Saturday, January 30, 2016

Part 3 Deleted Scene - Dmitry and Shaun play Scrabble

EDIT: Full part 3 found here.

"Is this town still dry?" My way of life was at risk, making it the perfect opportunity to drink myself stupid. I had to adapt to my surroundings somehow.
"No dry. Lake is close. Ocean is close." Dmitry's English sometimes made him sound like a child. "Not good idea to swim though. You'll zamerznut'."
"Alcohol, Dmitry. I meant alcohol."
"Oh! I can get beer from kitchen!"

I entered my room and he scurried off like an excited frog wearing a lab coat towards the kitchen returning five minutes later with a six pack of Budweiser and a box containing the classic game Scrabble.

"You like this game? Is all I find."
Budweiser and Scrabble wouldn't sound like a tempting evening back at home, but here in Barrow there wasn't much else to do. At the very least, my opponent would surely give me an easy win. "Are you sure you want to play that? I mean...with English being your second language and all.."
"Is fine." He handed me a beer and set up the game on the table.
"Alright. But don't think I'm going to go easy on you."

Back at home my wife always beat me in Scrabble. But now, I had a golden opportunity to claim victory. Sure it wouldn't be something I could brag about when I eventually left this dreadful place. Beating a dorky Russian at Scrabble...not exactly the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. But it was good enough for me.

Dmitry laid out the first word horizontally across the center of the board, spelling out CAR with the letter C starting on the center.

This is going to be a cakewalk. I thought.

Vertically from the letter R I played the word PERSON with the letters P & O gaining triple points for a total of 19. Not a bad start.

Dmitry sprung into action before I could even grab new letters. His arms covered the board as he arranged his letters concealing his move. I ignored him and focused on selecting my replacement letters and arranging them on my rack.

Dmitry had a pretentious look on his face when I finally looked back him. So cavalier, he seemed.

"What's with the face?"

He gestured towards the board with a slight tilt of his head. And I realized why he was making that face after I glanced at the word he played. Horizontally from the letter N I played previously he had spelled out the word ONYXES. And it was laid out over a double word tile. 30 points.

"Are you hustling me, little man?"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "I believe you Americans call it 'Swagger'."




Friday, January 29, 2016

Sources!

Questions? Oh, I'm sure you'll have many. The procedure of The Eos, while seemingly far-fetched, is actually not. The science exists to fuse computer chips with the human brain, and there are companies actually dedicated to powering the human body through solar energy. Below is a short list of sources for the procedure described in the story:

This link provides more in depth details on how to fuse computer chips with brain cells. The successful experiment is referenced in part 2 of the story.

This company focuses on synthetic biology and has conducted extensive research into running human cells on solar energy.

A genetic engineering process that alters genomes and the mitochondrial process.

Further studies of actively modifying our genes has been conduct, albeit controversy. This article details a team of Chinese scientists that conducted experiments on human embryos to alter specific genes that cause diseases.


Video of a cluster headache attack, for comparison to the headaches those who undergo the procedure experience. May be difficult to watch.


Friday, January 22, 2016

New series starting on 1/28!

My new series will be posted over at /r/nosleep starting on 1/28, but you don't have to wait. Here's the first two parts. Enjoy!

I was recruited for a science experiment in Barrow, Alaska



Just one month ago I was a simple family man from Long Island celebrating the holidays with my wife and newborn son. I never expected to find myself covered in blood and running through the frozen tundra of Alaska a month later. How did I end up like this? It’s a long story of a science experiment gone horribly wrong. A story you all need to hear.
***


You’d never think he was worth billions by the looks of him. He could certainly afford more than the faded jeans and plain white t-shirt he wore. And he could certainly afford a razor to shave that five o’clock shadow. Some people call a guy like Richard humble. Looks are deceiving. In more ways than one. His appearance couldn’t hide his attitude. He may not look like a billionaire, but he acted like one.


“In my years on this earth, I’ve had a lot of BLTs. But this Diner...there’s something about it.” He sat back in the booth and observed the decor of the partially dilapidated restaurant. His alluring, calm demeanor portrayed the confidence of a defiant man. “The BLTs here,” he pointed one finger in the air, raised his eyebrows slightly and stared directly into my eyes to emphasize his point, “the best.”  
“Can’t say I’ve ever been here before,” I responded, allowing my eyes to wander around the diner.
“We’re privileged, you and I.”  
“You’re right about that.”  
His face went stern. “Don’t agree with me yet, I haven’t made my point.”  
I looked down and rubbed my fingernail across the glossy surface of the table. “Sorry,” I mumbled.  
Richard smiled in return. Whenever a gesture of friendliness came from him, you could tell it was the result of a man who had conquered the world.  
“That’s alright. What was I saying. Oh! Privileged! Yes yes, you, me, our friends, that bloke sitting two booths away from us. We’re all privileged. A place like this would be coveted and worshiped in some parts of the world, but here on Long Island? Hardly anybody notices it.”  
“Something tells me you strategically chose this place for our meeting.”  
Richard furrowed his brow. “I don’t like that word. ‘Meeting’. I’ve been following you for years, Shaun. The word ‘meeting’ implies a strictly business confrontation. Life can’t be all business, you know. There has to be some fun in between. A natural balance. And my admiration of your work makes it a personal treat to be sitting with you today.”  
“We *are* here to talk business, aren’t we?” I was growing impatient. Days earlier I received a call from some woman saying the great Richard Sanders had requested my presence to discuss a project he was working on. My curiosity was amiss initially. What could Richard Sanders possibly want with a dopey organic chemist like me? The achievements that awarded him his fortune were in the automobile industry, not science or biology.  
Richard shrugged. “Yes, there’s business to discuss. We’ll get to that. But first we need food!” He waved his finger in the air and yelled across the Diner to the middle-aged waitress standing behind the dessert counter. “Sweetheart! Can you bring us two BLT deluxe sandwiches with curly fries. A diet coke for me and a Hawaiian Punch for my friend here.”  
The waitress nodded and jotted the order down on her pad, then shuffled off. “Hawaiian Punch, Mr. Sanders? That’s oddly specific.”  
“Richard, please, call me Richard. That is your favorite, though, is it not? Hawaiian Punch?”  
“Well, yes...but…”  
“But you never order it because you think it sounds childish.”  
An awkward, crooked smile forced its way across my face. I wasn’t sure if I should feel flattered or violated. “I see you’ve...uh...really done your research on me.”  
He ignored my remark. “It’s the child within us that keeps us sane, Shaun.”  


