A common metaphor or analogy attributed to corporations is that of the organism – every part working in concert to create, to produce, to facilitate, to progress, to live.
This analogy, however, is inaccurate.
The leviathan facility of Epigen Corporation was nothing like an organism – and if one could stretch the metaphor to the point where it could, possibly, be admitted to have some similarity, it would be an organism with multiple systemic organ failure and metastasized tumors running rampant in the vessels.
Alexander Fraze knew this. From his vantage point in Management – he smirked at that, as if anyone could manage this monster of a company – he could see the warring factions, the departmental skirmishes, the research and its implications. It wasn’t a single organism, but many – competing under a common name for budget, for recognition and for stationery*…
And he could see himself in the corporation too – a sensibility instilled in the walls and in the way everything ran. He was important to the company, valuable, and not to be lost easily – and so in that context Zimmerman’s words made sense.
On the other hand, his daughter was at stake. And disagreeable, contrary and stubborn as she was, she was also all he had in the world. She filled up the emptiness no number of paychecks and benefits could fill – and at the thought of her ‘ceasing to function’…he felt that hollow, empty ache in his heart again. Yet try as he might, he could not escape from Zimmerman’s – grip –
The metal…cloud’s voice jolted him once more. “Excuse me!” He stared at it with hope and a dash of anger, daring it to say more about his daughter… “Have you tried…talking about it?”
*The most notable of which was the Battle of Red Stapler, fought between West Wing Personnel and Tier Two Human Resources, and had culminated in said stapler vanishing forever, as anything Inventory got its hands on was wont to do.
The djinni stared at the scrying panel, at the six contestants going about the Epigen Center. “Well, look at them! Nothing’s happening! Where’s the scene? The spectacle? The show? They’re just tottering around the offices!”
“Well, sir – if you don’t mind me saying – that tends to happen when you tell everyone to stay undercover.” The lime-green hat bobbed as Crumb shook his head. “What you need, sir, is to break the equilibrium that’s dampening everything down.”
“Breaking the equilibrium…” The Hedonist leaned back in his palatial cushions, swirling a glass of mulled wine. “Jerry, you mean to overturn the status quo? To change the playing field?”
A wide smile spread over the Hedonist’s decadent features. “Then I think I’ve got it!”
In a sealed chamber far in the depths of the facility, bathed in the yellow glow of an anti-mass spectrometer, a relatively unknown scientist – one of many research associates – grasped the handles of a specimen cart. In its metal claw, it gripped a glittering crystal in a way that suggested that it would really rather not, and despite the fact that it had no brain nor intelligence to portray this fact it did so anyway. As the scientist stared at it through dual lenses, of his protective suit’s faceplate and of the thick spectacles he wore, a feeling in the pit of his stomach told him the same, that the sample was somehow not of this world…
Which was the whole point, of course. Besides, his opinion didn’t matter, and he wasn’t much for volunteering it anyway. He was not a man prone to mincing words. He was not a man of words at all, really.
“Overhead capacitors to 105%. Uh, it's probably not a problem, probably, but I'm showing a small discrepancy in... well, no, it's well within acceptable bounds again. Sustaining sequence.” The PA sounded tinny and distant over the roar of the anti-mass spectrometer’s analyzing beam, jetting down from the rotating emitters high above his head. The scale of the project they were undertaking was astonishing, almost unbelievable for a simple R&D exercise – but that was another opinion the scientist kept to himself.
At the edge of his consciousness, he heard the control room give the go-ahead. Then slowly, almost without realizing it, he was pushing the cart and its unearthly cargo towards the crackling yellow beam, the well-oiled wheels uncomplainingly ready for duty, every piece of apparatus prepared for every eventuality – every consequence, forseen.
