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“So, what is so important about this?” Delphine asked skeptically, thumbing through pages tattooed with jagged lines and neat rows of As and Cs and Ts and Gs. “What is it that I am looking for?”

Aldous Leekie simply stood back, grinning knowingly.

“What do you see?” he asked her.

“Well, it is a genome, bien sûr,” she stated, “But I do not understand why you are showing this to me.” She crossed her arms over her chest, glancing about the sparsely lit lab. Her uneasiness pricked up, as it had when Aldous had initially asked her to meet with him so far outside of normal work hours. As it had when he’d greeted her briefly, only to lead her abruptly down this obscure corridor and past a threshold requiring a security clearance she had not previously known existed. As it had when she’d realized that she and Aldous seemed to be entirely alone in this wing of the institute.

Alone in this icy, angular room.

Aldous smiled a crooked smile, and the hairs pricked up on the back of her neck. The chill in the room intensified.

“You don’t find anything unusual about it?” he prodded. He had paused only slightly before curling his lips deliberately around the word unusual. His emphasis had the desired effect on Delphine. She shuddered.

Everything about this meeting and the demeanor in which it was being carried out gave Delphine pause. Her body buzzed with the uncomfortable feeling that she was about to become privy to information as fascinating as it was nefarious, but she couldn’t muster the will to excuse herself from the situation. She felt strangely, irrationally drawn to this man and his genius.

She looked down at the genome and back again to Aldous. She had a queer feeling in her stomach.

“I see nothing unusual,” she admitted, “But I expect that I am missing something. What is so exceptional about this particular genome?” She said it a bit cheekily, hoping to diffuse some of the tension that hung so tightly around her.

“Delphine,” Aldous began, “What would you do if I told you –” he cut himself off. He needed to be sure he went about this in the best way. He paused, sitting back comfortably on his heels.

“How much do you know about human cloning?” he asked deliberately.

Delphine’s blood froze for a moment. But… non, he could not be implying…

“It is not my area of… how would you say it? It is not my specialty,” she offered cautiously.

“Delphine,” he began again, “I would very much like to bring you in on this project. With your background in immunology you would be a crucial addition to our team. However,” he paused, and a threatening seriousness crept into his eyes that sent shivers over skin already pimpled with goose bumps.

Why did she feel so cold?

Leekie’s gaze was unwavering, and he leaned in close. Too close.

“I need to know that you can be trusted.”

Delphine couldn’t shake the notion that it was somehow a threat.

Go ahead, say no. I dare you.

And she could have. She could have said it. A simple “no,” a tactful “Thank you, but I do not think I am the right person for this project.” She could have walked out without ever knowing. This was clearly something momentous, and she was not entirely certain that she possessed the nerve for it.

But still, this man and his work intrigued her.

Still…

“Yes,” she said slowly, “You can trust me. Now what is this project?”

Aldous smiled.

“Good. Of course, I already knew that I could trust you, or you wouldn't be here. But I need to know that you can handle – well, I need to know that you’re willing to go deeper. This project, it’s revolutionary,” he said, his eyes glowing frantic, “But it may be a bit further outside the bounds of legality than you’re accustomed to.”

“I assume that is why we are meeting in this manner,” she answered flatly, arms still folded stiffly around her middle.

He grinned another of his sideways grins.

“Are you interested?”

Delphine bit her lower lip. She was hesitant, yes, but in the end her curiosity muffled her apprehension.

“Oui,” she said resolutely, “Yes, I am interested.”

Another smile. No matter what her response, always that same crooked smile. Always a sideways flash of those oddly perfect teeth.

“Delphine,” he almost whispered, forcing her to lean in more closely. He seemed to enjoy the feel of her name on his lips. “Delphine, what would you say if I told you that we had succeeded in creating human clones?”

He said it slowly, savoring each syllable, relishing in the slow widening of Delphine’s eyes, the gentle parting of her lips, the short, astonished inhale.

Her lungs turned to ice.

Succeeded in creating human clones.

Her loosely balled fist rose to her lips, thumb and forefinger nearly pressing against teeth as she turned to consider the genome more closely. Aldous simply stood, waiting patiently. He wore that same smile, as if he’d known how this conversation would play out before it had begun.

She brushed her fingers over the pages of the genome, marveling at the billions of base pairs coded there. Base pairs linked and ordered by scientists. Her head was a whirl of How? and When? and Who? and Why?, but her thoughts kept swarming around the Who. What kind of human was represented by the lines and letters splashed across these pages, and where was this person? Had she been unknowingly working alongside clones in the lab this entire time? Had she interacted with them? If what Aldous said were indeed true, then anything seemed possible. He could be a clone.