If anyone had told me that one day I would sitting with Richard Sanders in a run-down Diner eating a BLT and drinking Hawaiian Punch I’d have called that person crazy. When I initially received the call requesting my time, I was completely confused. This was just about the strangest lunch I had ever been on. But slowly, this meeting was starting to make a bit of sense to me. Richard methodically chose this specific location for a reason. He’s bringing himself down to my level. Humanizing himself.


But the biggest mystery was still just that. A mystery. Not why did Richard bring me *here*? The venue and his antics left no evidence that provided a reason why Richard wanted to meet with me at all. Before yesterday, I hadn’t the slightest idea that Richard Sanders even knew who I was. He was not my friend, and I had no interest in becoming friends. This hollow charade he was putting me through was testing my patience.


“Listen, uh, Richard, I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I have a very hectic schedule. Between my job and my newborn son at home, I don’t exactly have all the time in the world for pleasantries.”  
Richard nodded in response, a small frown forming around his mouth. “Alright.” He held both hands in the air with his palms facing me. “I understand. I’ll cut to the chase.”


The waitress arrived with our drinks just as Richard lowered his hands. I watched as he placed his straw in the glass and raised it to his mouth to take a sip. I left my drink alone. I wasn’t giving him the satisfaction until he gave me a reason to appreciate this inconvenient meeting.


“For the last fifteen years a team of scientists that I’ve assembled has been working on a project. An idea. Something I envisioned when I was a little boy. A solution to a dilemma that’s plagued humanity since humanity first came into existence.”  
My interest was peaked. “And what’s that?”  
He placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “We’re solving world hunger.”  
“Is that right?” I tried my best to prevent my eyes from rolling. Richard Sanders was not the first eccentric billionaire or public figure to dabble in humanitarian aspirations. They’re all the same. They make a big public spectacle of an announcement about helping those less fortunate. A week or two later there’s a small update. And then we never hear another word. How could Richard be any different? “And how do you plan on doing that?”
“I’m afraid that without a signed confidentiality agreement that’s all I can tell you right now. And to be honest, that’s all I really *want* to tell you right now. Words couldn’t capture the magnitude of our work and our progress. I’d much rather show you.”


Show me what? Some laboratory where they’re growing genetically modified meat? World hunger has been and will always be a perpetual issue that can’t be solved with science. The real solution to world hunger would be drastic political reform in underdeveloped third world countries.


Richard stared at me with a keen eye. He had cast a baited hook for me and was waiting for me to bite.


“So this Diner is going to make enough BLTs to feed Ethiopia?” I wasn’t intrigued enough to give him the satisfaction. If he hadn’t noticed the condensation from my glass dripping towards the surface of the table, he would certainly catch my sarcasm.  
“I’d probably have the same response if I were in your shoes. But believe me when I tell you that what my team is doing will pioneer a new age for humanity.”  
“Sounds like you’re doing just fine without me.”  
“We’ve made tremendous progress. But we’ve hit somewhat of a stalemate over the last year. And that’s why I’ve asked you here.”  
“To recruit me?”  
“Your work in biology, epigenetics and physical-organic chemistry are parallel with our hypothesis. I’ve studied your work and contribution tautomerization, more specifically the manipulation of organic compounds. I believe your insight and expertise would spark a breakthrough for us.”  
I took a deep breath. “I suppose I could tinker around on my day off if you’d like to send me some progress reports.”  
“Oh, no no no. Something like this is beyond progress notes. You’d need to come to our headquarters and see the lab. Observe our specimens.”  
Specimens? I sighed. “Fine. Where is your lab?”  
“Barrow.”  
“Barrow? You mean Alaska?!”  
“That’s correct.”  
“You wouldn’t be able to just email me some information?”  
“Certainly not. We could never risk details being leaked to the public. Plus we would need you to develop working experiments based on any conclusions you draw. We would want a minimum one-month commitment.”  
“One month?! Richard, I’m sorry, but I don’t have nearly enough time or motivation to leave my wife, child and work here on Long Island and travel all the way to Alaska for a month!”  
“We’ll pay you, of course.”  
“It’s not a question of money, I’m not leaving…”  
“Three hundred thousand.”


The number bounced off my ear drums and echoed inside my head. My current $72,000 per year salary seemed like pennies compared to it. I stopped and stared at Richard wide-eyed and jaw dropped.


“Should you stay longer than one month, which in honestly is a realistic possibility, I’ll compensate you an extra $75,000 for every week you’re there afterwards.”


I thought about my wife in that moment. She was at home, probably sitting in the living room with our son, Dexter. But I didn’t focus specifically on her. I thought about the crack in the ceiling. The hand-me-down crib next to the couch. The coffee table with one leg that keeps falling off. All the things I wished I could pay to fix but couldn’t. We didn’t have the economic safety net for me to pull the trigger on giving my family a life of luxury. I was the sole source of income for the household, And it was hardly enough to scrape by. Sacrificing one month would provide me with the opportunity to give my family what I’ve always wanted them to have.


