By J.A Scarrott
It was a cloudless morning, golden light showered down upon the small town of Appiton. Quaint and quiet village folk slowly stirred as they carried out their morning routines. One such person was Marianne Mumford, who skipped her way down one of the winding village streets.
“Good morning Mr Thomas!” She called out joyously, waving a hand in the air.
An elderly man, who had just stepped out from the local post office, straightened his old, crooked spine as the young girl approached. With a large, leathery smile he replied, “Good morning Miss Mumford. Off to work I see?”
“I’ve been reading some of your articles in the Apple Press you know,” The old gentleman waved a copy of the town’s newspaper, before tucking in back under his arm. “Keep up the good work missy.”
“I will Mr Thomas. Have a good day!” Marianne waved her goodbyes to the friendly local and continued on her way.
As she walked, she began to fiddle with a hair bobble, pulling back her rich, chestnut hair and tying it neatly into a bouncy bun. Revealing the soft features of her pale, freckled face.
She beamed with delight as she saw a rustic, red brick building come into view. With the words, ‘Apple Press’ displayed on its exterior in bold, steel, letters.
Marianne pushed the front door open and wiped her shoes on a floor mat. She made her way down a narrow corridor, squeezing past a colleague as they both hurriedly exchanged morning pleasantries. She twirled round a corner and into an intimate room, laden with desks that had an assortment of computers sat proudly upon them.
Marianne pulled out her swivel chair, that she has tucked away neatly the day before, and seated herself upon it. Joining the number of employees who encompassed her, who all sat their desks, hammering away at keyboard keys.
She slid her rucksack from her shoulders and reached out to boot up her computer. But before she had chance a voice called out to her, “I wouldn’t bother booting up this morning.”
Marianne turned to see her manager worming through the maze of desks toward her.
“Good Morning Phil,” She replied with a smile, “Is everything okay?”
He peered over his rectangular glasses, that sat on the tip of his red nose.
“Everything is fine. It’s just that you won’t be in the office much today.”
“I received this yesterday,” Phil sharply presented a small brown envelope to her, which she picked delicately from his hand.
“What is it?” She asked, inspecting the letter.
The Apple Press’s address was written across it in fine, flowing, handwriting, and large red ink seal had been stamped on its surface, which simply read “The Branch.”
Mariannes eyes widened, before drawing the pale letter from it’s envelope.
“This, is an incredible opportunity, for you.” Phil replied, pushing his thick rimmed glasses to the bridge of his nose.
The letter read:
To whom it may concern,
Dr Dourley and his research team at the The Branch laboratory have made a world changing scientific breakthrough.
We’d like to offer Apple Press full exclusive coverage of our findings and our works, on the condition that you send your junior journalist, Marianne Mumford, to report on them.
Please let us know if this opportunity interests you.
Dr I. Dourley
“Look, I know that you may feel uncomfortable going, on account of Dr Dourley and your father’s disagreement. But this far too good of an opportunity to give up.” Phil continued, as Marianne came to the end of the hand written letter, “People have been wondering what that Dourley guy has been doing in that bloody pyramid of his for years and now we’ve suddenly been given full access!”
Marianne slid the letter back into the brown envelope before placing it on her desk.
“You don’t need to convince Phil, I don’t mind going,” she replied, much to her boss’s surprise, “I haven’t seen Dr Dourley in years, I used to know him quite well when I was younger, I even called him Uncle Ian! That was back when he and my father worked together. It’ll be good to see him.”
“Well thats great then!” Phil replied with a wide delighted smile, “For I’ve already booked the taxi this morning. It should be waiting outside for you. Take your things and I’ll see you tomorrow morning okay?” He swiped the letter off her desk and grinned with delight, before leaving the room.
Marianne wasted no time and quickly checked the contents of her bag, before swinging it back over her shoulder. She left as quickly as she had arrived, filing out into the sunny street where a black taxi promptly pulled up beside the pavement.
After a short drive, into the rural countryside that surrounds Appiton, the taxi came to a stop. “Here we are, the fares already been paid for. Have a good one.”
Marianne peered out of the window, to see a wooden stile in the centre of a long green hedgerow.
“This can’t be right,” Marianne replied, turning in her seat to see only more hedges on either side of the small country lane, “I’m supposed to be going to The Branch… The large laboratory?”
