The quiet, monotonous clatter of keyboards had a calming effect on Doc. After a while you get used to the background noises of the office and without even addressing them, they become a friend. Much like that grumpy neighbour, who after ten years finally greets and you discover that, perhaps people are not so bad after all. 'An enemy is somebody who's story you haven't heard.' She didn't like that saying. She didn't like tolerance. She believed in conversation, progress and commitment to integrity. Whatever small impact her values made, she was still tolerated in this department. Ten years she had given to the office. That much it had taken her to discover calmness and gratitude, while immersing herself in the menial aspects of the job. 'Research-assistant' - if that was even a job... sometimes she felt that they were keeping her just because she used to be part of THAT team.
Leaning on her chair she closed her eyes for a minute. These small breaks were helping to paint the grey day in shades of fantasy. Putting her headphones and hitting play, a soothing and calm voice began pondering on the wonders of nature.
"I remember once", the voice opened,"I was looking in the open air and one of these little, glorious thistle things came and I picked it up between my fingers and brought it down. And it looked as if it was struggling to escape, just as if you caught an insect by one leg, a daddy-long-legs or something. I thought, it's not doing that, that's just the wind blowing... Then I thought again...Really? Just the wind blowing? Surely it was the structure of that thing, that in cooperation with the wind was allowing it to move like an animal. But using the wind's effort, not it's own. It's more intelligent being than an insect, in a way, because the insect uses effort, like a person who rows a boat uses effort, but a man who puts up a sail uses magic. He lets nature do it for him with the intelligence to use a sail, see? Now that's the most skilful art of all. That's perfection!"
Stop. She removed the headphones and listened for another minute to the rich and distant buzz of the department. Conversations between colleagues, machines printing, scanning, phones clattering and clanging, hurried steps.
THAT team had grown back an arm. Directly on the damaged limb, like a lizard would do with it's tail. An arm of a soldier. He had lost the original one in an explosion or combat. Not really important where and how, but why! In war... when people died, cultures lost, knowledge erased and opportunities stolen. They have used extracellular matrix to aid the growth of embryonic cells. Each little tiny cell had taken the precise position after "consulting" with the DNA of the host. And they have given a new arm to, what was back then, a war hero. It was considered a huge success. Corporate actions were taken to integrate that new technology and quickly to expand it into a full time service for the good of the people. Or at least the people who paid. And those were the military. It was even put in a commercial ad, promoting army service."Death will approach him from every corner, yet he will not die"* , began to have a lot more meaning now. She wouldn't have anything religion would say when she was young. Back then she would not even take a minute break here and there. Just the project, dead-lines and long hours, filling the gaps in herself with that love for science. But the isolation of somebody who had invested herself fully to work, also provided those lonely minutes before sleep. And after the scientific breakthrough and the short exhilaration, those moments were occupied with thoughts of the war sifted through the media, the promotion ads, the interviews, the corporate meetings, the desire of others to push this further and further, tests on marines and ...oh Lord, amputations on volunteers. It no longer seemed like the proper thing. It had run away from the vision.
So for the last time in her life she immersed herself fully into the rational research and for the first she committed an irrational act. She had "convinced" some of those small cells not to take their proper place, while growing and transforming themselves. In Computational Morphogenesis even the slightest, tiniest alteration would produce vastly different results. And with the right spot, the proper enzyme, the precise location in the chain of DNA and assistance of proteins, the alterations were invisible, until the very last moment. Until after the time of the big presentation and the public announcements. The success of the project, the fame, the large sums invested were much more the undoing of it all. It had gained too much power already and the weight of it all made it crash down severely. After the acknowledgement that it was working, it's failure was not tolerated. She was sure that the team could trace it back. She was sure that they would know it's an intervention. If they had the time for it. It all too quickly became a mess with too much pressure and too many opinions from the outside. Money reverted to a different research team and a name was announced as "incompetent". Several careers came collapsed and a winter time ensued for the research theme. The public would not have any of it. And it would stay that way for at least another decade. Maybe in two somebody would follow the trace of bread crumbs and discover her and what she did back then. But she doubted it. Just a tiny small alteration in the process. A small brick from the foundation of the tower. And it all collapsed. The sound of the crash had muted her footsteps.
