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The Chimera Within

By BrooklynSkySurfer

Adventure / Scifi

Chapter 1

Chimera: in Greek mythology, any mythical animal with parts taken from various animals

Chimera: in Biology, an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation

Chimera: a thing that is hoped or wished for but in reality is illusory or impossible to achieve

                                                     Chapter 1

It was a brisk autumn afternoon, and Tom Jones paused to let the cool breeze chill his face. The bracing air helped him sort his thoughts and made him confident that he had made the right decision. He had managed something so unlikely that it bordered on the implausible; he had convinced the scholarship board to support a complete academic direction change; from computer engineering to studying biology at the University of Pittsburgh, which houses the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Tom immediately threw himself into his studies, and was soon obsessively grappling with the concepts of genetics and how the body functioned. While he strived to avoid distractions that in the past he would have joyfully indulged in, the nagging disturbance in his mind was the desire to seek some sort of justice for his former neighbour, Latrell. As far as he could tell, the police had stopped searching for the killers, and Tom was not holding his breath for updates anytime soon. His distracted thoughts played on several different angles of ways to attempt an investigation, but again he was paralyzed by not knowing exactly how to proceed.

In one of his moments of reverie in the library, he became aware that he had acquired the attention of someone else there. He looked over to find himself staring into two of the most beautiful, clear blue eyes that he had ever seen. The individual that bore these eyes with delicate grace was a figure of absorbing interest. She was not tall, yet projected the quality of being able to command a room or bend others to her will. She was Celtic complexioned that was complemented by her auburn locks that could still be casually observed as they were neatly visible as a frame for her face, although the rest of her head was covered by the traditional Muslim hijab, which was probably the most fascinating addition of all. "Whatcha thinking about?" she asked nonchalantly, as if they talked all the time.

"Um, hi. Just trying to catch up on some studying. I'm Tom. And you?"

"Hi. I'm Gwen." She held out her hand for a shake. "You're in my Biomedical Engineering class."

"Oh yeah. Professor Eisenburg. He's a delight."

"You made an interesting comment in class yesterday. Do you really think cross-species genetics is a near future possibility?"

"I was just hypothesizing. I mean if it were possible to glean certain genetic traits that are already fully operational and then splice them into the DNA of a patient, then the implications could be incredible! But, like I said, I was just theorizing. Eisenburg shot me down pretty hard."

"Yeah, you went down in flames. But now I find you here, up to your eyeballs in textbooks and research, just like every other night of the week. He didn't discourage you very much." She looked at him coyly.

"How do you know I'm always here? Unless you have been here studying too?"

She pointed. "That's my corner over there. It bruises my ego that you haven't noticed me."

"Oh, uh, don't take it personally. You are very… uh. I just have a lot on my mind, is all."

"So, Tom. What drives a person like you to be here late every night, speed reading medical journals as if his life depended on it?"

"What's your interest?" Tom said, smiling.

"Although I'm a science major, I take a real interest in the dark motivations that drive people to do things. Especially if it drives them to do things that aren't conventional." She adjusted her hijab as it hung on her shoulders. "Because I know for me, I'm all about what drives me."

"Hey, do you want to grab a coffee or something?"

"Ooh. Slow down, hot-rod. You'll see me around. Don't worry. Try to get some rest tonight. You'll need it if you're going to redeem yourself after yesterday."

"Oh, I stand by what I said."

"Trust me when I tell you that I wouldn't be talking to you if you didn't," Gwen said, as she sashayed away.

On weekends, Tom would go into the city to spend time with his poet friend, Mariah Crawford. He had told her he was working for a 'research group' funded by an innovative hospital that was working on helping people with her condition. She began to feel more comfortable talking to him of her symptoms, so that he was able to compile his own file of her medical history and the ongoing development of her heart condition.

When Mariah was born, she had been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart defect that causes inadequate oxygenation of the blood. Before her first birthday, she had been treated with a total surgical repair that had produced good results, but now she had developed other long-term heart problems, including arrhythmia, and valve regurgitation. Her aortic and mitral valves were leaking, allowing reverse blood flow which led her to suffer from laboured breathing, lethargy, heart murmurs and overall discomfort in her chest.

The conclusion was that Mariah needed a mitral and aortic valve replacement, but she was running out of time and options. Tom took comfort in the fact that he at least knew what he was dealing with, and in what direction to ply his research.

Often, he would pass by his old apartment where his neighbour Latrell was shot, casually talking to possible witnesses and taking photos of the crime scene. One thing he learned, people did not want to talk. The second time he came by, the door to Latrell's apartment was open. He knocked, and a black woman in her forties was there. "Can I help you?"

"Hi, I'm Tom." He glanced inside at a framed photo she was holding. "I was a friend of your father's."

She eyed him suspiciously. "My dad didn't have many friends."

