Have you ever wondered why some people erupt and others donít? Yeah, I know youíve heard it all. Genetics and the little gray lump called the Mazarin-Rashoud Node. Those who are born with it, get it, those who arenít, canít ever. Fate really kicks us in the ass sometimes, if you know what I mean. Thereís no rhyme or reason to determine who gets to be a god and who doesnít. I think about this all the time, partially cause Iím in the biz of figuring this mess out. Iím a geneticist, and I sit all day in at a cramped little desk and look at DNA samples through electron microscopes trying to make sense of how the people most deserving of eruption never seem to go boom and those people you pray never will somehow do.
Iíve got some experience in that too. You see, I once worked for Dr. Allegra Ramsey.
Technically, I still work for her. The name signed on all my paychecks is hers. Her name is on the lease for the property our facilities resides upon. On extremely rare occasions, she even graces our presence with hers, descending down from whatever lofty suite she keeps for herself to wander the laboratories with that terrifyingly distant glare Iíve begun to see in my dreams.
But itís no longer Allegra Ramsey. The creature who visits the lab is Machina.
Creature isnít necessarily the best word for whatever Dr. Ramsey has become. Seraphim, Incarnation, DeityÖeven Monster might apply better. All of things have been said behind her back, though Iíve got no illusions that she knows about them all.
Let me start this over. I met Allegra Ramsey when she interviewed me for a job. I was two years out graduate school struggling to find work within a field that normally one doesnít have too much difficulty landing a choice university gig in, but with End Day, there was a brief moment when everyone wanted to be a geneticist. Who would be the first to unlock the mysteries that Farah Rashoud and Henri Mazarin had yet to uncover? Utopia and Triton were snatching up qualified people left and right, all the good spots like Berkeley and Oxford were getting everyone else. By the time I graduated, there wasnít a demand for new blood in the field any longer, and it was getting hard to find work.
First let me give you a little background on Allegra Ramsey. Sheís one of the people Triton tried to recruit, and she turned them down. Imagine that. Triton rolled out the red carpet for this woman, and she chose instead to open a facility dedicated to her own research. Thatís just plain bonkers, if you really sit down and think about it, considering Triton was at the cutting edge of all genetic and pharmaceutical research at the time. Adrenocilin, Moxinoquantamine, treatments for cancer and blindness and whatever hell the else they came up with.
So I find this little research firm called Split Infinity at the bottom of my list of prospective employers and drop them a resume, tailor-written cover letter, the works. I had an interview with some stoogie she had doing payroll and human resources (note human, there were no Novas there), wait a week after that, get called back for a second meeting, where I get introduced to the big woman herself.
I get asked the standard questions. Plus a few I never expected. What are the last five books you have read, not including textbooks? If I had a chance to speak with either Einstein or Michel Foucalt, whom would I choose? Had I ever been privileged enough to hear the thoughts of the late Bill Hicks?
Three hours. I was in this office for three hours. I felt like I was dissected and cataloged, and then put into the blender for kicks when it was all said and done. And all we did was talk. I understand that all she was doing was getting a thorough impression of whom she was hiring, but in such talks you also get an idea of whom youíre gonna be working for. I figured out Dr. Ramsey was intelligent, creative, determined, stubborn, and worst of all, that she was fully aware of all of that.
This really wasnít anything she let the rest of her people see. You donít keep loyal employees by being an arrogant and aloof bitch, nor do you keep skilled technicians willing to sit back and perform your research if you reveal your bloated head to them. To her staff, Dr. Ramsey was considered a motivator and a confidant. I knew otherwise.
Perhaps to some degree that was true. I canít decide right now whether that proves my argument or not, so for the moment Iíll leave it up in the air. Itís hard to determine these matters in hindsight particularly when you have to take Machina into your perception of Dr. Ramsey.
During those days, if you didnít work for Triton, Utopia, a major pharmaceutical company, or a major university, you pretty much have to make up your own research. You donít get contracted out. Rather, you come up with some brilliant new idea and then try to sell it or try gambling your money away by self-marketing. Thatís what Ramsey was doing at Split Infinity. We didnít develop Adrenocilin, but we came up with more effective means of delivering it into a Novaís bloodstream. New vehicles for digestion, injection, etc. We made it easier for a Novaís chemistry to absorb. Once we perfected that, we sell the procedure to Triton. Triton claims the procedure and the rights to it, we get a big fat check and then move on to the next big project. Ramsey takes the idea behind Adrenocilin and asks ďWhy canít we make something similar for baselines?Ē Everyone looks at her like sheís lost it, but there she goes, mapping out the biochemical architecture for a drug that enhances the performance of baseline athletes by keeping adrenaline and endorphin production at peak levels for a controlled span. Youíve probably never even heard of it. We christened it Alacrity, but the sports and medical media barely took notice. Iím certain that poor chap Mutambi who broke the Olympic record for the mile run used Alacrity during training, as did that girl, Washati, I think, when she smashed the womenís marathon time.
