Reads: 61

Audri rode the brightly lit elevator to the basement level where lunch was being served.It was always the same fare.  A small, but well-stocked garden/soup bar and a grill with choice of chicken, thinly sliced steak, fish, eggs, onions and peppers donned one wall.  A large stainless steel rice steamer, a rack with a healthy selection of breads in checkered-cloth decorated baskets, and a large drink cooler lined the other.  It was more like eating at a bistro than a cafeteria.

The only groups that complained were the vegans who didn’t agree with the scents emanating from the grill . Even though the price was relatively high, the other 95% of employees were grateful to have such good food available since most ate there at least twice in a 12 hour shift   The cafeteria had been a factor in Audri’s choice to work at R-tech.  She knew her weaknesses when it came to foods.  If greasy burgers and fries would have been on the menu, her thighs and bum would have paid the price. 

Aud grabbed a tray and placed a bowl of squash soup, plate of corn salad, and a dark roll on it, then grabbed a sweet tea.  There were several vacant tables so she set her lunch on one near the back corner and went to the computer to touch her choices on the screen.  The employees’ food cost was deducted from their checks for their convenience.  The first few months, Aud had checked the math.  It was accurate so now she just trusted it.  However, she had been warned to ensure no one saw her access codes over her shoulder.  Regardless six or seven figure salaries, there were employees at R-tech who would steal a free lunch just for kicks.  Dr. Wan came to mind.  For that matter, so did her mother if she was working there in lieu of St. Luke's..  Audri involuntarily laughed out loud at the thought.

Settling down in her chair, Aud scanned the dozen or so others who were dining with her.  She recognized Jake and Rob sitting near the door.  The building was put on lock down for thirty minutes every six hours for the security gate staff to break.  She had felt their glances when she entered a few minutes earlier and thought she heard Rob make some sort of snorting noise.

Aud knew they thought she was up to something.  Her routine of  absentmindedly carrying small containers to work in her pocket was suspicious.  Jake had been checking her a little too thoroughly for comfort since discovering the first one several months ago.  Rob, being pursued by several of the ladies in the building, seemed to dismiss it as another pathetic excuse for a pat down by a hard up nerd. 

The simulated muscle she planned to try to smuggle through security next would take at least three months to procure.  If it could be purchased at all, it would take a slick story and a lot of cash.  Failing to buy a sample would mean she would have to manufacture it herself.  That would take her six months or longer.  She hoped the inventors working on it were hurting for funding.  Regardless,  she needed to take a break from bringing things through security.  It would give Jake time to lose interest in her and focus on other employees’ illegal behaviors.

To help divert his suspicion further, Aud planned to ask him out in front of Rob.  It would seem to them that her earlier behavior was just as Rob suspected, a pathetic attempt at flirting.  Also, it was sure to bruise Rob’s ego because he was much better looking.  None of the other women would have given Jake a second glace when he was standing next to Rob.

There was no way Jake would accept her offer.  Both Rob and Jake would be so uneasy in her presence from then on that they would certainly rush her through security just to save the embarrassment.  She would do it at the end of her shift on the way out of the building tomorrow morning.  It was sheer genius.

The other people in the cafeteria were oblivious of her presence.  Audri scanned the room from the left to the right.  No one’s conversations were hushed.  No one looked particularly stressed, save Dr. Fairmont.

Audri pitied him though he didn’t deserve it.  Fairmont was going through an ugly divorce.  He had chosen to start an affair with the cheeky petite lab tech who came to R-tech with an assignment from some government contractor.  The tech was semi-cute and she showered him daily with accolades about his brilliant work.  Fairmont had fallen for the praise because it was just the opposite of what he was hearing when he got home.

He had created the situation himself.  He had married his wife for her looks instead of for her substance.  He met her at a friend’s bachelor party.  To his surprise, on the flight back from his own honeymoon in Tahaa, he learned that all of the ladies at the bar the evening of his friend’s party, including his new wife, Sharon, had been paid to be there.  The bachelor party planner had ensured the ambiance was perfect right down to the ladies in the bar who happened to be “out for a girls’ night” with their friends.

Now he was just another workaholic supporting a trophy wife who was doing the pool man while he fondled his tech.  Though it was commonplace at R-tech,  Audri wondered if Fairmont realized how pathetic that type of existence was.  She was curious if the technician really had feelings for him or if she, like Sharon, only desired his money.

