“Ramifications”

Dr. Malcolm Fain’s face, usually warm and friendly in an eccentric, wild-haired way, is anything but warm or friendly. His face is frozen in shock and disgust at what he has just heard from his old friend and colleague. Only one phrase can succinctly sum up his thoughts.

“You’re mad!” Fain blurts out, disturbing the scant, elderly patrons of a quaint tea house nestled out of sight of the modern world. They ignore Fain and his companion and continue to play games older than some civilizations. They are also oblivious to two strangers watching the two colleagues. One sits near the door, shrouded by shadows. The other is a tall, slender black man in a simple black suit and shades who sits at the back of the tea house. Both remain unfazed by Fain’s outburst. Their attention is focused on Fain and his lunch guest, Dr. Osaka Lo.

Lo sits across from Fain, dressed in a fine suit tailored to his expanding girth. The scientist is still there, beneath an expanded ego and a slick, wealthy exterior. He chuckles softly at his friend, who is the complete opposite. White in skin and disheveled hair, clad in a lived-in coat and clothes that hang upon a skinny frame that makes his seem frail. His eyes are of a young dreamer, that match his fiery spirit.

“You think this is funny?” Fain asks, leaning forward, his eyes alight with anger. “Shingen Kawaga is a criminal. Everyone knows it.”

“Kawaga is one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in Japan, perhaps even the world. He has always had detractors, jealous of his brilliance and foresight.”

“You don’t need his help.” Fain says through clenched teeth, trying to reign in his emotions. “His wealth and power are blinding you!”

“Malcolm, please, don’t be naive.” Lo replies quietly, taking a sip of his tea. “As a scientist, you understand the difficulty in securing funding for one’s projects. Without Kawaga’s partnership, I would still be stirring up Altergen 13 in a Jacuzzi instead of unraveling the mysteries of genetics. We have made incredible leaps in such a short time.”

Fain points at his chest for emphasis, his disbelief fueling his anger. “I’ve seen your Vat process first hand. If I knew what was involved…” he trails off, rubbing his hand through his hair before looking with complete honesty into Lo’s eyes. “It is akin to torture!”

“Torture?”

“Yes!” Fain says loudly, slamming his open palm on the table. “What you do to those animals, tearing them up, turning them inside out, it’s inhuman! Monstrous!”

“How many lab animals have died so that millions of people can live?” Lo counters in a defensive, confident tone. “I think your questionable associations have affected your objectivity.” he adds in a murmur.

Fain ignores Lo’s muttered comment. “What about the side effects?” Fain adds, sitting back, arms crossed. “Horrible disfigurements, mental and emotional instabilities, and potentially lethal abilities akin to your first so-called ‘triumph’, Ursidae. The whole situation is becoming increasingly volatile. You must see that.”

Lo sits back, arms crossed, mirroring Fain. “First, we have learned a great deal from the incident with Ursidae. It became the key to unlocking unfathomable genetic secrets that reside within all beings. True, there have been frequent missteps, but we have learned so much from each occurrence. Each one is bringing us closer to our ultimate goal. The perfect being. With that goal lays the potential for the greater good for all humanity.”

Fain rubs his hands over his face repeatedly. “Jesus, you sound like a salesman.”

“I just believe in what we are doing.” Lo replies. “I believe the ends justify the means.”

Fain drops his hands to his lap, looking upon his old friend, dejected by all that he has heard. “I can’t justify a process where the successes are in the minority.” he finally says, his voice weighed down with sadness. “How many have died, Osaka? Or should I ask, how many have lived?”

“Is this were your amusing little term for our successes comes in?” Lo asks, a smirk on his lips as he straightens up and calmly takes another sip of his tea.

“Irregulars?” Fain replies, his anger rising again as he looks upon Lo’s humorous indifference with incredulity. “That’s not a term of endearment! The majority of your subjects either die or, or–”

“We don’t waste anything.” Lo interrupts as he sets his tea-cup down. “The ‘irregulars’, whether they are successes or failures, are well taken care of. The successes are put into our education programs as soon as they are ready. Those that fail are kept secluded for further study so that we may learn from our mistakes.”

“What about the dead?” Fain asks in a knowing tone. “What about the irregulars who commit suicide because they can’t deal with what was forcibly done to them? What about the ones who try to escape, only to be hunted down and killed by Kawaga’s Cat Clan? What happens to all those bodies?”

Lo picks up his tea-cup, trying to retain his cool exterior.