The taxi driver looked at the girl via the rear view mirror and pointed a finger to the broken wooden stile. “Over that love, the pyramid is located in the centre of a field for one reason or another. I can’t get you any closer than this.”
Marianne slowly reached for the door handle, and awkwardly stepped out. The taxi took no time in waiting and instantly vanish down the country lane. Leaving nothing but a trail of muddy dust in the air.
The young girl hauled herself up the dirt embankment and clambered over the wooden stile into the open, emerald field. Standing majestically in the distance was the pyramidal laboratory itself.
Marianne had heard about the famous building, but had never seen it for herself. It was enormous in size, it’s four sloping face were made of blue, reflective, glass. It emitted a low glow ever as the morning sun’s ray bounces off it’s smooth, polished surface. The young journalist was overwhelmed by its grandeur.
Despite being a modern piece of architecture, the building blended well with the natural surroundings. It’s shimmer blue casing melted into the soft, cloudless, skies behind it.
Marianne made her way across the emerald field. Gliding through the blades of soft grass until the Pyramids mighty slopes towered above her. The Pyramid section of the building was not actually situated on the ground as it first appeared, but in fact sat upon a solid black box that supported the structure from beneath.
She looked about timidly as she tried to find signs of a door.
“Hello?” She called out softly.
“Miss Mumford?” A gentle female voice replied.
Marianne jumped, and turned on her heels to see a woman approaching her. She wore very smart, well fitted attire. That emphasised the bold, natural curves of her body. Her hair was perfectly straight and cut off sharply at her shoulders.
“Are you Miss Mumford?” The woman reiterated.
“That’s me,” Marianne replied, exchanging a handshake with the woman, “Sorry, I was unable to find the door.”
The woman laughed lightly, “Don’t worry about it Miss Mumford, The Branch has been designed to be… uninviting, so to speak. Would you like to follow me please, and I shall take you to see Dr Dourley.”
Marianne gave a nod and followed the woman to a section of solid, black steel wall. She tapped away at her smartwatch and a section of the wall shot open in front of them. The woman then lead the young journalist inside.
Marianne was greeted with a site of men and women, draped in long, white, lab coats. The atmosphere was a busy one and doused in a heavy chatter. Groups of people march to and fro, frantically attending to errands that their work demanded of them.
The young girl followed closely to her escort as they made their way through the streams of human traffic. They came to a halt beside a balding man who had his back turned to them. He was exchanging a conversation with a younger man and peering into an open folder that he held out in front of him.
“Dr Dourley,” the woman interrupted, “Miss Mumford is here to see you.”
Dourley instantly cut his conversation and issued the man away with a flick of his arm, before turning to Marianne.
“Anny?!” he cried with delight.
“Uncle Ian!” Marianne replied, she leapt forward and embraced the doctor tightly, “It’s been so long!”
“Years in fact!” Dourley rested both hands upon the young girl’s shoulders, “How have you been?”
“I’ve been well thank you!”
“So I hear, Miss Journalist,” Dourley grinned and gave her shoulders a tight squeeze before dropping his hands by his sides, “It’s honestly so good to see you again Anny, you’ve grown so much! Come, let’s continue our talk in my office!”
Dourley thanked the woman for escorting Marianne to him and then the two of them made their way into a lift. With a flick of a button, both Dourly and Marianne were whisked up to the top floor of the pyramid, where Dr Dourley’s office was located.
“This building is grand!” said Marianne beamed, choosing small talk over awkward elevator silence, “Rather inaccessible though… ”
“Thank you,” Dourley replied, “and I know. I designed it that way to deter people from visiting. I don’t want people sticking their noses where it isn’t wanted. Gone are the days that I openly share my research.” Dourley’s words trailed off, leaving a sour sting of bitterness on the air.
Marianne tried to reply, but the doors to the lift threw themselves open revealing a gleaming white corridor that stunk heavily of industrial cleaning chemicals.
Dourley paced off down the hallway, with Marianne close behind. He came to a halt at his office door and fumbled with a set of keys that he drew from a pocket. With a quick, twist of the wrist the door swung open and the pair made their way into the office.
