Monday, November 2, 2015

Meeting the Folks

Today, I saw the only three people in the world who still care about me. Jason Complex, my father. Mia Jiminez-Complex, my mother. And Gabriel Complex, my baby brother.
I used to have friends. Five years ago, I was a normal girl, enjoying her senior year of high school. I had friends. Good friends, close friends. But none of them made an effort to stay in touch after I was revealed to be a M.A.D.
Back to my family. The people who did stick with me. I was supposed to see them at noon. I woke up at seven thirty-four. Allowing eight minutes for transport, that allowed me four hours and eighteen minutes to prepare. I got dressed in my finest hospital scrubs. I was allowed to requisition makeup. I would need to return it within ten minutes, however. And if there was something missing… it would not be good.
I enjoyed a famous Greenberg Hospital breakfast of burnt toast and eggs that tasted like polyethylene. That got me thinking about the chemistry of cooking. I calmed down enough to write down my ideas. Maybe if I gave it to the orderlies someone in the kitchen staff would actually read it.
I compiled a list of conversation topics. I wouldn’t see my family again for a long time. I wasn’t going to waste time on empty silences. Instead, we would be talking about such things as Lord of the Rings, Gabriel’s college search, and the J.S. Greenberg Volleyball Tournament. Oh, and I would need to ask them about politics.
At ten sixteen, Dr. Josephson knocked on my door. “Come in,” I said. He was the one who could actually open the door.
But why was he here? Did my family arrive early? It seemed hard to believe that the meeting could be rescheduled on such short notice.
“I’m going to need you to fill out some forms,” Josephson said.
Of course. Before any meetings, I needed to sign through some papers saying that I wasn't planning on taking my family hostage, and that I was mentally competent to carry out the meeting, and that I was eating my vegetables and flossing twice a day.
I took the papers, and scanned the contents. “No.”
“Excuse me?”
“No. You can’t do this. Not today.”
“I’m afraid the guidelines are quite specific. You need to fill out this paperwork as soon as possible.”
I looked at the first item. ‘Describe, in as much detail as possible, how you structured the capsid so it it would remain inert unless placed in a specific chemical equilibrium.’
“I don’t want to think about this,” I said, as I started to think about it.
“It is important for your treatment that-”
“How is your understanding a failed microbiology experiment important for my treatment?”
“I’m sorry, but you will not be allowed to see your family until these forms are satisfactorily completed.”
“Hold on. You want to understand my research because you think it could be useful!”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that possibility.”
I needed to rein in my enthusiasm. I had killed people. That was settled. It was in the past. But now, there was just a glimmer of hope. Those people hadn’t died in vain. Back when I had done my research, I had had a thousand hypotheses as to where it might lead. It might be able to kill tumors. Or aid in gene splicing. Remove genetic diseases from embryos by modifying the F-pathway in the endocytotic… No. No. I couldn’t think that way. I needed to get better. I couldn’t think about what I had done. The certainty that it would drive me mad outweighed any vague glimmers of application.
Josephson thrust the clipboard into my hand. “If you do not fill out these forms, it is unclear when you will next have visitors.”