I grabbed the glass in front of me and sipped the Hawaiian Punch.
***


Two days and a scornful wife later and I was riding on a private jet headed to Barrow, Alaska. It was a mostly peaceful flight that lasted 15 hours. The thought of being on a plane for a full day straight was not appealing, but this was a flight funded by one of the world’s richest people. The luxuries on board made the trek a pleasant experience. I had my own private area on the plane complete with a bathroom, an HD smart television, and a leather chair that reclined into a full size bed. It was like my own private apartment where I could stretch my legs out. I even slept for about 7 hours during the trip. I could never fall asleep on planes before, but I suppose the comfort of my own private space eliminated that awkward tension you experience when trying to fall asleep next to some stranger in an uncomfortable position.


Richard flew on the same flight and I couldn’t help but imagine what his area of the plane looked like if mine was so extravagant. But we parted ways as soon as we entered the plane. Besides the stewardess, I spent most of the flight by myself in my room where I reflected on the project I was recruited for. And my wife. Emma. I know that the entire reason for my accepting this job was so I could provide for them the way I always envisioned myself doing. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was abandoning them. Funny how our intentions deliver the opposite result sometimes.


It wasn’t until we were within an hour of landing that I received a knock on my door from the stewardess informing me that my presence was needed in the conference room. Apparently this plane had its own conference room. I opened the door to see the stewardess smiling.


“Please follow me, Mr. Brewer.”  


I smiled and walked behind her as she led me down a narrow passageway of doors for other private rooms that led to an open common area with leather couches and a full bar. I guess that this plane was used more commonly for business meetings, but it was pretty clear that myself and Richard were the only two passengers for this particular flight. We circled around the bar which revealed a long, beige, wooden table with three matching leather chairs on each side and one chair at each end. Sitting on the left side of the table was a man I had never seen before. He wore blue suit with subtle white stripes, a light pink button-down shirt with a solid burgundy tie. He stood up and outstretched his hand to me.


“Mr. Brewer. I’m David Strong. Attorney. I represent Richard Sanders.”


How did this guy get on the plane? I didn’t remember seeing him board with us. I ignored my confusion and shook his hand.


“Please, have a seat.” He motioned for me to sit in the chair at the end of the table in front of a stack of papers. “Richard has entrusted me with securing the confidentiality of the project that you were recruited for. As such, before we can authorize any clearance and allow you to enter the facility, you’ll need to sign this CA. I’m here to oversee this transaction and answer any questions you may have.”  
Questions? Oh, I had many. “Where’s Richard?”  
“He’s in his room. For matters such as this it’s wise to have an attorney handle the transaction. Richard, as you know, is not a lawyer. But he hires the best.”  
I skimmed through the four page agreement, taking note of a number of frightening words, but it all seemed pretty standard. What I didn’t understand is why this was being held behind closed doors. You’d think the charismatic Richard Sanders would want make a big splash in the headlines with this “project”. “Why is this being kept tight-lipped?” I asked.  
“I’m not one to speculate why Richard has decided to keep this confidential. But I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly briefed when you arrive at The Eos.”  
The what? “Eos?”  
“That’s what Richard named the facility that houses the lab.”  


I looked through the agreement some more and saw ‘The Eos’ mentioned numerous times. *’Recipient may enter or has entered into a business relationship with Eos Advancements Inc...may use or review Eos Advancement Inc.’s confidential information…’* Upon further inspection I saw a logo for ‘The Eos’ watermarked in the background of each page of the document. The logo blended into the document and made it hard to notice, but it was there. The cross on the letter “T” in “The” was outstretched over the rest of the title. I initially thought that Richard set up camp in Barrow to avoid the press and maintain secrecy. The name Eos made me second-guess this conclusion. Barrow is famously known as the town that lives without the sun for about 65 days starting in November and ending in January. I had done my research before leaving Long Island and took note of the fact that we would be arriving in Barrow towards the end of the polar night cycle. It was January 10th, and the sun would not be rising over the horizon for another 12 days on the 22nd. Eos was the Greek Goddess of Dawn and the sister of Helios, God of the Sun. It’s hard not to think it was a coincidence.


“Why Barrow?” I decided to push for some sort of confirmation.  
“When I say answer questions, I meant questions pertaining to this agreement. Inquiries about the project need to be directed to Richard or someone in the lab once you’re there.”  


I read through the agreement some more before signing it, wishing I had my own lawyer with me to review everything. I’m not one for legal language like this. At this point, being less than an hour away from Barrow, it didn’t seem as though I had much choice other than signing.


Another handshake, an exchange of a business card, and I was whisked away back to my room by the stewardess to prepare for landing. During that time I contemplated more about the information I just learned. What did all of this have to do with solving world hunger? Perhaps Richard has devised a plan to grow food and crops in abundance and was using the darkness to test his theories out before implementing on a larger scale? It didn’t seem likely but it was also difficult to draw any other logical conclusions.


After we landed smoothly at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport I exited my room to find Richard standing in the hallway, waiting for the plane to come to a complete stop so we could exit.


“Welcome to Barrow, Shaun!” He raised his arms straight in the air and smiled.  
“Thanks. Excited to be here.”  
He lowered his arms. “I trust things went well with David?”  
“Uh, yes. The confidentiality agreement is signed and good to go.”  
“Excellent! Come, there’s much to talk about on the way.”  


The plane stopped and the door opened letting in a rush of freezing cold air that made me take a step back. I know it’s Alaska and I did my best to prepare for the icy climate, but I never could have predicted this. In an instant I felt my cheeks burn from the cold and my eyes watered up.