The lights dimmed as the crystal hit the beam. Flickered. Flickered green. “Oh dear-” “Shutting down-no, attempted shutdown! It’s not-it’s not, it’s not shutting down! It’s not – aaaaaaggh!” A bolt of energy tore space into shreds as it pummeled the control room, shrapnel and debris spraying the chamber walls. Green flashes lit the room, exposing for picoseconds arcane symbols of a language at once long-forgotten and universally spoken, the meaning-equivalent of Feynman’s Electron hurtling to every point of existence…
Slowly, the scientist staggered down the hallway. Behind him lay rubble, wreckage, the dead and dying of his colleagues, the shattered remnants of a world he sensed was now gone – forever. He ducked under a laser, torn free from its housing, and watched, helpless, as its misaligned path bisected the body of a prone security guard, spraying blood and filling the air with the smell of burning flesh. And just beyond, as if the guard had been crawling for its metal embrace, it lay.
And the scientist picked it up, gripped its body hard, and brought the prybar in a swinging arc, dealing a killing blow to the alien leaping for his head -
Epigen’s lights flickered, for a brief second, then – changed. They took on a yellower tint, of excited sodium.
“Warning. The Center is on Yellow Alert. Employees: all work schedules continue as planned, excepting Hazard Cleanup personnel to sector C.”
Elimine looked blearily up at the announcement system, disoriented first by the raspberry-sounding change of lighting and then by the purpley sort of voice emanating from the quavery speaker…
“Fuck. As if this wasn’t bad enough already.”
“Sector C! Daddy used to take me there all the time…” she sniffed slightly – “when I was small, and Mommy w-was…” a tear, unbidden, or maybe it was just the carpet being too flickery – “and…and..” without really thinking about it, Elimine’s feet moved, shuffled across the winding, juddering flooring, moving into a jerky, drug-addled walk-
“Wait. WAIT WAIT WAIT where are you going? Look at me FUCKING LOOK AT okay you’re staring into space now. FUCK. It’s not as if we’re trying to survive and SPEAKING OF WHICH DIDN’T YOU DIE?!”
Alexander was in mid-rant when the lights changed-
“Mr. Fraze, sir!”
The door was thrown open by a surprisingly stocky scientist holding the obligatory clipboard, upon which lay several multicolored printouts. The first, red, one was shoved under Alexander’s nose.
“At eight-fifty AM today, a sample of highly pure-” The scientist was interrupted in his report by the sight of the whirling conglomerate of metal in the center of the room, “-who the bloody hell built that?!”
“Brenner, focus! What’s happened?”
“There’s been an accident in Sector C, Mr. Fraze! We…well, are these others authorized to-”
Alexander waved impatiently. “Yes, yes, whatever. Are we being evacuated? Where’s Eli?!”
“I don’t know about your daughter, Mr. Fraze. All I’ve been is that there was an accident down at the sub-level testing area – some form of exponential dimensional disturbance – and its effect is spreading. Unauthorized biological specimens are being…transported into the facility – we’ve not heard back from…some…of the areas in the sector.” Brenner looked discomfited at the report, as if he felt it couldn’t possibly be true. “We need to evacuate vital personnel to the Isolation Bunker, as per a Yellow Alert, and that includes you, Mr. Fraze. The military is moving in to try and contain the area.”
“But…but what about Eli…”
Brenner shook his head. “If she’s been paying any attention from day one, she’ll know that she’s on the list of Yellow Alert evacuees. You’ll find her soon enough if she’s got any sense.” The tone in his voice suggested that he didn’t think she did. “Now come on, sir. You too, Zimmerman.”
AMP watched them go. Inside, Interface shook her head in a way that could have been derogatory, that could have been simply disappointed. He tried to ignore it, but it wasn’t as if she was going to leave him alone anyhow, and asked her what he should do now, since that whole attempt at interaction had gone just wonderfully, to which she replied that maybe he ought to try and help, show goodwill, which would be brilliant at helping relations get back to a proper level.
Absentmindedly, he shredded the doorway as he wandered from the room, leaving behind a bewildered Smith.
Nothing but sounds of crunching.
“Damn it, Cail, stop eating that…thing!”