Instantly, Marianne was met with a sight that fouled her eyes. Two rectangular tanks, filled with teal liquid, stood in the centre of the room, set a meter apart from one another. Each tank contained one half of a preserved pig, that had been surgically split directly down its centre. The grotesque cross section displayed the swines multi-coloured organs, the sight of which brought a sour taste to Marianne’s tongue.
“Please, this way,” Dourley invited her into the room, making his way between the two tanks. He strolled off toward a large, metallic desk that sat on the opposite side of the room.
Sheepishly, Marianne followed and made her way between the severed halves of the animal. She glanced up from the floor and caught a glimpse of the creature’s intestines, that were pressed against the glass like a twisted set of sausages.
Marianne involuntarily gagged and snapped her attention to the floor. Keeping her gaze fixed as such until she reached Dourley’s desk.
“Take a seat!” Dourley offered cheerily, pulling a chair from beneath his desk.
The pair sat themselves down and Marianne rested her bag beside her. After which a short silence set in the room.
Dourley avoided eye contact with the young journalist, instead looking awkwardly to his computer screen that glowed on the desk beside him.
“Uncle Ian?” Marianne asked tenderly, “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, yes. Quite fine.”
The girl let out a heavy sigh before continuing, “I think we should get the obvious elephant out of the room…”
Dourley stared aimlessly at the computer monitor for a moment, before turning to the young girl.
“I think that would be a good idea, for both of us.”
Marriage took a deep breath before saying, “I’m sorry that stuff got so messed up between you and dad. It was pretty messed up what he did.”
“You don’t need to apologise to me Anny,” Dourley replied, “You were only a young girl and innocent of it all. Besides, I’ve done alright for myself.”
The pair shared a warming smile.
“My only regret is that I let the affair come between us.”
“But now we’re finally reunited!” Marianne beamed with delight, “And, from what I hear, you’ve made a world changing discovery?”
“Yes! Yes! That is correct and is of course why I invited you here!” Dourley rested his forearms on the table and leaned toward Marianne, “I heard that you had started work as a junior journalist and I thought, what a better way for you to gain some experience, than being able to report on this world exclusive!”
Marianne tugged at the zipper on her bag, and pulled a leather bound notepad out from it’s depth. She gently rested it’s open pages on her folded legs.
“Then let us begin!” Marianne replied, as she clicked the end of a biro. Bringing the ballpoint tip to the lined paper.
“Absolutely,” Dourley leaned back into the depths of his office chair, “I thought I’d begin by giving you some background information about the project, so you can better understand the circumstances that helped lead me up to this moment. After which, I shall personally take you to see the culmination of my works.”
Marianne shuffled in her seat slightly as she prepared herself. Ready to scratch pen across paper.
“As you know, I have had a history of working in biology. My most notable work being the experiments that I carried out with your father, Dr Mumford.”
“Our work together was centred around the idea that we could alter the genetic structure of a pig’s DNA, so that it had the genetic identity of a human. The idea being that if a pig’s DNA were to read as a humans, then a person’s body wouldn’t reject organs sourced from that animal.”
Dourley stretched out a gangly arm and nodded his head towards the split pig that lay on display behind them.
The sourness returned, flaring up the sides of Marianne’s tongue.
“And as I recall, you both were very successful in achieving that goal?” Marianne added, as she turned back to face him.
“Indeed we were. Your father went on to be well recognised for the work that we did. However, as you know, I did not receive the same recognition he did and my name was left off the research papers.”
Marianne sprawling hand stopped as Dourley finished his sentence. She glanced up to him with a sorrowful stare.
“However!” Dourley beamed loudly, “It was a blessing in disguise. For I have built upon that research since and have created something truly spectacular! A method of growing human organs on demand, free of all ethical implications. Would you like to see?”
Marianne slammed the pages of her notebook together, “Yes! Absolutely!”
Dourley jumped from behind his desk and bounded through the two halves of the preserved pig once again. Marianne threw her notebook back into her bag, before walking swiftly after him. Following the Dourley as he vanished through the office door.
The pair wound through a series of rigid corridors, before making their way into a low lit room. It was featureless, except for a row of full body protection suits that lined one the rooms four walls.
“Please pick one and put it on.” Dourley asked, as he made his way to the suits, “We have to be extremely careful whilst inspecting the work.”
