Another sxcerpt from my current WIP. This one continues straight on from the last excerpt I posted. I was going to put a break there and cut away to something, but it would have been to some villains talking and we’ve already got three POV characters and had a few asides at this point so I didn’t want to have another one so soon:
The signs took them to a laboratory which at first didn’t seem much more impressive than science labs at school. There were some lockers, computers, sinks, those little racks filled with tubes, and a refrigerator filled with labeled jars that probably you shouldn’t pinch no matter no hungry you were. There were a few other pieces of apparatus but one thing stood out – a console in the middle of the room with a cylinder extending from its top up to the ceiling. Jennifer went straight over to it, taking a moment to scrutinize the controls and read some data off a small monitor.
“What is it?” Kaya asked. Jen’s answer was to turn some switches. The surface of the cylinder peeled away, dropping into the console to reveal a glass water-filled tank. Inside the tank was what at first looked like a tall purple leaf, but looking closer revealed that it was actually of many fronds branching from a central stalk held closely together. “Okay,” said Kaya, “so, what is it?”
“It’s not a plant,” Jennifer told her, “There’s no photosynthesis happening in there. It’s like a Charnia – a fractal life-form from the Pre-Cambrian era.”
“Well it doesn’t look that old,” Kaya pointed out, “so is it like a clone or something?”
“Very, very unlikely. No, I think this is more like a living reproduction created here. The label calls it ‘Syn’.”
“Great name. But this thing doesn’t look all that dangerous. I don’t see what it’s got to do with invisible bark skinned creatures.”
“This might have just been the start,” Jennifer nodded toward a set of doors opposite those they had entered this room from. “We should look deeper.”
They headed in that direction, Jen with her wires and tablet ready but then she paused, perplexed.
“What’s wrong now?” Kaya asked.
“I-it’s locked,” Jennifer stammered. “I mean, locked-locked. There’s no panel.”
A glance confirmed that the door was, most simply, locked. Kaya almost laughed, but the truth was she would be ashamed too if this adventure came to naught. There could well be answers in there, and all that was in her way was a few inches of metal. “You spent years studying the security and doing all that fancy computer stuff, but you never thought you might just need a key?”
“I might be able to pick it,” Jen insisted, reaching into her coat for what looked like just some pins and needles. “It’ll just take a while.”
But Kaya already saw it was futile. “You’ll never pick it open with those,” she said. “If I had my tools…” that was on her, of course. She’d left them in the wreck of her car. But there had to be something in this laboratory…
Jen peered at her old friend suspiciously again. “You’re a locksmith?” She asked incredulously.
Kaya crossed her arms and muttered, “sure. Something like that.” It seemed paradoxical to her that Jennifer, who clearly had a low opinion of her anyway, refused to just acknowledge the truth. Maybe she just wanted Kaya to say it – admit out loud what she had become. Although it was an odd circumstance in which to claim any moral high ground… there were footsteps and Kaya glimpsed a shadow moving outside. “Someone’s coming,” she whispered. There was only one option where they could hide and that was the lockers, so she quickly took Jen’s hand and dragged her over. There was a coat or two hanging inside but luckily enough room for them both to fit. Jen seemed surprised and confused, enough that she didn’t resist being stuffed inside before Kaya squeezed in beside her.
Mere seconds later the footsteps were definitely inside the lab. Then they stopped. Kaya wondered why, then… the tank! They’d left it open – a silly oversight. Sure enough they soon heard a low murmur that suggested the cylinder was going back up again. Kaya could only hope that whoever was there would assume they or some other egghead had simply forgotten to raise it earlier. There was another problem – in her haste Kaya had shoved Jennifer’s face against some fur coat and now heard her whisper, “I think I’m going to sneeze…”
“Shhh!” Kaya urged as quietly as she could. “Pinch your nose!”
But it was too late. The locker opened and Kaya found herself blinking at a tall, dark skinned woman with her hair in a bun who did not look too happy. “What are you doing in there?” The woman asked.
The only explanation Kaya could think of was, “we’re agoraphobic?”
“Get out,” the woman was obviously unsympathetic to the condition. “I’m calling security.”
That meant she hadn’t yet… and she might have a key to those doors. The woman was taller and seemed quite fit, but if Kaya got the jump on her…
“Doctor Sarkis!” Jennifer gasped with surprise matched by the woman’s own.
“Jennifer?” The doctor asked. “How… why are you here?”
“That’s,” Jen avoided eye contact but this time out of genuine guilt and fear.
“Well you had best start explaining,” Doctor Sarkis obliquely eyed Kaya. “Who is this?”
“Cade,” Kaya put on a friendly smile. “Kaya Cade.”
