Earl Roland is faux pissed. Billing himself to Doctor Amanda Chase as the Deputy to the Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control, Roland fumes with steadily mounting fake rage as Dr. Chase unspools her presentation, and he murmers all along that this is just a Pharmadigm screwup that has nothing to do with the CDC. Roland also murmers that he and his team have flown all the way out from Atlanta for nothing.
“Let me get this straight,” he fully interrupts when Mandy is less than ten minutes into her slide show. “You’ve got a new anesthetic you’ve made from the venom of black mombas or some shit. Phase zero trials with microdoses went okay, so next was phase one, volunteers on full doses with forty-eight hours of monitoring. Something went wrong and now you want CDC to quarantine the folks. Well, how about you bite the bullet and just pay them out? Lawsuits are part of doing business. Take it up with your shareholders, not the government.”
We are not even talking about money, Dr. Roland,” Mandy objects. “The subjects have all signed releases holding Pharmadigm harmless from any side effects.”
“This should be the Food and Drug Administration sitting here,” Roland counters. “Who’s idea was it to call in the CDC?”
Mandy’s eyes drift to Doctor Ian Trochmann, who has been with the project longer than she has, and was focused on the changes to Lilith’s brain. Trochmann was in on Roland’s scam, of course. He said, “The board called you in, Doctor Roland. This isn’t just Pharmadigm’s problem anymore.”
“There are genetic changes,” Mandy put in, “including changes to sperm and ova. Our drug created two little monsters, and if they get out into the general population they’ll be everyone’s problem, as I will shortly make clear. So please, Dr. Roland, allow me to resume the presentation.”
“Do make haste, Dr. Chase.”
“Thank you, Doctor. As I was saying, the first volunteer was a fifty-year old woman by the name of Lilith Gervasi. She holds dual citizenship in the UK and Israel, but was working here as an academic. She’s a Holocaust survivor and a reserve officer in the Israeli Defense Force. The company did a complete physical before the clinical trial in Denver. She is remarkably fit for her age, but bears marks of torture from the death camps. The reason Lilith volunteered was to avoid deportation.
“As you already know, gentlemen, anesthesiology is more of an art than a science. We’re trying to bring the person on the operating table as close as possible to dying without actually crossing the line so they miss out on all the gory, agonizing parts. Our new drug targets only the gray matter of the brain. It completely shuts down the higher functions of consciousness, but leaves the involuntary functions like breathing completely alone. You don’t even need to have an anesthesiologist attend the surgery. During the drug trial she reported a long and rather vivid dream.”
“But that’s impossible!”
“Yes, Doctor Roland, it is. Naturally the company was disappointed when Lilith reported having a dream. But the benefits of this drug as a general anesthetic were judged to outweigh that side effect. After observing the woman for two days the company did a complete physical on her again with no changes noted, and I mention that because those two physicals will be important later in my brief.”
“Maybe the woman lied about the dream,” Roland suggested.
“I was not yet working for Pharmadigm when this testing was taking place, but the company prepared a second volunteer and brought me on board to advise. But as it turned out, it doesn’t matter if Lilith was lying about the subjective side effects of the drug, because there are objective side effects. As promised, Pharmadigm obtained for Lilith the required paperwork blocking her deportation and sent her home.”
“Then why is she here at Hanford?’
“A month after the drug trial she sought us out because she was scared. But I’m getting ahead of myself, Doctor. Let’s back up to the day Lilith was discharged. The following day I was hired. After being briefed, and reviewing the results with Lilith, I wanted to try a male for the follow-on test because there could be a gender differential in the response to the drug. I chose Fred Aspin, who is to be executed for the crime of killing Oboe Man for his spare change. Next slide.”
An image of Freddy Aspin slides into view, waving the stump of his bad arm, which is missing a hand, at the camera.
Roland is mock-astonished. “You wanted to flush out Lilith’s lies by using a convicted criminal?”
“I chose Freddy Aspin, Dr. Roland, because I realized we might have to abort the trial after two or three tests and he was the most anxious to continue. Jerry has every incentive to be truthful. He is on death row for killing Oboe Man. The company found an appellate court that was willing to give him a lighter sentence if he participated in our drug trial.”
“So what happened?”
Mandy gave a hand signal and the audio tape rolled.
