“You can’t stay in Kansas forever, Dorothy,“ a soft voice whispered in her ear, “ the cyclone is coming for you, and it’s your choice whether you go seek Oz and his help or wait for the Witches to hunt you down for your silver shoes.”
“I have no silver shoes, Toto. As a child I thought I got lost in Wonderland, but unlike Alice I had no sister to wake me up for tea so I am here to stay”, she replied in a calm tone that reflected her lucid dream like state.
“You’re no more of an adult now then you were back then, Solaine. And I can tell you’re afraid, more afraid then you’ve been all those years ago.”
“You are mistaken”, she said sharply.
“Am I now? “
“I’m not afraid of the outside world as you seem to believe, and the child you knew no longer lives inside of me”, the young woman uttered half-convinced of her own words.
Silence lingered on for a while, none of them making a sound as if there would be nothing else to be said. She turned in the grass and opened her eyes to face his. Her look became puzzled when she realized the man’s silhouette was looming over hers, the rays of blue light creating a weird halo out of his wild hair. She tried to shun the sun away by covering her sight partially with her forearm, which to her annoyance, was not of much help. An innocent smile lightened up her face and she let the wind play with her hair as it sent chills throughout her body.
“What are you doing in my dream? “, she asked out of the blue.
“Why do you refuse to face the outside world, Solaine? We surely need that brilliant mind of yours around here, you would be able to help us deal with the virus. Your expertise and capabilities exceed the ones of the best molecular biologists and virologists that we have in our disposal- ”, the voice continued in a persistent tone.
“And for what reason should I lend my knowledge to the human race?”
“What do you mean? You are a part of it, aren’t you?”
“I have never been a part of it, and you know that very well, Kendhir. The HED is the closest I have been all my life to knowing how it is to be an earthling, I have no desire to save a world I’ve never set foot on”, the woman said making it clear that the discussion on the matter was over.
“It’s not a dream…”, he said moving sideways. He sat there next to her, quietly absorbing the energy of the earth, sniffing the heated air for the perfume of rain. Solaine frowned, vaguely uncomfortable of the storm that was coming; as she predicted the sky became cloudy, shadows of the castle enlarging, devouring any playful light that got entangled in the grass.
“I’m connected to your room and am merely a holographic display, even though I look real I’m a three dimensional projected image. It’s not quite as fun as a solid kick to the head”. Kendhir started laughing trying to eliminate the tension that was hanging around in the air, but his method was as subtle as a sledgehammer. She nodded smilingly, almost giggling at his silliness.
“I know what it is, Ken, I did not know whether you came back or not. I’ve left the HED on; I thought maybe you were just part of the computer program.” Her voice was neutral, just like her behavior and it appeared that his presence changed nothing of the way she did things.
“Oh, yes. Old man Adley’s device: the Holographic Environment Device, though I have no idea why he named it that way. The principle it functions on is completely different and more related to biophysics than to scattered light collection, though I cannot deny the connection”, the young scientist said still reflecting on the idea.
“All I know is that it’s in a close relationship with the subject’s body and the environment that contains it, constantly monitoring pulse, brainwave, perspiration and breathing, choosing an appropriate recording for the real-time designated action. Then it reorders the molecules of the specially designed chamber and voila! “, Solaine concluded in a non-enthusiastic voice.
She subvocalized a command to the computer and the room started to morph back into her usual bedroom, irritatingly similar to the house of a laboratory rat; she indeed felt like one sometimes. Kendhir was no longer there though she knew he could still hear her; during his stays he constantly watched over her and she also knew that she owned her life to him and the professor. Her hiding was coming to a closure, and indeed her hands were shaking as she touched the door’s command panel, he was right. She had never been so afraid in her life…
“We cannot allow her to roam freely in our laboratories, Gerald! It’s unthinkable that this…this creature…Ah!”, Wong stopped in the middle of the sentence knowing what damage he would cause to his reputation if he continued to talk. He was also aware that no matter what he said against her, Adley would reply with a warm smile, that came not from his lips but from deep inside his blue eyes, along with the remark he always used. The supervisor knew that those eyes were the windows to a large and kind soul, but also the locked doors of so many secret chambers that lied beneath the cover, secrets that terrified him even by their own existence. He dared not move further with persuading the Institute’s Chief Scientist to ban her access to all their resources and equipment, so he sat down in his seat after his furious snap, his forehead vein still throbbing with anger, quite visible on his broad face. Wong Shixu was a man whose wrinkled facial skin gave away more about his character than any of his actions; he had high cheekbones, owl-like eyes and bushy eyebrows that deepened his grave, always in a frown look along with his white spiky hair that retained a few black lines here and there. Inspite of his facial characteristics he was not an imposing man, his height cutting him short almost immediately after walking into a room filled with people of a greater stature; he had the allurement of an enraged midget, the main reason why nobody supported his cause.
