PAINTING BY JEFFREY K. BEDRICK
Doctor Anna Bronson Dunhill sat up at her desk and thought to herself, “ This was going to be another unbearable day, undoubtedly since Gail, normally a rather humble person, was beginning to seem just a little too proud of herself”.
Ever since the academy had decided that genetic variety was needed for the integrity of the next generation. (An egg from Gail had been used to clone the 2nd generation of andrones.)
Anna had her doubts that this was the best thing to do.
She leaned back into her chair, and the fatigue gave way to vertigo so suddenly that she was unaware of the beating light on her phone – a light infrared, beyond red – the seductive light of a brothel – it would’ve seemed alarming if not for her exhaustion. It would have seemed that Anna simply did not care, all the while seated in the big brown leather chair somehow neither dead nor alive, somehow peaceful but combative, fatigue slowly pulling apart a professional solidarity, a friendship.
Anna continues to look at the scenery behind her eyelids wanting to make it real. She descends into the comfort of it, an unproductive feeling, disconnected. Her thoughts arouse the pains of an alter ego and inflame its irritation at being left out. A throbbing wave, slowly reveals itself, and ripples into the middle of the scenery to reflect upon this corporate induced tension.
Anna tries to drift away, but the tension impales the darkness below her eyes as she slowly becomes aware of another plane of distress, a subversive continuation of doubts, less enjoyable and more contagious – and in spite of this sleepy contagion, which threatens to drown her, the red obligation continues to throb off and on.
This insistent obligation begins to crack through her eyelids and register as awareness, but in vain she tries to slide back into the comfort of darkness. Finally, Anna can no longer resist. The office is still there – in front of her is the woodsy doorway to a lighted blue corridor – to the right is an open door to a sterile lab – to her left is a window overlooking a green circular park and to her back is a dusty book-covered wall. “I need some coffee.” She says to herself as she sits up and reaches for the phone.
Mike Cow, the vice president of Convergent Industries, the company that bought Axes Prime, greets her with a kind ‘hello’ and ‘how are you,’ acting friendlier than usual, meaning that he wants something.
Anna quickly realizes that Gail had probably asked him to set up a meeting. Anna grinds her teeth – the corporate induced tension is magnified by the trivial pleasantries that she knows to be a front to some hidden lie.
Hiding her distrust, she outwardly agrees to a meeting with Sandra, Gail’s assistant, at 3:30 this afternoon. Hanging up the phone, she reflects upon a time when she used to be the one who set up such meetings.
She thinks about trying to email her anonymous advisor, but she knows that he won’t answer anymore. His brilliant suggestions were such a godsend in the beginning. Even now she feels troubled by not crediting him with part of the success of the research, which she knows is ridiculous. He never asked to be recognized. He never even agreed to meet in person – though she asked many times. This line of thought brings her to the realization of how alone she feels and it’s a feeling she’s growing increasingly impatient with.
She steps quietly into the lab attempting to get away from the scattered and unfulfilled responsibilities that lay strewn about her desk. Perched on his stool, and looking like an albino buzzard hovering over a carcass, Tobias looks up and gives her a smile of recognition. She ignores the polite acknowledgement.
He wants to reassure her, but turns back into his work – he feels guilty, even though she is the one being rude – he knows not to align himself with someone so obviously on the way out. Tobias continues to stare intently thru a microscope at the cultures of a dead bacterium that had spoiled their latest batch of cloned eggs.
She is aware of his presence, but does not allow herself to glance at what he is doing. Camaraderie with the wrong people can only make things worse; insignificant conversations have a tendency of revealing the dark whispers of gossip that are occurring behind one’s back.
The demotions are never mentioned aloud –
Responsibilities continue shifting onto other people that have somehow already developed an opinion of who she is, even though it’s the first time that she’s ever met them –
Slowly nudging her out and away –
And all the while, company secrets continue to grow with conspiratorial energy.
She is beginning to understand that these changes are also keeping other individual researchers, like her, from feeling any real ownership in their research. Most researchers resign when they sense that they are no longer relevant to the androne-cloning program, but what else can she do. Returning to the university would be a matter of swallowing her pride – if only she hadn’t bragged to the dean about no longer having any budget constraints.
Yet, if she wants to teach again, than she knows that she must keep the references intact, and patiently assume the position. She puts on a bleached white lab coat that she’d seized from the hanger behind the door and busies herself with the chores of research.
Without warning, a beaker falls to the floor. Alarmed, Anna gasps and rolls her eyes. With her forearm, she viciously flings a rack of glass tubes from the table. The sound of shattering glass causes Tobias to jump, but he continues to look at the microscope, not into it anymore, just at it. His shoulders wilt and he bows his head, he’s depressed and confused – unlike other andrones he’s unable to link up because of a bacterial infection at birth, yet he consorts some sort of gizmo anyway. He checks a hand held device, as if he may have forgotten something on his schedule.
Cloning eggs and producing andrones was supposed to be the end of these provisional electronic gizmos that had so dominated commerce during the beginning of the century. This shift in marketing was supposed to occur mainly because these ‘gizmos’ had become as labor-intensive as to be impossible to master within the devices’ useful lifetime.
The world, at that time, had become such a gizmo culture that people couldn’t even carry on a conversation without first consulting something electronic. Gizmos were the gaudy electronic devices that were touted, thru intensive commercialization; to be the life-simplifying accessories no successful high flier should ever be without.
“In spite of all the distractions, never be without your schedule”.
Our mortality demands distractions and these gizmos provided a much-needed distraction, even if it was the distraction of feigned engagement.
In all these decades, had anything really changed?
Now, many of these people are running about with their gizmos completely wrapped around their head, and soon they’ll all be implanted. Soon, man and machine will be as one.
Standing there, staring at the broken glass, Anna began to realize that there’s no one left she can call upon. She could ask Tobias to clean it up and he could tell her to go to hell, and there would be nothing she could do about it – not anymore. Whatever authority/respect she had in the past is now gone.
She wants to leave the broken glass and just walk away, but a subliminal guardian intervenes and holds her there.
After cleaning up the glass, she leaves by way of a bright florescent filled hallway. She is still wearing the white lab coat. The light never sets here, and Convergent Industries is always operational, even when it’s changing names and piling in even more stockholders, the obligations are always there – waiting to be fulfilled.
The company has never been very enlightening in its methodology, yet the brightest most talented people seem to be ensnarled in its web, even as the elder staff members are outsourced, the shrewdest of the young continue to rumble into this killer of youth.