William Doonan

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MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Eight

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Adam had it planned perfectly.  It would be over in an instant.  He had been waiting nearly 45 minutes in front of the capital building for the meeting to be over.  The governor would exit the main door and then walk the three blocks to the Convention Center to meet the Mexican trade delegates.  There were maybe three hundred people waiting outside here, behind the barricades, waiting for a glimpse of the man, maybe get a chance to shake his hand.  He’d have an entourage, but all Adam needed was a second to shake his hand.  That’s all it would take.

Time to give the governor a taste of his own medicine, he told himself.  Governor Zombie.  One quick dusting, blow the powder on the man’s shirt.  He might not even notice, and if he did, he’d get confused pretty fast.  The powder was so fine it was almost invisible.  Adam’s heart began pounding as the doors opened and the governor stepped out, flanked by several members of the Assembly and Sacramento police.  He was shorter in person than he looked on the big screen.   Adam spotted Billy St. Clair in the group.  He was smiling and waving at the squirrels in the branches overhead.

Adam opened the little case and withdrew one of the white tubes.  Shaking, he put it in his mouth.  Just don’t inhale, he told himself.  That would be bad.  He waited as the governor approached, shaking hands with the crowd, even kissed a baby. He was three feet away when he turned and looked Adam straight in the eye.

Adam nearly wet himself.  He stared back as Arnold Schwarzenegger frowned and shook his head.  The governor walked straight toward him, looking angry.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he told Adam.

Adam’s mouth opened and the tube fell to the ground.  “Do what?” he asked.

Schwarzenegger held up his hand and waved a finger back and forth.  “Smoke,” he said, pushing along, looking back to frown at Adam one more time.

Adam backed his way out of the crowd and ran.  He didn’t stop until he got to the rose garden, until Erzulie ran up to him.  He picked her up and reached for Celeste’s hand.  Maybe it was OK to relax now.

Written by williamdoonan

September 19, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Seven

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Rocky wiped the crumbs from his mouth and opened a bottle of water as he watched Julia swim.  “So this is the end of it?” he called to her.  “You’re just going to give up?”

She swam toward him and rested her arms on the edge of the pool.  “It’s not about giving up,” she said.  “It’s about refocussing.  I just don’t have that much interest in immortality anymore, which is actually good since they took away my funding and my robot.”

Rocky picked up the tray and came over to the edge of the pool.  “You’re telling me you don’t want to live forever now?”

“Well now I know how,” she said.  “It’s simply a matter of very precisely mixing some of the most potent toxins ever found in nature and inducing a massive assault at a cellular level.  It was almost a lost art, Rocky.  But we have it all written down.  All of it.  And Carson will come around.  He’s a scientist before he is anything else.  We were just perhaps unwise not to think through the implications of all of this before we started.”

“You really don’t want to live forever?” he asked, pressing her.

“Not without you, baby,” she said.  “And it only works on women, remember.  Humanity could make it without men, Rocky.  We really could as a species, at least for a few thousand years.  But it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun.”

“So no more new zombies.”

“Let’s hope not.  What did you find out about ours?”

Rocky ate another piece of cake and showed her the front page of the Sacramento Bee.

“You’re kidding,” she said, climbing out of the pool and grabbing a towel.  “Let me see.”

“Secret Human Experiments at Folsom,” read the headline.

“California State Prison at Folsom – Authorities have yet to respond to the claims of three men who claim they were unjustly prisoned.  Wigbert Gomez, Angel Rivera, and Randall Townsend left Folsom Prison today.  Family members are concerned that their loved ones had been drugged.  Psychiatric evaluations of the three men reveal similar stories; they were sitting on their Harleys outside Petunia’s, a popular bar in Galt, when they were accosted by a woman in a van.  None of the men were able to account for the time period between that encounter and their awakening in the medical ward at Folsom Prison.

“It wasn’t like we’d done nothing bad-like,” Randall Townsend said at his home in Vacaville.  A biking aficionado, Townsend is a full professor in Berkeley’s Physics Department.

Or was, until students began complaining that Professor Townsend was not actually teaching his classes, was actually doing little more than maneuvering through Powerpoint slides.  While students were quick to point out that this was not unusual for Berkeley, the fact that Professor Townsend had done little more than advance the slides for two weeks gave rise to concern.  Berkeley’s Physics Department has temporarily suspended Dr. Townsend from active teaching pending a psychological review.

Wigbert Gomez’s associates at Paint My Car, asked that he be relieved of duty when he insisted on applying paint to windshield wipers.  “It’s pretty,” Wigbert noted before he was ushered into the waiting room.

