Doctor Frederick Derricks felt his hand burn to ash and welcomed the searing pain. Sometimes it was the little things in life, like unbearable agony, that really took your mind off the inevitable cavalcade of problems that beset a superior intellect.
“Tissue destruction at 100% sir,” Simmons, one of his valued but ultimately disposable lab techs informed him. Positive communication and verification was proper experimental procedure under normal circumstances but a colossal waste of time when the subject was also the one who designed the operation.
Derricks looked down as the ashen remains of his left hand and chuckled. He’d cut off his internal pain feed after the refreshing shock to mind provided by the wave of agony. Even without physical sensation though it wasn’t difficult to see that they were ready for stage two of the trial. It was tempting to jump ahead but the details where were the devil lived, and Derricks had become intimately familiar with many of the faces evil that plagued truly revolutionary research.
“Begin verification scan of the remaining bone structures,” he said, resisting the urge to prod his exposed ulna with his remaining hand.
The horror of seeing his own left arm skeletonized was supposed to have captivated his attention. He should have been entranced by the damage the arc welding torch had inflicted, and caught up in the excitement of discovering if the repair would work. According to the trial logs, they weren’t anywhere near close enough with testing the procedure to be sure it would work. Too many possible failure cases hadn’t been verified. According to the revised timeline, human trial were supposed to be three years off, or more, still.
Derricks knew better though. He’d designed the tests. He’d arranged their ordering with care. Each of the early tests had covered scenarios that made a dozen of the later tests obsolete. That had allowed him to start with human testing of the Omnigrade far sooner that any of the project controllers at Tython were aware.
On paper, Project: Pure Health was a moderately successful effort. As with all research and development, delays had pushed the project’s launch date well past the initial marketing goal. Derricks had shown results though, and was making measurable progress towards the goal of synthesizing a working PureHealth(™) bio-mod from the transformation routines used by the Neuro-Muscular Enhanciles.
Derricks had been careful to document their progress clearly, making it easy for those funding the project to see that the return on their investment was still going to be worth it even with the extra time delays and added costs.
He’d also been careful to make sure that the time delays were convincing and not outside the scope of the delays seen on other successful projects. That was relatively easy since the delays had almost all been the result of a smokescreen of false data, designed to separate the project’s true completion date from when Tython would expect to receive it.
No one was going to double cross him before he’d produced something close to the end result they were looking for, and, more importantly, no one would be expecting him to double cross them while he still needed their funding.
“Bone scans show extensive heat fracturing,” Simmons said. “Bone marrow density approximates zero percent within three orders of magnitude.”
There was nothing left of Derricks left arm beside the brittle remnants of his bones and even those had been pushed well into the lifeless category.
“Begin stage two,” Derricks said. Experimenting on oneself was once considered de rigeur by early scientists, only to be absolutely forbidden as rationality and research volunteers became more prevalent. Given the promised result of the operation and Derricks certainty of its success, he couldn’t imagine allowing anyone else the honor of becoming the first viable subject however.
That, and he was planning to kill everyone else involved in the testing the moment it was conclusively working. Allowing someone else to receive the Omnigrade would have complicated the essential “murder” aspect of the plan excessively, since they would have enjoyed the same form of immortality Derricks was intent on claiming for himself.
“Initiating Hard Shell containment stage,” Simmons said as a thick mist began to spray from the cauterized stump of Derricks arm. Inch by inch, the mist congealed into a chitinous shell that followed the overall form factor of his destroyed limb. It was a miracle of engineering but Derricks had seen it so many time in research subjects in various stages of dismemberment that it failed to elicit even the slightest interest from him.
Instead his thoughts turned to the attack on Harcroft. Derricks had known Harcroft for years. They’d worked together well in that time, with Harcroft providing the support and infrastructure Derricks needed to pursue the Omnigrade tech while at the same time exercising a level of oversight that would be qualify as criminally negligent.
Harcroft wasn’t an unintelligent man. He knew what Derricks was doing. He also knew that the sort of results Derricks produced were only possible by ignoring most legal, ethical and moral boundaries. None of that matter though. Legality was decided in the courts, and the courts favored whichever side had the higher paid legal team. Ethics were a construct to comfort the weak into believing the strong would play fairly if only the weak followed the rules, and morality was a delusion embraced by those who couldn’t face the harsh truth of the world.
Humanity was ruled by its inherent nature, and nature was the cruelest, most amoral force imaginable.
But that could be changed.
“Hard Shell formation is complete,” Simmon said. “Initiating structural stability scans.”
A series of lasers played over the thick metallic shell which covered the ashen bones of Derricks’ left arm. He knew he should watch for the telltale signs of irregular density formation. That would be the critical warning that the reconstruction process wasn’t following its design parameters.
Except of course it was. He’d designed it. He’d tested it already. He knew it checked out. So he went back to pondering Harcroft’s fate.
There’d been an attack by an NME. A new type of NME in fact, and that was the worrisome aspect. Harcroft was the closest thing Derricks had to a friend, even if their was little more than a business partnership. The NME attack could have spared Derricks the discomfort of ordering Harcroft’s death. From the damage to Harcroft’s house it looked like that had been the intent NME’s presence there, but no body had been found and that troubled Derricks immensely.
Friend or no, Harcroft couldn’t be spared. No one with access to the inside information on Project: Pure Health could be allowed to live once the final development was complete.