“ What’s the worst thing that could happen? “ asked Dr. Adley rhetorically and with a sign he dismissed all of those present except for Wong and Nieten that remained calm in their seats, or at least they appeared to be so.
The thin pneumatic door slid open at her light touch and she forced herself to move past the green line that settled the boundaries between Kansas and the Land of Oz. She passed through the invisible antiseptic shield and felt a tingling sensation as the substance was serving its purpose, it lasted no more than a mere second. She also felt her courage diming away with every step that she took, carefully tracing the yellow light that was leading her to the professor’s research cabin. Though it was her first time outside she knew the surroundings of her room quite very well, all those times that she had planned to face it encrypted a map scheme inside her head. It was far from being a perfect copy and her emotions weren’t making it easy for her to remember everything in detail, but she knew which lines to follow to get to the most important parts of the satellite. Her gaze was focused downwards, too afraid to embrace anything around her but that path, as if she strayed she would get lost forever in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Until something caught her full attention to a point that it made her stop, turn and listen.
“I find it very distasteful how our scientific meetings always end up being interrupted by Wong and his trivial gnomish jibber-jabber,” said one of the white coated men in a huff.
“Oh, I disagree. It makes the matter of subject a bit more enjoyable. Remember, we were talking about that young woman actually being granted undeniable access to everything on this piece of metal,” responded another one with a puff. “You see, while we all respect, or speaking for myself, I respect our Chief’s decisions and acts I also have my own doubts and questions about them.”
“I wonder why the Supervisor and Senior Researcher have been told to stay. That’s not the only unusual part of today’s gathering, we were sent away without a word like we were plain decorations, maybe witnesses…”
Solaine was not eavesdropping anymore, she had resumed her walk contemplating over their sayings, with one of the pieces of the puzzle set into place. The woman they were talking about was herself.
“Doctor Nieten, I would like you to explain, as simply as possible, our situation to Supervisor Wong, including the data that we have gathered in the past few weeks”, said Adley in an amiable voice. Wong flinched a muscle upon hearing his words, but remained generally undisturbed by the sudden change of situation; he expected anything from the old fox so his decision to play the cards up did not take him by surprise, nonetheless it was unusual to let a subordinate handle the deck. The professor disclosed nothing else, sealing his way out of the conversation by leaning back in his odd chair and pressing his fingertips together against his dry lips. It was inaccurate to actually call it a chair since it had no legs and its shape was kind of a whimsical hybrid between an egg and the bottom of an opened oyster ; it was commonly the center of people’s mockery and named the Maglev Eggster, also because of the technology it was based on. Though highly efficient and comfortable, many preferred old fashioned chairs that actually had legs, it gave them somewhat of a psychological stability. Nieten turned to face the Supervisor, his piercing, cold eyes expressing how displeased he was of having to share confidential information with a man that understood nothing of his work.
“I assume there is no point in presenting the facts too scientifically, that would be a waste of time so I will try to make it brief and short”, he said with a sly smile. “I am quite positive that your highness is aware that under a government approval we have begun to take action in repelling and killing the Nyanza virus by using human testing. So far we have lost two of the patients that have volunteered to be inoculated with an experimental anti-viral drug, and our third, Meissa is in a severe condition and even if we do pick up the pace and get one step ahead, she will probably die during the next month-”
“Her name sounds vaguely familiar”, interrupted Wong in a pondering tone.
“That is because she is one of our best researchers in the field of metagenomics, also known as environmental/eco genomics”, replied Dr. Neiten abruptly. Wong looked mortified, but pulled himself back together rapidly, though still visibly shocked of the answer and with questions at the tip of his tongue.
“Then why on Earth is she a guinea pig? Wasn’t she more valuable alive?”
