Blue Fire

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Chapter 2: BioOrg

It was Elaine’s first day of work, and the excitement she was feeling was overwhelming her. All she could think of while driving was that she finally made it into the real world. Everybody always made a point to let her know that a degree in Chemistry is useless unless followed by a master’s degree. They were somewhat right, but she couldn’t afford any more loans and couldn’t possibly burden her parents with any more tuition fees. So this job felt like a gift from above. She had a plan to work for a couple of years, then save up enough to get a masters or Ph.D. in Chemistry.

She parked her car and made her way to the building. This time the nervous butterflies were replaced with the thrilling rush of adrenaline. Elaine walked over to the receptionist and introduced herself. The receptionist’s face brightened, “HI!!!” she shrieked “my name is Hope, we will be great friends, feel free to come to me if you need any help with any logistical things.” Then she made a phone call and another woman emerged from a locked door on the left. The woman had a short brown bob and looked to be in her late forties or so. She wore glasses with two crystals embedded on either side and she had a chain that held on to her glasses and wrapped all the way around her neck. Her appearance resembled that of a librarian except for the white lab coat she wore. The name “Anne Josten” was embroidered in cursive on her lab coat.

“Hi, you must be Elaine?” she said, extending her arm.

“Yes, I am, and I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have gotten this wonderful opportunity,” Elaine responded while shaking Anne’s extended hand.

“Well, follow me and we’ll get you settled in, show you the lab you’ll be working in, and the facilities we offer here for our employees.”

Anne scanned her ID card and the duo embarked through the door. Elaine was first escorted to the security office so she can get an ID issued. As is usual for all ID pictures, it looked quite depressing, even though Elaine had tried her best to smile wide, or perhaps it was she smiled too wide, it looked forced. Anne continued to give Elaine the complete tour showing her the in-house café. Which was a seating area where people usually eat their lunch, next to which was lodged a small cafeteria with a handful of vendors. Then they went through several halls, with Anne motioning with her hands right and left indicating where the gym was, the corporate massage room, as well as the nap room, in case one was working late. All the while, Elaine was trying to make mental notes of the turns they were making so she wouldn’t get lost when left to her own devices. Finally, they reached their final destination, a door with a little glass window. The sign next to the door read “CANCER 1”

“This is the lab you will be working in” Anne explained. “You will be part of team number 1. Team number 1 is currently working on cancer advancements and they are trying to utilize nanoparticles to attack cancer cells without all the side effects of chemotherapy. There are several other teams that are also working on cancer treatments but team 1 is known for having the most promising results. We felt that you would be a great addition in trying to help them fix the things that they are lacking. Sometimes a fresh approach is all that is needed for a breakthrough to occur.”

“Thank you ma’am” Elaine replied courteously, “I hope that I can prove you all right.”

As soon as they had pulled the door open and stepped through, five pairs of eyes were fixated on them. They all looked like they were in deep thought and were rudely interrupted. Anne introduced Elaine to everyone. The rest of the team all came over, shook her hand, and each gave a brief introduction of what they were working on. Elaine was then shown to her bench where a stack of paperwork had been sitting there waiting for glorious arrival. Anne explained that everybody filled out these forms when they were getting hired. The summary of what is on the forms entails that no one can disclose any part of their research to anybody or else face prosecution for infringing on proprietary laws. Thus, Elaine proceeded to sign all the paperwork without really reading it. She was not too worried about the matter; she never spoke about her work to anybody merely because nobody would understand what she was talking about anyway.

From everyone’s brief summary, she realized that the five scientists were all in different disciplines and likewise Elaine was the only one with a chemistry degree. Ava had a degree in Physics, Brianna had a Biochemistry degree, Richard had a degree in Bioinformatics, Thomas had an Engineering degree, while Michael had a degree in Biology. Elaine felt that every scientific field was covered. Michael, who seemed to be the friendliest, explained to her that they are all working on the same thing but each person is approaching it from their discipline so that every aspect is covered.

The six lab mates quickly became as thick as thieves. They worked long hours together and often found themselves going out to eat after work. They were all single and all in their twenties. So, it was only a matter of time when one of the guys would work up the courage to ask one of the ladies out. Sure enough, it was perhaps a month or so after Elaine had first started when Michael asked her out on a date. At first, she was hesitant to accept, she hated mixing work life with her dating life. If things didn’t work out they would still have to work together, and things usually get awkward. Yet, her mom’s constant reminder that she was still single and had very little time to actually go anywhere to meet people broke through her reservations and she reluctantly accepted.

