Chapter IV – Shrouded Interests
In the blackness of space lies the planet Mars, it’s smaller moon, Deimos, slowly orbits the rust coloured world. Deep beneath Echo labs, in a secret location, a meeting of the corporation’s paranormal division is about to take place. An elevator descends into the heart of the moon, Dr. Rupert Nexson and Dr. Leonard Phillips share the car.
“Rupert? Are you listening?”
Dr. Nexson suddenly resurfaced from his deep thoughts.
“Oh, forgive me, Leonard. I had remembered something troubling, it seemed like I was light years away from here” he replies.
“What’s on your mind?” asks Leonard.
Nexson sighs deeply “Benjamin Crowther” replies Nexson, slowly turning over the syllables.
“Gosh, I haven’t heard that name in such a long time… What about him?” Leonard asks as the elevator comes to a stop and the doors split apart, revealing a spotless hallway, the walls were a deep red.
“Nothing much, I feel rather monstrous for having to kill him those years ago, he was a dear friend ever since we met at the institute” explains Rupert.
“Ben was hanging by some thin threads as it was, he could never follow protocol to the letter, botched five major experiments in his first two years and killed a lab assistant in one of them. If he hadn’t inadvertently killed himself, he certainly would have been gone by now” says Leonard.
“If that man would just follow procedure and stop masquerading like he’s the chief administrator, I wouldn’t have had to kill him and the archeologists” Rupert rants. “All he had to do was recognize a priority-90 notification and send it up the chain, but that bulging dunce had to cherry-pick his assignments and try to implicate me in the process” he says.
“Sorry, my friend. People like that are a fact of life. Even in the twenty-second century and in a corporation like the UAC, there are those that will lay themselves in ruins. Survival of the fittest, as it were” says Leonard.
“That’s true enough I suppose, Leonard. That incident has been haunting my thoughts for a few weeks now” Nexson said.
“You did exactly what you were supposed to do; you’re not a monster, Rupert. The institute made an error in granting him the advanced degree.”
The pair walked in silence as Nexson allowed Phillips’ words to sink in, the stopped in front of the conference room door.
“I know you well, Rupert, you can handle the weight. Events such as that are bound to leave their mark on our minds Take heart in knowing we don’t often have to dispatch our colleagues” explains Phillips.
“I value your advice. I shall meditate on it” Nexson says, he then gestures toward the conference doors, the pair walk inside.
The room was bright, large and square-shaped. The walls were white, mounted upon them were holo-monitors broadcasting several news feeds. The pair walked toward the circular table, a flat, circular lamp hung from the ceiling above. Dr. Nexson and Dr. Phillips took their seats, they were greeted by Dr. Nolan Ward and Dr. Alice Wells.
“Hello Alice, hello Nolan” says Nexson.
“Greetings Doctors” replies Ward.
“Dr. Mason isn’t here yet?” asks Leonard.
“He’ll be here in one minute and forty-eight seconds” answers Wells, looking very comfortable in her seat. She receives curious looks from around the table “Watch, the man moves like clock-work. I’m surprised that none of you have noticed that” she states, flexing her templed fingers.
Nexson pulls out his mobile and notes the time, “We’ll see about that, Alice” Says Nexson.
Some time passes, Alice reads the time on her mobile, “Five seconds” she says.
Just as the seconds slipped away Allen Mason enters the room. The scientists at the table play natural, trying not to tip-off Alice’s prediction.
“Greetings, Doctors. Thank you all for attending this conference…” says Allen as he takes his seat between Leonard and Alice, they were all wearing casual, sharply trimmed attire. “…as you all know, this conference is security clearance nightshade-one, meaning this meeting has never officially taken place” he says as he glares at the faces around the table. “Right, then. The initial test runs of the portals has been made, as I’m sure you’re all aware” says the Doctor, his hands folded in front of him. “What you may not have heard is that when the test subject arrived on Deimos, the subject was deeply affected by the trip. The test subject had to be moved to an isolation cell” Confused faces looked back at Dr. Mason.
“Dear, goodness” says Dr. Ward “Why did he need to be isolated?”
“The test subject was completely sane and rational on Phobos, when he appeared on Deimos, he was barely out of the portal energy when the technicians claim he went berserk, screaming and thrashing wildly, and one of the technicians was attacked by the subject. The technician is fine now, thankfully” he explains “His eyes have turned a deep red, caused by his…. his continuing mutation, several of his bodily organs can no longer be recognized” he says, gesturing his folded hands. “This condition is unlike anything witnessed by the paranormal division before” Allen says.
“I’d like to see him” says Dr.Wells.
“Certainly” says Mason, he reaches into his suit’s pocket and unfolds his data sheet and places it on the table and gives it a few taps and flicks the active window, the holographic images from the cell appeared in the centre of the conference table. The cell had pale blue padding attached to the walls and floor, the test subject was fitted in a stray-jacket and muzzle, he was slamming his body against the only door. It screamed in a deep alien voice. It stopped, looked up at the security camera and stared into the eyes of the researchers.
“Mortals!” it screamed.
Mason muted the audio as the former human began fighting against the restraints.