"I used to live upstairs. Your dad really helped us to make an important thanksgiving family reunion a success."

"Oh," she said smiling and softening a little. "You're the kid with the girlfriend who couldn't cook a turkey if your lives depended on it. He used to make fun of you."

"That's me. Like I said, with your dad's help we were able to cook that turkey, and everyone ate it, so it wasn't that terrible. And your father had a weird way of putting things in perspective that helped me a number of times." She just nodded and looked at the ground. "I'm very sorry for your loss. Please, may I come in? I realize that there was lot's I didn't know about your father."

Tom started helping Latrell's daughter, whose name was Louise, to pack up things in the apartment. She cautiously accepted his offer to help when he told her this wasn't something she should be doing alone. "My father was old and stubborn, and no one ever told him anything that would change his mind," she said. "He insisted on staying in this neighbourhood long after it started being run by the gang bangers. But we could never convince him to leave, not that where I was living was any better."

"Do you know what happened?"

"No. Not really. But I have some ideas. A few months back, my son Franklin, saw something he shouldn't have on his way to school. Now in our family, we don't go messing around in others people's business. He didn't say anything to anybody. Well, sometimes, that's not enough. After spending an evening with some kids who were supposedly his friends, a group of guys drove by and shot at him."

"Is he okay?"

"He's alive. One of the bullets hit him in the side, but he's recovered now. No permanent physical damage. But it's not safe for us anymore anywhere in the city. All of us, we up and left to live at my sister's place, upstate. But my dad, he refused to go."

"Well surely these gangsters wouldn't know your father."

"Our family's been around for a long time. My father knew a lot of people back in the day, so not only did he insist on staying, but it would seem he might have done something that's not like him. I mean, he knows what these people are like, so I never expected him to do anything foolish like go and have it out with these people. They're dangerous and they don't like to be messed with."

"Did you tell any of this to the police?"

"Yeah. I told them most of what I thought. They just told me it was a theory, and then tried to put pressure on my son to talk. Can you believe that? After what he's been through? First he gets shot and then his grandfather is killed. Do they honestly believe my baby's going to have anything to do with them now?"

"Yeah, the cops only seem to work on an exaction of unconditional cooperation."

"You don't get nothing for nothing in this world. Well I'm not going to lose my son. I don't want him working with the cops. You can't trust anybody. That's why I'm here by myself. Hopefully, I can get out of here alive."

"Yeah, well let me help you sort some of this stuff out so you can back to your family."

"Thank you. Normally I wouldn't, but the sooner I can get out of here, the better."

Tom's nerves were now on edge. There were scary people menacing this family. Louise stepped into the next room, and Tom decided to head into the bedroom. Giving it a quick scan, he focused on the bedside table. Opening the drawer and shuffling some things around, he found exactly what he was looking for. The small pistol felt good and comfortable in his hand. The cold steel and the solid weight made him feel a little more confident with the fact that there could be dangerous men watching this apartment and it's occupants. A sound coming from the hall signalling the approaching of Louise caused him to instinctively hide the gun in the most convenient place; his pocket.

He helped her clean up for a few more hours and then said he had to get going. Some of his questions had been answered. Now he had more questions that needed answering, but at least now he felt he had a trail to follow and an idea of where to start looking.

He was supposed to have a date that night with Mary-Jane. Her circle of friends mostly consisted of people she worked with, making him feel like an outsider when he was invited along. They always had plenty to talk about amongst themselves; and their conversations usually consisted of topics that either held no interest for him or concerned histories that he did not understand. It soon became apparent that M.J. had ongoing, off going feuds with most of her coworkers. That night he was picking her up to go to a show put on by one of her successful photographer friends. Tom was happy to go, because he enjoyed photography and art, but as usual he was nervous about what to talk about with these people.

When they arrived at the photo gallery, just as he had envisioned, M.J. got into an intense discussion with some of her coworkers about issues that did not interest him in the least. He noticed a little girl, about 9 years old and with glasses, staring at one of the photo prints. 'This kid seems harmless.' he thought. Soon he was chatting with little 'Megan' about why grownups were so frustrating. Every now and then he would cast a glance towards M.J. and her crowd. Judging by M.J.'s body language, their argument did not look like it was abating. "I'm sure lucky to be here with you," he said to Megan.

"Tell me about it," said the little girl.

The next morning he was preoccupied thinking about the many tasks he was working on. Between university, endeavouring to help a dying woman, investigating a murder, and trying to make sense of the different women in his life, he really felt like he had a full plate. Almost involuntarily, he started texting April. "Who are you texting at this hour?" M.J. asked, as she poured two cups of coffee.

"I just needed some advice for a project I'm working on."

M.J. eyed him sceptically through the steam from her mug as she lightly blew on it. "You could at least attempt to make conversation. Why don't you tell me more about what you're studying?"