Michael was tall with short black hair, brown eyes, and a charming smile. He was slim for his height, but overall, quite good-looking. To her surprise, they actually hit it off on their first date. He took Elaine to the classical dinner and a movie, and they had so much fun it made Elaine feel like she was a teenager again. Things began to progress and Elaine and Michael ended up going out every weekend for a couple of months. Michael planned all the dates to be quite elaborate and filled with fun activities. Yet, Elaine began feeling like they needed to have real conversations. Everything just felt so superficial to her so she decided to wait for the perfect timing.

“Michael, how about I ask you out this weekend?” Elaine said on a Thursday afternoon.

Michael looked surprised but bemused.

“Sure, where do you want to take me?” He said with a giggle.

“There’s a fondue place that I’ve been dying to try. We can carpool there after work tomorrow,” she suggested.

He agreed and Elaine figured they would finally get to have a quiet sit-down meal and talk.

The day came and they were off. The restaurant was pricey and definitely not something she could have afforded in the past. Yet, with her current job, money was good. She even upgraded her tiny apartment to one that had a walk-in closet.

They got to the restaurant and it was lovely, the atmosphere was sophisticated and romantic. Michael looked very uncomfortable it made Elaine feel bad that she had dragged him out of his comfort zone, but she was tired of the fact that all their previous dates consisted of arcades, movies, or paintballing.

“Elaine, I have to confess something.” He blurted out as soon as they sat down.

“What is it?” she asked softly.

“I’m not really a serious relationship kind of guy, I’m not looking to date someone, then settle down, get married, have kids, etc. I like being spontaneous and want to see the world and experience everything life has to offer. A family and kids just don’t fit in my plans.”

“Wow!” she responded surprisingly “I was not expecting all that before we even ordered dinner.” she said chuckling.

He looked like he visibly relaxed and chuckled as well. Both turned their attention to the menu and placed their order with the waiter. It was a good time for Elaine to organize her thoughts and figure out what she really wanted. She had always dreamed of having her own kids someday and to love them fiercely. Yet, she was also fun-loving and wanted to travel the world. Why couldn’t she have both, she wondered.

“Michael, I’m really glad you told me what you are looking for in a relationship. I just wished we had had this conversation earlier. I always dreamed of one day settling down, getting married, and having kids. I don’t think these things would detract from the fun times, on the contrary, I feel that seeing the world with the ones I love the most will make it that much more memorable.”

“It’s not really feasible,” He added.

“I can see why you feel that way, and I think that is why we make great friends but nothing more. We both love having a great time but we view life differently. Can we go back to just being friends without things getting awkward?” she asked.

“YES!” He said eagerly. A little too eagerly, but Elaine had learned to have thick skin, and didn’t let it bother her.

They spent the rest of the meal goofing around, and it seemed they were both glad that at least things weren’t going to be incredibly awkward between them. The following week news of their breakup spread to the rest of the group. The girls thought it was tragic, regardless of how much Elaine told them it was a peaceful, mutual breakup. They took her out for drinks after work so that she can “cheer-up” even though she insisted that it was absolutely fine. Elaine appreciated their sentiments though and had grown pretty close to them, so she didn’t want to say no to the outing.

While they were all drinking that night Ava, had a whole beer, something she apparently never does. She began talking out loud about her research roadblock. Soon enough Brianna was trying to help her fix it, while Elaine decided someone needs to record this, and began scrawling notes on little napkins.

“I got it!” Elaine screamed, leaping up from her stool.

The three of them had finally figured out the missing part of their research. The chemical compound that would stabilize the nanorobots in the human body.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at work!” Elaine yelled as she raced towards the door. She had to write this down and try synthesizing it in her virtual lab software at home. She was determined to prove to herself and show everyone that they made the right decision when they hired her. Something inside of her made her feel like she wanted to profit this company with her knowledge, just so the other places that rejected her before could feel that they lost a great asset.

She worked through that night, and walked into the lab like a zombie the next morning.

“I got it!” Elaine said, waving her hand feebly in the air.

The girls giggled at her appearance.

“You made that quite clear last night when you left us at the bar and we had to call an Uber to drive us home.” Ava said with a smirk.

Elaine stared at them, as if someone had poured a bucket of icy water on her head.

“I’m the worst friend in the world!” she stated.

“Haha, no worries, if you really did figure it out then it’s all worth it.” Ava explained.

They all huddled around as Elaine showed them the theoretical formula and how it would actually work in the virtual synthesizer. The silence in the room was palpable.

“We have to get to work!” Thomas yelled.