Freddy could be heard saying, “I knew I was dreaming even while I dreamed, and I thought, what a complete bummer! I thought I was moving through a dark tunnel and getting closer to a bright white light. The light wiggled. It was just a flashlight being held by a New Confederate soldier who was waking me up in a tent. He said, ‘Aspin, get your dumb ass up on the wire, you’re late!’
“So it was just a dream about al-Berta. It was, in fact, the day I got fucked up, in rewind. I grabbed my rifle and my gear and stumbled my way toward the business end of the observation post. There was no volition in any of my movements. Somehow I was just riding behind my own eyes.
“The whole prairie was lit up by a flare, but it was fading. Corporal Street said, ‘We got ourselves a visitor.’ He nudged the bayonet-tipped muzzle of his rifle toward a certain spot just as a fresh flare cast enough light for me to see what he was pointing at. There was the headless body of a Canuckistani fighter lying there, and an up-ended pot of pink and yellow stew where his head and helmet should be.
“I’d seen this sort of thing countless times before. ‘Adios motherfucker!’ was all I had to say to the Canadian. To Corporal Street I said, ‘How’d he get through the perimeter?’
“‘Probably started crawling at sundown,’ the Corporal said. Now we know why they started irrigating this particular bean field this morning. The water covered the sound of him crawling. After this asshole came calling we’ve been watching with night scopes, but we haven’t seen anyone else moving out there.’
“Famous last words. A dozen Islamists had been crawling toward the observation post inside the irrigation canal, invisible to the sniperscope under the cool water even as other jihadis drew the attention of my unit by land. When the flares started this only slowed them down, forced them to move only between bursts. There were eight NC troops in the position, and two of them were sleeping. When the enemy came over the sandbag wall they outnumbered us two to one. I’m the only one who survived the initial assault. They wired one of my arms to some nails in a stump, tight! Another Islamist brandished an axe. ‘God commands this, you understand,’ he said. And the axe fell. I screamed in pain. I was the victim of a certain militia in al-Berta devoted to spreading a very nit-picky version Sharia law throughout Canada. In their interpretation of the Qu’ran, New Confederates occupying any portion of the rapidly expanding Dar al-Islam were stealing the land, and faithful Muslims knew what to do with thieves. Off with their hands! Dreams aren’t supposed to hurt! It felt like the real thing, this dream. So you know what you can do with your so-called anesthetic!”
“I didn’t die there in Canada, but in my dream I guess I did. I went to heaven, which was a forest with a pool surrounded by a wooden deck. The Savior was shorter than I always imagined He would be, and not nearly as good looking as the Hollywood versions. He had brown skin, black eyes, and no beard, but His leather sandals were right out of the gospels. He looked like a kid, really. He was seated at a wooden desk near the Sacred Pool, drinking wine and reviewing paperwork.
The Lord pointed his hand, and I settled in to a wide wicker chair in front of Him. Two armed female guards in green garb complete with bird feathers stood behind Him, to his left and right, flashing thigh, but they made a point of ignoring me with intense military bearing. I’ve been in prison a long time and I couldn’t help saying, “Both of you girls got pretty nice sticks.”
Jesus said, “I’m reading about the slow-motion train wreck that was the life of one Frederick Aspin. Oboe Man had, what, seventeen dollars in quarters?”
“I’ve paid my debt to society, Lord.”
“I’m a busy man, as you can imagine. Normally you get your outbrief from a close relative who preceded you. I only get the hardest of the hard cases. But they said to Me, ‘here’s another one like Lilith Gervasi.’
“And Jesus, reading the last page of my file, shuffled all the papers together and closed it up. He looked at me with infinite sadness and shook His head. He said, ‘It would do a great disservice to you were I to take a life like yours and extend it indefinitely.’
“I just chuckled, and said, ‘Normally a final decision like that would set me to worrying a little bit, but this is all just a bad trip. I’m hallucinating all of this! I just have to wait until the drug wears off and goodbye to You. In fact, I can feel it wearing off already.’
“Jesus said, ‘Ahhh…it’s a drug. That explains what’s going on. Clever! Chokhmah told me you people in the Twentieth would probably stumble on to something like this. We must craft an appropriate response.’
“‘Craft away,’ I said, “neither you nor your followers can stop me from doing this.’ And I shed my white terry cloth robe, dove into his Sacred Pool and swam headfirst into darker waters, far away from the light. What a crazy dream. That’s some powerful stuff you whipped up, Dr. Chase! But never again!”
The audio ended of Freddy’s interview.