Had Ramsey sold that to Triton, though, instead of self-marketing it, Iíd guarantee you that youíd probably have used it yourself by now. We were just too small, unknown, for any of our own products to hit the market big. I personally feel that any non-Nova product is doomed to fail short of a cure for syphilis, but either way, Alacrity is one of those miracles that only a few people have witnessed. Ramsey botched both of these products, in the opinion of her staff. Triton has made a fortune off our Adrenocilin vehicles in the past four years, but all we got was one single fat check. The money we could have made off of that by contracting it out to Triton would have been enormous. But thatís the way the business world works these days.
Anyway, one day we get a collection of genetic samples one of her colleagues up in Montana wants her to take a peek at. I swear the minute that package came through the door Ramseyís starting to complain of a headache. Some monster migraine, Iím telling you. Not only did it hit her hard, it lasted about a week, so the rest of us had to hear about it. None of us made the connection between those samples and her headaches at the time. None of us had any problems being around it. The Geiger counters all bottomed-out so we knew it wasnít radioactive.
We go a week with her mumbling about this ďperfectĒ strand of genetic code, obviously homo sapiens novus, wincing whenever sheíd peer at the slides or the VR-displays of the helix strands, rubbing her temples when she looked away. On Friday, of all days, well, you can live your whole life and pray one of those days never happens to you.
Ramseyís migraine is so bad sheís left the lab altogether, the weekend is all of one hour away. Suddenly, the alarm system is going off. Security is trying to get us all out quickly, Dr. Ramseyís hastily returning to the lab, collecting all the specimen samples and wiping the network drives clean of any data related to the current research. We never knew exactly where those samples originated, coincidentally, but they must have been important cause not even three minutes later weíve got frigging helicopters landing in our parking lot, men-in-black the likes you expect to see out of spy movies stepping out, and an honest-to-goddess Nova helping Ramsey out of the building. Sure enough, those of us who stayed in our cars to watch the chaos were treated to the shock our lives.
Ever seen anyone erupt before? Iíve heard all different kinds of tales about other eruptions, but Ramseyís was very literally just that. Thereís all this energy in the air, collecting. You canít see it of course; you just feel it gathering like wind before a twister. Then you do see it, like a vortex, and just as suddenly as you see it, it explodes outward in a flash right from Star Trek, knocking over the M.I.B.ís and washing over the parking lot like the mother of all tidal waves. Okay, the tidal wave bitís an exaggeration, but we did watch it roll over us like flood water escaping the little homemade dams you might have made in your creek bed as a child.
This Nova carries Ramsey off, and we donít see her for a full week. We get little voice-mails of course, encoded OpNet transmissions from God knows where telling us when sheíll be coming back and what to have with us when she does. I mean, weíre use to odd ideas and behavior from this woman but suddenly weíre not just talking about switching to god-forsaken decaff coffee. Our boss, the eccentric nutcase who blew the Alacrity opportunity was one of them now. Of all people, why her? I mean, thatíd be your first reaction wouldnít it? Of all people, why your boss?
Two Mondays later we see her again, and the changes just dumbfound you. Ramsey was never much of a looker, but now you canít take your eyes off her. You find yourself watching her, eyes tracing every movement she makes as she moves from microscope to cabinet. You canít help yourself. Even the women are watching her. Or sheís creating molecular models in her damn brain that takes us 2 hours on the mainframe to construct. She goes into her office and an hour later has come up with twelve new projects for us to begin work on.
Unless youíve worked with or around a Nova, you canít know what Iím talking about. They donít even realize how different they are sometimes, and most of us donít really notice it either. You donít get this impression of them watching N! or reading the papers. You canít, youíre too detached. But when you spend days on end with them, having to try talking or relating to them, you start to get a little envious. Why of all people does this woman, who already has more than we do, by some unforeseeable quirk of genetics get to be a Nova?