Marianne clambered awkwardly into one of the suits, pulling it over her clothes and securing a large dome helmet over her head.
Dourley then ushered her through a circular doorway and into a thin glass corridor. Jets of compressed steam hissed violently as a steel disk like door shut behind them. A white misty vapour fogged up the glass hallway.
Marianne looked to Dourley’s hazy figure in the fog and staggered after him. The scientist came to a standstill as another vault door appeared through the fog. A golden plaque was mounted on its centre with the words, “The Orchard, “ elegantly engraved upon it.
Dourley’s cumbersome fingers punched at a large keypad that was situated below the glossy plaque.
“I hope you’re ready,” he said to her, his voice crackled through an internal communication channel, shared by the suits.
The door rolled open and streams of sunlight bled from the opening. Marianne brought her gloved hand up over her visor, attempting to shield the blinding rays from her eyes.
However after several seconds of exposure, her eyes adjusted and the scene behind the doorway became clear.
Fresh, green grass blanketed the floor and a series of short trees stretched up from the soil. The scene looked as if it belonged to a farm in rural Italy, not a controlled, sterile laboratory.
Marianne staggered into the small ecosystem and cast her view upward to see a refractive glass ceiling spanning the roof above.
“Welcome to the point of the pyramid, home to the orchard,” Dourley announced. He caught sight of the girl staring up at the ceiling and explained, “The roof reflects, and amplifies, the outside sunlight. Which helps feed the trees that stand before you.”
“This is quite impressive,” Marianne replied, “but I’m failing to see what this has to do with organ transplantation?”
“Well why do you take a closer look at the fruits of my labour?” Dourley made his way beside one of trees and gently cupped an apple, that hung from it’s branch, “Look.”
Marianne shuffled toward him, staring intently at the red lump within his hand. Her eyes widened as fruit appeared to pulsate, pumping slowly in his palm.
“Is that… a heart?!” Marianne exclaimed, snapping her attention to the other branches of the tree. A collection of fleshly lumps hung from them, each of them wet and pulsating.
“They’re all human hearts. Ripe and ready for harvest,” Dourley’s fingers slipped from beneath the organ, “Each tree has been engineered to produce human hearts that have a human genetic identity. Each heart also acts as a blank slate, meaning two things. The first being that, they can be universally used on any patient and the chances of a body rejecting them is almost completely zero. We’re planning on starting human trials soon.”
Marianne peered up closely to one of the hearts and ran the back of her hand against it’s surface. She cupped it gently, feeling it thump softly between her fingertips.
“This is crazy…” She whispered in disbelief.
“The greatest ideas are. Have you seen enough for your report?”
“More than enough.”
“Good! Then I would recommend returning to my office, where I can explain the science behind it all, ” Dourley suggested, as he made his way back to the circular vault door, “plus I don’t like lingering in here for too long. For risk of contaminating my work.”
Marianne loosened her grip on the frail organ and let it hang gently from it’s tree branch. She turned her back on the magnificent orchard and joined Dourley as the disk door creaked open once again.
They both made there way through the glass hallway and removed their suits. Returning them to their resting place against the wall, after which they promptly returned to the Dourley’s shimmering office.
“So what did you think?” Dourley asked with intrigue, as they both approached his desk once again.
“What do I think? Uncle Ian, that orchard is unlike anything I’ve ever seen!” Marianne exclaimed, as she sat herself down, “It is world changing, there’s no doubt about that! You’re going to save so many lives.”
A smug smile slimed it’s way across Dourley’s face.
“The only thing I’m concerned about is whether my writing will do it justice or not!”
“I’m sure it will. Would you like me to continue by explaining the science behind it all?”
Marianne pulled her leather notebook back out from her rucksack, which was still poised by the side of her chair.
As she clicked her biro, a knock came from the office door. Marianne turned in her seat to see the straight haired woman who had met her previously, leaning in.
“Dr Dourley, can I borrow you for a moment?” The woman asked, “There’s been an incident.”
Dourley jumped up from his desk, “I’m sorry Anny, you’ll have to excuse me. I shan’t be long.”
“Take your time Uncle Ian,” Mariannae replied with a smile, “I’ll draft up some notes while you’re gone.”
Dourley silently thanked her, before shooting off towards the doorway, bringing it to a close behind him.
