44: doctors, and office hours
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[inner city, nexus]

The laboratory is lit in fluorescent whites. There are little to no windows in the halls – in lieu of them are countless aluminum vents that span from entrance to the deep interior. The building is of maze-like intricacy and the only personnel able to navigate are those of upper tier standing.

Congruous with its monochromatic slate is the noiselessness of the place – nothing but white noise from bright lights, the occasional footsteps, soft breathing and very rarely, a conversation or two from passing researchers. All of them are equally as serious in nature.

Past the leftmost corridor, one turn to the right, thirty meters ahead, and past some more convoluted turns, one young man takes neat strides toward a steel door. He’s an obvious professional, what with his neatly ironed dress shirt, his slacks without a single crease and his white medical coat. He blends in well with the backdrop, but he has a sort of refined aura that would make him stand out regardless.

Prim and proper hairstyle, raven-black bangs swept above his forehead, held up nicely by wax. Straight arched brows, unblemished features, a pair of light-brown eyes that are mystically hazy despite the building’s brightness. His bearing is that of a confident and gentle young man, though the sharpness in his jawline and his nose proves him to be more than he lets on.

He swipes his identification card in the door slot and waits for authorization. A soft beep indicates he’s been cleared. The steel door slides open and he enters another more restricted area. The design of the area is not much different from the other hallways – more white walls, cool-toned lights, boring but clean.

However, this particular section has seriously increased security. Dozens of circular devices are installed onto the walls and upon sensing a person’s presence, the automation goes on to do a deep scan. The screening process is invisible to the naked eye but the miniature holes blink green to indicate a valid clear.

The young man walks further in the corridor, where another section is cut off by a gate sensor. Beyond that is an incredibly spacious room with a conference setup – a U-shaped tabled with ten chairs on each side and three in the middle. In front is a running projection of diagrams and drawings currently shown on a loop.

The participants of the conference are about fifteen people. Half of them seem to be scientists, a couple are officials, and the others military police, considering their specialized navy-blue uniform. Their gilded emblems are particularly eye-catching in contrast to the dull white background. A few men have their arms crossed – a display of arrogance for sure, if not from posture then from their judgmental eyes, staring critically at the young man who’d just walked in.

“Three and a half minutes late,” one of them says instead of a greeting. He’s a middle-aged man with narrowed eyes and a slovenly appearance. His lips are thinned into a line to show displeasure. From the way he’s posing, he gives off the impression of an all-important government official, but from his unshaved beard and balding head, his aura is no different than a bumbling civilian. “I’d expected for your prestige to be on time for a board meeting, Dr. Shi.”

The aggression goes in through one ear and out the other. Shi Luo is completely unaffected (even his eyes seem to twinkle at the pettiness) and then he goes over to sit on the middle chair. His movements are wholly elegant – the way he sits, the way he adjusts his shirt cuff and brushes off the nonexistent dust. It is precisely his sophistication that garners him such dislike and petty envy.

“My apologies,” he says with that collectedly calm voice of his. Lighthearted and purposefully indulging, but when overanalyzed, there may just be an edge of condescension. Shi Luo is quite the manipulative character, knowing exactly what to say to maintain moral high ground. He pushes up the frame of his eyeglasses and gives a polite smile. “I wasn’t aware of such an impromptu board meeting. Next time, I would appreciate if I’d gotten an advanced notice of… say, at least two hours ahead. I do have matters of importance to attend to, after all.”

Upon deciding his words were somewhat immoderate, he adds as an afterthought, “But I do reckon your schedule is also packed with city patrol, Mr. Huang, so to suggest you drop by during office hours is presumptuous of me.”

The anger is clear on the other party’s face. He’s positively fuming, his ears turning redder and redder at each cleverly worded remark. Low laughter comes from the roundtable cadre which only makes him more enraged. He slams a hand on the table and shoots up from his seat, his pride not allowing him to yield to the shrewd young man.

“What is it that you are trying to say?!” he just about roars out. Each syllable is spit out in Shi Luo’s direction and the latter only chooses to remain quiet (though the twitch of his brows indicates he’s not very pleased to be spit on). “Are you slandering the city police? It is we who keep the peace of the city – your science scoundrels act high and mighty but have you any achievements worth mentioning in the past decade?!”