"You're right I'm sorry," he said, kissing her on the forehead. "I'm getting into some pretty fascinating stuff, actually." He paused as his phone buzzed, "…and I'd love to tell you all about it, but again, I'm sorry, I really have to get going."

"You're seriously just going to go?" M.J. had that face like she wanted to fight.

"Sorry, I have to." There was no way he was going to say who he was asking advice from. Soon he found himself at his ex-girlfriend April's family's palatial mansion. Their butler Nestor showed him in. Nestor was always very helpful and friendly to Tom, especially if it seemed Tom was about to make a social blunder in the high society set that inevitably were to be found at the Rothschild Manor, and Tom liked Nestor very much in return.

Tom found April waiting for him in one of the sitting rooms. "April, thanks so much for letting me come by. I really need your advice."

"So your message said. Let's just say you have my curiosity going for you more than anything else."

"Look, I get it. I was a jerk. And I really need to have your forgiveness if I am to move on. I'm getting into some incredibly fascinating stuff at school. I know you'd find it mind-blowing, as I do. And one day I hope to be able to share these things with you, without it being, well, weird. But your support is still very important to me, in whatever endeavour I'm undertaking."

"I get that. And I guess part of me would like to see you succeed," April grudgingly admitted, "if you can restrain the imbecilic aspects of yourself for any length of time." She grinned.

"Great. Point taken. To sum up: I'm an idiot, and I still need you. Now to the subject at hand. What I'd like your advice on is not what I'm studying, but more to do with what you're studying." Tom filled her in on what he had learned from Latrell's daughter, and possibly why he was killed, hoping to glean from April's law school education. "So basically I may have an idea as to why he was murdered but we still don't know by whom. What should we do next?"

"Well, have you talked to the police about this?"

"No, but his daughter already told them all of it. They're holding off on doing anything unless her son testifies for the other case, and that will probably just get him killed."

"Tom, I know it's difficult, but you have to trust the system. Sure there are some corrupt people in law enforcement, but not all of them. In the end, the system works, and we don't know that if Latrell's daughter cooperates, it will get her killed. For all we know, the cops can protect her. Somebody has to take the first step, and in the end we can't do much of anything. It's up to the detectives in the NYPD and the district attorney's office to solve this."

"But why should I trust the system? It hasn't exactly earned my trust."

"Because I believe in the system. You've asked for my advice and I'm asking you, if we are still friends like you say, than please do me a favour and trust the police and lawyers to do their job."

"But isn't it true that sometimes it takes other people, like for instance an investigative journalist, to examine the evidence and see justice accomplished?"

"Sure, that's true. But in the end the evidence has to be processed by the police, and then prosecuted by the district attorney. That's how the system works."

"Thanks, I understand you. Clear as crystal."

"Okay, good, I think. But just promise me you won't do anything stupid."

The following evening found Tom back in the university library, once again digging his way through their immense database. Soon, he was awakened from his single-minded efforts by a friendly, familiar voice, as if out of a dream. "You are doing well, Tom Jones, but you will have do a little better."

Tom looked up and smiled. "Gwen, how do you always sneak up on me like that?"

"So you're making an attempt to make up for your weekend of slacking off and debauchery? Studying hard on Monday will not resurrect brain cells that you killed off with various substances on Saturday."

"I wasn't partying this weekend. I just have a lot of irons in the fire, that's all. You can't learn everything in the library, you know." He turned back to his computer. "What's your interest anyway? What do you care what 'debauchery' I get up to on the weekend?"

"I was hoping that we might be able to help each other out. I mean, if you're up to it."

"You mean be like, study partners?"

"Yeah, that's right, to start. I'm sure that you've noticed, but the competition here now is getting seriously cut-throat." (Tom hadn't really noticed but he wasn't prepared to admit it.) "And now everything is about being the best and brightest to compete for the top internships."

"Okay. Where do I come in?"

"By now you must be familiar with the work of Dr. Julian Connors."

"Um, yeah," said Tom, flipping through windows on his computer screen. "He is a scientist who in the past has promoted animal-human hybrids."

"Oh he's way more than that. His research is on the cusp of revolutionizing regenerative medicine. Not only could his theories impact health care in curing various illnesses, but could have ramifications in illness prevention by strengthening and improving weakened organs."

"Right. So you have my attention. Are you saying you that you want to try and get an internship with him?"

"Yeah, there's only one thing standing in our way. George Bartholomew."

"Oh yeah. I think I know him. Glasses. Small hands. I've never thought of him as being in anyone's way, let alone mine."

"Look. I've been competing with Bartholomew for a while now and I know that he plays dirty. He's tried to get me expelled on a number of occasions. Remember last year when I was accused of plagiarism? Now I think he's made it a matter of personal pride to make sure he gets what I want, and he's hoping to destroy me in the process."

"You must be exaggerating. He can't be that evil."

