The Chimera Within

Chapter 8


The next morning, Tom was hard at work on some assignments he had received regarding organ regeneration and figuring out ways to grow the organs more efficiently. It would seem that many of his superiors in the company were prioritizing that his division become financially solvent, something Tom had never given a second thought. As he was beginning to receive more responsibility in the lab, he also came to be aware of the politics and the economic nit picking that always was part and parcel of any big corporation. He agreed with the desire to make the treatment affordable, but he felt that that would come in time, and wasn't particularly happy in sacrificing what would be a great product from the get go, in trying to create an innovative but inferior product that would possibly make more money.

He decided to call Mariah, both to see how she was and to receive some comfort. "Hey Boo," he said, "How are you feeling today?"

"Not so good, actually. Nothing too serious, I just feel nauseous, like I don't want to leave my bed."

"That's too bad, but at this stage it should be normal. I'll come check on you at lunchtime."

"I think I'm just going to rest today and I'm sorry. I think I have to cancel our dinner for tonight."

"That's okay, I think I'll have to work late tonight, I don't know what time I would get home. Would you be really upset if I didn't make it to see you until tomorrow?"

Mariah laughed. "I'll be fine. I'm a big girl."

"As one of your physicians, I'll tell you to just rest today, and save your strength. Don't worry about anything."

As he tried to get back to focusing on the less interesting parts of his job, he caught sight of Toby playing tour guide around the lab for a young guy in a suit. Toby saw Tom looking their way and began to direct the guy towards him. The young man was distinguished by a very astute countenance and a shock of wavy hair that seemed to defy gravity.

"Tom, I'd like to introduce you to someone. A genuine entrepreneur. Mr. Augustus, may I present Tom Jones, one of our top interns, and he has proved himself to be an exceptional researcher and all around wizard in the lab."

"Pleased to meet you, sir," Tom said.

"The pleasure is mine, and please, call me Harold," the man said, "Based on what I've been hearing, you're the man I should get to know if I want answers to my questions."

"Well," said Tom, shaking his head sheepishly, "You can't believe everything this man says. Toby, when you build me up too much like that, everyone will know I'm lying when I brag about myself later."

"I've never known you to brag, Tom, in fact you're too modest with what you've been able to accomplish in your short time here. So Mr. Augustus is very interested in investing in our company and he specifically mentioned learning more about your research."

"Oh really?" asked Tom, "Do you have a background in medical research?"

"Not at all," said Harold, "I just like to do my homework when it comes to what I do with my money. And let me say I am very impressed from what I've seen so far."

"Great." Tom's attention diverted to Harold's hat that he was holding. "I like your fedora. Is that Sinatra or Bogart?"

"It's supposed to be Bruno Mars," said Harold, smiling. "So I guess that would make it more Sinatra."

"Totally. That's a great style. Classic rat-pack!"

"I guess I'm partial to the genre. Actually I've been wondering something, and maybe you can help me. I'm only in New York for a couple of days, and I wanted to visit a really great jazz club while I'm here. I don't suppose you could direct me to one."

"Ah, yeah. Hands down, you should check out the Village Vanguard, at 7th and 11th. It's known as the place where John Coltrane recorded his most famous stuff," Tom said.

"I liked that other place you took me to that time, Tom. What's it called again? Oh yeah, 55 Bar. I liked it. Cool atmosphere. It's more of a guitar jazz club, which I liked," piped in Toby.

"Or if you want a little more modern style, Smalls, up in Greenwich Village, is a really cool place, as well. I saw Norah Jones perform there once. It's a cool venue and a little bit bigger."

"Thanks. See I knew I was asking the right person. Well what are you guys doing tonight? Let's see who's playing tonight and go hear some jazz. What do you say?" asked Harold.

"I'm in," said Toby eagerly.

Tom hesitated. "I do have a lot of work to do. But I guess I don't really have any real commitments. Oh, what the hell. A night of great music is probably exactly what I need. Let's do it."

That night Toby, Tom, and Harold Augustus went out to Smalls Jazz Club, to hear Victor Gould's sextet. When they arrived, Harold waved to a blonde man, and said to the other guys, "I hope you don't mind, but I invited a friend of mine to join us. Tom, Toby, I'd like to introduce you to Markus Vitaly, my good friend and business partner. Alright, let's get some drinks and enjoy the show."

The music was fantastic. Gould was great on piano, and the rest of the band was hellatight. Tom always enjoyed seeing jazz drummers perform and the skins player that night, EJ Strickland, was excellent.

After the set, the four of them continued talking, finishing their gin martinis. Tom got chatting with Markus, who was a pretty interesting guy. "Markus Vitaly, nice you could hang with us while you're here in the city. Is this your first time here?"