The sad case of Angel Rivera is by now known to most readers.  After his release from custody, Angel failed to show up for his job at the South Sacramento office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Instead, according to family members, he insisted on a surfing trip.  “He was acting strange,” his wife, Annabel Rivera noted.  “First, he suggested I drive to the beach, which he never does because he likes to drive.  Then once we got there, he didn’t want to have anything to eat, which is so not like him.”

According to his daughter-in-law, Mavis Fuente, Angel took his surfboard and headed out into the sea, paddling ever outward without looking back.  “We finally called the police,” Mavis told this reporter, “but by that time, you could barely see him.”

As reported on national television, Angel Rivera apparently kept paddling his board until a rogue wave swept him overboard.  His body was recovered by the coast guard early the next day.

Authorities at Folsom State Prison again declined to address the conditions or circumstance of the incarceration of these three men, and their families are left to wonder.  Our calls for comments have to date gone unanswered.”

“I feel so bad for their families,” Julia said.

“The two still alive, do you think they will ever recover?

Julia shook her head.  “They’ll learn some coping skills.  Repetitive tasks will become second nature, but they’ll never regain the lost cognitive capacity.  This poison destroys entire regions of frontal lobe, almost as effectively as a surgical lobotomy.”

Rocky said nothing.

“You’re thinking about Billy, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said.

“How is he?”

“He seems happy enough.  He started his new job.”

“No way,” she said.  “You didn’t really go ahead with that plan.  Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I had to,” Rocky said quietly.

“I think it’s cruel.”

‘We made a deal,” he reminded her.  “That’s why I’m here right now eating cake by my pool with you and not sitting in jail.  I killed a policeman, remember.”

“A zombie policeman.”

“Try selling that to jurors.  We killed thirty-four people, Julia.   And we burnt down a twenty million dollar historical landmark.  Who do you think cleaned all that up after we drove away in a stolen police car?”

“I know,” she said.  “You made a call and Rick Biondi covered it up.”

“No,” he said.  “It was too big.  Schwarzenegger covered it up.  No police, only his personal security on the scene before the firemen got there.  Or maybe after the firemen got there.  It’s hard to say, but read the headline on page twelve, you’ll see that the California Firefighter’s Union just got some major pension dispensations from the governor.”

“Why would he want to cover it up?” Julia asked.  “He got nothing out of it.”

“He wanted a zombie.”

“Well he didn’t get one.”

“Yes he did,” Rocky reminded her.  “That was the deal to keep us all out of jail.  Biondi had Billy’s paperwork done in just a few hours.  Billy is a state worker now, a proud new member of the governor’s security detail.”

“It’s cruel,” she said, slipping into her sandals.

It is cruel, Rocky told himself.  “Wait,” he called after her.  “Can you bring me another one of these cupcakes?  I think I’m addicted.”

Written by williamdoonan

September 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Six

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“I can’t accept this.”  Hammermill tore the page to shreds.

Adam said nothing.  He stared out the window onto the sprawling Sentec campus, admiring the sunset, feeling good about himself.

“And there’s the issue of the patent you filed.”

“I successfully completed the terms of my employment,” Adam told him.

“This is a resignation letter,” Hammermill reminded him.  “And you have a contract.  That means I own you for at least thirty-two more months.  And you’ll need to amend the patent.”

“I won’t amend it,” Adam said.  “And I am leaving.  As of today.”

Hammermill faced him squarely.  “I’m not going to pretend I like you,” he said, “but you have a legal arrangement with this company.  You cannot register a patent in your name if that patent is the result of work product.  Your transfat macro is a work of genius, though the name you chose, ‘Magic Molecule’ will need to be amended along with the patent holder identification.”

“I’m keeping the name,” Adam told him.  “And if you read my contract, the contract you had me sign when I began working here, you’ll see that I am precluded from registering a patent in my own name.  You’ll note that I did not register the patent in my own name.  The patent belongs to Adam Westlake and Denise Rosen.”

“It’s still work product,” Hammermill said, his voice almost a yell.  “They too are prohibited from registering their own patents.”

“And they didn’t,” Adam reminded him.  “I registered the patent for them.  It’s an ass-fucker of a loophole.  If I were you I’d work with my legal team to rewrite that section of the contract.  As it is, the contract is binding.  You’ll want to incorporate it into your product line, but you’ll be paying them royalties.  When you come in tomorrow morning, you’ll find their resignations on your desk as well.”

Hammermill worked on maintaining his calm, his cheekbone muscles flexing as he breathed deeply toward a calm.  “Adam,” he began, gripping the edge of the table, “you and I both know I’m not going to let you just walk out of here, don’t we?”