Dr. Amanda Chase said, “The most interesting thing in that interview, Dr. Roland, was that somehow Freddy knew the name ‘Lilith Gervasi’ To the best my knowledge he had never met the woman.’”
“Can you state with absolute certainty that no one on your staff spoke of her to Freddy?”
She started to blurt out an answer in the negative, but thought better of it, and shook her head. Then she said, “After the second test, the clinical trial of this drug as an anesthetic was officially called off. The memory of Freddy’s pain was so vivid he refused to take the drug again. And no one is going to sign up for a guaranteed Near Death Experience or even a lucid dream when all they want to do is sleep straight through an operation.”
“Dr. Chase, I’m sorry your research failed and your company wasted money. But what does any of that have to do with the CDC?”
“Lilith came back in to Pharmadigm. At the back of her head is a little white oval cup with stiff black hairs inside, or bristles, and it looked curiously artificial.”
The next few slides were photographs of the cup taken from various angles.
“Doctor Roland has already been thoroughly briefed on this structure,” Dr. Trochmann tells her.
“Does he know that Lilith’s story of what happened to her doesn’t match what happened in reality at all?”
“What do you mean?” Roland asked.
“She said, she still says, there was no drug trial with her at all. She doesn’t know what Pharmadigm is. She says she went to a hospital with the bone cup, and they referred her to the federal government.”
“Obviously a delusion that is part of the brain changes,” Dr. Trochmann weighed in.
“But that isn’t all. Lilith Gervasi now possesses two sets of female genitalia.”
The slides Mandy showed next were decidedly gynecological in nature.
“Movie make-up,” Roland says, knowing full well he had once seen the same thing with Kimberly Zinter’s body. “You folks are just having a big laugh at the government’s expense.”
“But that doesn’t explain the genetic studies. Here is an image of one of Lilith’s X chromosomes from a white blood cell in a sample taken before the trial. You see that it is perfectly normal, a long capsule and a short capsule joined at a constriction called a centromere. This next slide shows one of Lilith’s X chromosomes after the trial. You can see that it is now three identically short capsules joined by two centromeres.”
“Neocentromeres in humans are associated with chromosome breakage during cell division,” Roland points out, spouting something from his prior research. “It’s a deadly mutation.”
“We have seen no evidence of genetic damage in Lilith, other than this structural change, outside of the radical modifications to her brain, which Dr. Trochman says he is still puzzling out. We are attempting to sequence the chromosome to verify that the change is purely structural, but the results will take some time, and it will take even longer to identify any new genes. Meanwhile, we are calling this changed chromosome a Z chromosome because the two constrictions are like the joints of a three-section set of numchucks. The chromosome can literally drift into the shape of the letter Z, or N.”
“What about the other subject?
“Jerry, being male, only carried a single X chromosome with two thousand genes, paired with a shorter Y with only eighty genes. His Y chromosomes are unaltered, but they are now paired with Z’s. Now that we know what is happening, we need to draw samples from another subject on a set schedule, stain the slides, and watch the changes to the chromosomes in more or less real time. For that we need to do a final drug trial with the third volunteer”
Roland expresses a parody of exasperation. “Your drug causes genetic damage and you want to give it to yet another subject?”
“Michael Morrich is black,” she says, and Roland’s objection melts away. But he tells Dr. Chase he still thinks Pharmadigm is pulling his leg.
“Then we will administer the drug with yourself attending, and you can define the parameters of the experiment any way you like.”
“And assuming that convinces me, Dr. Chase, Dr. Trochmann, what is it, exactly, that you’re asking the CDC to do?”
“It should be obvious,” Mandy replies. “Every X chromosome is their body is changed. Even in their gametes. They can pass these changes along to their children. So we’re really talking about a new species here. I’m asking for sterilization, right after you see what it does to Mike.”
After Dr. Earl Roland of the CDC pretends to examine Lilith, Freddy, and Mike for himself he takes Dr. Chase up on the offer and conducts the final drug trial on Michael Morrich under conditions totally of his own design. Roland chooses the operating room and brings in his own cameras and recording equipment. Of the Pharmadigm team, only Amanda Chase is permitted to attend, and that only in the role of an observer who is not permitted to touch any of the apparatus. Of the CDC, only Roland is present.
When Roland satisfies himself that Mike Morrich is fully human he makes sure Amanda watches him transmit two copies of the chart to his office in Washington by two different routes, fax and hand courier, using someone he knows and trusts. Then he administers the drug to Mike himself.