“What the hell happened to him?” asks Phillips, conveying his disturbance at the sight.
“Other than our genetic clues, unknown” Nexson interrupts. “All we know is that the trip through the gateway has rendered him into this intensely feral state” Rupert finishes.
“I’ve never seen someone’s eyes look like that, and it knew we were watching” says Dr. Wells.
“Indeed, the subject makes that display anytime it is directly monitored” explains Allen.
“After an analysis of the subjects DNA, a unique sequence was found that was causing the mutations we’ve seen affecting the subject” explains Rupert. “We were able to isolate the sequence and have formulated the BSK genetic serum, initial tests of the serum leads us to believe that humans are the only suitable test subjects for studying this anomaly” he finishes.
“Administration won’t tolerate scaling back on this project after close to a trillion credits were spent on its development” says Nolan, rubbing his forehead.
“Administration is aware of this situation, they’ve informed me that the portal’s test trials will continue, despite these complications” says Allen, emphasizing his words. “They insist that the portal be ready as soon as possible and that the ritual ceremony be attempted” he says with some apprehension.
“Were I not intimately aware of this projects cost, I would swear that upper-management had gone mad, but I suppose I can see their reasoning” says Wells.
“The Director has assigned me with finding test subjects for studying the genetic serum” says Mason, sighing and running a hand through his hair. “I have to admit, I’m very apprehensive about this request, I have no idea where to look for volunteers, prisoners on Earth have been deemed far too unstable to be trusted on these stations” Allen finishes.
“I’m not thrilled about this avenue, but I think I may have a solution” says Nexson.
“From my analysis, the only suitable candidates are the Space Marines. We need a subject that can survive treatment with their faculties intact, as fascinating as this phenomenon is…” He says gesturing to the former human on the holo-monitor. “…we don’t want it to happen again. The corps’ advanced training statistics seem to make them ideal for this type of genetic testing” he states.
“Delta labs had made a similar request, recently. Corporal Revok wouldn’t hear anything of it, I’m afraid. He threatened to bring more bureaucratic scrutiny upon our operations than we’ve ever seen before…” interjects Wells, “…and I’m afraid that may not be an empty threat. The corps is very influential on Earth , if we push them too hard they could cripple our project with years of fighting beurocratic red tape” she finishes.
“If this project is to proceed, we may need their cooperation, whether there are repercussions or not” states Mason.
“I happen to think their threats are a well calculated bluff” assumes Nexson. “Most of their equipment is UAC property, I know that they have technicians busy reverse engineering our tech, but it doesn’t change the nature of our relationship. The Space Marine corps cannot exist without receiving assignments from the aerospace industry and they can’t gamble on their relationship with the leader in that field” says Nexson, casually gesturing his hands and speaking with princely arrogance.
“Hmmm” ponders Allen “I hadn’t considered that, but your reasoning seems evident” he says.
“Well, any venture worth persuing has that modicum of risk. I think it’s worth it to call their bluff. A carefully selected marine is just what this project needs” comments Ward.
A silent moment passes as the assembled researchers weighed the idea.
“I think we should move forward on this. Are we all in agreement?” asks Allen. Nods of approval came from around the table. “Good, I’ll see to it that this is expedited and kept classified. This meeting is adjourned” he says as he raises from his seat.
The genetic analysis lab was brightly lit, different stations were divided by thin glass with a frosted surface. The ceiling, walls and floor were lined with sloped, shining metallic plating. A small group of researchers were busy monitoring various automated DNA scans and ferrying samples between stations. They were wearing white, loose-fitting lab coats with black trousers. Victor Kronos and Leonard Phillips stood in an undisturbed part of the lab, staring into the light of the holo-monitor, the recently discovered genome twirled in the glowing light. “I’m not sure where to begin, these chromosomes have a complexity far beyond conventional genetics” comments Leonard. “I think this chromosome may be a good start, C-98-D” says Kronos as he begins tapping the keyboard, he starts unwrapping the chromosome and information spilled across the monitor. “What’s your opinion of these base pairs?” he asks. “There’s some similarity between those markers and the genetic anomaly. We’re going to have to test it to be sure, however” replies Phillips.
“Naturally” quips Kronos. Phillips steps over to another station and preps the Protein Assembly Matrix for operation.
“I have to admit, Victor, I have a troubling premonition about this new avenue of research. I’ve never seen something so foreign” comments Leonard.
“I’m sure you know, but we can never be sure what direction bio-research such as this can take” says Kronos.
“All too well, I’m afraid” says Leonard. “How goes the search to find test subjects for this new project?” he asks.
“The Director tells me that Alpha has some subjects prepared” Kronos explains.
“Yes. Thanks to a recent breakthrough in induced hibernation, that should be the new standard” replies Kronos.
“Fascinating, as if our studies weren’t progressing at light-speed as it is” Leonard replies.
“If recent events wasn’t evidence enough, I can tell you that a new age of sophistication is quickly dawning” says Kronos.
Leonard reaches under the table for a large beaker and places it in front of the Protein Assembly Matrix. He unwinds some clear tubing and pushes them to the bottom of the beaker, he steps over to the controls and begins the formulation process.
