LONDON, 16 MARCH 2025
Albert Fern stared down at his hands, which were trembling. He could feel small beads of sweat collecting in the crevices of his forehead, lines etched over the years from concentration which provided him with a face that looked older than his seventy years. Seventy years, he found himself thinking. It had gone by so quickly, much of it spent in this very lab, the place he loved the best, searching for answers, for breakthroughs, for . . .
He wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his lab coat. There was no doubt about it – he’d done the test twenty times and still the same result was forcing itself on him. He had the cure, the cure for cancer, the cure that would save his daughter’s life, and yet with it came something else. Something incredible. Something terrifying.
Carefully, the professor put down the syringe he’d been holding in his hands, removed his gloves and pulled off his protective goggles. He took a few steps backwards, as though attempting to escape from his creation while at the same time feeling unable to look anywhere else. The Holy Grail. That’s what it was. He wiped his hands on his lab coat; immediately more sweat appeared on them.
The door behind him opened suddenly, and he started, jumping rather more violently than was perhaps to be expected. Nervously, he turned round, his forehead furrowing.
His assistant looked at him, his eyebrows raised in a way that made Albert uncomfortable. ‘So, did you do it? Did it work again?’
Albert said nothing, but his eyes spoke for him. The corners of his assistant’s mouth crept upwards. ‘It did, didn’t it? You’ve done it. Jesus, Albert, do you realise what we’ve got here?’
Albert noticed the ‘we’ and let it go. ‘Perhaps. But perhaps . . .’ His voice trailed off. He wasn’t ready to articulate the truth, wasn’t yet ready to face the realisation that only a few metres away lay the answer to the question that mankind had been asking since it developed the power of speech. He was in shock, in awe – the discovery made him hot yet at the same time froze his blood.
‘Albert?’ His assistant walked slowly towards him. The man who’d been at his side for the past few years, the man Albert still didn’t trust. ‘Albert,’ he was saying uncertainly, ‘what’s wrong? Did something go wrong?’
Albert shook his head, then nodded, then shook his head again. ‘Nothing went wrong,’ he whispered.
The young man’s face lit up. ‘Albert, you know what this means, don’t you? We have the world in our hands. We’ve achieved what no one else has.’
Again, the ‘we’. Albert nodded uneasily. ‘Richard,’ he said carefully, ‘invention is not always good. Sometimes our inventions are too powerful for us to control. Splitting the atom, for instance. Ernest Rutherford couldn’t know what was to follow, and yet we all associate him with the atom bomb.’
‘The atom bomb killed people,’ Richard said, rolling his eyes dismissively in the way only young men could, Albert thought to himself. ‘This is about saving lives. Prolonging lives.’
‘But indefinitely?’ Albert asked quietly. ‘Do you know what that would mean? Have you understood the ramifications? It would change the world completely. It would change humankind completely. We would become demigods.’
‘We’ve been through this a thousand times,’ Richard snorted impatiently, scanning Albert’s desk then looking up when he felt Albert’s eyes on him. ‘It’s just an excuse for prevarication because you’re weak, Albert. Stop worrying. Stop feeling like you’re responsible for every possible repercussion of what you’ve created. You’re not.’
‘But I am,’ Albert said.
‘No, you’re not. And anyway, why shouldn’t humans become gods? Isn’t it the inevitable next step? All because of you, Albert. All because of you.’ He picked up a test tube and shook it. ‘What we have here is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,’ he said, his voice almost a whisper. ‘It’s incredible. It’s wonderful. And you did it. Think of the glory.’
Albert frowned and shook his head. ‘I don’t want glory,’ he said quietly. ‘I don’t even know that I want this . . . to be responsible . . . to have created such a potential monster . . .’
‘Not a monster,’ Richard said quickly. ‘You’ve just been working too hard, Albert. You should take a break.’
‘A break?’ Albert looked
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