I finished in time to see my parents. My hand was all cramped up, was covered in ink. My head was still swimming with ideas. Things I could have done differently. No. I needed to stop. I tried to clear my head, as I navigated the halls of J. S. Greenberg. I focused on my surroundings. Nice, safe, and sterile. No, not sterile. Clean. Nobody dipped my surroundings in ethyl alcohol before putting them in a petri dish and using them to grown a modified MR-289 virus that-
We were there. I was in a room with nobody but the three people who mattered most to me, a security guard, and Dr. Vendman.
“You know the drill,” Vendman announced. “Allegra has been diagnosed with level four M.A.D.N.E.S.S. You three have taken the training course, so you are allowed to speak to her. If I think the conversation is becoming dangerous, I will put a stop to the conversation.” He smiled his psychiatrist smile. “But I’m sure it won’t come to that.”
I wasn’t ready to have this conversation. I was still in a daze from filling out the form. Fortunately, my mother was on the ball.
“So, on our end, the big news is that your father is back in the workforce.”
“Oh,” I said. A part of my mind began to shift gear, moving away from the DNA of prokaryotes.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t talk about my job,” Dad said, anticipating a comment from Vendman. Dad was an engineer. Not a good conversation topic. “Gabriel has found quite a few colleges he likes.”
Gabriel had spent all of sophomore year actively not thinking about what college he would attend. But, last I heard, he had found some schools he liked.
“Well, Cornell is great.”
“Glad to hear it. What made it great?” Focus on the conversation, I told myself. Don’t think about science.
Gabe was never one for specifics. “Cornell just had this really accepting environment. Oh, and we visited some schools near DC.”
“We went there over a three-day weekend,” my mom explained.
“University of Maryland seemed nice. William and Mary was good. Georgetown was meh. Oh, and Columbia is off the list, of course.”
Last I had heard, Columbia had been his dream school. I shot Gabe a questioning look. “Oh. They didn’t tell you?” Gabe gave Vendman the eyeroll he had spent his entire teenage life perfecting. “Columbia is screening all potential students for M.A.D.N.E.S.S. Not only is that unconstitutional, it is a blatantly bigoted policy.”
“The courts didn’t think it was unconstitutional,” my father cautioned.
“The courts are a bunch of madophobes. I, for one, will not attend a school that would treat my sister as a second class citizen.”
I was torn. I admired that my brother was standing up for something, but I didn’t want him giving up his dream school on my account.
“I still think Gabriel should apply,” my mother said.
My father nodded.
I could tell my brother was about to say something unwise. I tore my brain away from DNA replication long enough to engineer a subject change. “So, we had our annual volleyball tournament last week.”
“Good,” my father said. “I was worried you wouldn’t get enough exercise here.”
“Another reason it sucks that they’re shipping you off to Nobody Cares, New York.”
“It’s not all bad,” I said. “They have a wax museum.”
Gabe was not impressed. “First of all, wax museums are lame. Nobody likes wax museums. Second of all, perhaps because of this, the Poughkeepsie wax museum closed two months ago. Which, and I didn’t know this was possible, made it even more lame. So, no. I wouldn’t bank on that as your main source of entertainment.”
“What have you been doing for fun,” my dad asked.
“Reading ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, for the most part.”
“Oh,” said Gabe. “Is that why you eyes are dilated? Is that why your cheeks were red when you came in? Were you just that scared for the hobbits?”
“Gabriel,” my father warned.
“It’s obvious. You were thinking about science before you came to see us. Frankly, I would be disappointed in you, except your hands are stained. Which means someone gave you a pen. “
“I- I have a pen for writing my journal.”
“Oh, yes. The journal. The latest fad in M.A.D. rehabilitation. But the Ortega Protocols say that all writing utensils given to level fours like yourself for rehabilitation purposes be pencils, so that they can control when you sharpen it, and monitor your writing. So, you were given a blue pen, and asked to do science.” Gabe turned around. “Explain that, Vendman.”
“That is a rather lengthy string of deductions.”
“Well, easy enough to test. Allegra, did-”
“Josephson came in this morning. He asked me about my experiment, the one that killed people. I didn’t want to answer. I know I’m not supposed to think about those things.” Immediately after speaking, I began to doubt myself. I had just added some more fuel to the fire of Gabriel’s rage. But if he could use whatever psychology he read on the internet to stop them from doing that to me again, it might be worth it.
“Well,” my little brother smirked. “That might be remotely legal, if my sister were level three. I guess that means you’ll have to demote her. Vendman, get over here.” My brother read the orderly’s name tag. “Rafael, could you go print us out an R-233 form? Oh, and get Doctor Curtis. We’ll need his signature too.”
Vendman did come closer. “Gabriel. It is admirable that you have taken such an interest in your sister’s well-being. I fully encourage you to read more about your sister’s condition. Perhaps even studying for college. But for now, Gabe, you don’t tell me how to do my job.”
“I know. Only politicians can do that.”
Well. It seemed like my brother had given up on Operation Secure-Allegra’s-Rights and moved into Operation Piss-Off-The-Guy-Who-Control’s-Allegra’s-Access-To-Medication. “Gabriel, getting into this fight won’t help anyone.”
I felt like someone flipped  a coin inside my brother’s brain. For a second, I waited to see how the coin would land. “Sorry, I just got a little frustrated is all,” he said, making a token effort to sound apologetic. I guess the coin came up in my favor.
Vendman glanced at his watch. “And on that note, let’s wrap this meeting up.”
There was quite a bit of hugging and kissing, and promising to come visit me in Poughkeepsie.

That was ten hours ago. And since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that fateful experiment. I played tetris, but couldn’t push those six casualties out of my mind. I read a fantasy book, but kept thinking about DNA viruses. I write in my journal, but I can’t stop thinking about how I could have done things differently. Done them better. I could have added another layer to the protein sheaf. No, that’s crazy, but what if I changed things so it couldn’t penetrate the nuclear membrane. No. No. No.                          

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