“It certainly seems that way, Victor” he says as he taps the machine’s control panel. Clear containers of liquid connected to the top of the machine begin draining various degrees of fluid, a low hum sounded from within and the centre core began spinning.
“…I only wish I knew where this path might lead us” Leonard finishes.
“Well it won’t be our problem for much longer, it’s in the hands of Alpha labs now” says Kronos.
Leonard grips a pair of control sticks, he guides mechanical arms to handle the beaker. The arms held the beaker and a small test tube, the arms tilted the contents of the beaker into the test tube and righted itself after the tube was filled. Kronos gently grabs the test tube, “Mark, would you come here please?” he says as he stuffs a black cork into the top, he then places the tube into the fitted slot of a black case. The case had a gritty texture on its surface with a red biohazard symbol on its lid. Dr. Espensen entered the secluded section of the lab, “Yes, Victor?” he asks.
Kronos closes the lid and snaps the latches into place. Turning to face Mark, he says ” Deliver this case to Dr. Nexson in Echo labs”
“Yes, sir” Espensen takes the case and promptly heads through the sliding laboratory doors. Leonard reaches for his mobile, “Yes, Leonard” came the voice of Rupert, “The BSK serum is on its way to you, now” Leonard says.
Dr. Nexson and Dr. Carmichael stood before the long control station of the experimentation chamber that housed the portal.
“The hardware is warmed up and the systems are connected. I’m ready to open the gate” says Susan.
“Proceed” Nexson says.
She taps the panel and the gate soon begins burning with bright energy.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to be sending the objects through the portal after what happened to our test subject?” Susan asks.
“This is the best way to keep it classified, sending it on a freighter could be compromising. It might seem risky, but we can always formulate another sample” Nexson replies. “Besides, the sample’s being sent in a specially designed case for traversing the portal. It’s highly experimental, but now is as good a time as any for testing” he says.
The doors split apart and Mark Espensen walks into the lab.
“Hello, Mark. Would you be a chap and suit up for us?” Rupert asks.
“Suit up? You’re sending it though the gate?” Espensen asks.
“That’s why the gate is open, Mark” Nexson replies.
Espensen releases a breath. “Alright” he reluctantly replies.
He steps over to a nearby cabinet and pulls out an environment suit, he quickly dons the suit and heads for the connecting door, case in hand. The teleporter sat before him claws of light reached through the gate. Mark loads the case onto a cart and slowly pushes it up the ramp. He reaches the gate and gently pushes the case inside, the tendrils of light envelops the package. He looks toward the connecting window, Nexson looks up from his station, “Success. Alpha has received the package” he says.
Director Banks and Alice Wells walked a long winding hallway that housed secluded research labs, long windows curved along the edges of the walls.
“I can hardly believe the gumption of these fools. No appreciation, I tell you, no appreciation for scientific procedure” stammers the Director.
“Those are some of our most important investors, it’s hard to believe that they would react like this” Alice says as they passed a lab worker handling ancient Martian pottery.
“I admit, the test subject’s condition is troubling and completely unexpected, but they should understand by now, after years of cooperation, that the incident is opening up a new branch of discovery” Banks rants as he stares at his data sheet. “Those bean-counters are merely trying to impose their own self-importance on our work”
They pass an examination of mummified remains, they pause and observe the study.
“Pathetic, really” Alice adds.
“Hmmmm” grunts the Director
“Another prince?” she asks
“Not quite, you’re looking at the great King Pu-Efram-Bah” states the Director.
“Oh my, when was this excavated?”
“About a week ago, in the Lunae Palus region” he answers.
“After learning so much about him and his dynasty, it’s nice to meet him for myself” she says as they continued along.
“Our stock’s losses just hit a hundred and sixty points” Alice frowns inwardly as she looks over at the data sheet.
“It’s probably better to let it fall back before acting on it” she comments.
“You’re right, the media would likely tear us apart if we were to react too strongly” the Director agrees.
“I’ve seen stock fluctuations affect people’s sleep, don’t let it come to that, Will”
“Thank you, Alice. I’m touched by your concern”
A research technician behind a nearby window notices the pair walking past and waves them over. They approach the window and the Director touches the intercom, seamlessly fitted into the wall.
“Yes, Doctor?” he asks dryly.
“I have something I want you to see” the researcher states.
“Certainly” came the reply. The researcher reaches into a hydroponic chamber, sitting at the rear of the lab. He turns around, holding a small metallic pot with a few stalks of vegetation sprouting from the top.
“Oh my, is that what it looks like?” the Director asks.
The researcher nods, “G-F-34” he says.
“Take a look at this, Alice. Our team has brought this extinct Martian plant back to life”
“Oh, yes. I remember the interest this sample generated when it was discovered” she says.
“…I wonder if it will become my new office plant” Alice giggles lightly and the Director returns a wide smile. They examine the resurrected life form for another silent moment.
“Thank you for sharing that, Doctor” Will says.
They exchange a wave of goodbye as the pair moved along.
“Isn’t that something, Alice?” he asks.
“It’s wonderful, Will” she replies.
“Ahh, what a way to ease one’s concerns, the tumbling stocks can wait for later” he says as he folds up his data sheet.