The flurry and excitement of everyone working diligently was like five shots of caffeine to Elaine’s system. She dove into her lab bench with the goal of actually synthesizing the stabilizing compound.

It took a couple of months to perfect it but they were finally able to begin testing on yeast cells. The research with the yeast proved successful as well. They had some minor tweaks to make but were ready for their next phase of testing on rats.

“Happy one-year work anniversary!” Brianna chirped as Elaine walked into the lab on, what she thought, was just another Monday.

“Really, has it been a year already?” she responded.

“Yes, and we wouldn’t have made it this far without your genius brain figuring out that formula,” Brianna added

“Awww, well you guys did all the work for years before I even started.”

“We’re just glad to have you, think of all the people we will help cure now.” She said staring into the distance.

A sense of joy overwhelmed Elaine. She prayed that the results would be positive on the rats. To her amazement, the results were eighty percent successful. That was a promising success rate. So promising that they got the green light to begin human testing. This was the hard part, setting up the human trials took about a year to complete but the results were ninty-five percent positive. The whole team was elated so it was a shocker when a couple of days later, Michael resigned.

He never gave them a heads up, or a two-week noticed. Everyone showed up to work one day and found a copy of the same email saying that he found a better opportunity which he just had to pursue, and then wished them all the best. The resignation came as a shock to the team, and Elaine overheard the ladies gossipping that she was the reason he resigned, that he took the breakup harder than he was letting on. She just couldn’t believe it, it was well over a year since they were dating and it wasn’t like they were serious, to begin with.

Regardless, the team bounced back quickly, and they began pushing papers to get their new technology approved by the FDA and out onto the market to help cancer patients. Yet, in the back of Elaine’s mind, it always nagged at her that they had never met the people that they implanted the nanobots in. In a way, it felt like they never really saw the fruition of their research.

When she had tried to satiate her mind and asked about the human studies, her questions were swept away and never answered. The only thing she had learned was that the studies were conducted in the same facility but in another wing. No one had access to the other wing. They were all only allowed in the wing in which their lab was situated. So Elaine decided that the next time she ran across Anne she would ask her about the other wing and whether or not she could go get a tour and see the trials and studies herself. She was hoping to even get a glimpse of them administering the nanobots. She always imagined that the scientists who came up with a treatment got to oversee, to a certain extent, the way it is administered to patients.

Her wish was fulfilled a week later when they were all startled by Anne’s appearance at the lab. She held a stack of paperwork with the results of the tenth clinical trial. By the look on her face the results had come out to be promising, and indeed after scanning the results, they were more than promising. The nanobots could be the next big thing in cancer treatment and maybe even curing it over the long run. Elaine was so excited that she almost forgot to ask her about the other half of the building. Yet, the results were almost too good to be true. She felt like she just had to see it to believe it. Part of her was glad she almost forgot since she was scared Anne might condemn her for being too nosy. But she’s never let fear be a driving force in her life and she will definitely not start now. So she mustered all of the courage she possessed and waited for the opportune time to ask since Anne was having a conversation with Ava. As soon as they were done talking, Anne turned to leave.

“Anne wait, I have a question that’s been bugging me for a while,” Elaine yelled after her.

“What is it Elaine?” she inquired.

“Well, I’ve been working here, for a couple years....and well....”

“Well, what is it, spit it out. Do you want a raise or something?”

“No, no it’s nothing like that. I was just really curious about what goes on in the other company wing. I heard that it might be the clinical trials for our research and was wondering why any of us don’t have access to see them administer the cure?”

“Well it’s nothing personal, I can tell ya that. The clinical lab trials are not your field so you don’t need to dwell on the subject.”

Hmmmm....what did Anne mean it’s not her field. “Well, I was just wondering if it will be helpful for our reports if we can go see how the nanobots are delivered to the patients, how the patients feel right after the treatment is administered...” Elaine trailed off.

“No!” she snapped “the other wing is off-limits, it has nothing to do with your project, and it is all government stuff. If you want to remain on the right side of the law, you will forget all about it.” She sounded quite annoyed, and her tone of voice suggested Elaine should not argue further. So, Elaine simply gave her a courteous nod. At that, Anne spun on her heels and left with an air of annoyance hanging about her. But Elaine was not going to let this go. Her reaction seemed to make Elaine even more curious. Anne was so defensive like she was trying to hide something. It was like she had doused the small spark within Elaine with gasoline. Now, she had a roaring bonfire of desire to know what they were hiding and whether or not their research really is as successful as the reports claim it to be. So, Elaine decided right then and there that she was going to do anything that she could to get into the other wing. Even though it went against her better judgment.

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