Richard turned and noticed me squinting my eyes. “Ha! I had that same reaction the first time I ventured up here. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”


I doubted that immediately when I heard Richard say it. Then I thought some more. People lived in this town year after year and seemed to be able to live with the cold. Once I emerged from the cabin onto the asphalt of the airport runway and my body adjusted to the temperature, I took a deep breath through my nose and embraced the crisp air, then exhaled through my mouth and watched the moisture create a thick cloud of carbon dioxide that blew wildly in the wind. The cloud carried further away from me before eventually dissolving and disappearing when the backdrop of the vast snow covered tundra came into focus. It was just after 3:00pm and pitch dark with the only source of light coming from the airport that shined on only a small portion of the tundra before being engulfed by the darkness.


Under the clear sky, the site was...mesmerizing.


“This way, Shaun!” I struggled briefly to take myself away from the stimulating view, but eventually I turned and saw Richard walking away from me toward a black Lincoln Town Car where a man in a suit was holding the door open for him. Richard stopped just before reaching the car and turned to me. “We’re not here to sightsee!”


Right. I was here to work. Still, he could have given me a moment to take in a few mental snapshots of the northernmost settlement of the United States.


I hurried myself over to the Town Car where the man in the suite introduced himself as the driver and offered to take my bag. David followed right after me and after a firm slam of the trunk and the doors, we were off.


“Do yourself a favor, Shaun. Take my advice. Forget about the notion of being a tourist while we’re here,” Richard warned. “Don’t get distracted.”  
I cleared my throat. “Yes, uh, Richard. I understand.” He was starting to sound like that aggressive businessman I had always suspected him of being.


Richard went on about how the primary focus was to complete the project at hand as we drove through the town. I didn’t pay much attention. I was fixed on observing as much of the town as I could during the drive. Barrow was such a drastically different way of life than what I was used to, it was a shame I wouldn’t be able to explore it. While looking out the window I couldn’t help but imagine what it must be like to live in Barrow. It looked peaceful. It was like a world disconnected from modern civilization. A place where a man could really reflect on his purpose.


We traveled through the town and followed a dirt road into the seemingly endless tundra.


“Where...where are we going?” I asked.
“The Eos.” David said.
“We built the lab about three miles outside the main town near Emaiksoun Lake, “Richard chimed in. “Best to try and stay out of public eye as much as possible.”


I nodded, but I still didn’t quite understand. With this darkness, any building would be easily concealed, but even in the daylight, line of sight is just under three miles to the horizon, leaving The Eos still out of view to most of Barrow. Richard and his team went to great effort to keep whatever they were doing here a secret. They really thought of everything. Why all this secrecy?


My efforts to inspect the surrounding area proved fruitless without any streetlights to illuminate the tundra we were driving through. The headlights shined ahead onto the dirt road and didn’t provide much else for my eyes to inspect as the car rattled around slightly from the topography of the road.


In the distance, I saw lights. Not a lot. Maybe three at first. And we were driving straight towards them. As we approached, more sources of light had come into view, and soon the outline of a large building.


“Ah! I can see it now!” Richard said enthusiastically pointing a finger ahead of us in the direction the car was headed in.


The closer we got brought more into focus. I could see a fairly large, white building that stood three stories. It looked like an office building that was strangely out of place being located practically in the middle of nowhere. I would probably never take notice to this building if it were located back on Long Island. But here, it would be hard not to see it if you were within eyesight. Such a large structure like this in Barrow must have been a challenge for Richard to put together. The only way Barrow is accessible is by air and sea; driving to Barrow is impossible. The supplies required to build The Eos must have been delivered by a cargo ship, then transported piece by piece. I was left wondering how they were able to do all that when there are no real roads or streets that led to The Eos. It must have been a slow process putting all of this together.


The car inched forward towards the right side of the building, reducing speed to about 10 miles per hour. A large metal door began to raise as we got closer and the car was driven into what looked like an oversized garage. The door closed behind us just as the car came to a stop. Inside I noticed about six other cars parked. I sort of expected to see a massive truck delivering supplies inside, but since there’s no real parking lot outside, this garage must have been built in anticipation of there being a large number of cars that would need to be parked there. Our car made number seven, and there was still plenty of room for other cars to park.


Along the opposite side of where we stopped were two people standing in front of a glass door, one man and one woman, both of which were wearing white lab coats.


“Here we are. Welcome to the Eos!”


The driver exited and opened the passenger door to let us out.


One of the gentlemen I noticed standing by the glass door had approached us as we exited the car and spoke with an excited, upbeat Russian accent. “Mr. Brewer! It is such great pleasure to have you with us!” He looked young. Younger than me. Early twenties. He could easily pass for a teenager if he told me he was so. That might have been because his lab coat he wore looked to be a few sizes too big on him. He walked towards us with a bounce in his step and a wide-eyed grin. “I am big admirer!”  
“Easy, Dmitry. We’re not paparazzi,” the woman barked in flawless English.  
“Sorry. I am...eh...how you say…*radostnyy*?”  
The woman half rolled her eyes. “Joyful.”
“Yes! Joyful! I am joyful!”  
Richard gestured towards the woman. “Shaun, this is Elizabeth McLean, our head scientist. You’ll be spending most of your time with her and the joyful Dmitry here.”
“I’m the lab tech!” Dmitry exclaimed.  
“Calm yourself, Dmitry,” Elizabeth scolded. “He’s quite the animated character sometimes. My apologies.” She held her hand out. “Nice to have you on board, Shaun.”  
I confirmed her identity by observing the ID badge harnessed to her hip. *ELIZABETH MCLEAN - LEVEL 3* “McLean...that name sounds familiar to me,” I responded, shaking her hand and studying her features. She looked familiar too. I could swear I recognized that shoulder-length grey hair from one of my science magazines.  
“I’ve done extensive work with Cymric in my career.”  
A quick burst of shock swept through me as I realized who this woman was. “Oh yes...weren’t you responsible for altering genes in roundworms to double their lifespan?”  
A small smile of pride forced its way across her face. “That would be me.”