Dr. Fairmont certainly couldn’t afford two “Sharons”, if anyone was in a position to betray company ethics and sell vectors to outside companies with not-so-pure intentions, it was Fairmont.  Audri noted that he did have an integral role in developing the vector that had disappeared.

Audri looked at the clock mounted high on the wall, 23:28.  She had four and a half hours until her shift concluded at four a.m..  Four and a half hours to prepare for her confrontation with Jake.  Oddly, she felt slightly nervous.  Not that he would say, “Yes”, but what would she do if he did?

Audri disposed of her used napkin, paper bowl, and corn-plastic utensils in the compost can closest to her table.  She then started for the cafeteria door.  To her relief, Rob and Jake were already gone.  If they had still been sitting near the door, she would have been forced to make some friendly comment.  Then again, she could have used the opportunity to peek shyly and smile at Jake as a prelude to her act at the end of the shift.  Since she hadn’t shown any interest in him before, he may find her date request to be creepy.  Creepy was good.  Nothing would move her though the security faster than being thought of as a creeper.

By the time she had finished that line of thought, Audri was back on the elevator climbing up to the floor that housed her lab.  It would take about 10 minutes to get her safety clothes back on and to go through the decontamination chambers.  She had about three good work hours left to manipulate the specimens her mother had sent to her. 

Audri never asked her mother where she got the sperm she sent to the lab.  It was always healthy-looking and clear of chemo drugs.  That ruled out most of her mother’s patients as being the source.  Maybe she had sweet talked her coworkers into giving her samples.  It didn’t really matter to Audri where Olivia got it.  She was just grateful for fresh samples every week. 

When she reached her lab, Audri went to the area where her shipments were dropped.  Just as she had hoped, there was a familiar lithium powered cooler with Property of St. Luke’s and Live Specimen placards mounted on the sides.  The cooler held a thick four inch square cardboard box surrounding a three milliliter test tube nested in shredded packing.  Lucky for her, the security surrounding incoming packages was lax by design.  If as much care were taken with the incoming shipments as was taken with personnel, no one would ever have the products they needed for their projects.

It was an unsafe and flawed system, but it served her well.  It also served the perverted CEO’s who had XXX media that they didn’t want their wives to see sent to their offices.  The thought sent a shiver of repulsion through her body. 

Carefully, Audri took the small test tube in her hand an punctured the rubber top with a needle.  She pulled back the plunger on the syringe and extracted an imperceivable amount of gelatinous fluid.  The sperm had been shipped in a mucous-like substrate to keep it alive.  Audri sucked it into the syringe, substrate infused with hundreds of thousands of sperm.  A drop of pure semen would contain millions, but she wouldn‘t need millions, just twenty-five.

Audri expelled the fluid onto a gel filled divot of a deep-well slide, further diluting the culture. The slide had been cooled to twenty degrees Celsius, the optimum temperature to store sperm.  The same temperature that Dr. Olivia programmed into the cooler used for transport.

Audri’s first task was to find the best swimmers from the group for her study.  When she started using sperm as her test subjects, she was surprised to find that there were four levels by which sperm were classed, depending on their motility.  She needed to use only grade four sperm because they were the type most likely to reach an egg in vivo.  Her project wouldn’t do any good if they couldn’t reach the egg and end up in the children she was trying to modify.

The easiest way to ensure she used grade four was through direct observation.  Audri turned on one of R-tech’s digital ESEMs.  As she worked the temp of the sample would slowly increase.  In less than a minute, the sperm jerked back to life. 

Initially, looking though the ocular, Audri couldn’t make out her target.  But as she dialed it up increasing the magnification, she started to detect a slight swirl of activity. Adjusting the fine focus knob, the sperm became visible 400 times life size. As usual a small percentage had died in transport.  Despite that, the sample was incredible.

Kudos again to Dr. Olivia.

Audri quickly determined which sperm she wanted to move to the testing pool and used a thinner than hair needle to separate them out from the rejects.  The pool started at a cool twenty degrees Celsius and wouldn't be allowed to exceed testicle temp, thirty-six degrees Celsius.  Warmer samples seemed to react better to the introduction of the synthetic vector carrying her necessary DNA code.

Audri selected only twenty-five of the millions of sperm in the test tube as guinea pigs for today’s test.  They were definitely the cream of the crop, well-formed and fast.  No doubt all twenty-five were grade four.

