T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 23: genesis
[ the sound on a casette crackles on, some shuffling... a woman speaks... ]
Another planet, circling another star, in another galaxy at another time spawned this thing. Now, it sits in the form of a little doll in my motel room.
Believe me, I understand how much of a kook I sound like for sputtering things about alien lifeforms. If I hadn't lived through it myself, I wouldn't believe me either.
I am a woman of science. I am a woman of facts. I am a woman who is hopelessly lost. I don't know if I am recording this for myself, for someone else, or even for this baby creature that's lying in a basket next to me.
Yes, creature, even though I was the on who birthed this... I am not sure how long it will survive. I am puzzled how it is still alive at the moment.
I suppose I should start from the beginning.
My name is Ruth Reid.
If this sounds as if I'm reading from a paper ... it's because I am. Why not just leave the writings? Well, I want you to know there is a real human voice behind all of this....
[ a deep breath, and then she reads aloud ]
I was born into a family of privilege. My ancestors were those who "came over on the boat," immigrants from Europe in the late 1800s. America, from them as it was so many, was the golden land of opportunity. Working hard, persevering, they were able to build a business and hand it down through the generations. My father became CEO of that very company fresh out of college. When married, he came to live in a big house in a gated community. My mother has her precious social clubs. They both golf with doctors and judges, and support political candidates who give them certain breaks in the taxes on the business' operation. My brother is the one who is being trained to take over one day, as my father's father trained his son to do so. This was the sort of setting they put soap operas in. ... but I was never much interested with keeping up appearances.
A child's duty is to somehow either try to live up to their parents expectations or rebel from them. My brother was the previous, so I became the latter. My way of rebelling was to turn away from the top of the ladder to climb down to see the bottom of big business. I was no human rights activist... I didn't pity the plight of the worker. My attention was on what was being made by industry ... the products and byproducts. I became a sort of environmentalist, some neo-hippie with long curly hair and tye dyed skirts protesting outside of power plants. By the end of high school, I grew out of that.
My parents forgiving me, sent me to the best university they could afford (and they could have afforded any of them). By then I had heard of Green Chemistry, the engineering on a molecular level products that were more health and nature friendly than those on the market. Hearing horror stories of toxic and oil spills I chose chemistry as my major. I'd excelled at the topic in high school, along with mathematics, and if anything it appealed to my practicality... "waste not, want not." Somewhere along the line toxicology became my specialty, and that is exactly what I found a career in.
I was of much more use in the field and laboratory, analyzing water and soil samples and isolating the contaminants than I ever was as an opinionated teenager. I found real solutions to real problems, not just complained about them. My opinions, based on real date, were respected. I wouldn't let anyone praise me, however. I was beyond simply wanting attention. Though I won an award or two, the real satisfaction was seeing that I somehow made a difference. My parents were spoiled and arrogant. I didn't want to be like they were. I put half of my inheritance into funding my own research. If you're going to be born with money and influence, you should use it for the greater good of the world, not for your own selfish reasons.
I was scanning over data from a Superfund site (contaminatns from an abandoned factory was leaking into a local river, after a flood, it had made the communities on its banks horribly ill) when HE walked in. I say HE with emphasis and malice, for from the beginning, he emanated evil. I didn't know it was evil then. I wasn't sure what it was ... but there was something about the man that put me off. He was handsome, tall, with short blonde hair and the most intensely blue eyes I had ever seen. Those were his good qualities ... the more dangerous evil is an attractive evil.
[ the voice on the tape lowers in effort to mimic that of a mysterious male]
"Ms. Reid, I have a proposition for you," he said as coldly as that. He set down his briefcase on top of my data sheets with smugness. If he had added, "Would you like to make a deal with the Devil? All you need sign over is your SOUL," with fire and brimstone spouting up behind him I wouldn't have been surprised. As it was, he waited patiently for my response.
"Let me guess... I may already be a winner? Trying to interest me in a time share in Florida? I don't have time for this," I told him without knowing what he wanted. I didn't like interruptions. I was busy.
"Oh, but I think you do. This may be the greatest chemical threat to humanity in all of history."
