Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Eight: Making Omelettes

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.

The incinerator cycles through, and I note the time on my report. I check the viewport out of habit although I know that there will not be any remains left. Still, there is nothing wrong with encouraging useful habits. Unfortunately there simply are not enough test subjects for me to do research as often as I would like, but even so it is possible to get sloppy when the procedure is not maintained.

The incident with Haskins is a perfect example. The test subject's drug levels were clearly incorrect, and Haskins never should have allowed his hand to be within reach of a subject's mouth. Careless. Hopefully the severe damage to his finger will serve as a reminder. The loss of a test subject is bad enough, but what if the equipment had been damaged? There are only two working Extractor units, losing one would be unacceptable - it is bad enough that Doyt has allowed a team to take one into the field.

If only another could be built, or - better yet - the original Inducer was still functional! I would give anything to have an easy method of giving extranormal abilities to test subjects. The Inducer only had two real success stories behind it, but surely after sixteen years the design would have improved. The archives and notes from my predecessors are infuriatingly vague about the Inducer's design. Somehow it was linked to the source of these powers - some claimed that the incident at Disney was caused by a catastrophic malfunction of the Inducer after it was stolen from the laboratory, but…

Why does no one document things properly? If the scientists that came before me were still alive, I would file a complaint. I understand that secrecy was important - the general public cannot handle the idea that laboratory tests are not always sterile and focused, that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty - but in this case even the few notes that were taken still refer to the abilities and to the test subjects - mostly vagrants, with a few minors from group homes or volunteer soldiers. Secrecy hardly seems like an excuse once you include details like those in the reports.

There are times when things have to be left out, of course. I sign off on my report, checking each line to confirm that everything is in place. Name - Darryl Holst, in this case - time of death, incineration, etc. Every space filled out. I send it off with copies to Doyt and Black, and then prepare a fresh form for the upcoming experimentation. The name I fill in as John Doe, but I copy all of the other physical information over from the previous file. It is yet another situation where secrecy could get in the way of proper record keeping, but I refuse - unless agent Black compares them side by side the similarities will not raise problems, and I want everything to be documented in case this leads to a breakthrough.

I badge into the secure area, where my current subjects are kept. There are three of them, each with an ability that bears closer examination prior to Extraction. Holst - or John Doe, as I should be in the habit of calling him, has done me a favor by biting Haskins. Under pressure from agent Black we had fast-tracked him for Extraction, but with Black going further and insisting on immediate execution Doyt has allowed him to be preserved - out of spite, I suppose, although his motivations make little difference to me.

The others are Walter Schwarz and Tamara Allen - Schwarz is approximately thirty, in good health but kept nearly catatonic, and can generate and control a sort of ectoplasm. Each day we collect some of the mysterious substance from him for research, although with the tests going nowhere some are pushing for Extraction. My personal theory is that many so-called "freaks" have a variant on this ability and are unaware of it. I have observed pyrokinetic abilities, and noted that one would logically expect such an ability to produce heat rather than flames - in fact, the color of the generated fire implies a fuel is burning inefficiently and yet no residue of fuel has ever been detected. The ectoplasm Schwarz creates is not flammable, but I still believe it is the answer.

Allen, approximately fifty, healthy other than the complications resulting from a recent hunger strike... is a complete violation of physics. She possesses some form of powered flight, but the method of it is infuriating. Unlike the two telekinetics I have examined, there is no measurable force pushing her away from the ground - nor does she become weightless, as evidenced by the behavior of her organs, hair, blood flow... There is simply no explanation for what keeps her airborne. I avoid talking to the test subjects whenever possible, but it would be foolish to disregard the idea that they may have some insight on their own abilities. I asked Allen about this, and she answered me in German. Translating it revealed a creative string of profanity, but no scientific insight.

Harnessing either power would revolutionize the world. Sadly, the technological breakthroughs we have made in recent years have been limited at best. Some combined research of the source of these abilities and the talents of the first successful Inducer test subject, David Brunner, helped to create the Extractor. Testing on a Jane Doe eventually resulted in the creation of an energy weapon, although analysis would seem to indicate that standard projectile weapons are still roughly as useful and far more cost-effective.

Eighteen years of disappointments.

The secure area is a circular room with large windows of clear aluminum looking into the "long-term resident" cells. Shutters can prevent the test subjects from seeing each other, but under orders from Doyt they are left open by default in order to encourage discussion. This strange mandatory hole in security has not produced any valuable intelligence as far as I know, but so long as no test subject leaves this room alive it is not a source of leaks, either. As I enter, Allen is in the middle of some pointless conversation.
" - covered in bees!" she laughs. "I mean, yes, you look more like you're covered in honey but still... heh... the man is a comedic genius."

Schwarz does not respond. The inside of his cell is covered in dents and gouges, a reminder of why he will never again have his medication reduced. Instead he sits in a corner, coated in a layer of ectoplasm. I reach a sample collector into his cell and ladle some into a canister, noting the color. It seems to vary from dark brown to light yellow, but as of yet we have not identified any corresponding change in properties. The canister goes on a shelf with the others, most of which are empty - the ectoplasm vanishes mysteriously after anywhere from an hour to a week.

Allen will have someone that can answer back to her soon. Holst has been medicated for transfer, but it should wear off just enough for him to converse with myself and Allen soon. Hopefully they will not make too much noise. There are seven other cells, and I remember a time that all were filled. A team managed to gas and capture an entire gathering in San Francisco, and brought them down alive for research. Most went to the short-term cells where Holst and Crane were being held until recently, but as we used the Extractor on them we placed the new test subjects into the long-term area for observation.

All but one was dead within a week. The process of extracting an ability is invariably fatal, but implanting that ability into another has a five percent success rate. Initially. The side effects, including insanity and massive organ failure, continue to be an issue. Reports of the Disney attack are heavily censored but they appear to indicate a single subject with multiple abilities. As this has never been documented elsewhere, I suspect that one initial power was supplemented with additional abilities - our records deny having done anything of the sort, but that does not render the hypothesis invalid.

The phone rings in the outer office just as I prepare to start deep scans of my new John Doe. Swiping my badge to exit, I answer in what I must admit is a rude tone.
"Doctor Stowell, this is agent Black. I just received your report, and I wanted to thank you for taking care of Holst for me. I know you probably wanted to examine him more."
I tell him it was no problem, and remind him that I do have a chronic lack of subjects.
"Of course, doctor. Doyt wants me to let you know he has a telekinetic upstairs that he'll be handing over to you in a few hours. I'm off to interview him now."
I thank him and hang up. Telekinesis is less interesting than most, but on the other hand it is one of the few abilities where we have multiple data points - all the better to find a pattern.

I return to the secure area once more, and open Holst's cell. To my surprise, he opens his eyes and looks at me.
"No more needles…" he says, and seems to pass out again. He need not worry - the time for needles is past. I carefully measure his head, and then look through the cabinet for a halo. I suspect, now that I think about things, that with the drugs wearing off he would in fact prefer a needle - one containing powerful anesthetics. Unfortunately I seem to have left those in the other room, and having already swiped in and out twice in the last five minutes I have no interest in doing it again. I ratchet the strap down tight over his head to prevent wiggling and turn on the drill.