Adam picked up a water glass, tossed it from one hand to the other, getting a sense of its heft.

“Don’t even think about it,” Hammermill told him.  “If you throw that glass at me I will have you arrested for assault.  You should know that this conversation is being taped.”

“Not just being taped.  It’s being monitored as well.” Adam figured that Tom Kerwin or some other senior manager was sitting somewhere close by, staring into a monitor.

Hammermill sat back.  “Why don’t I take a different approach ?  How about this; l bought you.  If you break your contract with me, your SUBA contract reactivates.  You’re never going to leave us, Adam.”

Seven ounces, Adam guessed, feeling the heft of the water glass.  That could take out a tooth it necessary.  But it wouldn’t become necessary.

“See, I know all about you,” Hammermill continued.  “Baker gave me your file.  Little orphan boy raised by the state, comes under the wing of some tweaker family who pimped him out to support their habit.  Thin little boy; you didn’t even get fat until you were twelve.  Why Adam?  Is it because pedophiles don’t find fat boys attractive?”

Adam watched the clouds through the window, watched as they moved gently, effortlessly, obscuring the setting sun.  Down below, in the west parking lot, Sentec employees were finding their cars, thinking perhaps of the potential left in this day.  There would be food, there might be music, and god willing, there might be mating.

“And don’t even think about making a life with that whore Celeste,” Hammermill continued, putting his feet back up on the table.  “I’ve had a go at her a few times myself and I have to say I found it lacking.  Perhaps it was a lack of enthusiasm, I can’t be sure.”

Adam stared.  At this distance, he calculated, a seven ounce water glass properly propelled could reduce between eight and twenty teeth to dental powder.  But that wasn’t going to be necessary.  He took out the little gold cigarette case from his pocket and opened it.

“No smoking in the building,” Hammermill cautioned him.

Adam pulled a thin cigarette-shaped tube from the case.

“I’m going to give you right back to SUBA,” Hammermill told him.  “It will be like you never left, only they have a new cook now, so maybe you’ll be working on the line.”

Adam gestured with his finger, bringing a hesitant but grinning Hammermill closer.  “You shouldn’t have called her a whore,” he said.  He set the tube firmly between his lips as if it were a joint.  He smiled at Hammermill and blew the powder into his face.

Written by williamdoonan

September 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Five

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“How is he, really?” Rocky asked the nurse, looking out at the fenced garden where Billy St. Clair sat smoking the cigar Rocky gave him.

“It’s difficult to say,” she said.  “I’m not pleased that he’s smoking, but he seems happy.  Did he seem to enjoy your visit?”

Rocky nodded.  “He talked to me about the pool, how he liked the diving board, and about the macaroni and cheese which he liked at lunch.”

“That’s normal in cases like these,” she said.  “Stroke victims take their time coming back.  I’ve seen it again and again.”

“I’m not sure he had a stroke,” Rocky said.  “Could there be something else responsible for this?”

The nurse shook her head.  “We see all kinds of pathologies here.  And each one is different.  In time, he might regain his full faculties.  But we should be prepared for the fact that he might not.  Billy is lucky in this regard.  He has a job, and they pick him up each morning to go to work, and he’s good at it.  Many of our other patients are not so lucky.”

“He’s only forty-five years old.”

The nurse nodded.  “I’ve seen stroke victims as young as ten.”  She put her hand on his arm.  “Give him time.  And if there’s any comfort I can give you,” she produced a business card and wrote her phone number on the back.  “I want you to call me.”

Rocky looked out at Billy who was smiling now.  He had taken off his shirt and was trying to make a puppet of it.

Written by williamdoonan

September 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Four

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“I feel empty,” Alice said.

“He’ll call.”  Julia leaned against the glass enclosure where Prometheus used to sit, empty now save for a few cables that managed to tangle themselves on their own, at night perhaps, as cables do.

“I was talking about the program,” she said.  “About the robot, about our protocol.  It’s over now, right?”

Julia nodded.  “For now.  It’s a setback.  That’s how a scientist refers to utter defeat.  We call it a setback.  We’ll be back on our feet in no time, Alice.”

The lab door swung open and Gloria Beltran came in with a pizza.  “Hot, hot, hot,” she said.  “I figured you were going to be hungry as well as mad.”

“When did they take him?” Julia asked.

“Who?” she asked.

“Prometheus?”

Gloria nodded.  “Your robot, yes.  Just after midnight, I think.  I asked the desk clerk.  By order of the governor.  It was a health risk.”

“Was it now?” Julia asked, reaching for a slice.

