has been compromised. Only a prototype remains, set to deteriorate in a year’s time—if left undiscovered, the earth will meet its gruesome end to plagues of famine and the ravages of war.

We were unable to take the necessary precautions for deployment because of the threat. The project’s completion remains unlikely, especially as it involves the executives’ approval. Considering how terribly few results the Many-Worlds project yielded, and the awful predicament our entire facility is in because of it, further backing for my projects will be questionable at best. They might as well divvy me up for rations.

I have placed the planet’s last hope within B9’s airlock chamber, where the experiment’s records are stored. It is not to be handled without the proper authorization.

The fuck is it talking about, ‘the planet’s last hope’? What’s that supposed to mean?! I look over the log again, hoping I’d just misread it. And the date—this place was still operational last year? How?

I tear the paper off the clipboard and pocket it. It has to mean something—I can’t just leave it here. Using the floor plan I grabbed, I locate B9, which appears close by. After getting my bearings straight, I reach a circular hatch. There’s a faint fiery glow flickering from the edge, a soft inferno blazing below. I clutch the handle and pry it open, like I’m squeezing venom from a snake’s jaws.

Spiraling down is a long staircase, lit only by faint orange emergency lights. It’s the only place left with power. They conserved it all for whatever’s down here. I drop down and make the trek, feeling my heart beat faster every step I take. The air slowly gains a metallic twinge.

It smells like iron, but in the sort of way that would choke you out if you stayed in it too long. It’s already starting to get to me. Bewildered, I continue down the stairwell.

Drip, drip. A slow, eerie sound hits my ears, like a water leak before a burst pipe. It gets faster and faster. Rounding off the final bend, I blink at the gruesome scene laid before me.

…Corpses…! I can’t hold my stomach acid back. There are three bodies scattered about the room, as if they died minutes ago. A grinning scientist with her stomach sliced open, a young boy pinned to the wall with a spear through his back, a girl about my age perforated with bullet holes—and they’re all still bleeding. Drip, drip.

My body is frozen in place for a moment, staring at their glazed, lifeless eyes. Swallowing my fear, I wipe my mouth and approach the scientist. Her body convulses a little; I hope it’s rigor mortis. She’s laid just in front of the airlock door. I creep around her and try the handle.

“KEYCARD IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED.” …Fuck. I force myself to pluck the scientist’s card off of her smiling corpse. Gagging, I stumble back and scan it haphazardly, my eyes shut tight. Sorry, I apologize to the dead employee, it’s to save the world.

I hear whirring noises behind the metal exterior of the doorframe. Suddenly, there’s a click, and the door opens into a small chamber. “IDENTITY CONFIRMED. MARIN BETA-WHITE.”

Everything here is wrong. I take the step inside and wait for the airlock. Nothing makes sense. Office spaces in a forest, a date of operation that can’t be right. Some massive failed experiment, and a savior for the world. Fresh blood. Dead bodies. I can’t take it all. I need to get out.

When the door finally opens, I’m met with a strange capsule. Cryogenic steam billows out from vents lining its sides. It glows white from the inside. It’s our last hope.

What if it's not? Is that risk worth it?

I try to check the files inside the room, but all the cabinets are locked. No keycard is going to get past a keyhole, so I try busting them open. One solid kick dents the metal, another does the same, but the drawers aren’t coming loose. The orange lights flicker on and off after every impact.

Even when I stop, though, they keep on flickering. A realization dawns on me. The power’s going out. What do I do? What do I do?!

I take one last look at the billowing smoke and make my decision. Partly out of preemptive guilt, and partly out of curiosity, I thrust my hand forward and unlatch the capsule just as the power shuts off for good.

Silence. The lab’s gone dark. I bring out my flashlight again and check the canister I just opened. There’s… nothing? Did it already deteriorate? I question. No, there’s no way.

I look frantically all over the capsule for something, anything of the truth. All I find is a label inside:

New Dawn Experiment, Prototype 3MV

Eclipse Time: ~3 Months

Sample Size: 1075 Species

Genetic Splicer / Viral Vector

Viral vector…?! That’s… this is a virus! I cover my mouth and try not to breathe. No, no, nonono. That’s wrong, that’s wrong! The earth’s last hope is a virus?! What the fuck were they doing?!

I breathe hard, in and out—it takes over my lungs. My heart beats rapidly, pumping infected blood all through my body. The lifeless laboratory constricts around me, so tight I might choke. I fall backwards and lie against a wall, panicking.

Calm down, Niko. You can’t feel it spreading, that’s your brain making things up. It’s a placebo. Even if the virus is real, it can’t kill you that fast. It wouldn’t be able to spread. I scramble to my feet and kick at the drawers again, fueled with fear and adrenaline. The entire shelf busts open. Papers scatter.

With one hand on my flashlight, I rustle through the files desperately. What is this thing? What’s it gonna do to me?! I pierce my hand on the back end of a staple—a packet sticks to it. I shake off the blood in a frenzy and read the front.

New Dawn Experiment

The earth is sick and dying. Soon enough, it will be unable to harbor life. This is solely the fault of one species in particular—the human race.

In order to save the planet, its scourge must be eradicated. To kill eight billion humans, though, is to ensure life never grows again. Instead, human life must be transfigured.

By methodically splicing the genes of common animal species with human cells, it is possible to entirely convert an individual from one species to another. To ensure a new dawn for our beloved planet, intelligent life must pay the price. We, the remaining humans, will start again, this time in harmony with nature, not in competition.

The only sound I hear is the thumping against my ribcage, my heart a caged animal begging to be let free. I read the mission statement a second time. A third. Nothing changes. That’s it, then. I press my arm to the glass wall and stare at myself. Science makes sense—people don’t.

If I ever leave… humanity dies. And it’ll be all my fault. A pained expression spreads on my reflection’s face. That’s not something I’m ready to deal with.

And even if I could leave, am I… am I even human anymore?

[[Log 1 end. 99% Human.]]

Taylor J
Steward McOy