Huang doesn’t stop. “When you find a way to rid the damn radiation, then we may operate on an even ground, but right now I’ll only look to you as an overgrown brat wasting civilian taxes, doctor.

“Even ground?” someone else chimes into conversation.

She’s a woman a few years younger than Shi Luo but she has a baby face that makes her look like she’s in her late teens. Her hair is dyed dark gray and meticulously touched up from roots to ends. The woman doesn’t look as professionally poised as all the others in here – her legs are crossed rather gracelessly despite her fashionable appearance. Her lab coat is half-slung on her shoulders, revealing the sloppy collar of her dress shirt. Stylish, but not a style often seen in an environment like this.

She mimics Shi Luo and flicks off the dust on her shirt. Her feminine features and her prettily manicured nails are odd contrasts to her uncouth mannerism. “As even as your receding hairline, you useless old man—”

“Aria,” Shi Luo chides her from the other side. His lips are curved into the smallest smile (unnoticeable unless looked at really closely). “Language.”

She corrects herself immediately. “You perfectly dispensable senile cabbage.”

He gives her credit. “Better.”

The camaraderie fuels Huang’s hatred. He looks absolutely murderous – to Aria’s utter pleasure – and his hands are shaking in excess, itching to reach for his weapon. Under the pressure of professionalism (or what’s left of it), however, he has no choice but to resort to spiting words.

“You underachieving scientists of the Nexus have little merit over us,” he spews out. “If you weren’t so busy blowing our money over useless crap, we’d be able to purge every last one of those anomalies.”

“And if you weren’t so busy trying to get blown,” Aria sends over a smirk, “then I agree we’d be able to purge the anomalies and subsequently stop them from breaching the border.”

“You—!”

“—Enough,” Shi Luo cuts in with a small sigh. He somehow still looks classy despite the smile threatening to grow wider on his face. “I do believe we are here to discuss business and not your bedroom preferences, Mr. Huang.”

“It really is enough,” another person ends the argument in finality. He’s donned in black suit, black tie and equally as black trousers. A government official, from the looks of it, who is obviously displeased by the steer of topic. The man is in his forties and has a no-nonsense aura – here for business and business only. “In fact, the one to request this meeting was me. As the officiator, I’d like both of you, Miss Li and Officer Huang, to settle into pleasantry.”

They settle not into pleasantry but the both of them choose to remain quiet for the time being. The tension in the conference room has spiked with the researchers and the military men on opposing sides. The government official folds his hands on the table and carries on to the next topic without a care.

“I have gathered you here to discuss the collapse of the Nordak biobank,” he says. His voice is not entirely robotic, but he lacks emotion in intonation. An all-neutral voice that reads off a pre-existing script. “The northern bank is only lacking in security when compared to that of the Nexus. After data analysis, there is no recovered footage, no signs of internal access nor were there any tinkering.”

Low, hushed voices. Colleagues talking amongst themselves in heavy contemplation.

“You’ve said yourself that the cryobank security is only lacking when it’s compared to the Nexus bank,” someone says aloud. “In my knowledge, even the Nordak has automated radiation sensors. The corridors were reconstructed by hundreds of engineers including myself. There is no possible way for the ringlets to enter undetected.”

“There was a precedent,” the official says. Once again monotonous. “Year 2054, the city border breach.”

“You’re saying… the sensors glitched out?” the person asks. “That was an event more than twelve years ago. We’ve upped stringent security measures since then. I am positive all scanners are functioning as intended.”

“The city border breach.” Huang quips up when he finds an opening to steer the conversation. “It was certainly an unprecedented technical failure.”

“I’ve heard about the border breach,” Aria says in response, picking at her nails. “The records state that if it weren’t for some idi—boneheaded city soldiers who entered while infected, then we wouldn’t have lost some tens of thousands of people.”

“You spoiled little kid would know nothing about what happened back then,” the man sneers. “We would’ve lost hundreds of thousands—no, we would’ve all been dead if the sensors stopped working. Even a temporary mistake like that can lead to humanity’s extinction. What are you goddamned scientists—”

“—Mr. Huang,” Shi Luo finally says. There’s no jest to his tone anymore. His scholarly air is exemplified when he’s serious – his rectangular-framed glasses don’t hide his narrowed eyes and his strikingly handsome, chiseled features. “Our disagreements aside, I do believe that the general interest aligns – the preservation of humanity, that is. Less conflict and less menial insults would certainly speed up our progress. And you, Aria, should not dive in topics you lack information about.”

