A Lady and a Scientist (2.8)

J.J.—it was such an obnoxious nickname, but more fitting for the irreverent young pixie than Masterson—kept her appointment. Cassandra was standing outside the small employee entrance to the warehouse. She opened the door and stood aside for J.J. to enter.

“I was kind of expecting more of a security system?” J.J. said. The door and its hardware were solid enough, but it used a simple key lock. The only thing electronic was an intercom box next to it.

“The best security device is one you have no idea is there,” Cassandra said. “You can do all kinds of things with RFID chips, passive biometrics, and things that aren’t even on the consumer market yet. Believe me, an organization such as Department 4B can secure a site in ways you would never notice.”

“Dang, I guess they could,” J.J. said, looking around the warehouse interior. “Can you even see in here? I mean, I can, but it seems pretty dark.”

“Right,” Cassandra said. She shut the door and flipped a heavy switch. The lights came on with a series of resounding clicks, illuminating a series of modified athletics equipment and a mobile lab area.

“It’s, uh… dirtier than I expected?” J.J. said, drifting towards a weight machine. “I mean, it’s big. It’s nice. But… that’s a lot of dust.”

“Even 4B has a hard time finding cleaning crews with the necessary discretion to handle a lab of this sort,” Cassandra said. She peaked over the rim of her shades so she could see what J.J. saw, and frowned. It was filthy. “Honestly, I don’t even see the dust anymore.”

“So, like, are you the only one here?”

“4B does not maintain a full-time office in Calvary Crossing,” she said. “This warehouse was rented recently on a temporary basis for a specific purpose.”

“Not for me, dude,” J.J. said. “This stuff has been gathering dust for a few months at least.”

“Very astute again,” Cassandra said. “And please don’t call me ‘dude’, I am not a ‘dude’. I am a lady and I am a scientist, and I don’t want you to forget that.”

“You got it, Science Lady.”

“Don’t call me that, either,” Cassandra said. “In any event, no, you are correct It was not set up with you in mind. My task involves casting a wider net.”

“I’m just the first little fishy to wriggle into it, I guess?” J.J. said. She raised her arms halfway above her head and gave her hips a little wiggle. Cassandra redirected her view. “Wriggle, wriggle. So, do you normally operate out of Star Harbor, or D.C.?”

“I’m from Star Harbor,” Cassandra said.

“Cool. Always wanted to go, never been. What do we do first?”

“First step is genetic testing,” she said.

“Dang, I hope you don’t need blood? Because I’m not one hundred percent sure you’d get any.”

“A cheek swab is fine,” Cassandra said. “This way.”

Cassandra led J.J. to the med lab area, where she donned gloves and procured three swabs and three sample containers. She showed J.J. what to do, then handed them to her.

“You need all three?”

“There are three tests,” Cassandra explained. “Do you know the genetic classifications?”

“I know there’s Darkwell, and the other ones?” J.J. said. “Genetics isn’t really my thing?”

“It’s one of my many ‘things’. The three so-called ‘supergenes’ are Darkwell, Calder, Grant,” Cassandra said, as she carefully poured the testing reagents into the containers with the swabs. “The three gene markers that most often correspond to extranormal abilities, ‘super’ or otherwise. The Darkwell genetic trait manifests as an unusual degree of neuroplasticity in the very young, an added potential for growth that generally solidifies into specific enhanced capabilities by adulthood. It is found in ‘super geniuses’—global polymaths, technologists, and self-proclaimed master detectives—as well as psychics and mystics.”

“And so the other ones are real powers?” J.J. said

“I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the gifts of a Darkwell,” Cassandra said, glaring behind her glasses. “The Calder series is a special survival trait, a sort of Lamarckian evolution that kicks in when the body is placed under extreme stress, where once in your life whatever doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Whenever toxic waste or radiation mutates someone into a superhuman instead of just giving them cancer? They’re a Calder. And Grant genes are the rarest.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember now. They’re the people who are born super,” J.J. said.

“Exactly,” Davies said.

“And you just pour chemicals on the sticks?”

“It’s a bit like a pregnancy test, or a pH test,” Cassandra said. “The chemicals in each container will react in a specific way if the marker they’re looking for is there.”

“I thought there would be, you know. Computers. Spectrographs.”

“That may come later. The reagent test might seem primitive, but it is state-of-the-art for quick analysis. It may not always do the best job…”

“That’s dinosaur psychiatrist,” J.J. said.

“What?”

“The best job,” J.J. said. “It’s dinosaur psychiatrist. Like a regular psychiatrist, but… you know.”

“I’m quite certain I don’t.”

“For dinosaurs?” J.J. said. “Dinosaur psychiatrist. It’s the best job.”

“Sure,” Cassandra said. “I was going to say, it isn’t great for specific details, but in terms of pure Boolean there-or-not, it’s almost one hundred percent accurate.”

“What happens if I have all three?”

“That would be very unusual. Among other problems with that theory, we would expected you to have manifested your Grant mutation before now. Honestly, even though we’re testing for all three, but I don’t expect to see any but Calder. If that.”

“What do you mean? How could I have superpowers if I don’t have a supergene?”

“You were exposed to something that did this to you,” Davies said. “Calder would imply that your body somehow channeled destructive energy and made it a part of you. But if the energy wasn’t harmful, if it was designed to empower someone in the first place, then it wouldn’t necessarily need anything in your genetic make-up to work with.”

“So the screening might show nothing.”

“Maybe not, but even nothing is telling us something about what happened to you. We’ll know more in two to four hours. But whatever the test shows, empirical testing will tell us more. For that, we have the proving grounds.”

“Heh,” J.J. said. “Proving grounds. You know, I read that the word ‘bulletproof’ originally meant, like, ‘tested by bullets’, and they would certify armor as ‘bulletproof’ by shooting at it?”

“I’ve heard that, too,” Cassandra said.

“Does that mean you’re going to shoot me?”

“Of course I’m not!” Cassandra said. “It’s very hard to get accurate data that way, however viscerally satisfying it might be. We use ballistic simulators for that.”

“And what do they do?”

“They hit you with the force of a bullet,” she said. “But don’t worry. They have much better telemetry.”