The room went silent. So quiet in fact the sound of Marianne’s biro scratching across her notebook paper was clearly audible. However it was another faint noise that caught her attention.
A low hiss snaked through the air… Marianne raised both her head and eyebrow, as the sound continued. She sniffed the air and found the room to be odorless.
She looked over her shoulder at the office door, which was framed between the two halves of the pig. There was no sign of Dourley or the assistant through the doors clear glass window.
The young journalist got up and nervously paced her way across the office.
“Uncle Ian. There’s a strange hissing noise in here, ” Marianne called out, “I think it could a gas leak. Uncle Ian?”
She tugged at the doors metallic handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. She tried again and again. Frantically lashing at the handle as her palms began to sweat.
“Uncle Ian?!” the girl cried, “Uncle Ian!”
Suddenly, Dourley’s old grey face appeared in the door window.
“Oh thank god! The door is jammed!”
“It’s not jammed. It’s locked.”
“Locked? Well, can you unlock it…? ” Marianne suddenly choked on the end of her sentence. She brought a hand to her throat and began gasping for air. She violently bashed at the door handle as desperation sank in.
“What’s happening!? What’s going on?!” The girl choked harshly, “Uncle Ian please! Open the door!”
“The room is filling with an invisible gas called Halothane. You may find it hard to breathe for a short while,” Dourley replied coldly, as he watched the young girl claw at her throat, “Don’t worry, you’ll be unconscious soon.”
“Why are you doing this! Open the door! Open the door! Please!”
“Do you know why I’m so interested in organ transplantation Anny? I suppose you’re too young to remember.”
“Uncle Ian! Please!”
“I had a daughter myself once. She was just like you, bright, beautiful, full of life.”
Marianne weakly banged her fists against the glass as the energy drained from her body.
“But her heart was not as strong as she was. It was diseased and it failed her,” Dourley stared into Marianne’s blood shot eyes, “I did my best to help her, I tried to find a donor, I tried to save my baby. But I failed her and she passed.”
“Please! I can’t breath!” Marianne choked harshly.
“After she passed, I dedicated myself to my work. Determined to find a way to help those in need, so they didn’t have to know the pain that I did. Your father joined me in my quest Anny, and he took all of the glory for himself. He insulted my cause, he insulted the very memory of my little girl!”
Dourley slammed a tight fist against the door, and seethed heavily, “But now, I have his!”
“Uncle Ian! Please! Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die!” Marianne begged as she sagged limply against the door, tears streaming down her cheeks, “Please…. Uncle Ian… ”
Her pleads faded away as she slumped to the floor like a tossed ragdoll. Completely cold and unconscious.
Beep… Beep… Beep….
Marianne’s eyes stirred beneath her eyelids and with great effort she dragged them open. They were heavy and sore, as was the rest of her young frail body.
Beep… Beep… Beep….
“Where am I?” she asked hoarsely, both mouth and throat were completely dry.
Her vision sharpened and a collection of hazy figures came into focus. She tried to lift up a hand, in order to rub the soreness from her crusty eyes, but found herself bound by both wrists, and both legs!
“You’re finally awake!” A familiar voice cried out.
One of the figures came closer, looming over her like a venomous shadow. Dourley’s long grey face came sharply into view.
“What’s going on Uncle Ian….?” Marianne wheezed weakly.
The girl watched as Dourley was handed an object by one of the elusive figures and presented it to her. It was a clear jar, inside which sagged an oozing human heart.
“I don’t understand….” Marianne croaked.
Dourley spun the jar in his hand, revealing a label that had been plastered across it’s curved surface which read ‘Marianne Mumford. Patient Zero’.
“Your father would be so proud of you Tinman.” Dourley said to her warmly. A huge hearty grin spread across his face as he pointed at her chest, “Look.”
Marianne titled her stiff neck forward and looked down upon her exposed chest. Running clean down it’s centre, between her breasts, was a long, surgical incision, which had been bound back together with metal clips.
“The hearts from my Orchard!” Dourley continued with glee, “They compatible!”
Tears started to pour from the girl’s eyes as she watched Dourley laugh with delight. Shakily, she opened her mouth, but her tongue offered no words to her. All the young girl could muster was a shriek of pure, bloodcurdling, horror.
Beep… Beep… Beep…