Imaginary Numbers

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The News Tonight

Prof. Borgiac’s chalet, Geneva

In the dark leather chair in front of the large window of the Professor’s chalet overlooking Lake Geneva, Marius sat, bloodied and sore. He knew the Professor kept the spare key hidden in the hanging plant next to the door. Marius had decided to come here instead of his meager lodging in the centre of the city. He needed to recuperate. He had removed his bloody, torn shirt in the lab, and hailed a cab while wearing a lab coat that pulled tight around his broad frame. Now he was nursing his wound.

Marius’ muscular body was sweaty and pale, gouged in his side. He was cleaning the dirt out of the claw marks, sopping up blood with a towel and picking out chunks of yellow soil.

In the background, the Professor’s television was on, playing an Italian drama, which Marius could not understand. It was enough of a distraction just to see the dark haired actress whenever he looked up. He just needed something pleasing to look at when his sight was repelled by the gore oozing out of him.

While he applied creams and bandaged himself, the television cut to a news broadcast showing scenes of the derailed train. Curious, Marius flicked through the channels, his bloody fingers staining the remote, until he arrived at BBC News.

A grey-haired man sitting at the desk recounted the headlines, while Marius finished his first aid.

“And tonight in Geneva, authorities are investigating a terrible train derailment that has killed 32 people. The passenger train leaving the city collided with a large object after exiting a tunnel.” On the screen rail cars were strewn across the cement hollow, and crews were searching the debris aided by flood lights, and the flashing reds and blues of emergency vehicles. “Seventy-one people have been hospitalized for serious injuries, and ground crews are facing troubles freeing the remaining victims from the wreckage. Initial reports of terrorism have been questioned, as sabotage is becoming an increasingly unlikely explanation. Survivors are uncertain exactly what it was that the train struck, and police have not found any evidence of explosives at the scene.” A Swiss Police officer appeared on the screen testifying in French. The BBC translator explained that the Police had been investigating reports of a gorilla running free in the city, but are yet unsure whether there was a link between the two events.

Marius paused, a bandage in his hand, staring at the destruction on the screen: cars flipped on their sides, railings torn out of buildings, mail boxes lying in the middle of the street, a clear wake of chaos leading out of the laboratory window.

The BBC anchor continued in his highly intoned way, “Earlier, witnesses made a number of calls describing a gorilla rampaging through the normally quiet city. Elton Gilles reports from Geneva.”

“Thank you, Justin. Tonight, citizens of Geneva are distraught not only by the horrific accident that has killed 32 people and ground to a halt intercity trains, but they are also concerned by a spate of unbelievable incidents involving an escaped laboratory animal. As you can see behind me, the large primate has left a wake of destruction, overturning vehicles, terrifying pedestrians, and even killing a dog.

“The creature’s movements can be traced back to the Swiss Centre for Biophysics and Nano-Engineering, from which the animal seems to have escaped. None of the scientists in charge have been reached, and it seems that the laboratory might, in fact, have been abandoned within the last week.” The screen split so that both journalists could be seen, Justin Webb in the newsroom, and Elton Gilles in the streets of Geneva.

“Any idea where the monkey has fled to, Elton?”

“Well, authorities are occupied with freeing the remaining passengers, and so very little can be done about the escaped animal. Normally, under such circumstances, emergency crews would be called in from neighbouring countries, however, as you know, with the blackout in France, resources have been strained there as well.”

“Thank you, Elton.” Back in the newsroom, a darkened map of western Europe appeared behind the anchor. “Let’s return now to news about the power failure in France, which have left over 20 million people in the dark.”

Marius turned off the television. He had seen enough. Bandaged up, and finally rid of any trace of blood, he slumped into the professor’s couch. He closed his eyes and drew a blanket over himself. Marius hated being alone. He hated the quietness of a solitary life, because it seemed like he was invisible. There was no one to react to him, and without that, who was he?

Eyes closed, he wondered how much of today’s carnage was his responsibility. How much of it could be avoided next time. He knew there would be a next time, because he could not fail so easily. Marius van Niekerk was no loser. He must accomplish this task, where even the professor had failed. In his mind, he was reviewing the process and building solutions for the problems that had occurred. He would need to go farther from civilization. He would need a bigger pressure chamber, and a laboratory with cages strong enough to hold large animals. And then, before he passed out from blood loss, he dreamt up animals foreign even to mythology and outside the limitless bounds of evolution. Animals with wings, tentacles, and antlers. Animals unknown to reality.

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