"I have leeved here before. But I always enjoy my time here. Love the architecture. Anytime I am in New York I veesit Empire State Buildink and the Chrysler. My favororeet ees the Art Deco."

"You've got great taste, my friend. And you and Harold, have you known each other for a long time?"

"We grow up together, until hees family came to America. Then after few years, I came here, as well. Now I serve in US armed forces. I just get back from second tour in Iraq."

"Thank you for your service," said Toby.

"Pazhalooysta."

"I thought I recognized the accent. You speak Russian," said Tom.

"Da. Now I have lived in America for ten years. But I keep my accent," Markus said, smiling.

"Hey, the accent looks great on you. Can I ask you a personal question? Was it really tough serving in the American military as a Russian?"

"They gave me hard time for one time. But afterwards, no one gave me hard time again. No one dared," Markus said emphatically.

"I'll bet," said Tom under his breath.

"So I had also promised Markus that you blokes would help him to meet some women. Can you guys help me out in that department?" asked Harold.

"That weel not be necessary," laughed Markus, looking embarrassed.

"I'm happily married," said Toby. "So I'm afraid I've probably forgotten how to meet women. Sorry. But Tom here, he could help you out. Although I think he might work too much. Maybe he's forgotten as well. The only woman I've ever seen you with is Gwen Stacy. Did you guys ever..?"

"No, no, no," Tom protested, probably more emphatically than was necessary. "We're just good friends, and partners. We came over from McGowan together. But we've never dated or anything. I kind of think that I'm not her type."

"I've heard of your Gwen Stacy," said Harold animatedly, "She sounds like quite the woman. Intelligent. Beautiful. Ambitious. I very much look forward to having the pleasure of making her acquaintance.

"Well Mischa," he said to Markus, "I think its time we let these gentlemen get some rest for the night. Toby, thank you for everything today. You were an excellent tour guide. Rest assured that I will be in touch regarding an investment." Toby looked elated, and exhausted, for it was after three in the morning.

Tom arrived at the lab the next morning, tired and fighting a bit of a hangover. He brushed past a tightly packed group that were having an intense conversation so he could slump down into his desk chair. Toby came over, trying to rub away the dark circles from under his eyes. "Morning Tom. Did you hear anything from the Paris convention?"

"Toby, all I'm thinking about right now is how much this coffee isn't strong enough for me this morning. But I'm guessing something happened that you'd like to tell me. Yeah, it looks like you're gonna tell me."

"Well, apparently the conference was a bit of gong show."

Tom choked down a gulp of brown liquid. "Ack! This coffee is terrible! Why? What happened?"

"Well first of all, Connors collapsed during one of their keynote presentations. It was crazy. You can watch it on Youtube." Tom looked over at the group of coworkers. Now he understood why they were all packed together.

"What happened? Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he got up pretty quickly and tried to act like it was nothing. Surprisingly, most people seem to be treating it as nothing. But that's not the only thing that happened."

"Oh no. There's more?"

"It would seem that they decided to use the conference as a platform to announce Connors' breakthrough."

"You mean, they told the medical establishment that Connors spliced his own DNA with that of a lizard?" gaped Tom. "How did that go over?"

"Well when he passed out after the announcement, fewer people noticed because they were still reeling from that bombshell."

"Well how did they announce it?"

"I'm not really sure. Ask Peter. He seems to have seen more." Toby called Peter over. "So how did all of this go down?"

"So Connors is doing his keynote for a lot of the medical big shots from around the world. And Iraklis is by his side. And during a presentation about organ regeneration, you can see Iraklis trying to interrupt Connors. He does this a couple of times. And then, he just kind of butts in and shows everyone Connors arm, and how it's starting to grow back."

"It was huge on dramatic impact. Lacking in professional discretion," said Guy, now joining the conversation.

"But I don't get it. Was this all part of the presentation? Did they plan this?" asked Tom.

"That's the thing that nobody seems to know. Connors went along with it, but the whole performance wasn't exactly polished. And then Connor collapsed so it's hard to say what he was thinking," said Peter.

"Yeah, and then, if you watch the video closely, you can see Gwen give Connors a shot with what looks like an epi-pen. And that's the story they went with afterwards. That Connors had ingested something he was allergic to and his aide was there to administer epinephrine. Everyone seems to have bought it, but I'm not convinced," said Guy. "I mean, now we know he's turned himself into a freakin' Chimera! This is not something normal. Gwen must have given him some sort of moderator. But of course there's going to be complications. We've crossed a line here people. We've blurred the lines of right and wrong when we started messing with DNA like that. And then announcing it to the world in this cavalier manner does not sit well with me."