Another piece to the puzzle...Elizabeth was well known in the industry for her efforts in the early 1990s on improving the lifespan of humans. Her work has pioneered breakthroughs in aging research and sought to add 100 years to the average human lifespan by modifying our genes. I hadn’t expected to meet someone here whose work I was familiar with, but it wasn’t something I should have been surprised about. Richard has the money to bring in the top scientists in the world. And Elizabeth was among the brightest. I felt like I was way out of my league. Still, what exactly was her contribution here? Since her work in the 90s, she had been relatively silent in the industry. Had she been working with Richard since then?


“I’ll be leaving you in the hands of Elizabeth and Dmitry from here,” Richard said as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “They’re both much more qualified to answer some of the questions I’m sure you’ll have.”  
“How much *does* he know?” Elizabeth asked.  
I answered before Richard could. “I know so little about this ‘covert operation’ I’m actually starting to get frustrated.”  
“Then I’m sure you have plenty of questions. Don’t worry, Shaun. It’ll all make sense shortly. All of it.”  
I felt a pat on my shoulder. “My office is in the west wing on the third floor. I’ll be there if you need me, Shaun. Dmitry will show you to your room. Come, David!” One final pat on my shoulder and Richard was making lengthy strides towards the glass door on the opposite side. His henchman David followed right behind him without saying a word, their shoes clicking on the concrete creating a staccato that echoed through the garage.  
“Yes, I show room to you. Is next to mine!”  
“I know you’ve had a long flight. You must be a little tired. We’ll go slow today and focus on catching you up to speed. Why don’t you get settled into your room before we get started. You hungry?”  
“I could go for a bite.”  
“Get yourself something to eat. We have a fully stocked kitchen with a 24 hour on-call chef. You’ll find the number on the desk in your room. What time is it, Dmitry?”  
“About 3:30.”  
“Is that AM or PM?”  
“I think...yes, PM.”  
“Ah.” Elizabeth caught the confused look on my face. “My internal clock is still somewhat thrown off from the perpetual darkness this time of year. It’s sometimes hard to tell. Anyway, 3:30 in the afternoon, that means Marty is in the kitchen. He makes a pretty lean BLT, if that’s your thing.”  


Clearly Elizabeth has spent way too much time around Richard.
***


Dmitry walked me to my room chatting up a storm the whole way. I liked Dmitry. He had a genuine enthusiasm that brightened the room. He was like a child discovering candy for the first time. But I could tell right away spending most of my time over the next month would be a bit of a handful. He was more the type of person I’d want to share a beer with and exchange our wildest drinking stories. I didn’t think I’d be sharing the story of the time a few buddies and I in grad school downed a bottle of vodka and came up with the brilliant idea to pee into a microbial fuel cell with anybody here.


Just beyond the glass door in the garage was a security checkpoint with two armed guards monitoring our movements. One sat behind a desk and remained fixated on a series of monitors displaying the feed of various security cameras located throughout facility. I tried to get a glimpse of what was being broadcasted on the screens, but I was immediately ushered away by Dmitry and led down a long hallway on the first floor that wrapped around to the south side of the building. I quickly noted how much it felt like a hotel. The only major difference was the lack of carpeting in the hallway. Bright white tiles shined from the fluorescent lighting on the ceiling. Someone did a pretty good job keeping this place clean. Then again, that’s to be expected in a laboratory. There were thirty private suites to house the entire team devoted to working day in and day out on whatever it was Richard brought them all here for. Dmitry informed me that there was a steady flow of people coming for a few months, then leaving for another few months, then eventually coming back for a few months and so on. The only people that were continuously at the location was him and Elizabeth. Together, they basically ran the facility.


We stopped in front of room 4 and Dmitry gave me a key-card that provided access to the room and assured that he would be in room 3 when I was ready to head to the lab. Inside looked like a fairly average hotel room. Roughly 325 square feet, a king size bed, 32” flat screen television sitting atop a set of waist-high dresser drawers, a desk, a small seating area, and a full bathroom. A cozy space I was comfortable with.


Once I unpacked some of my belongings and settled in I called the chef, Marty, and ordered a ham sandwich that was promptly delivered on a rolling trolley to my room by a young Native American woman. Her ID badge read ‘ABBY HAN - LEVEL 1’, but she hurried off before I could exchange pleasantries.


I quickly scarfed down the sandwich and exited the room, finding myself alone in the hallway. Dmitry’s room was just to the right of me, but I walked right passed his room towards the security desk we passed earlier. Curiosity had gotten the better of me and I wanted to fish for information from the two security guards I saw earlier. Something gave me the impression I wouldn’t be given full disclosure on what goes on in this facility and those cameras behind the desk might give me more information.


“Shaun! Where you going?” I had taken a few steps and was just about to turn the corner when Dmitry called out. I turned around and saw him galloping towards me. Crap.  
“I wanted to see the kitchen and thank Marty for the excellent sandwich.”  
“I show later. I have to bring you to lab with Elizabeth now.”  
“Right, of course. Lead the way!”  
I had hoped he would buy my story, but he didn’t. As we walked towards the stairwell he wouldn’t let up on the subject. “If you ever go outside, don’t go far! There are polar bears! Ferocious polar bears! Make sure to tell someone first.”


First Richard telling me not to sightsee, now Dmitry warning me of the dangerous wildlife. I had a hunch they didn’t want me mingling with the townsfolk at all and risk blabbing my mouth.


We reached the second floor, exited the staircase and walked down a similar, long hallway to the one on the first floor outside my room. Elizabeth stood at the end of the hallway in front of a white door with a square window at eye level.


“Marty made you a nice meal?” She asked when we reached her.
“Yup. I’m ready for whatever you have to throw at me.”  
“Great. We’ll start in the morgue.”  
I gulped. “The morgue?”  
“That’s right,” she said matter-of-factly. Apparently they were studying dead bodies?


