The Molecules That Bind Us

An essay by Dr. Ian Wessner, as provided by Christa Carmen
Art by Luke Spooner

Some might find it disconcerting, creepy, even; but to me, Dr. Ian Wessner Jr., the sound is music to my ears. It’s like something from a Star Wars movie–a combination of R2-D2 passing along some critical message and the Millennium Falcon readying for takeoff. Even a regenerative medicine researcher with more graduate degrees than is prudent can play make-believe, and I love to pretend that the telltale sounds of the custom-designed 3D printer, utilizing a water-based ink optimized to promote the growth of encapsulated cells, and printing in alternating layers with biodegradable plastic micro-channels, are announcing the approach of a futuristic spacecraft.

It’s a pleasant, harmless distraction, and one that brings me back to my boyhood days in Eerie, Indiana. I would wage epic battles with an impressive collection of timeworn action figures, my father, agreeing with mock reluctance to play Darth Vader before launching a lethal Death Star attack, me, scrambling to retaliate while intoning the appropriate soundtrack for the battle between the Dark Side and the Force with my own vocal chords.

Not that the business of the bioprinting lab isn’t sci-fi enough. A wet, slurping sound joins the printer’s normal beeps and whirs as transplantable, 3D-printed tissue takes the shape of a human liver.

Clacking away, I type up a note on the day’s progress, a breakthrough, in my humble opinion. It has been five months since my partner and I implanted 3D-printed livers into rats, and the tissue is still thriving inside the rodents’ bodies. One of the greatest challenges in bioprinting thus far has been getting printed tissue to survive long enough to form blood vessels and nerves, to integrate with the body in which it was implanted. So, a breakthrough indeed. I finish entering the note, save it, and put the computer into sleep mode.

The clock glows alien green above the desk; I hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day. Then again, I hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day every day for the last three weeks, but that’s the nature of my work. My research is as addicting as any drug, not that I would really know. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, and I’ve been tipsy only a handful of times. I reach for the oversized can of Red Bull–I suppose I can’t get away with saying my work is my only addiction after all–and gulp several warm, flat swallows.

The clanking of the can on the metal desk coincides with another sound. The plop of the completed liver on the bottom of the specimen tray is my signal to move. I approach the machine, quiet now as it winds down from its exertions, and pick up the tray with great care. I’ll transfer it to a cooler of dry ice before sealing the Styrofoam and relocating the whole container down the hall to the transplant testing laboratory. I label the cooler with large, legible letters: Phase 3, Lifecycle 17, Batch 453; Human Liver, healthy specimen. Capping the Sharpie, I walk the precious goods to the stainless-steel refrigerator marked: “For 3D-printed organs only. NO FOOD ALLOWED.”

I turn off the lights. The laser-like glow from the mouth of the printer is the brightest thing in the room. Red light shines on the layer of plastic below, creating an impressive imitation of a dystopian monster with a mouthful of bloodstained teeth. I slip from the lab, locking the door behind me with a fingerprint-activated keypad. There is only one other set of fingerprints the keypad will accept.

Art for "The Molecules That Bind Us"

I break out in gooseflesh despite the heat. I know I had not neglected to turn the printer off. Even if I had, this would not explain the sounds of the machine working on a job.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2017 collection.

Dr. Ian Wessner was born in Eerie, Indiana, to Ian Wessner, Sr., and Rose Wessner, and knew he wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. Dr. Wessner is currently employed at Miskatonic University as a regenerative medicine researcher, though prior to his appointment as one half of the duo tasked with bringing the printing of human organs to life (quite literally), the other half being Wessner’s quiet and enigmatic partner, Dr. Graham Averill, Dr. Wessner was a surgeon at Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts. Dr. Wessner enjoys spending time with his father, hates drinking, and loves Star Wars.

Christa Carmen’s short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, WolfSinger Publications’ Just Desserts, the DreamFusion Press anthology, The Book of the Macabre, Devolution Z Horror Magazine, The J.J. Outré Review, Jitter Press, Literally Stories, Fiction on the Web, Corner Bar Magazine, pennyshorts, and Dark Fire Fiction. Four Souls of Eve is available through Frith Books as a standalone eBook, and is soon to appear in their All Hallows anthology, and “The One Who Answers the Door” took Best in Genre for Thriller/Horror in wordhaus‘ Trick or Treat Fall Story Contest. Additional work is forthcoming from Anotherealm.

Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at

“The Molecules that Bind Us” is Copyright 2017 Christa Carmen
Art accompanying story is Copyright 2017 Luke Spooner

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