Imaginary Numbers

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Marius

It was late at night and the glass doors to the lab were locked. The building was empty with most of the lights turned off. The fluorescent bulbs around the periphery of the room casted a blue light onto the equipment. Marius had turned off the main lights, along with the computer screens and the radio that was usually on when the laboratory is filled with action. There was a bag of pasteurized soil on the steel table, instead of the usual rows of microscopes. Marius stood, arms pressed onto the table, head hanging low, looking down. He was waiting.

The technicians had all been sent home, although they were there when he recreated last week’s abiogenesis. This time, he had taken the credit. When the Director called from Cern, asking for an update on the progress, Marius, impersonating the professor’s faint Italian accent, happy accepted his praise. He stirred up the technicians in the background to cheer loudly, chanting “Bor-gi-AC! Bor-gi-AC!” He certainly had a flair for the theatrical.

On the other end of the line, the Director thanked him for his hard work and asked what the next step would be.

“Naturally,” Marius explained in a voice that was not his own, “we will attempt to engineer a multicellular organism.” The Director hesitated, perhaps contemplating the moral implications of this, but soon enough he congratulated the professor once more and hung up.

Most technicians hadn’t liked the idea of moving forward without the real professor’s approval. Some claimed that further studies need to be completed before they could try to create a multicellular creature. A rash and angry discussion had ensued, and Hepworth, who was technically second in command, accused Marius of being an impostor and a fraud. Marius, furious and red-faced, towered over the man as he fired him. Gagnon was next, pleading with him to be reasonable. Marius made a speech combining Henry V with Jack Nicholson in which he claimed that the two men were stirring up a mutiny. He lifted Gagnon off the ground by the collar of his white lab coat and told him never to come back. With a vein bulging in his neck, and with a grinding sound of clenched teeth, he spat out the decree that “every one of you bloody nerds are dead to me, and if I ever see you set foot in this lab again, I will crush you like the roaches you are!” They saw the devil in his eyes, and ran out of the building to their wives, lovers, and some to the phone where they called the real professor to complain.

Since that moment, Marius had installed himself in the professor’s office where he intercepted some of the phone calls, in a voice that sounds flawlessly like Charles William Borgiac. Whenever a technician called, he told them to wait for him to get back. He advised others to take a vacation, to cool off, and to obey Marius, because he is a natural leader. Then he hung up, considering how he should approach the next step of the experiment.

Currently, Marius was standing with his head hanging, eyes closed, trying to visualize the next step. He had requisitioned some rare earth elements from storage, for which he signed as Dr. Borgiac. They were sitting in paper bags in a row on the counter by the window. The Director called back on the professor’s office line, astonished at the amounts he had ordered, but Marius charmed him, saying nothing worth doing is doing lightly—something the real Dr. Borgiac would never have said.

While he waited for the centrifuge to mix the parts, Marius imagined the various elements coiling together. He wondered what kind of animal this would be. Let’s start small, he told himself. He opened his eyes and regarded his reflection in the glass of the fume hood enclosure on the other side of the room. His enormous arms and broad frame pushed against the fabric of his lab coat. He stood and pressed his hands into the pasteurized soil. It was cool to the touch. This would become the essential building block for his new life. It would be the matrix that holds the form together.

When the vibration of the centrifuge stopped, Marius poured the viscous liquid over the soil and began to knead it as if he were making bread. His giant hands shredded the soil, creating craters of liquid where the elements pool. He gripped and pushed back rhythmically, mixing the material thoroughly.

When it reached the consistency of clay, he started to manufacture the form of an animal, bigger than a rat, yet smaller than a dog. He sculpted it, loosely at first, then with more detail, shaping the sandy soil into a long body of a meerkat. As he was building, the persona of the professor washed away—the Italian accent, the formal speech, the straight back, the turn-of-the-century presence, even his pervasive gentleness. Marius shed his lab coat and rolled up his sleeves, his thick forearms pressed the clay into place, and the image of the meerkat reminded him of his childhood. He was filled with a flow of authentic emotions the likes he hadn’t felt in years. It was nostalgic, dark, and ultimately deeply satisfying, they were raw emotions not unlike the soil he was manipulating.

When he was eight years old, a clan of meerkats moved into the crevasse between some huge rocks behind his house. Growing up in South Africa, he saw loads of wildlife, but his experience with the meerkats touched him deeply. They had friendly faces, and weren’t afraid of him.

The muscles in his arms flexed as he compressed the soil. His body was on autopilot; his mind was reliving the moment he saw the first meerkat stand sentinel on top of the rocks, braving the hot African sun to warn his comrades in case a predator arrives. Marius remembered stealing an egg from the fridge, and quietly delivering it to the suspicious animals, balancing it in a stone dimple below the opening of their nest.

Now, in front of him on the steel table, an earthen meerkat was forming, complete with a tiny muzzle and little hands. All that would be necessary to give it life would be the rare earth elements, the polarity reversing electro-magnet, and the specific atmosphere that gave them the positive results last week. Marius smiled, confident that in doing this work, he would be taking one step closer to God.

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