She turned and opened the door where we entered a cold, dimly lit room. Along one wall contained the familiar square, metal doors with cylindrical handles concealing dead bodies. Just like any morgue. There were six doors in total, two stacks of three. Elizabeth walked to the door on the lower left and opened it, then pulled the tray inside to reveal a corpse covered with a white sheet.


“I hope you have a strong stomach.” Before I could respond, Elizabeth ripped the sheet off the cadaver. I nearly stumbled backwards from the grotesque site. “Say hello to Chuck.”


On the tray was a young man. His chest had been previously ripped open during an autopsy and stitched and stapled back shut. Whoever did the stitching did a poor job. Portions of his intestines were visible between the gaps of the incision.


But that was not the part that frightened me. It was the man’s head. Starting at the rim of his hairline just above his forehead and reaching all the way to the crown was an oval shaped cavity large enough for me to easily fit my first through. From my angle it was the first thing I saw when Elizabeth tore the sheet off. Fragments of bone peeked out from under the hairy skin giving way to a hollow skull.


I felt my legs buckle and I reached out to catch myself. My hand landed on what appeared to be a cold metal operating table that sent shivers up my arm and throughout my body. What the hell was this?


“Jesus!” I exclaimed. “I don’t think that’s the way autopsies are supposed to be done!”  
“They’re not,” Elizabeth responded swiftly. “That head wound you see there...he did that to himself.”  
That was the last thing I wanted to hear. “Just what the fuck is all this?!”  
Elizabeth remained calm and spoke with authority. “This..this is precisely why we brought you here, Shaun. We need you to help us fix this.”  
“Fix it?! There’s no fixing that guy!”  
“Not him. We need you to stop it from happening to the others.”


Part 2: Precious Life


The site of a dead person always makes me feel uneasy. They lay with a somber, lifeless expression of sadness. You hear people say that they look peaceful sometimes. I don’t buy that. They always look like they’re in agony and trying to hide it to me. Even the ones that went through the extensive embalming process to prepare their bodies for an open casket.


Chuck’s body had that same look of agony I’ve seen in other dead bodies. But the dark cavity in the top of his head amplified his look agony. And what was worse is, apparently there were more just like Chuck.


“What do you mean others? You mean there are more people ripping their scalps off, breaking through their skulls and pulling out their own brain?”  
“Well, it didn’t exactly happen like that.” Elizabeth responded.  
“Is not like that, Shaun.”  Dmitry chimed in. “We scalped them first. They did rest.”  
My eyes bulged out of their sockets. “You WHAT?!”  
“Dmitry please...let me explain it to Shaun more clearly.”  
“Yes! Explain how this is even legal!”  
“I can assure you that everything we’ve done here is perfectly legal. Not only that, our subjects volunteered for the experiment. They did this willingly.”  
I wasn’t entirely convinced. What possible reason could there be to allow someone to scalp your head for an experiment. “You better start making sense or I’m out of here.”  
“Don’t be silly. Where will you go? We’re in the middle of nowhere. Just sit down and let me talk you through this.”  


I’ve come this far. I might as well listen to their excuses for killing people.


Just then, another young man wearing a lab coat I hadn’t seen yet poked his head through the door. “Hey Liz, do you have a moment to go over these reports?”  
Elizabeth looked annoyed. “Not is not a good time, Tim.”  
“Oh, sure. Later then. Hey, is that Shaun Brewer?”  
“Tim, I said NOT NOW!” Elizabeth had been calm and collected during my outburst and the entire time I had been on location. This was the first time I saw her lose her patience, and it could not have been at a more inconvenient time for her. She stared menacingly at the young man. It was a side of her I hoped not to see again.


Without another word, Tim quickly turned around and went about his business.


“Fine. Say what you need to say. But I’m not listening to anything in this room. Not with that…’Chuck’ guy in the same vicinity of me.”  
“Fair enough. There’s a conference room at the other end of the hall.”  


Without pulling the sheet back over Chuck, she pushed the tray back into its temporary metal coffin and closed the door, then led us to the conference room at the other end of the hall, passing Tim and another person wearing a lab coat along the way. The three of us sat around a long oak table large enough to fit twelve people. Mounted along the wall behind the head of the table was a 55” television set. In the corner of the opposite end was a large bamboo plant that nearly touched the ceiling sitting in a pot that I admired for a brief moment. My wife loves bamboo. It made me think of her.


“First, let me give you a brief introduction.” She paused and cleared her throat. I think she was trying to add dramatic effect. I’d already had enough drama. “As you know, world hunger is still a major issue in our world. Statistically, 11.3% of the world’s population is hungry. 20,000 children die of starvation and poor nutrition per day. Our numbers as a species continues to grow, and as a result these figures continue to grow every year. But what if we didn’t have to eat to live?”  I raised my eyebrows as I sat with my arms crossed, listening to her every word with careful attention. “That! That is the solution. Eliminate the need for food.”  
I rolled my eyes. “Not possible.”  
“It is, Shaun. It’s not only possible. We’ve accomplished it!”  


She reached across the table and grabbed a remote control, pointed it at the television and turned it on. A security camera feed popped onto the screen and suddenly I was looking at a set of glass cages mounted into a wall illuminated by bright fluorescent lighting. There were about 20 cages, each one holding a rat.


“These rats...we haven’t fed them at all. None of them. For six months.”  


I looked closer at the screen and saw each rat filled with energy. Some were jumping at the glass, others were running on wheels. But something was different about the rats. I stood up from the chair and walked closer to the screen, squinting my eyes as I got closer. It was hard to see from the grainy black and white video quality, but I knew something was different about each one. Something was mounted onto their heads. It looked like a black sheet of paper.