“Did you get the sausage one?” Alice asked.

Gloria Beltran nodded.  “I did.  Have you heard from your boyfriend?”

Alice looked down, concentrated on her pizza.

“I’m worried about him, Mama,” Julia said.  “I have calls in to all of the dialysis units in the neighboring counties.  But so far nothing and it’s been ten days.  We’ve gone to his apartment too and he hasn’t been there.”

Gloria Beltran took her time selecting a pizza slice before handing Julia an envelope.  “The desk clerk gave me this for you.”

“It’s from him.” Alice snatched the letter from her hand.  “That room is still airtight,” she said, pointing to Prometheus’s vacant cell.  “If you’re concerned, we can put on masks and go inside.”

Julia nodded, and they did just that.  They closed the glass door behind them and sat against the Plexiglas wall, watching intently for a moment as an unexpected moth made a quick flight path across the small room.  They fitted the airmasks over their faces, and opened the envelope.

Dear Professor and Dear Alice,

They’d come after us if I were to tell you where we are.  Not the priestesses or their Bizango chemists, because there are no others left.  But the people who want what we know, they’d come.  Some California Corrections officer, somebody who owed Schwarzenegger a favor, they’d come for us.  So I can’t tell you where we are, but I can say that we’re safe.  We rented a little house here and Karen will be starting school next month.  Folks around here understand me to be her uncle, and I guess that’s what I am.

OK, so here’s the thing, if you want it.   I kind of figured it out and I kind of intuited it, which means I’m interpreting some of Karen’s thoughts, and framing them against the backdrop of the work we’ve been doing.  So here goes, here’s your timing gene: it’s a 2800 base pair CTG stutter at 23Xp7-p11 and at 23Xq5-q7.  I wrote out the mutation on the back, but basically its a C to G substitution.  Feed it to Prometheus if you can, but I’m thinking the fuckers might have taken him by now.  So plug it in to any sequencer running on Linux, download the seventy-two or seventy-three shotgun sequences that begin with the markers I indicated and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The zombie powder breaks down the protein so the control gene cannot direct cellular aging, but the gene also interacts with four stutters on the ninth chromosome to direct synthesis of an enzyme that draws waste from neurons.  This means that you need a mutation to live forever, but you still need the gene intact so that your brain doesn’t fill up with shit and stop working.  That’s why it doesn’t work on men, Julia.  The neurons in their brain stem become polluted and can no longer maintain basic bodily functions like heartbeat and temperature.  Generally, the damage is restricted to the cerebrum and they keep breathing and pumping blood, but they’re somewhat mindless.  That’s how our zombies are made.  That’s how women can live forever.

And in rare instances, a woman who has one functioning gene and one modified gene will produce a non-disjoined ovum, an egg with 46 chromosomes that understands itself to be fertilized, even though it is not, and that egg will implant in her uterus and develop into an embryo and eventually a child.

But it’s a secret, Julia.  It’s a secret, Alice.  And it should stay as much.  The priestesses kept it from the chiefs, kept it from the French, kept it from everyone.  Now you make sure you keep it from Schwarzenegger.

As for me, I don’t know why it worked like it did on me.  I’d love to have my single ravaged X chromosome sequenced, find out why I’m still alive, but I don’t have  the patience.  This is a strange place for me.  All my life I’ve hated this disease, yet it’s the muscular dystrophy that saved me.  Funny thing, no?

Alice, you have to know that I love you.  You should also know that I’m coming back for you before long, like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman, and I know you’re laughing right now because I’m being saucy and because you see me wheeling you out of that factory, but it wouldn’t be like that because I’m walking now, baby.

Not that much, a few steps here and there, but we were on the streetcar the other day and it was crowded and guess what, I had to stand.  Loved it, I tell you.  Nothing in my life has ever pleased me more.  I’d like for you to examine me one day (we’d be playing doctor!) because I expect you’d find that I am producing dystrophin.  The chemistry, that powder Millicent Sorrows blew at me did not produce her desired effect, but it produced an effect nonetheless.

Both of you should know that I’ve never been as happy as I have been with you, and that these past few months have been the best of my life.  When things cool down, when I’ve learned more, I’ll be back like I said.  Until then, know that you are in my thoughts.

Karen is of course the last of the line, and I will become in time, her chemist.  She she is teaching me some incredible things.  It’s slow going and I have to develop entire new skill sets for interpreting multilayered data and contradictory phenomena, but we have the coming centuries to get this right, Karen and I.  I hope we have your blessing, at least until we can talk again, which I hope can be soon, but not too soon.

– Carson

Written by williamdoonan

September 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand