Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Middle Management

A Tale of Experimentation

Part Two of Three

Copyright James F. Gaines 2004

With Izzy cringing in defeat, Nick made his way over to Gabi’s table. “Maybe you should be the one I help. I think you’ve already had enough tips about those squids to owe me a little something.”
Gabi looked up apprehensively. “I really am grateful for your help. But we are all a team, aren’t we? Why does everything seem to have a price for you?”
Nick leered at her. “Because I’m the one who controls the marketplace.”
Mike came over and deliberately moved his muscular body between Nick and Gabi. “Haven’t you forgotten about the Boss?” he asked. “After all, you’re only assistant director.”
Do you see the Boss now?” ranted Nick, flinging his arms in a circle to indicate the entire lab. “Do you ever see him around here much? He’s clueless these days. He literally doesn’t know what’s happening with the projects. I think he’s up there in his office snoozing most of the day.”
I don’t know, Nick. It’s true he hasn’t been in much. But I don’t think he ever sleeps. Every time I tell him something about the avians, he already seems to know.”
That’s because your work is so simple-minded it doesn’t exactly require a great intellect to take it all in. It’s the right thing for someone with a second-rate degree, though. You couldn’t begin to manage the marine project, for instance. You’re only good for swabbing out cages.”
Mike pursed his lips and made a movement toward Nick, but Gabi reached out and put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back, shaking her head to remind him it was not wise to confront this arrogant superior.
That’s right,” chortled Nick. “You know the score, honey. I’ll be number one around here before long and only those who know their places will have any hope of staying on.” He sidled around to Gabi and reached out to caress her neck. “And you know your place, don’t you, Gabi? Under me!”
She brushed away his hand as though it were covered with slime, rose and took a couple of steps away.
Nick’s leer had instantly turned into a glare of hatred. “Bitch!” he sneered, curling his lip. “Goddamn whore! You’re more slippery than anything over in Izzy’s little swamp. Think you’re too sophisticated for me? I’ll have you scrubbing out test tubes back in no time if I want to. And I want to. Hell, I’ll have you handling contagious stuff at some hospital in the slums.”
Mike moved menacingly close to Nick and lowered his voice. “Lay off her, now Nick. Nobody here wants to cause trouble for you, but I won’t let you bully her.”
Nick answered Mike’s threat with mocking laughter. “Hah! The great hero comes to the rescue! Gabi, I can’t believe that instead of me, you’ll go down with the half-wit of Notre Dame, here.”
Mike’s fist came flying and landed square on Nick’s jaw. It seemed enough to knock him into the next room, but to everyone’s surprise, Nick merely turned his head back slowly and felt the reddened spot where the punch had landed. It looked as though an insect had had the impudence to sting him and he was curious about the effect. He looked up at Mike and hissed, “You’ve sealed your fate, now, stupid. In the monthly report I’m going to let you have it. I’ve been saving up a few things. And just to show you how it’s done, when you’re gone, I think I’ll take over the avians myself and have a little fun. I’ve got a few recombinant strains I’ve been working on and it will be interesting to see how virulent they are. Interesting to see the effects on those birds when they can’t get off the ground.”
Mike became visibly scared, not so much for himself as for the eagles and falcons he had come to regard almost as pets, even though they were completely adapted in a wild habitat. He realized his strength could not protect them. Perhaps not Gabi either, if it came to that. Nick seemed to have anticipated any reaction anyone might make.
Izzy, who had been meekly watching the confrontation, cleared his throat and tried to change the subject. “Nick, is the Boss going to close down the mammalian project? Are you going to recommend it?”
Nick’s eyes refocused and a strange smile came over his face. “No, I don’t think it’s time just yet. We haven’t closed down an experiment in a long time.”
Not since the the Boss terminated the reptile experiment,” said Izzy, who immediately regretted he’d mentioned it. The reptiles had been Nick’s domain and he had been furious when, for some reason no one could readily understand, the Boss had ordered it ended and reassigned Nick to general administrative duties.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, four-eyes!” said Nick. “Those lizards meant a lot to me and showed how much I could do. They were splendid, and it was a waste to let them go.”
Though I hate to admit it,” conceded Mike, “I couldn’t help but admire their strength and toughness. They were amazingly aggressive. Almost unstoppable.”
Yeah. Even an oaf like you could see that much. But they were so much more. More than any of you could grasp. Or him. It showed how much he was already slipping when he took away my creatures. And look what we’ve got instead. A bunch of failures.”
They wouldn’t have failed if you had devoted some of your superior intelligence to solving their problems,” observed Gabi.
You’re right about that. And that’s why I’ve been doing a little free-lancing with the apes down at the mammalian project. That’s why he’s down there now, trying to figure out what went wrong. He thinks the breeding protocols are all screwed up and the mating imprints aren’t working. As I said, he doesn’t have a clue. I’ll soon show that what I did with the reptiles was just a taste of what I can achieve.”
The three colleagues were alarmed by this revelation and burst into objections.
How could you tamper with that project? What did you do? It’s a delicate experiment in environmental ecology and needs to be closely calibrated!”
Nick laughed scornfully. “What you don’t realize, and what even he doesn’t grasp is that it is no longer an experiment in environmental ecology. It’s entirely a matter of genetic control now.”
Nick,” said Izzy, “You haven’t done anything to the genetic protocols, have you?”
Done anything? You plodder, I’ve surpassed them. Do you really think I spent all that time since the reptile fiasco twiddling my thumbs? The reptiles had already shown AI, full self awareness through artificial intelligence. I saved everything essential I had done with the DNA and since then I have been honing it and perfecting it in a few snakes I kept on my own. Think we can’t use snakes to get mammalians to think a different way? Think again!”
Gabi frowned. “But they’re already self-aware. So your artificial intelligence stuff wouldn’t give them anything they didn’t have already.”
Oh, I’ve gone far beyond that. Self-awareness is one thing, but I’ve made their selves into something one step further, I’ve found a way to implant a self-motivating pleasure principle in them that will override all other drives.”
The others gazed in shocked silence for a minute. Then Mike spoke. “But with creatures of that order, they’ll never survive, they’ll self-destruct.”
Not before I’m ready for them to do it. I want to pique them to try a few new things first. Then I’ll harvest the results, as I did from the reptiles.”
Izzy nodded his head. “That’s why the mating protocols broke down. Your pleasure principle has overcome their most basic instincts and sent them off on a search for constant stimulation that will never end.” He tapped on a few computer keys. “Until the population becomes unsustainable – not that far off in the future.”
Mike’s brow wrinkled. “The old man will know.”
He’ll know nothing of the kind. In a little while he’ll saunter back in here with his head in a fog, wondering how his perfect little plans for the primates fell apart.”
Izzy pressed the earphone to the side of his head. “Not in a while. Now!! The batracians sense him approaching because of the change in the magnetic field.”
Gabi leaned forward in earnest. “Tell him, Nick. Tell him right away.”
Nick grinned back. “You tell him if you dare, go ahead. But remember the price. And it’s going up all the time. I’ll have you on your knees in no time, you skank. Just go ahead and open you big mouth.”