“What’s that on their heads?” I asked.  
“A solar panel.”


My head darted away from the screen and back to Elizabeth. “You mean…”
“Yes. Those rats survive entirely on solar energy.”


I didn’t need her to say another word. Everything suddenly clicked in my head and made sense. Barrow. The secrecy. The name ‘Eos’. The corpse in the morgue. It all fell into place.


While Barrow is famous for its 65 days of darkness from November to January, in contrast there is also something called the “midnight sun” where the sun remains over the horizon consistently for 80 days starting in April and ending in either late July or early August. It would serve as the ideal environment to test these solar panels. Additionally, with Barrow being inaccessible by car and relatively secluded, it was the perfect location to ensure secrecy. Experiments conducted on living people are typically filled with controversy, especially when the experiments result in death, and especially when it’s done in the private sector. It’s seen as unethical. With the nearest town, Atqasuk, being about 60 miles away with nothing but frozen tundra in between, The Eos was kept hidden from the public eye. Safe and snuggled away from prying eyes.


I looked back at the television and studied the rats further. “You probably should have started with the rats instead of Chuck…” I said without looking away from the screen.  
Elizabeth let out a nimble short breath of concession and gave me a crooked smile. “I suppose that would have been prudent.”  
“So I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you’ve tried doing this to Chuck...and it didn’t work?”  
“That’s correct.”


She pointed the remote at the screen, clicked a button and brought up a series of diagrams showing a human head. From left to right, each diagram showed the progression of a solar panel installation across the top of the head. It started with the removal of the scalp in the appropriate area in the shape of an elongated oval five inches in length and just over two inches wide. Then a circular portion of the skull one inch in diameter was drilled away, followed by the withdrawal of the membrane, exposing the cerebrum. A small circular silicon circuit on the underside of the solar panel is then fused with the cerebrum using proteins from another area of the brain to serve as adhesive between the circuit and neurons. The last diagram showed the solar panel being mounted across the remaining exposed skull and screwed into place.


A survival procedure.  


The entire procedure was not entirely anything new to science. In 2006, European researchers successfully developed “neuro-chips” that were essentially computer chips fused with living brain cells that created a link between ionic channels in neurons and a semiconductor. The two objects actually communicated with each other. Electrical signals from the brain passed through the semiconductor with ease. What Elizabeth and her team have done here is taken it a step further by allowing the silicon circuit to send signals back to the brain.


“This is...incredible.” I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. The Eos was advancing our evolution by essentially turning humans into plants.  
“Yes...incredible.” Dmitry agreed.  
“It would be, if it worked.” Elizabeth shot back.  
I finally took my eyes away from the screen and looked at Elizabeth. “What do you mean? Those rats…”  
“So far our research has not translated into humans. We’re still missing something. There have been complications with each subject. Dire complications.”  
“You mean, Chuck?”  
She nodded. “We’ve successfully completed the procedure on seven subjects. All seven subjects complained of constant, severe headaches that would be so painful it incapacitated them. They would fall to the floor and curl up in a ball, hysterically screaming and crying from the pain.” She paused and bent her head forward, looking down at the desk. “The sounds they all made...I don’t ever want to hear them again.”  
“One said the pain was worse than cluster headache.”  Dmitry chimed in.  
“Cluster headache?”  
Elizabeth answered, “They’re also called ‘suicide headaches’. Considered to be the most painful condition known to medical science. You can watch videos on youtube of people trying gouge out their own eyes to relieve the pain.”  
I was in shock. “What happened to the people that went received the panels?”  
“They couldn’t live with the pain any longer. Four of them, including Chuck, forcibly removed the solar panels on their heads.”


She paused and pointed the remote at the TV again, this time bringing up another grainy surveillance video that showed Chuck. He was alive, but in clear distress. There was no audio in the black and white video, but Chuck was on his knees in the middle of a suite. He was facing slightly away from the camera, but I could see the solar panel on the top of his shaved head. He was screaming at the top of his lungs with tears running down his cheeks. In a snap, he reached up and grabbed the solar panel from the crown of his head and started aggressively yanking at the solar panel, causing his entire body to violently thrash forward with each jerk. After five hard tugs, the panel flew off his his head with a trail of flesh following it. His body immediately went limp and collapsed. Blood poured from the open wound, quickly creating a large puddle next to his body. The video was difficult to watch. Knowing that three other people went through this exact ordeal exacerbated the experience. I struggled to contain myself as I watched it all unfold.


“The protein adhesive between the circuit and the cerebrum didn’t break in the process, which caused a large section of the brain to be pulled out along with the solar panel,” Elizabeth continued. “Another knocked out one of our scientists and repeatedly rammed his head into the concrete wall in one of the examination rooms.”


She clicked the remote again and I saw another man rapidly pacing back and forth. His head, like Chuck’s, had a solar panel mounted on top. His arms were firmly held at his sides and his hands were balled into fists. On the ground next to him was the limp body of another scientist in a lab coat face down. Suddenly, the man stopped pacing, pivoted his body and ran full force towards the concrete wall, angling his head downwards as he ran. Upon impact, he stumbled backwards briefly before running full force into the wall again. He repeated the process two more times before his body fell backwards, his head facing the camera. The solar panel had broken into numerous, jagged pieces, likely puncturing the brain.


“The last one cut her carotid artery with a broken piece of glass.”  


Another video appeared on the screen and this time I saw a woman laying in a bed, crying. She reached into her sleeve and pulled out a long, sharp piece of glass. She sat up in bed, cupped both hands together with the glass resting above her hands, then brought the glass up to her forehead. Her body shook uncontrollably as she held the glass on her forehead for a moment. I could see her mouth moving, but without audio I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I guessed that she was saying a prayer. In one swift motion, she placed the glass over her neck and started applying pressure, vigorously moving the glass back and forth as blood began spewing like a waterfall from the wound.


