-Scylla and Charybdis
Aaren watched in silence as Serina swept the broken glass from the floor. She covered the spilled tea with a rag and left it to soak. Then she turned to Aaren and gestured towards a door.
“Come on,” she said, “there’s something I want you to show you…”
She disappeared through the door. He followed her down as they descended into darkness. A cool blast of air greeted him and a/c units rumbled in the back. Serina pulled a chain hanging from the ceiling, illuminating several light bulbs. Aaren shied from the overwhelming light, and Serina faced him.
“This is my lab.”
Aaren lowered the arm that shielded his face and his vision cleared.
He took a stroll through the lab. On one side, exotic ferns lined the walls in a plethora of colors under heated lamps. Rows of steel tables filled its center with everything a lab would need: computer monitors, chemistry sets, microscopes, and specimen trays. On the opposite wall, he saw more plants; mostly roses and lilies, though one specimen stood out. He glanced at Serina over his shoulder, and she nodded in affirmation. He found himself drawn to a particular lily.
Brilliant shades of black and purple covered its petals, which spread out like a pair of tiny wings. Its bright yellow buds grew on the ends of whisker-like appendages. More whiskers floated around its stalk with a light hue of orange. A glass dome carefully preserved the precious plant. Aaren noticed it lacked a heat lamp.
Serina donned her white lab coat and tugged his shirt. He followed her towards the end where she kept an industrial size refrigerator. She opened it and pulled out a tray that housed two syringes and two vials; one blue and the other red.
Aaren raised a brow. “What is this?”
“I named it Scylla and Charybdis.”
She took a syringe and extracted a substance from each vial, putting them into their respective syringe. Then she sauntered over to a workstation equipped with robotic arms and placed the syringes into a cube shaped box. Aaren watched in awe as she pressed a button to start a sequence.
Ladders of DNA appeared on a monitor. They seemed normal at first glance, but to the untrained eye the genome sequence was complex. Each block contained the bases needed to construct a life, assembly instructions. DNA was stored in four chemical bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. But these strands contained two extra genomes; their status unknown, as shown by the monitor.
Serina crossed her arms and the two of them stared at the monitor overhead. She spoke to him not as his mother, but Serina the scientist.
“Drake’s DNA,” she prompted. “As you can see, it’s different from regular humans. Fifty years ago, he commissioned me to create a serum. This serum decreases the mortality rate when humans are turned into Shaytan. It failed, and when it did, he threatened you…”
Aaren’s eyes widened, glinting with anger.
“All we had to do was administer a regular sedative and the survival rate increased to ninety percent.”
“What does this have to do with anything?”
Serina jeered. “You are just like your father. Even though the serum failed; I’ve been repurposing it and that lily you saw in the corner is the means.”
Her gaze shifted to the dark lily that was shaped like a bat.
Aaren wandered away and gawked at his reflection in the chemistry bottles that contorted his head into different shapes. He poked and prodded Serina’s ferns. Then he strayed back to the bat-shaped lily, his finger ready to flick on the heat lamp above it.
Serina cleared her throat and boomed: “ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL MY PLANT!”
Aaren jumped, and his shoulders hunched. He turned around and made a face. Serina smacked her head and then made a steeple with her fingers.
“Touch nothing,” she gritted, pausing between each word.
Aaren raised his hands in surrender.
“There’s a unique strain of virus that grows in that lily and it’s only endemic to the Aegean region. I realized why it was so hard to find. One, it only grows once a year in the fall; two it only blooms at night if a certain temperature is met.”
“But it’s a plant-”
Serina shot a nasty leer, cutting Aaren’s words. He looked away and frowned.
“I’m saying with Drake’s DNA and this virus, I can make it target specific DNA traits that would only be lethal to him, and Aspasia, but harmless to humans.”
Serina paused and gathered her thoughts. Aaren could see the gears turn in her head as she pondered. He could hardly fathom she was his mother, the difference between them night and day.
“First, I have to complete the sequence and re-engineer the virus, second is exposure. The virus will only survive in the body of someone like Lyn. She can pass it on to him via direct contact and then him to Aspasia the same way. After they’ve been exposed, the virus would need a booster, otherwise it’s harmless.”
Aaren nodded as she spoke and struggled to hide his dubious expression. He enjoyed things like marksmanship, physical fitness, and martial arts. His brain felt overwhelmed and Serina continued without pause and spoke with complete confidence.
His face turned red. “What’s a booster?”
“It activates the virus inside so that it can kill them.”
“It seems like a lot of steps to kill him with a virus,” Aaren replied, his voice aloof.
“It has to be. It’s the only way to ensure it kills them and not innocent people. Viruses mutate over time as they spread from hosts. God forbid it mutated to where it could kill humans…”
The machine continued to decode the sequence. Serina took up a clipboard and her pen tapped as she took notes. The computer constructed a wheel of the DNA bases as it assembled them, dividing them into different sections.
Aaren released a sharp exhale and looked at the bottles in the glass box. Both vials had a label: Scylla for the blue and Charybdis for the red.