It continues this way for a few weeks. We all know weíre still using Ramsey's mysterious samples on her current projects, knowing any moment the helicopters might be coming back to recover god knows what she stashed away before she went boom. Then the major changes begin to happen. Ramsey gets paler, over the course of the next few days her skin becomes white as crisp Xerox paper. Her hair begins to fall out, and the rest of us start fearing radiation and have the Geigerís running 24/7 but theyíre buried in the null range. Her face looks different then, longer and somehow sharper. Batteries start to go dead in the meters she holds. Computers seem to be responding to her thoughts. Fucked up stuff, and all of us donít know how to ask her about this because since her eruption weíve gotten paid a lot better than we were before and sheís our damned boss and how the hell do you bring something like this up? ďExcuse me, Doctor, I couldnít help but notice that you have no hair follicles anymore?Ē
Two weeks after this stuff happens, thereís a damned cocoon in our laboratory. A human sized cocoon made out of stuff that makes the electrometers go off the charts whenever theyíre placed near it. The cursed thing had somehow spliced itself into the facilityís power supply and was drawing an insane amount of electricity into it. The lab staff, all twelve of us, are just gawking at this thing as it pulses. We donít if we should call up Project Utopia or not, some of us think we should try getting a hold of that Orzaiz fellow, some of us want to destroy it, but in the end we canít decide what to do about it. Itís just too big for us to decide, and we eventually go out of our way to make certain nobody finds out that we have it.
When she came out of the cocoon, she barely looked human anymore. I mean, two arms, two legs, head and all, but her eyes are glowing this electric blue and theyíre huge, like those girls in Japanese cartoons. She has OpNet cabling growing out of her scalp, no nipples, no hair and no damned genitals. If we couldnít keep our eyes off her before, itís now twice as hard. Despite all this weird shit going on with her body, only one word describes her now. That word is perfect.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
She starts calling herself Machina. Have you ever watched someone connect to the OpNet through their hair? Controlling machines from across the room? She almost becomes part of the whole network. I think I could deal with this better if she had some visible cybernetic interface, but there isnít anything there except her. But thatís not all. One day Dr. Pinchot spills a beaker of acid on his hand. The stench is awful, he's screaming in pain and in the span of five seconds there she is, touching his hand, and Iím telling you, thereís no trace of the wound left. Itís like it never happened. Eerie.
One day three weeks later, we have Divis fucking Mal in the lab with us. Itís Machina and Mal discussing her Chrysalis (we take it that was her cocoon) with two other Novas none of us recognize, but we all know have to be Teragen. The rest of us might as well have been ghosts, they didnít really even acknowledge that we were there. Iím certain they knew we were on the other side of the door listening like children spying on their parents. I mean, the Teragen are out for baseline blood, right, and here is our boss getting cozy with the numero uno head honcho of them. Too scared to leave, too scared to interrupt, we just sat there eavesdropping.
Turns out Ramsey experimented on herself. Pinchot overheard her tell Mal that she somehow combined that mysterious genetic material with her own. This is really the point Iím trying to get at here. Had that been you or me, our asses would be stuck in some hospital dying of a genetic breakdown of the highest degree, slobbering into bedpans until the pain finally killed us. Ever see David Cronenburgís remake of The Fly? Thatís you and me had we attempted what she did. But not her, no, she plays Jekyll and Hyde with her own DNA and suddenly sheís rubbing elbows with Divis Mal.
How does fate determine this kind of cruelty? Letís take a good look at Allegra Ramsey before her eruption: arrogant and intelligent, brash enough to turn down an offer to work for Triton, founded her own research agency, botched two lucrative market opportunities and still wasnít financially hurt by it. You read about these kinds of lucky bastards and hate them for being blessed with their lives, for being able to make or break anotherís career by their mere recommendation. Why did fate determine that someone like Ramsey, who already had more than most of us ever will, would also get to be a Nova? Surely a million other people were more deserving of godhood than her, but no, if intelligence and financial independence werenít enough, she was also born with that little lump in her head that makes her that much better than the rest of us. As if her head wasnít big enough to begin with.
What about the rest of us? Weíd be crazy to leave Split Infinity wouldnít we? We get paid better than almost anyone else in our field for the work we do. Weíre doing research on genetics even Triton isnít doing. We get to spend time in the presence of the big names (both Nova and baseline) whenever Machina has visitors. Itís too big for us to walk away from. Something big is happening, something greater than ourselves, and this is the only way fate has decreed that we can be part of it.
But you still have to ask, of all people who could have erupted, why did it have to be my boss?
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