All right. He had me there. I gave my work over to one of my assistants. I had completed the most difficult aspects and trusted them enough to finish the job. Science IS a group effort. Meanwhile, I left with 'please, let's dispose with the formalities, call me Will' on a plane to travel half across the country. I let him drag me out to the middle of the Nevada desert in the height of summer. As long as he was paying for everything, I was willing to listen.
"What exactly are we looking at Will?" I asked him. Sand was getting in my shoes, blowing about wildly in a hot breeze that was no relief from the brutal sun. I was getting impatient. I held a wide brim gardener's hat on my head to shield my face and eyes, and was glad I had remembered long loose light clothing was better than skimpy clothing in the desert. Our intrepid explorer was unaffected. He'd stopped by the side of the road to go rock climbing.
The other passenger, a man by the name of Dr. Chung, a biologist who was approached to work on the unknown project before me, seemed fine with this. To me, Will's behavior was unconventional and unprofessional, and it wouldn't be the first or last time I would think that. Maybe that is why I got so deeply involved with him. There was a definite fascination factor. One had to wonder what the man was doing and why.
Will waved for us to join him. Dr. Chung had been doing the smart thing by staying in the air conditioned car. He emerged at Will's signal with a covered cage. He climbed up the hill of sand and sun baked rock. Both men waited for me. What other choice did I have? I picked up the hem of my skirt, held on to my hat, and made my way up the hill.
The object of our quest was an indication in the rock big enough for some plants and a pool of water to gather. The water unusually reflective. "Chrome? Mercury?" I wondered aloud. Mercury seemed likely, as it was poisonous. Mercury, though dangerous, was not THE greatest threat to humanity. If it was mercury, why hadn't Mr. William Richards (that was his full name) said so? There were official channels to go through for such leak ... no need to be secretive.
He told me it wasn't mercury. I had my doubts. Dr. Chung uncovered the cage and drew out a white lab mouse. Not squeamish around any animal (except perhaps things like scorpions, which there was at least one of on the far wall of the grotto). I inspected the mouse. He looked to be normal and in good health. Dr. Chung took the rodent back from me, and cut it. The cut wasn't fatal. What he did next was.
will was handling the mystery substance with one of those indestructible metal scoops vulcanists use to collect magma samples. Dr. Chung set the mouse down. Before the tiny animal could run away, Will poured some of the silvery goo on it. The mouse ... melted. There was no better way to describe it. The goo clung to the wound, invading it, moving inside the mouse while surrounding it. The mouse dissolved in a matter of seconds, flesh eaten through be the acidity of whatever this was. I'd seen my share of toxic horror shows, but nothing like this.
"What the most amazing thing is, is this chemical not only kills rapidly, it uses organic material to make MORE of itself" Will was delighted with his demonstration. He was right. There was twice as much of the substance than what he had poured.
"Like some sort of mold," Dr. Chung spoke for the first time. They were both the caliber of men you'd would see on a nature documentary where the narrator and film makers comment on and watch nature's cruelty while not "interfering," ... not lifting a finger to help. I could never be so detached.
"Is it some kind of lower life form?" I asked.
"Only if you believe in the existence of extra terrestrials," was Will's answer. I didn't know what he meant by that at the time. He promised to show me at the lab. "You," he pointed to Dr. Chung, "I brought to understand the exact nature of this and its effect on living things. And you," he turned to me with that more blue than the sky blue-eyed gaze, "I brought here to find a way to STOP it."
After that he repeated the kinds of concerns I would have over such a thing. This was on high ground, but what about when it rains? Sand doesn't absorb well (if at all), it will get into the water table. Imagine some home owner turning on their faucet, having even a tiny bit of this in the bottom of their glass of tap water, and drinking it. As soon as it hit soft tissue... I don't have to repaint the gruesome picture for you, do I? The fact of the matter was, in just over a day Will had everything about my character pegged. Yet, I knew nothing about him or what his role in all of this was.
I still, even now, don't know much about him or what he did with his life before meeting him. The man I ... the man I...
[ The woman becomes too choked up to finish the sentence. The tape is left running, catching background noise, including soft sobs. It takes quite a bit for her to clear her throat to ready herself to continue. By then, the current tape runs out. ]
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