Harcroft thought the Project: Pure Health would allow Tython to take sole control of the world’s medical upgrades market. He wasn’t wrong about that. The data Derricks had shown him was conclusive in regards to Pure Health being able to override all existing bio mod upgrade functions and synergize a new and completely secured system in its place.
True, some people would not be affected by the upgrade. The Empties, who had no bio-mods at all would be left out, and some of the Rusties with their half-working junkware would likely either die in the upgrade process or lose access to what broken tech they had. Everyone else though? They would fall under Tython’s indirect control, their bio-mods hanging above their heads like a Sword of Damocles with Harcroft and his superiors holding the scissors which could cut their strings at any time.
What Harcroft lacked however was vision. Project: Pure Health was the most marketable outcome of unlocking and perfecting the NME activation tech. Derricks wasn’t interested in marketing though. He saw a much more important future awaiting him.
The Omnigrade wasn’t an upgrade. It was Archimedes “long enough lever” and with it Derricks would move the whole world.
Providing, of course, his efforts weren’t derailed by an endless stream of problems.
“Apply nutrient bath and begin limb reconstruction,” Derricks said, before Simmons could inform him of the obvious green light the scanner was emitting to indicate the density scan had completed successfully.
“Yes sir,” Simmons said. “There’s been a communication from corporate central. Should I pass that onto you?”
Derricks had isolated himself from incoming net traffic for the duration of the procedure to eliminate as many irrelevant variables as possible. Downstream quality testing could check on the non-existent possibility of random net traffic causing problems with the reconstruction routines, all Derricks cared about was getting a working trial done before the next disaster occurred.
As usual however, that was a doomed ambition.
“No,” Derricks said. “Summarize it verbally.”
“It’s a missing personnel report,” Simmons said.
“That’s irrelevant, I already know about Harcroft,” Derricks said. “Half the city has seen the video.”
“This isn’t about that sir,” Simmons said. “There has been a mass abduction of Tython’s managers.”
“Over a dozen of Tython’s departmental managers who were stationed in Gamma City are missing,” Simmons said. “The report indicates that they were scanned entering an aero-bus to commute in from Drumkopff Estates but the aero-bus was replaced somewhere along its route. None of the managers made it to the transfer station. Tython has issued a warning to all local employees and is pursuing action against the subcontractor who leased the aero-buses.”
Derricks lost focus on the procedure entirely. A mass kidnapping could have been inter-corporate warfare at any other time, but coming the morning after Harcroft’s kidnapping, the incident couldn’t be unrelated.
Someone was hunting through Tython and they were looking for him.
Derricks wasn’t surprised. He knew he had enemies. He had even started to sketch out the outline of the leading one.
“Who was the subcontractor?” he asked.
“A company called Mort Couer,” Simmons said. “They offered a rate for the transport which was under the cost of using the corporate fleet by 20%. An automated process verified the aero-buses for safety and confirmed the expenditure, though it sound like that procedure might have been compromised too.”
“Mort Couer?” Derricks asked, unable to fathom the gall it took to operate so blatantly.
“Yes sir. Kind of a strange name for a company isn’t it?” Simmons asked.
“Not if the owner is trying to be cute with their naming conventions,” Derricks said. “Or draw attention to themselves.”
“Why would they do that?” Simmons asked.
“Because they’re issuing a challenge,” Derricks said. Mort Couer? Dead Heart? The owner was clear Mr. Heartless, the same person who’d somehow taken control of the NMEs that Derricks had sent to collect the mercenary Sidewalker.
Heartless obviously thought he was clever and Derricks had to give the man some respect. Suborning an NME was a feat Derricks hadn’t pieced out the workings of yet. It remained one of the primary obstacles to moving ahead with a full implementation of Project: Pure Health and the Omnigrade overall.
Being clever clearly wasn’t enough for Mr Heartless though. He wanted control. It was the only reason Derricks could imagine for someone pursuing Omnigrade research. The thing about control however was that it couldn’t be shared. At least not the sort of control the Omnigrade offered.
Harcroft had never seen that. Perhaps had never wanted to see it. Mr. Heartless though was fighting with the sort of explosive aggression that spoke volumes about his intent.
Heartless was a man Derricks understood because Heartless was following the same playbook which Derricks would have had their positions been reversed. That plus the success in defeating multiple NMEs made Heartless the single most dangerous person on the planet, and Derricks knew exactly how to deal with dangerous individuals.
“Continue with the procedure and call our cleaners,” Derricks said.
“Which squad sir?” Simmons asked. As a member of Derricks’ most trusted circle, Simmons was well aware of the “private firms” they contracted to handle extra-legal affairs.
“Call in Gibbons, Kratzweld and Mong’s teams. Double rates, no weapon restrictions,” Derricks said, naming the three best teams they contracted with. “I want to rent a contingent of Grey League agents too. Twenty should do. Same deal. Double rates, full weapon usage allowed.”
A green light flashed on the unit over his arm and he pulled his freshly restored limb from crumbling shell. It was lighter, stronger and far more durable than it had been. That wasn’t the important part though. The critical element was in his shoulder, along the line where the tech in his arm was steadily converting the rest of his body to its new templates.
By inches, Derricks humanity was being purged away, leaving only the planned perfection that would soon be the state all humanity would enjoy.