Fain slaps the cup from Lo’s hand, startling him.

The few remaining patrons are startled as well.

The shadowy man at the door sits forward in his seat.

The man in the suit turns in his seat, as if ready to move.

“What about Altergen 13?” Fain asks, his tone is quiet, but filled with fury. “It’s a viral, organic liquid that needs regular replacement. What happens with the waste? Pouring it down the sink?”

Lo tries to regain his composure. He opens his mouth to speak, but doesn’t right away, as if searching for the right words. Finally, he replies. “Kawaga… my associates deal with that.”

Fain stands, places both hands on the table and leans over Lo. “Who’s naive now, old friend.”

Fain straightens up, looking like he just went three rounds in a boxing match. He drops back down into his chair, looking across the table at his old friend.

Lo’s mind tries to process Fain’s implications, some of which have been gnawing at the back of his mind. But those thoughts and fears have been dulled by his growing wealth and prominence.

There is a long silence between to the two men as the remaining patrons rise from their tables and quietly slip out. The two men watching these old friends remain motionless, but on edge.

“I’ve published my paper.” Fain finally says, his eyes are wet with tears as he stares indifferently at the table. His face torn up from disbelief, the ruination of a life-long friendship, and doing what he believes is right. “People will likely think it’s science fiction, and won’t think much of me. But I can’t ignore this, or what you’ve done.” Fain looks up and catches Lo’s eyes. “Or what you’ve become.”

Lo’s mind refocuses. His disgust in his old friend is evident in his greedy, anger-filled eyes and on his expressionless face. But his voice maintains an eerie calm. “I’m sorry to hear that Malcolm. Truly sorry. I hoped bringing you in on my project would be like old times. Reaching beyond our dreams, making great discoveries.” Lo pauses, a hint of remembrance and nostalgia lights upon his mind. But it quickly disappears, replaced by disdain. “But your short-sighted ignorance has allowed old-fashioned morals to prevent you from seeing something greater. And it will be your undoing.”

Lo rises from the table and straightens his suit.

The man amid the shadows near the door also rises.

Fain slowly, cautiously stands up. Lo’s words, his knowing comments from before, begin to sink in. “Was that a threat Osaka?” He looks upon his old friend in a questioning, frightening way. It’s like seeing someone you’ve always known and remembered fondly, being lead down a path you can’t follow, then looking back upon you with a twisted, evil face.

Lo walks up to Fain, stops and puts a hand upon his shoulder. “I hoped our friendship would have bound us to this great endeavor. I was wrong.”

“Please Osaka, don’t leave–” Fain’s words are cut off as Lo grips his shoulder hard.

We knew of your allegiances. I sincerely hope they can protect you, because they will be your only friends now.”

Lo takes his hand from Fain and walks towards the door.

Fain turns to watch this portly, self-aggrandizing man who was once his friend walk out. He never imagined he would fear his friend. But after the words they have said, words that can’t be unsaid, he wonders if he ever truly knew Osaka Lo.

The man from the shadows, near the door, steps between Lo and Fain. When the door is opened, he’s silhouetted by the light outside. His body is large and powerful, but the outline of his head isn’t human. It is that of a predatory cat. His eyes glint like yellow fury, his claws like razors. He is an irregular feline. He’s Cat Clan.

Fear leaps into Fain. He barely notices the man in the black suit and shades as he gently grips his arm. Fain jumps when his arm is pulled, but allows himself to be led out the back.

***

Lo steps out onto the busy sidewalk of a cramped side street of Tokyo. The Cat Clan soon follows, a hood pulled over his head.

A limo waits, blocking most of the narrow street. The driver opens the door and Lo climbs in, followed by the Cat Clan.

Inside, Lo sits in silence. The words of his once friend echo within him, making his anger grow. The echos are cut off by the ringing of the car phone. He pulls the phone free from it’s cradle and puts it to his ear, the cord snaking across his lap.

“Hello?” Lo answers, still stinging from his encounter. “No, there was nothing to salvage. The partnership has been dissolved.” His mood lightens as he talks. “But we retain his notes. With them, we can begin human trials, as well as improve the process, making stronger, more powerful irregulars.”

Lo glances absently at the street and the people as the limo starts up and slowly makes it way through the throng of people.

“‘Irregulars’ is a term Dr. Fain used. Seems fitting, don’t you think?” Lo replies, a vengeful little smile on his lips.

Irregulars: Origin of the Species Copyrighted © 2010-2012 Mark James MacKinnon. Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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