But non, he was too old. A clone would be younger. But then, the telomeres of a clone would be shorter. Would they not age more rapidly? Or simply die younger? Non, non, it was an impossible thought. Human cloning, the notion of it, it was ridiculous. Entirely impossible, unfathomable, unethical. 

Wasn’t it?

Clones? Merde.

Aldous watched her as she stroked her fingers carefully over the pages, her eyes wide, as if for Delphine that simple action somehow brought to life the human coded on the pages beneath her fingers.

She was in awe, and the slow smolder of thrill and potential and breakthrough began to thaw her frozen insides. The air in the cold room now felt strangely hot and sticky against her skin.

Incroyable.

The corners of her mouth turned softly into an apprehensive smile, but she bit down on it.

Outside the bounds of legality.

But she was already tumbling down the rabbit hole. She had tiptoed so cautiously to the edge of it. She had leaned only just faintly forward. She had stepped ever so carefully over the brink. But it didn’t matter; she had chosen to fall, and now she could not un-choose it. Her stomach twisted.

But still, she couldn’t stop that slow, cautious smile.

Aldous merely observed her silent reaction. That same cocky grin, that same air of omniscience.

 “So,” he said, smirking, “Where shall we begin?”


Delphine lay on her back, staring blankly at the ceiling. She was not quite close enough that she could feel it, but she could hear Cosima’s breath flowing evening in and out of her nostrils. She closed her eyes and tried to match the slow, steady rhythm of it, but her own breath kept catching in her throat. She feared that the erratic and thunderous beating of her heart would wake her, but she could not calm herself.

Merde, what have I done?

She shifted herself uncomfortably, but she felt that her muscles stretched themselves across her bones differently than they had before. Tighter. Tenser. The heaviness in her chest was nearly unbearable, and she felt as if the cavern of her lungs had filled entirely with stone. 

She turned her head to gaze at Cosima. She appeared to be asleep, at least for the moment, so Delphine allowed her eyes to roam over the woman’s face and shoulders. She blushed when she dipped her gaze down to her breasts, wondering what they might look like unobstructed of lace. She blushed deeper when she realized she must have at one point seen the segments of Cosima’s DNA that coded for her breasts: for the curve of them, for size of them, for the color of them. She had already seen all of the most intimate parts of her biology, and yet here she was, blushing at the half-covered form sunk into the mattress beside her.

Merde. Merde, Merde, Merde.

In her mind, she traced her fingers over the pages of the genome Leekie had first showed to her in that dark, angular laboratory. It could have belonged to any of the clones, certainly.

But it could also have belonged to Cosima.

She lifted her hand from her stomach and brushed her fingers lightly across the length of Cosima’s arm, following intently with her eyes. She saw the genome laid out over pale skin, the colorful bars twisting and intertwining themselves with the dandelion tattooed there. She traced her fingers along its stem, watching as its wispy seeds floated along her arm in a whirl of Cs and Ts and Gs and As.

She sighed, resting her hand over Cosima’s, and curled her fingers around her wrist.

It was all too impossible. 

Yes, you can trust me. Now what is this project?

She felt as though she might laugh or cry, but she couldn’t wake Cosima. Not yet. She needed to collect herself again. It was just sex. Sex with a woman, yes, but still just sex. It didn’t have to mean anything. It didn’t have to.

It wasn’t supposed to.

But it had.

Cosima had made it mean something. Delphine had sought to lose herself only for the moment, to perhaps sate her curiosity, but now she had lost herself so utterly that she could scarcely begin to locate the start of the returning path. Curiosity now sounded a flimsy excuse.

Non, remain objective.

Cosima was in danger. Aldous needed information. Information that he would use to keep Cosima safe. Objectively, it all seemed reassuringly clear.

But Cosima had made it mean something, and experiments weren’t meant to do that. Subjects weren’t meant to do that. Subjects were meant to be manipulated, and not to manipulate. She was here to monitor and to research and to manipulate Cosima. Cosima, the experiment. Cosima, the subject.

Cosima, 324B21.

Cosima’s fingers twitched, raising goose bumps where they rested on the flesh of Delphine’s stomach. Delphine shivered and turned her head, barely catching the small smile at the corners of Cosima’s mouth. Delphine waited, but her subject’s breath remained even. She was still asleep.