“First of all may I remind you that we are not currently on Earth. People react and proceed differently when confronted with a possibility, especially somebody so dedicated to doing anything conceivable towards saving the entire planet. She may have been brought up in space but her love is as equal the least as somebody that has lived all their lives knowing what nature truly feels like. She is highly valuable as scientist and as test subject, but her fate is of her own judgement and desire and we have done nothing that would be against her will. We have made sure that before she does so, Dr. Thabit will have instructed her subordinates to continue with her work and has shared all of her private section with her assistant Dr. Sirah…”
“For security reasons, only the head of each department has unlimited access and is allowed to do separate investigations. If that person dies, he or she are not able to perform further examinations and studies because of either disease, be it mental or physical, or old age and in the worst case he or she divulges information without instructions to do so no matter why, he or she will hand over and entrust the data and position to the main assistant.”
“Ah, I understand now-”, said the Supervisor in a rather pensive voice while stroking his chin with his fingers; a beard would have made him look less ridiculous.
“Now that I have finished explaining more than I have intended to I shall go onwards to continuing with the main storyline without any further questions”, interrupted the Senior Researcher with bitter politeness.
Though completely passive in the conversation, Adley could not deny himself the pleasure of smiling, clearly amused of how the situation was unfolding. He knew how it would go long before it took place, right during the time when he had planned for all of those things to happen, his accuracy was sometimes astounding, even so precise that it overwhelmed people that were unaccustomed to it.
“We are aware that the data and knowledge we posses are not sufficient to sustain Dr. Thabit’s life until we can collect enough information to continue our quest in exterminating the virus. Dr. Solaine Arkab-”
Wong shifted in his chair and turned his view towards a corner of the room, visibly irritated at the sound of the name.
“- is an excellent virologist with extensive expertise in domains such as genetic engineering and genomics. For the past few weeks, ever since Meissa’s entry in the program she has been feeding us bits of her own research. We have learned that she is successfully advancing in sequencing the RNA genome of the virus, and also understood that she is a critical need and essential to our win against it. The reason of your coming here is to grant her the unique access codes that would allow her to use our full equipment and not only the H.E.D where she has done most of her studies and spent most of her life in”, concluded the young scientist.
The sulky Supervisor rose to his feet, but before he could say something, Adley changed his position as to face the door, and he followed his example almost immediately.
“What makes you believe that I desire to convince this querulous midget of anything, Ken? I have already broken into the Institute’s database long before his arrival, and with some more digging I will eventually get to know every inch of this place like the back of my palm”, said Solaine sourly. Her hands were folded and her face expressed a wide smirk, altogether with her wild swept bun the image represented pure hostility and cynicism.
“You will accept it, because even though you won’t admit it, you can’t bear the thought of standing by while millions of people suffer and die, especially children.”
She closed the door behind her and with a grave look she took a seat in front of Khendir, while totally ignoring the person that was Wong.
“You know my hunger for knowledge very well, I never thought you would actually make use of it as blackmail”, Solaine said falsely bothered. “From today on, I will take lead in the departments I’m specialized in. I expect full reports on the current status of our development and progress so far in overcoming and crushing this biological warfare. Notify Sirah that I want her part of the research set to points by tomorrow morning since I will also be joining the genomics section, she will regain her full-fledged status when I believe she is ready. Before we start, I have one more condition.”
“And what would that be, my dear?”, said Adley in a mild voice.
“A private project, with no inquiries and no track of it but my own data that shall be highly guarded by my computer programs only, no supplies or machine monitoring. No video.”
“What is this? Trick or treat day? Stop this nonsense, it has gone too far!”, burst Wong in a splatter of sheer confusion and contempt.
“You took an oath never to cause harm, if you cross that line I will make sure that is the last thing you do. And we both know there are far worse things than death. Consider yourself the third authority in the hierarchy, just bellow me and Dr. Neiten”, said Adley calmly. “ Kendhir, would you mind escorting Solaine to the main laboratory and then bring me a cup of green tea, if you may?”, he added smilingly.
“Not at all, Doctor.”
Both young scientists exited the room with the door sliding smoothly behind them.
“Ken, how is Meissa? I managed to take hold of everything but the video monitoring system”, asked the woman sadly.
“I know, it was the only thing I could prevent you from doing. Her state is quite advanced and as I know you, even though I can certify that you are a responsible researcher, the possibility of you doing something reckless was too high to assume the risk.”
“I want to see her…”