Sunday, 5 April 2015

Diamonds

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 invites you in and you discover that perhaps, people are not so bad after all.
'An enemy is somebody whose 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. One could say that these values had no immediate impact on her environment, though. She had spent ten years in this office, immersing herself in the menial aspects of the job. 'Research-assistant' - if that even was 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. Taking small breaks were helping her paint the grey day in shades of fantasy. She put her headphones on and hit play. A soothing, 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 those little and glorious thistle things came around 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, which in cooperation with the wind was allowing it to move like an animal. But using the wind's effort, not its own. It's more intelligent being than an insect, in a way, because the insect uses effort, like a person who rows a boat would use 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 and scanning; phones clattering, hurried steps.

THAT team had grown back an arm. Directly on the damaged limb, like a lizard would do with its tail. It was the arm of a soldier, who had lost the original one in an explosion or combat. Not really important where and how, but why! In war... where people died, cultures were 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 real meaning for her. Anything Religion had to say, she would not listen to, when she was young. Back then she would not even take a minute break here and there. It would be just the project, the dead-lines, the long hours; filling the emptiness in herself with that love for science and curiosity. But the isolation of somebody who had invested themselves fully to the job also provided those lonely hours spend in relaxation before going to sleep. And after the scientific breakthrough and the short exhilaration, those moments were increasingly filled with thoughts of the on-going war, sifted through the media. There were the promotion ads, the interviews, the corporate meetings, the desire of others to push this further and further. The impressions of the tests done on marines and ...oh Lord, amputations on volunteers. It no longer seemed like the proper thing. It had run away from the vision.

So she had decided to commit fully to the rational study and research for the last time and plan an irrational act for the first. She had "convinced" some of those little cells, populating the extracellular matrix 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 growth had begun. Fortunately, that was after the time of the big presentation and public announcements. The success of the project, its fame and the large sums invested in it were much more the undoing of it all. It had gained too much momentum already and the weight combined made it plummet down with severity. After the acknowledgement of its success, its failure was not tolerated.
She was sure that the team could trace it back. She was sure that they would know it was 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 some names were announced "incompetent". Several careers had collapsed and a winter time ensued for the whole research theme. The public would not have any of it. And it would stay that way for at least another decade. Maybe in two more, somebody would follow the trace of bread crumbs and reinvest into the whole theme, reinvigorating the research. She doubted any one would ever find out about her. It was just a tiny small alteration in the process; nothing more than a small brick from the foundation of the tower. And it had all desintigrated. The sound of the crash had muted her footsteps.

Doc wasn't particularly high in the pyramid even back then, so 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 was clear on the side effects beforehand. 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. 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 hobby, as well. And the world didn't have to know. Not yet, perhaps.

A vibration from her pocket came and a message from "Techie".
"Glass of wine at 7 today?"
"Why not!?" She typed, smiling.
"The Arms Pub?"
"Sure!"
To his friends he was knows as the “Techie”. A like-minded person and, like her fashion an invisible one as well; computer scientist, programmer...hacker. Careful about what he said too. 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 in the world today perhaps.
She put her headphones on and played Nocturnal Sonatas, continuing to generate text. 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. The sky was clear and the pleasant wind was 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, which no body was allowed to look at. Neatly organised, a bright lighting from the ceiling illuminated a desk with a large desktop screen. There was 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 Morphogenetic creation. Aquariums were covering another wall. In some, insects from around the world were breezily crawling around or just standing there, trying to imitate their environment in wait for something to happen. Some tanks were brightly lit, high-lighting the flora or fauna contained therein. Some had pipes connecting into them and those were coming out of specific gas bottles. She went through a pressure and quantity check. A habit of hers, she was making sure every day, even though there was enough left for two weeks. Everything 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. The large aquarium on top of the table.
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 general features. It was smooth, dark, somehow soft and oily - graphite. It was home grown in that big large aquarium. Fungal moss lay on the soil on the bottom. Orange growth was expanding in circles across the surface of the moss. The orange circles had greying bits on top of them. Those were Meta-Engineered Cordyceps mushrooms, feeding on the hosts' proteins and replacing the 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 in particular patterns. It was 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. It was single wall carbon Nano tubes; long strands of them, preferably; compounded into a single thread if possible. But adjustments were needed. And that's why it was so fun. It was a fascination with nature rather than shimmers and glimmers 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 the empty house warm and delightful. If she had to rely on old fame she would have probably been lonely today. She knew it.