"Miss Paige. Miss Paige, can you hear me?"
The woman in the tank opened her eyes slowly and blinked, then her eyes went wide and she tried to scream, thrashing about.
"Miss Paige! Listen to me! There is no need to panic. There has been an accident, a terrible, terrible accident. You are submerged in a holding tank that is helping to keep your body processes slowed down, at least for now.”
She continued thrashing.
“You're not actually drowning, your brain has simply convinced you to react as if you are. It is conditioned to believe certain rules of physics that your life experience has trained it to perceive as true. Just try to relax and think of something else, and your panic will subside momentarily."
Madelaine stopped thrashing for a second and looked out through the glass, then started pounding.
"I'm afraid that will do you no good miss Paige. That particular tank was designed to hold a gorilla that would go through much more of a panic than you are right now, and is made of two-inch thick polycarbonate. I really hadn't planned on using it on a human, but there was really very little choice."
Madelaine stopped and stared, realizing for the first time that she was naked. Instinctually she tried to cover herself.
"Oh my dear, we are far beyond that stage of our relationship. I've had a rather close study of every aspect of your anatomy for the last nineteen days, or at least as best I could while keeping you in that isolation tank. And I should mention that it is what is keeping you alive... well," the doctor paused, "at least keeping you from decaying quite so quickly.
She looked at him, tried to form words, to speak.
"No my dear, you can't really talk. I do so wish you could, because I would love to know what is going on in that lovely head of yours. How much do you remember? Ah, no, that won't do at all. Let me think."
He brought a lab chair over and sat down in front of the tank, bringing his face closer.
"Let's try this: one blink for yes, two blinks for no. Do you understand?"
She stared at him, and blinked once, slowly.
"Good, good! Oh this is progressing so much better than I had hoped. Now, do you remember anything of the accident?"
Madelaine blinked once, then shook her head and blinked twice.
"Ah, difficulty. I suppose that is to be expected. Very well, do you remember your employment for Bridge?"
One blink. Then two.
The doctor sighed. "I had been working for Bridge Pharmaceuticals on a very intensive bioengineering project. I was trying to slow down the aging process, to reverse it if possible, through a few different stem-cell agents. About a year ago, I had made a distinct breakthrough and was making some good headway with the animal testing that we had been doing on rats and pigs-- did you know that biologically, rats and pigs have a great deal in common with humans, my dear?
A pause, and a blank stare.
"I suppose should have expected that you would be confused, you poor thing. You would of course know this, but I will help you remembering until your mind can begin to find its bearings.
"We were in a position to try some more advanced testing on primates, when I was first diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer, a rare form, quite difficult to treat.
"Mister Bridge Senior was quite nice and assured me that they would do everything in their power to get me the best treatment possible, but as things progressed, it became quite obvious to me that none of the treatments were working. And they left me so ill that I couldn't really keep on with my research. Much as I demanded, then finally begged and pleaded, they decided after several months to put me on an indefinite medical leave."
Doctor Deckard motioned around him. "I knew this would happen, of course, it is a kind of inevitability. In foresight, I was able to alter the course of several pieces of research equipment here to my own laboratory."
Madelaine stared around the room as best she could from the pinkish interior of the tank.
"The early 1950's were a strange time indeed, and the owner of this particular house had built a rather sophisticated bomb shelter, at least for the time. Reinforced concrete walls, several feet thick. Built to withstand a nuclear bomb. Of course, at the time they didn't know that the real problem with nuclear war had nothing to do with the bomb blasts, but that's all that the world had any knowledge of at the time. They had no context for the future."
The doctor was seized by a coughing fit. Madelaine just stared.
"The company had no idea, of course. The books were altered well enough by a young man in the procurement division with a particular taste for some of the more experimental pharmaceuticals. I suspect that one day he will be caught, but I believe that by that time, I will have as they say, shuffled off this mortal coil. Hopefully I can come up with a solution before then, but it is a kind of race.
"And you my dear, that is where you come in. You were elected to become my caregiver."
She blinked once, slowly.
"Ah, you do remember! Wonderful! You higher brain functions seem to be progressing, I was hoping they would. It's difficult to tell with animals how much they remember.