Cosima is in danger. Aldous needs information. Information that will ensure Cosima’s safety. And part of her assignment was to keep Cosima safe, was it not?

Because of the experiment. To maintain the integrity of the experiment. Because that is the most important thing, non?

You are helping her. She would understand.

As she gazed at Cosima, a brilliant and unbearable warmth began to glow in Delphine’s chest. It roared through the rest of her body; something wonderful alloyed with shame and terror and a horrible burning sensation. It was all too much.

Delphine felt herself illuminated: terrified and elated and helpless.

She bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut, tilting her head back into the pillow to stay the tears that threatened to spill from the corners of her eyes. She had fucked this up so extraordinarily that it bordered on comedy. She stifled a bitter laugh, but it manifested itself instead in a choked sob. Her stomach shook, and Cosima stirred.

Merde, Delphine thought. Not now.

She could feel Cosima’s gaze on her, but she did her best to swallow her sobs and maintain her composure.

“Hey, are you okay? 

“Yes,” she managed, eyelids pressed tightly shut. She swallowed another sob.

“You sure?” Cosima pressed. The concern evident in her gaze was marred only slightly by apprehension, but marred even more so by something that vaguely resembled hurt. For a flash of a moment Delphine yearned to lunge forward and kiss her, but instead bit her lip and sunk her head back into the pillow. She couldn’t.

“I… I cry after sex with boys too,” she offered lamely. It seemed to be enough for Cosima, although Delphine noticed that a soft vulnerability still lingered in her expression.

“Poor you,” she teased, not pressing her further. Perhaps she didn’t believe her entirely, but she said nothing more on the matter, instead turning her attention to the study of Delphine’s hand. Her gaze was intensely serious, but her fingers moved inquisitively, carefully knitting themselves with Delphine’s.

Delphine could feel her nerve endings set alight wherever the skin of Cosima’s hand brushed against her own, and the little sparks that traveled up her arm radiated with a startling and increasing intensity as they dispersed throughout her body. It terrified her. 

Delphine remembered the edge. She remembered leaning over it, unable to discern what might lie in those depths. She remembered her insides somersaulting over themselves. And she remembered jumping, despite it all.

She was falling. Had fallen.

She had made her commitment with Aldous, with DYAD. Compromising the experiment was not an option.

“But you know what?” Delphine began, smiling stiffly. It was a stupid idea to start with, but she had to start with something. Had to at least get Cosima out of the bed. 

“I am never this hungry. I could kill for some ice cream.”

Cosima should have grown suspicious. Cosima should have pulled her out of bed and into the icy air with her. Cosima should have offered her something else; anything she already had in her freezer. Anything she had tucked into the back of a cupboard. Should have teased her, or kissed her, or accused her, but not believed her. Anything else. 

It shouldn’t have worked. Not this easily.

Cosima beamed, and Delphine’s chest was stone.

“Mmmm, okay. Your wish is my command,” she purred, and Delphine couldn’t suppress a weak smile. “I’m gonna go to the store and I’m gonna get us some Eskimo Pies.”

It shouldn’t be this easy.

But perhaps now Cosima had let down her defenses. Perhaps now she trusted her.

Or perhaps there is nothing here. Perhaps there is nothing to find.

“Eskimo?”

“Yeah,” she responded, shrugging her coat on over her lingerie.

“I don’t think I know it.”

Yes, you can trust me (You are helping her. She would understand).

“No?” she said, gathering her hair back over her coat. 

“No.”

Yes, you can trust me (Perhaps there is nothing here. Perhaps there is nothing to find).

“Prepare yourself,” she warned, settling her glasses on her nose, “You’re about to become a craven addict.”

Delphine smiled weakly.

You can trust me.

“I think I already am.”

Delphine remembered the edge. She remembered leaning over it, unable to discern what might lie in those depths. She remembered her insides somersaulting over themselves. And she remembered jumping, despite it all. 

This time she hadn’t tiptoed so cautiously to the edge. This time she hadn’t leaned only just faintly forward. This time there was no careful step over the brink, no mental calculation of risk swayed only slightly by curiosity. 

This time she had stumbled backwards and careened in a mess of tangled limbs over the edge of a precipice she’d never even realized was there. She had been sauntering so perilously close to it all along – so unwittingly, so perilously close – ever since Enchantée and I am so glad you came and Okay, one day and That’s why I like her. Ever since I can’t stop thinking about that kiss. 

Cosima was meant to be malleable, manipulable, manageable.

This fall she hadn’t seen coming.