“I’ve seen enough!” I shouted. I felt like I had just been run over by a train. Watching these poor people suffer to the point of suicide had a depressing effect on me. “Please...no more.”  Elizabeth turned the TV off and I plopped myself back into the chair. The room remained silent before I realized that there was one other person unaccounted for. “What happened to the seventh?” She raised the remote to the TV again. “No! Please, I can’t watch anymore.”  
“Just look.”  


She ignored my plea and turned the TV back on. I reluctantly turned my head back to the TV and saw another woman lying in bed. This woman was different from the last one. She was sound asleep, resting peacefully under the blankets. Someone had used a marker to write something along the wall I couldn’t quite make out due to the video quality.


“We sedated her earlier today.”  Elizabeth said.  
“You mean, this is a live feed?”  
“Yes. This is Wendy. She’s alive. For now. She’s shown promise, but she’s beginning to experience the same headaches as the others. She still consumes food, for now, although a limited amount as we try to transition her to solar energy. The fluorescent lighting only emits a fraction of the photons that the sun does and not nearly enough to sustain her. Plus, the more exposure the panel receives the worse her headaches are. Her head is usually kept covered as a result, but it doesn’t seem to prevent the headaches. We had hoped to have her ready for the first sunrise in thirteen days.”  
I looked at the screen in astonishment. “What’s that writing on the wall?”  
“She did that a couple of days ago. Said she wanted to send us a message.”  
I squinted, but still couldn’t read the words. “What does it say?”  
Elizabeth took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “It says…’I’m afraid to live.’”
***


“I want to see proof.” I stood in Richard’s office after learning the secrets of The Eos. As a scientist, my association with this facility would have consequences for my career if everything wasn’t validated and legal. “Show me proof that these people volunteered for this.”  
“Absolutely. David, would you?”  He motioned to his little henchman from behind his desk, lightly twirling his hand in the middle of the air as a way of ordering David to supply the information I request. “They all volunteered knowing full well the potential.”  
“This is not an experimental hair loss pill with dry mouth side effects, Richard. You’re toying with people’s lives here. Playing God.”  
“If God was so smart he wouldn’t have created a world where life feeds on life. I’m just correcting his mistake.”


David shuffled through some files in a cabinet, eventually pulling out seven manila folders, each one containing a stack of papers.


“Go ahead, they’re all accounted for.”  


I sat in front of Richard’s desk and sifted through the files, opening the one on top first. It belonged to the woman. Her name was Amy Brown from Seattle, Washington. Born on September 15th, 1983. And she threw her own life away.


“Their families were taken of. Financially, I mean,” Richard assured me with a gentle tone in his voice. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. They gave their lives to science. The greater good. And they’ll be remembered as heroes for it.”  
He sat back in his leather chair with a smug look on his face. “How could you be so lax? You’re responsible for the lives of six people. Possibly seven. Don’t you feel any guilt?”
“Sometimes you have to take risks. If you have the ability to change the world and don’t pursue it, you’re a coward. And I’m no coward.”  


I ignored his excuses and focused on Amy’s agreement. She signed the document with full knowledge of the repercussions. The agreement went into excessive detail of the possibilities, including death.


But there was one clause in the agreement that caught my eye which I paid careful attention to. It was titled “Sales Agreement”. The top line read:


*In the event of a successful procedure, subject AMY Brown agrees to accompany the assigned personnel designated to marketing, selling, and/or trading transactions involving any and all Eos Advancements property to the appropriate parties for no less than FIVE YEARS from the date of original procedure taking place.*


Reading this made my blood boil.


“You...you’re a sick man, Richard.” I said, practically growling at him.  
“Excuse me?”  
“Don’t talk to me about taking risks and changing the world for good. You don’t care about any of that. You were just looking for another way to make a buck. How many more people are you willing to sacrifice for your own greed?”  
Richard slowly leaned forward in his chair, unblinking, and never taking his eyes off mine. “Let me ask you something. Why are *you* even here right now? You came here looking to make a buck. Didn’t you?”  
“Had I known this is what you were doing I never would have agreed to this in the first place. I regret signing that CA, but you’re god damn lucky I signed it, otherwise I’d be blabbing about this place to the whole world.”  
“Ah yes. It’s quite good fortune that you signed the confidentiality agreement. Which, uh, David, would you please explain it to Mr. Brewer here?”
David stepped forward and cleared his throat. “The confidentiality agreement also serves as a contract, mandating you to protect the interests of Eos Advancements during your month long stay with us. More specifically, keeping Wendy Schuler alive. If you are unable to complete this task, not only will your compensation be rendered invalidated, but you’ll also be required to reimburse Eos Advancements for our investment in bringing you here in the amount of $750,000.”  
Richard gave a smug look of approval. “It’s just business, Shaun. Consider it motivation to help make our experiment a success.”


My mouth dropped and I felt the hair on my neck prickling with rage. Richard had played me like a fool. He didn’t bring me here for my skill or my knowledge of organic chemistry. This team has spent 15 years putting all of this together, how in the world could I possibly make a difference within one month? There was little hope for Wendy and he knew she was likely going to kill herself. He just wanted someone to pin it on. I was ruined. My career was over. My wife and son would be homeless by the end of the year.


I suddenly heard a loud beeping noise and the door behind me opened. I turned around and saw one of the security guards standing in the doorway.


“Please escort Mr. Brewer here to his room. He’s had a long day. See to it he gets some rest. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him.”  


*I’m going to kill you, Richard Sanders*. The words were involuntarily repeating in my head as the security guard led me out of Richard’s office. *I’m going to kill you*.

The Fourth Domain - Finale

Thank you, once again, for those who took the time to read the third entry in the Shaun Brewer series. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as...