“Sounds familiar,” Doctor Sarkis thought. “Isn’t she the one who used to bully you?”
Jennifer shifted her feet furtively. “N-not the only one,” she admitted. “And it was years ago. We’re adults now.”
“Did she put you up to this?”
“No… coming here was actually my idea.”
“It’s true,” Kaya nodded, “I was ready to turn myself in to the dibbles… the police, but Jen said we’d find answers here.”
Doctor Sarkis screwed her face in confusion. “Police? What for?”
“There was a creature,” Jennifer said. “Or maybe several creatures.”
“I called it a faerie,” Kaya piped in, “but we don’t really know what it was. It was invisible.”
“An invisible creature?” It was plain the doctor was already considering what kind of medication they would need.
“Only at first,” Kaya tried to clarify. “Then it rained and it de-cloaked and was strong as hell and had some kind of bark-like skin.”
“Maybe armor,” Jen suggested. “I was able to analyze a sample of its blood and I believe it was synthetic.”
“So,” Doctor Sarkis repeated it all in head, “you think we created an invisible faerie here at the lab that somehow escaped?”
“Well,” Kaya shrugged sheepishly, “it kind of sounds a bit mad when you say it like that.”
“It’s impossible,” Sarkis said, turning from them. “You’ve already seen Syn, I presume. We’ve had some success reproducing simple organisms but a creature like you’re describing is far beyond what anyone has done.”
“That’s not the same as impossible,” Jennifer gently pointed out.
“No,” Doctor Sarkis conceded, “but this is the most advanced genetic engineering facility in the world and it’s taken us decades to get this far. For anyone to have created an organism capable of acting freely would not only be unethical but they’d have skipped thousands of steps testing and understanding what they were doing. No one would be so reckless.”
Jen answered bitterly, “Alvin Stag would be…”
“Even if that were true, he answers to Meridiem now and I doubt they’d allow him to do anything that could prove costly to them.”
Kaya was missing out on a whole lot here. She knew that Alvin Stag founded this company and that Jennifer never liked him – she perhaps suspected him of having something to do with what happened to her parents. But Kaya still had so many questions, so she decided to start with what was in front of her. “Excuse me,” she said, raising a hand. “What, exactly, is it that you’re doing here? What’s that thing in the jar?”
Doctor Sarkis looked between the two intruders. After a moments consideration she seemed to resign herself. “Synthetic biology,” she said, revealing ‘the jar’ once more. “The next step in genetic engineering. Syn wasn’t modified from an existing organism. We designed and wrote her entire genome on the computers here, then implanted that code into a synthetic cell and allowed it to grow. Simple, really, although the creation of artificial cells capable of self-replication, that can be complicated.”
“But why?” Kaya asked. “What’s it for?”
“Use your imagination,” Jennifer chided, “there’s no end to all the good you could do. Plants that can absorb and recycle greenhouse gases, crops that can grow in any environment, bacteria that can clean up waste. Medicine, biofuel, space travel, terraforming… if perfected, the only limits to this are your imagination.”
“Most of our work is with single celled organisms,” Doctor Sarkis nodded, “with focus on bioremediation and medicine.”
“Okay,” Kaya nodded along as well. She actually got it, but it seemed to her they were avoiding something obvious. “So all of that is what good Jen would do. But, what about evil Jen?”
There was a long moment of silence before Jen answered. “You could create a virus…”
“That’s why we’ve kept all this from the public,” Doctor Sarkis tried to assure them. “Yes, in the wrong hands someone could make a devastating weapon, but nothing happens in this lab without the approval of myself and an ethical committee.”
“But this wasn’t always your lab.”
“Before me this was your father’s work. Syn was his creation. He believed he could create a better world, not just for you, but for every human.”
Jennifer never argued with her dad. If he believed in what he was doing then there was no doubt she would as well. But, “what about Stag?” She asked.
“He’s an ass,” Doctor Sarkis admitted, “but he doesn’t interfere with us. All he cares about is our progress and patents. This was your father’s work… you should see it all. Come.”
The doctor left them to open the inner doors, leaving Kaya alone with Jennifer for a moment. She slid next to her friend whispering and grinning, “you know her, then?”
“Yes,” Jen nodded. “I’ve known Jana for years.”
“So, we didn’t actually need to break in here at all? You could have just asked her to let us in?”
“Well,” Jennifer puffed indignantly, “I-I didn’t know she would be working now. Besides, I didn’t want to get her into trouble.”
Kaya made a motion as if to strangle her, but Jennifer squeaked and quickly escaped to follow the doctor. Kaya had no choice but to swallow her frustration and follow as well.