"He's a brilliant man, but what was he thinking letting the world know before we even have all the data gathered? It's not scientific and it's not professional," agreed Toby.

"But what is the blogosphere saying?" asked Tom. "And have other doctors written their opinions about it?"

"Surprisingly, most people seem do not have a problem with it," said Toby. "But it was very reckless to let everyone look up our skirt like this. Now we will no doubt be the target of much unwanted attention and criticism."

"And I find that very worrisome, actually, that everyone is just fine with it," railed Guy. "What is the world coming to if people are just prepared to accept this kind of violation of humanity and animal life? Don't people still believe that we have a stewardship of responsibility to protect life, as we know it? Or are people just prepared to sacrifice their ethics because they need more freaks to star in their reality TV?"

"Uh-oh, you guys are going to want to see this," said Peter, motioning over to the TV, "I think the fallout has already started."

The four of them watched a CNN debate where a congressman; Dr. Miles Warren, and a senator, Billy Baker, debated on the legality and morality of cross-species genetics. Congressman Warren was also a biology professor before he got into politics, and he had a reputation for being very opinionated about the varying fields of genetic research. His argument was summed up when he stated, "This ethically murky swamp that Dr. Connors has led Oscorp down is fraught with terror and destruction, that can only result in suffering for the human race, and for America. As scientists, we have a duty to respect life and the genetic code that has been handed down to us. And in this United States, we have a moral obligation to set the example for other scientific communities and the rest of the world."

"But we may point out, that currently in the United States, there are no laws prohibiting, or otherwise governing animal-human hybrids," pointed out Wolf Blitzer, the CNN host.

"Yes, but many other countries have seen fit to ban this research. We are just being overindulgent to these scientists, who are so excited about what they've figured out that they can do, that they haven't stopped to think about whether they should meddle with human experiments and with the animal kingdom. And you don't have to be religious or an animal rights activist to see that this just doesn't make sense."

"That's what I said," piped in Guy.

"And you Senator, what's your opinion in this debate?" asked Blitzer.

"Well, first I'd like to say that I have always respected Dr. Connors as a man and as a scientist," began Senator Billy Baker.

"Aw, man, he's such a politician," interrupted Tom.

"But that being said, I have to concede that Congressman Warren makes some very valid points. It's true that this research seems to be leading to some medical breakthroughs, but still I think I speak for many of my fellow Americans in saying that these human experiments should not be done. There are other ways to advance medicine and human health besides going out into the strange brave new world of chimeric animals, such as, for example; sophisticated computer modelling. We should also be investigating these possibilities to avoid experimentation on live animals. So while I applaud the passion and ingenuity of Dr. Julian Connors and all the good doctors at Oscorp labs, I still fear that this is a venture too far. Once the technology is developed, how are we to control it? There is legitimate concern in the question: how do we know that these hybrids will not be put to uses that are problematic, risky or dangerous? There are other countries less friendly and lawless that are just waiting in the wings to mimic these medical breakthroughs, such as the Chinese. And what were to happen should North Korea, or Iran undertake a program to create an army of super soldiers? I shudder at the possible repercussions."

"Entirely true, Senator. Well said," complimented the Congressman, "It is really only the scientists who want to pursue this research, but as the Senator has said, they have gone over the edge into the pathological domain. That is precisely why I am in the process of opening up a congressional sub-committee to investigate any breaches of law or decency that have already been committed, and to create legislation for the future. Canada has already passed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which bans the creation of chimeras, or animal-human hybrids, so we have the example and precedent of our neighbours to the north. And I personally feel that we can seek direction from the Geneva Convention to guide us into a biologically and genetically protected future."

'Oh no,' thought Tom, "Is this a debate, or a love-in?" he asked out loud, irritated.

"Don't take it personally, Tom," said Peter, "But these politicians actually make some good points."

"And we'd better prepare ourselves," said Guy, "There's going to be a federal investigation into our work and research. Federal! There's no way I'm sacrificing my career for the whims of a tyrant. This is all going to be on him. Right, Toby?"

Toby sat silent, his brow furrowed, obviously ruminating his own debate in his head. Finally he spoke, "Connors is a reasonable man. Surely he wouldn't sacrifice the company for the sake of his ego." He sounded like he was asking a question, and he looked to the others for an answer.

"Well there's no way I'm going to bet my chips on Connors' supposed goodness. But I take what you said to indicate that you are not in agreement with mortgaging our futures for Connors' current self-image and a freakishly new arm?"