Silence.

The two sides immediately stop arguing senselessly. Even Huang, prone to argumentation, finds himself unable to refute. Shi Luo has a way of making himself morally virtuous – he can manipulate a conversation so seamlessly well. He holds authority as he does rationale, and everyone is guided to comply.

Shi Luo beckons for the officiator. “Please do go on.”

The government official continues without a hitch. He’s still reading off an internal manuscript – he probably is just the messenger. “Records also hold that just before the outbreak, Unit 1 was assigned a joint with 641. Their mission was to safely escort Nexus researcher, Orlando Walker, to destination. The First Unit had requested for a solo mission when 641 was unable to be reached. Investigations now hold that the last to access the Nordak with radioactive creatures on tow was Unit 1, headed by Colonel Yang Rong.”

“Che!” A noise of discontent coming from Huang. “What’s so interesting about that? Yang just fucked up is all… We’re having this meeting to strip him of his status, eh? The cocky bastard is too green to be colonel anyway.”

The officiator ignores him. “Undergoing investigations also hold that, if there is no mechanical error, the implication is Colonel Yang accessed the Nordak cryobank without triggering the security systems. Here is where we’d like to ask Dr. Shi for input.”

“By all means,” he replies. “My presence wouldn’t have been requested otherwise.”

“The Nexus officials question if there are ways to bypass security,” the man says. “If so, judging from your connection with Colonel Yang, we may be able to figure and patch up an unknown method. This is only under the assumption that the automated systems are properly working. Further inspections will be made by the engineering team. If the systems are deemed functional, then Colonel Yang Rong and—"

“And I would be implicated,” he finishes. Shi Luo makes no restless movements when he speaks – not a single twitch of his expressions, no nervous tapping on the desk, nothing that would indicate anything off. “Perhaps there may be a method, but I am a doctor and researcher, not an engineer. I’d also correct that Colonel Yang and I indeed have connections, but not so much interactions.”

“It is in our records that you’ve studied engineering,” the man says. “Knowing your capabilities, such a thing may be possible.”

“Very pleasing to hear,” Shi Luo says with a low chuckle. “But the theory is farfetched, I must claim. There is an extremely high possibility of a misreport or data loss, considering the gene bank has been burnt beyond recognition. Another possibility is faulty systems triggered by extreme cold. For example, unknown breaches would not be implausible considering the Nordark bank’s construction almost a century ago, dated before the radiation’s even occurred. The security was only recently designed and is not compatible with inclement polar weather.”

The government official ponders over his words and, after a while later, he nods in understanding. “Very well. I will report your considerations to authority. Meanwhile, we will settle a day to temporarily down the city sensors for a maintenance check in the following month.”

“Is that all?”

“We have an agenda to discuss several other topics. Among them is the First Unit’s disappearance, the procure of a never-seen prairie pigeon anomaly, the progress of hybrid embryos, the theory of human evolution, human relocation and…” the official turns to Shi Luo, “the Nexus is studying the plausibility of an artificial magnetosphere to reclaim Earth.”

Shi Luo ponders for a bit. “The ascent of a million—false estimate—magnet satellites is undoable in our generation. To reclaim Earth, a planet almost stripped by solar winds, is an idea no different than terraforming Mars.”

“You believe the idea to be preposterous.”

“Incorrect,” Shi Luo responds, his eyes curving into handsome crescents. “It is an absolutely fascinating idea, but I am simply more interested in the other topic you’ve mentioned – the theory of human evolution. While humanity’s been trapped in a bubble of artificial geodynamo for three decades, Earth’s more primal animals have thrived in the wild, mutating into the more interesting mixes we see today. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see future hybrid children?”

“You are suggesting that humanity may be able to withstand radiation when generationally exposed to the radiation,” the man says. It’s the most emotion he’d displayed today and even then, it isn’t much – one twitch of his dark eyebrow. “To prove such a point, the sacrifices will be innumerable and perhaps even futile, Dr. Shi.”

“Of course,” Shi Luo says with a resigned smile. “It is only theoretically plausible.”

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