Doc wasn't particularly high in the pyramid then and she managed to keep working in the field of science. But she chose to stay invisible."Assistant-researcher". Breeding simple organs for transplantation. Sometimes she felt like a farmer. The process was so imperfect. But it was accepted because everybody were clear on the side effects before hand. Often patients' bodies would reject the organs stopping the blood flow to them. They needed to be treated with chemical medications to prevent the rejections. Sometimes they would even fail altogether in their functions. But it was named progress and it was accepted. She could see where her colleagues lacked fines and brilliance, but she also learned to live with it. Writing long reports was just fine. Putting the comas where it mattered was OK. And she loved the small breaks. A bit of invisibility was not all that bad as well. She still had access to the high-end equipment and kept up-to-date with the latest outbreaks of knowledge. It was good for her own hobby. And the world didn't have to know. Not yet, perhaps.
A vibration from her pocket and a message from "Techie".
"Glass of wine at 7 today?"
"Why not!" - she typed, amused.
"The Arms Pub?"
He was known to his friends as "The Techie". A like-minded person and invisible in her fashion as well. Computer scientist, programmer... hacker. Careful about what he said. He was the one who had dug out data for the ill-fated project she used to be part of and stored it away for the future. It would have been a shame to let go of all that work just like that. There was place for it. Just not now, perhaps.
Putting her headphones on, she played Nocturnal Sonatas and continued generating texts. Ten years of service had also earned her that. Her peers didn't mind.
Managing to finish the quota for the day early, she signed off and drove home. It was nice having the roads without the usual rush-hour congestion. End of spring and a late sunshine out there. Clear sky, and pleasant wind flowing in through the window. She didn't have to focus much on the rest of the drivers and could relish the trip. Doc didn't have one of those self-driving GPS instalments. They would move slower, anyway.
Coming back to her small house she took a quick shower and went into her living room. It looked something like a nerd's Hi-Tech den of science. An artist's small private altar of creation, that no body was allowed to look at. Smartly organised, a bright lighting from the ceiling illuminated a desk with a large desktop screen. A thick pile of documents next to it and a small library on the wall. Biology, Neuroscience, Organic System's Functions , Anatomy, Gardening, Scientific Documentaries, Zoology, Insectology, Medicine, DNA research, Wet Nanotechnology, Engineered Cells. It was a small haven of books on how to build your own Frankenstein. Aquariums were covering another wall. In some insects from around the world were breezily crawling or just standing, imitating their environment in wait for something. Some tanks were brightly lit. Some had pipes going into them, coming out of specific gas bottles - pressure check, quantity check. She made sure every day, even though there was enough left for two weeks. A fish aquarium. Plants and Fungi, all in a controlled environment, carefully taken care for and observed to assure every need was met. Microscope, flasks, Petri dishes, small instruments of the trade - injections and miniature forms of cutlery-like utensils, a sterilizing oven, a spin coater device. She could not do everything here, though. It was her home and hygiene was an issue. But between the laboratory and her home she had a lot of freedom. Here was her heart.
There was a grey, metallic mask hanged from the ceiling. It looked something like the old Greek Personae from the theatres. No expression, just holes for the eyes and mouth and no other distinguishing features. It was smooth, dark, somehow soft and oily - graphite. It was made from graphite; home grown. The last element in the room was a table in the centre with a large aquarium on top. Fungal moss on soil on the bottom laid underneath a thin layer of orange growth, expanding in circles across the surface. The orange circles had greying bits on top of them. Modified Cordyceps mushrooms, feeding on the hosts' proteins and replacing their tissue with their own. This one had been kindly "instructed" to deposit part of the Carbon so omni-present in all organic things, on the top, slowly forming plaques of carbon allotropes. Every time it did not create what she was after it just lumped together as a piece of graphite. What do you think she was after... diamonds? She was happy enough for that. Single wall carbon nano tubes. Long strands of them, preferably. Compounded into a thread if possible. But adjustments were needed. And that's why it was so fun. It was a fascination with nature rather than shimmer and glimmer in front of the camera.
After the inspection was done, she put on some comfortable clothes and walked out of the house. The rest of the people from the group she was part of were just as important now as her old passion for success. The days were ever more pleasant if you could share them with humans who thought like you did. That, her hobby and her knack for knowledge were keeping her empty house warm and delightful. If she had to rely on old fame she would probably be lonely today. She knew it.
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