Toby set his jaw. "No I do not." This conversation was beginning to make Tom feel very uncomfortable.

"Well then, fate has left it up to us to change the course of this company," said Guy, defiantly. "Are you all with me?"

"What are you proposing? A coup?" asked Tom.

"No, that would be unconvincing. We will need to act more decisively."

"This is getting to be too deep for me. After all I'm still just an intern. Excuse me," said Tom, leaving.

"He may be a problem," remarked Peter to the others.

Tom left the lab in a hurry. He was beginning to feel very nervous that the government would stop, or at least put a moratorium on all the research being done, including the heart valves for Mariah that still required some time. He wanted to talk to Gwen, to see if she had any insights that might make him feel better. Really nobody seemed to understand and support Connors more than her. But that did not seem possible at the moment, as she would not return from France for another few days, and it was currently the middle of the night in Paris. Then Tom had an idea. Maybe he could talk to Congressman Miles Warren, who lived in New York, and perhaps help him to see that already there were human lives at stake. Tom went to track down the Congressman. He was able to figure out that he had a speaking engagement at a fundraiser, so Tom went to wait for him outside the hotel.

Tom was able to glean from the concierge of the hotel that the Congressman would be leaving early, because he had another appointment uptown. Sure enough, he left the fundraiser just after 8:00, and Tom was able to intercept him just before his car came around. "Dr. Warren? I was hoping to have a brief word with you." Tom spoke as he came out of the shadows.

"Who's there? Look, I don't know who you are, son, but if you need something you can try and set up an appointment with my office."

"I'm sorry, sir, but this is a very urgent matter that pertains to Dr. Connors' research."

Warren paused, and looked at Tom. "Dr. Connors' research? That is interesting, but I'm afraid I can't help you now." Suddenly Tom felt fierce chill go up and down his spine, setting all his nerves on edge, his faculties on high alert and his muscles charged with adrenaline. Something was about to happen…

"Call my secretary and set up an appointment. You can talk with one of my…"

"Get down! Look out!" screamed Tom, just as shots started firing towards them. Tom managed to knock the Congressman down to the sidewalk. The shots came just before the car swung around, so they were able to use the car for cover. The unknown sniper then proceeded to take out the driver. The mortally wounded man released his foot off the brake, and the limousine accelerated past them and drove through the lobby doors of the hotel before crashing into a giant planter. Tom continued to try to guide the congressman to cover behind a parked car further ahead.

Once Warren collected himself, he looked at Tom with wild eyes. "What is it that you want? Please don't kill me!"

"Believe me, sir, I have nothing to do with this. But I will try to get you out. Please stay here," Tom yelled, running away to try to get around to the rear of the shooter. Once cloaked in darkness, Tom leaped up to a second storey fire escape and began to scale the outside of the building. He had donned his Nacho Libre mask, shed his jacket to display his UR jersey and was leaping and climbing like a jumping spider. His heightened awareness informed him the shooter was hiding on a fourth floor balcony. Tom raced towards him with terrifying speed.

But unfortunately not fast enough. Meanwhile, the Congressman was panicking, convinced that Tom was part of the conspiracy. Once Tom had left for what felt to him like hours, he got up and started to run. He made it two meters before the sniper picked him off in the back of the head with a kill shot. Tom was now only inches away from pouncing on the assassin, but once he made the shot, he efficiently rappelled down the building to the ground. He was on the sidewalk in seconds, and ran towards the body. But Tom leaped from the balcony and tackled the attacker from four floors away.

They tumbled and rolled on the street. The shooter demonstrated remarkable dexterity and ability in hand-to-hand combat. Tom was overwhelmed momentarily as his opponent recovered and came at him with a military knife. Tom just managed to dodge the blow when the man continued towards the unfortunate Congressman. He went for his wallet and watch when Tom came up from behind, double kicking the attacker in the kidneys. Doubling over in pain, but again on the attack he pulled out a pistol. Tom kicked it out of his hand and pulled off his ski mask. He was greeted by a very muscular and grim countenance, with malice burning from his eyes. He again attacked with his large knife, but Tom was ahead of him with a punch to the face. Unfortunately, the man dodged the blow and Tom's fist went into the wall behind him. As Tom reeled in pain, the mystery man stabbed at Tom from behind. Tom managed to dive to the ground with lightning speed, but he still sustained a flesh wound to his shoulder. Fighting through the pain, he rolled under the man, and launched both feet into the man's privates, briefly stunning him. Leaping up, he then knocked the man unconscious with a garbage canister.

His eyes darted around the scene. He quickly took photos of the man, and the crime scene and then dissolved into the night, with the echo of sirens reverberating behind him.

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