"You have to wake up and see where you are. This is a shark tank and only the fastest and most vicious make anything of themselves. So what do you say? Partners?"

Tom shrugged. "Sure, why not? You've definitely piqued my curiosity. So how exactly do we win these internships?"

"First, we need to be on our game when it comes to our GPA. You first caught my eye with your work ethic. You're going to need that. Next, we have to be smart, which means understanding Dr. Connors' theories and knowing our enemy. Thus, we must acknowledge that Bartholomew is a brilliant biologist. We just have to be more brilliant. He is also calculating and devious."

"So we have to be more calculating and devious."

"In so many words, yeah, we do. But our advantage is that we know Bartholomew's plan. He's trying to get to Dr. Connors by currying favour with Norman Osborne. You see, Dr. Connors' lab is funded by Oscorp, and one of his principle goals is to find a cure for the CEO, Norman Osborne, who apparently is dying. We have to outsmart him by showing Connors that we're better for the job."

"How do we do that?"

"I have a plan. Osborne is suffering from a debilitating disease called retroviral hyperplasia. Dr. Connors has given him some interim treatments that can't maintain a permanent effect. Between his treatments and his disease, apparently Osborne has deformed into a real hobgoblin, which complements his personality because Norman Osborne is not a nice man. He made his fortune in heavy weapons manufacturing and is responsible for many environmental disasters. Now according to my research, Osborne is threatening to cut off Dr. Connors' funding because he hasn't been able to effect a cure for him, as of yet. Now this is when the story really gets intriguing.

"The only thing that matters to Dr. Connors is his research into transgenics and their implications for regenerative medicine. It's his life's work and he will do anything to protect it. It's one of the things that I admire about him. That's why it grabbed my attention when Connors was quietly voted onto the board of directors at Oscorp and then sent out this tweet. Check it out…" Gwen held up her phone for Tom to see.

"'The die is cast.' What does it mean?"

"I have a hunch that it means that Connors isn't going to risk his legacy to the whims of a dying autocrat like Osborne, and that he's quietly putting the pieces in play to take over the corporation."

"Does Bartholomew know any of this?"

"If he did, it wouldn't make much sense that he would still be using his daddy's connections in courting favour with Osborne, the soon-to-be former regime. But I think that if we give Osborne some rope to play with, his self-serving nature won't be able to resist trying to use whatever weapon he thinks he has against us. And then, in the process, hang himself; thus, levelling the playing field to give us an even chance. We just have to have done our homework so that we can sufficiently outshine Bartholomew to Dr. Connors."

"Alright, you have a deal, Miss Stacy. We'd better get to work."

Tom and Gwen would study together pretty much every day. One day, when they felt they couldn't retain anything more, they headed to a local pizza place for a break. Tom finally had to ask her some questions that had been bedevilling him. "You talk a lot about motivation. What's driving you? Is it some dark, terrible secret?"

Gwen stretched mozzarella out of her mouth. "Tell you what. You tell me first, what would have motivated someone like you to take on such a crazy assignment, and I promise I will answer whatever questions you have."

"I thought you knew everything about me," Tom stalled.

"Just what I've observed in school. I don't know what you get up to off campus."

Tom chewed thoughtfully. "Alright, are we partners or not? I need to tell you, that I have this friend. She's a really good person, a poet. She's not, like, my girlfriend, in case you were wondering, but I care about her, I really do. And she's dying from a rare heart defect. I'm thinking that her only chance is to regenerate her own healthy heart to transplant, but that's not on the table right now unless we can make some real strides in the tech, and soon. So I figure that Connors is our best shot."

"Wow, knight in a shining lab coat. Look at you! I didn't expect it to be so noble, and such a dark horse." Gwen touched his hand. "But I believe you're right. If this girl is to have a chance, it will be with Dr. Connor's research. She's lucky to have you as a friend."

"Well that remains to be seen. Okay, your turn. Why do you want to be Connors' helper monkey so badly?"

"My story is more complicated, and you could spend years studying me and not know everything, but I'll give you the basic story. I'm a military brat. My dad is in the Air Force and most of my life we were stationed in Saudi Arabia. I loved the culture there but the Regime's treatment of women is atrocious. A lot of my school friends would tell me to convert to Islam, but I was too into my American TV and Justin Timberlake and stuff like that to care about religion. But finally I decided to read the Koran to look for an explanation of why these Islamists treated women so horribly. But I couldn't find any support for the marginalization of women; instead, what I got from it is that the Koran is like our Magna Carta. According to my reading, it makes it clear that women are equal in spirituality, worth and education. But there are countries torn apart for this very issue, and I want to rise to the top of my field to give the Muslim world a heroine, to represent the values of education so that we can make the world a better place if we truly embrace God's message, especially when it comes to gender equality."

"Well, I guess we'd better hit the books. You have to change the world."

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