Now things were going to get more tricky.  It was commonplace for geneticists to introduce genes to cells using a viral vector.  Viruses could go through the cell membrane and “infect” the cell with any  DNA or RNA that they attached to the virus.  Audri didn’t use viruses.  She used what she considered a less dangerous approach.

Audri’s vector was made of man woven proteins identical to proteins produced naturally within the cell itself.  In order to be effective, Audri’s vector had to be preceded by an isomerase enzyme and a restriction enzyme.  The isomerase enzyme, a protein that uncoils the DNA and the restriction enzyme, a protein specialized to nick DNA at a specific point, would be injected into the sperm.

In order to prepare the sperm’s DNA to accept the new code, the isomerase enzyme would cause the chromosome to unravel. The restriction enzyme would cut the DNA so the vector carrying new code could move in.  When her vector came into contact with the loose ends of the sperm’s DNA.  The code it carried could assimilate into the sperm’s DNA improving it in theory.

Audri had tried sixteen different configurations for her protein vector.  None of them had worked properly.  Several of them had taken the new DNA to the sperm’s DNA where it had attached to the strand.  Unfortunately, the protein clung to the DNA, distorting its shape making it impossible for it to re-coil, rendering it useless.

Audri set up twenty-five nano-syringes with the proteins to prep the sperm and twenty-five more with her vector.  Catching each sperm with the suction of an incredibly thin manipulator was sometimes difficult, even with the micromanipulation tools mounted on the microscope.  However, once stabilized, the injections went smoothly.  After injecting the sperm, Aud would have to wait until her next shift to see if it would be viable with its new longer Chromosome 1. The wait would make for a long weekend.

After stowing away her project, Audri went back to researching the man-made muscle.  Two hours later, she started through the same three decontamination chambers she had used on her way to lunch.  As she passed through each phase, Audri became increasingly more nervous.  It was time for her acting debut.  Could she be convincing?

Jake was manning the scanner monitors as Audri approached the gate that led to her floor of the parking garage.  Rob was at the gate itself allowing people through or stopping them on Jake’s cue.  The rules for exiting mimicked those of entering.  Since the scientists knew that nothing entered or left with them except the clothes on their backs and their identification badges, the line generally moved quickly. 

It moved quickly that is, until Audri stepped to the gate.

“Hello, Dr. Zeal.  How did your research go today?”

Audri took a deep breath and looked toward the ceiling ignoring Rob’s question.  She shifted her weight from heel to toe and back then started rhythmically rubbing her middle fingernails with her thumbs.  Too suddenly, she turned her gaze toward Jake and sputtered, “Hey, Rob.  Can you ask Jake to come over here?  I have a question.”

Rob’s eyes narrowed and his eyebrows twitched upward in surprise at her question and her odd behavior.  “Sure thing.”  He turned and motioned for Jake to join them at the gate.

Audri could see that the left side of Jake’s mouth was a stiff line and that his eyes were darker than usual.  He looked very annoyed and impatient as he paced over to them.  Through partially gritted teeth Rob said, ”May I help you Dr. Zeal?”

Rob’s threatening posture and tone made Audri draw a blank briefly.  However, the importance of getting her vector out of the building when it was perfected urged her to continue her charade.  Audri peeked at Rob first then lowered her eyes to stare at Jake’s knees.  “Uh, Jake?”

“Yes, Dr. Zeal?”

“Um, I wanted to know if you would like to accompany me to Mooney’s for a drink; that is if you are a drinker.  It’s a bar.  Uh, I mean, and a restaurant. They have a really good Irish Stew on Saturday nights.”

Jake interrupted her rambling with a hand wave about a foot in front of her face. Which caused her to stop talking and to look up at his eyes. “Sure, Doc.  Thought you would never ask.  Pick me up at seven in front of Holman House.  You may want to bring your pepper spray, we have had trouble with muggings on my block in the last couple of weeks.”

Without another word he turned on his heels and started back toward his post.  She and Rob just starred at his back dumbfounded as he moved into his position behind the monitors.  Audri’s goal of making him uncomfortable had grossly backfired.  Now what? 

She was obviously going to have to plan the date from  hell to affect this guy.  For that, she was going to need her mother’s help. 


Submitted: November 14, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Son-Ja. All rights reserved.


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