"I was rather annoyed with you at first. I did not need someone meddling in my affairs, taking me away from my research. My life, sinking away like sand in an hourglass, and you coming twice a day to fluff my pillows and make me swallow those god-awful pills. I really didn't take them, you know. Spit them out when you weren't looking.
"Not that I didn't mind the company, of course. You are... were quite pleasant. Enjoyable, even. Not that you would see anything of substance in an old man such as myself dying of cancer, but I grew rather fond of you. I suppose it might have been a bit of vanity on my part to think that if I were able to cure my own illness that you would see something in me, see past the wrinkled facade, and into my heart."
"Now my dear, don't be like that. Everything has changed now, and I'm afraid we don't have much time.
"It was your fault, really. You came early and unexpectedly. I was undergoing one of my own treatments, and you did not handle well seeing the whole intravenous setup and syringe that I was about to inject. It was never in the plan for you to see any of this, and I wish to God that it had never happened, but it did. And you quite simply slipped and fell. I reached for you, I tried to grab you, but I am simply too old and too slow.
"You must have hit your head on the way down, because by the time I had reached you, you were completely gone."
Madelaine stared, frozen, her eyes wide.
"You see my dear, you died. And that is the most unfortunate truth of the whole ordeal."
She blinked, then blinked twice, then twice more, faster.
"You remember now, don't you?"
Madelaine shut her eyes tight.
"I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I gave you the injection directly into your carotid artery. I massaged it into your neck as best I could and tried CPR for a while, then I brought you down here. I couldn't lose you..."
The doctor broke into tears then, great, racking sobs of misery.
"It wasn't ready yet. I could only cease the cellular destruction of some types of nervous tissue and maintain some level of regeneration of muscle tissue, but I couldn't stop the degradation and necrosis that comes with death. It's why I have you in the tank now, to keep the tissues from decaying while I find a cure for this last piece of the puzzle."
"Don't you see? In this tank, I can keep you from decaying, from really, truly, irreversibly dying. As long as I can keep you here, there is a chance! I am so close, and when I am done, I will have conquered death itself!"
"You don't understand yet, but you will, " he said, and turned away. Madelaine kept blinking twice, over and over.
She couldn't tell if she was crying.
The explosion took the doctor by surprise, and blew him against a rack of glassware and vials, shards of glass cutting into his flesh before he hit the floor. There was smoke and fire and lights flashing all around, and a sharp ringing in his ears. He saw shapes moving in the smoke, and tried to stand up to warn them off.
The last think he felt was a bursting white-hot pain in his chest before he died.
"MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!" came a voice from one of the shapes, muffled by the gasmask he was wearing. "Suspect down, I repeat suspect down!"
A jumble of voices, all taking over each other.
"Oh, my god."
"What is it?"
"Sarge, get over here!"
"Get her out of there, NOW!"
Two of the uniformed men unlatched the tank and lifted the naked woman out of the freezing liquid. "Get an ambulance here now!"
The two paramedics in back were having difficulty. They had put an oxygen mask on the woman's face, but she didn't seem to be breathing properly. She was still coughing up frothy pinkish fluid.
"Got no pulse!"
"Eyes are open, pupils reactive."
"Step on it Murphy!"
"Going as fast as I can!"
Jacobson kinda liked working the overnight shift at the city morgue. The whole "graveyard shift" joke was something that he kinda liked, and really, it was just a bunch of dead bodies hanging around in a big refrigerator. For the most part, everything was quiet, and he could lose himself in tunes and play Graveyard Defenders on his phone. Shit man, it was a sweet gig, even if it didn't pay all that well. Once in a while things heated up, like tonight when they brought in that crazy doctor something-or-other, big-ass shotgun hole in his chest. Some weird shit gone down with the S.W.A.T team, crazy dude keeping some naked chick in a tank of water. That shit is decidedly fucked up, and as they say, fucked up shit, take another hit.
He took out his pipe, dropped in a small bud, and drew in a quick hit, heading into the main autopsy room and turning on the huge overhead fan. It was cold as shit in there, and the fan was designed to draw out the stink of dead bodies; it worked pretty well to pull out the smoke from his hitter as well. He exhaled directly up and into the vent, noticing how the swirl of smoke became a smooth, rapid pull as it got caught in the vortex of the industrial blower.
He didn't notice the body bag behind him starting to move.