W.O.M.A.N.

State: Massachusetts

Date: 09/23/16

Fan (fiction) topic: Women by Sheila Rae

“Wonderful organism must adapt now. Or woman for short,” Dr. Clarissa Steinburg explained to the three interns.

One laughed, one smirked, and one showed no expression at all.

“Two of you are here because you graduated at the top of your class in your respective field. One of you is here because someone pulled some strings, but that is of no matter since only one of you will be offered a position. Now, introduce yourselves. Because I have no idea who you are, since I didn’t choose you,” Dr. Clarissa said disdainfully.

The one who laughed offered her hand to Dr. Steinburg, “Annitta Prescott.”

Instead of shaking her hand, Dr. Steinburg replied “And?”

“And wot?” Annitta said looking confused.

“What are your credentials? Your name means nothing to me.”

Annitta dropped her hand to her side, her smile gone, and said “Oh, Oxford. Bachelors in biology and chemistry. Masters in genetics and organic engineering.”

The other two studied her while she talked about her work in the field and other notable internships. Annitta looked more like an African princess than a brilliant scientist. Her ebony skin seemed to glow and her green eyes seemed to shine as she talked about her passion for science.

“I also interned with Dr. Nelson during his stem cell resear…”

“Dr. Nelson is an pompous ass. Next! You!” Dr. Steinburg interrupted and pointed at the homely looking girl.

“Ssshh…Sheila Rae,” she said looking like a deer caught in headlights.

Dr. Steinburg gave a frustrated look and eye roll when Sheila said nothing else.

“And?!”

“Oh right! Well I stud…”

“Never mind! You. Go!”

“Jack Flint. FSU. B.S. Molecular and Wildlife Biology. M.S. same two and genetic engineering,” the tall fit blond said.

“FSU…they sent me someone from a state university……..” Dr. Steinburg took her index and thumb to her eyes and grimaced.

“Fine…that’s just fine. We will separate the women from the…” Dr. Steinburg paused looking directly at Jack “girls soon enough.” Familiarize yourself with the equipment and these,” she said throwing three thick manila envelopes on her desk. Each had one of their names on it.

“We start tomorrow,” she said leaving in an angry rush

The three looked at each other and grabbed their respective envelopes.

“Well, this is gonna be interesting,” Annitta said.

Sheila gave a slight laugh. Jack was busy opening and going over his information package.

The other two did likewise. Jack left without saying anything to the other two.

“Well, he must be confident. He barely skimmed the info and didn’t even look at the equipment,” Annitta said.

“I’ve heard of him. He has an eidetic memory. Could have gone to any school in the country, but chose Florida State for some unknown reason,” Sheila said.

“He’ll be tough to beat. Not sure about you though. Steinburg cut you off to quickly, but I’m sure you’re here for a reason too. Oh! I forgot to introduce myself. Annitta Prescot,” Annitta said offering her hand to Sheila.

“Sheila Rae,” she said shaking Annita’s hand.

“May the best girl win,” she said and laughed. Sheila joined in and then they set about going over their information packets and checking out the equipment.

***

The next day the three met Dr. Steinburg in the lab.

They stood in silence for a few minutes while Dr. Steinburg stared at her computer screen.

Jack coughed to get her attention.

Steinburg frowned at him and said “Alright, let’s get on with it then. As I explained yesterday the nanites have nearly infinite possibilities. However, biologically programming them is the tricky part. You will each be given a sample of  “w.o.m.a.n” to program as you see fit. The most viable project gets the job. You have one month,” she said and waved her hand indicating to them to get to work and away from her.

That night the three sat down for dinner in the cafeteria.

“So would you guys like to cross reference so we aren’t doing the same project?” Annitta said.

“Good idea,” Sheila said.

Jack shrugged.

“Alright, I’m going to try to program mine to eliminate cancerous growths,” Annitta said.

“Great id..” Sheila started to say, but was cut off by Jack’s laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Annitta said.

“Your project. Going to cure cancer, eh? In one month?”

“I said I was going to try. Steinburg said the most viable. If it even partially works, you two have no chance against me. How about you?” Annitta said.

“Biological immunity from all disease,” Jack said smirking.

This time Annitta laughed “Now look who’s dreaming.”

“They are both good ideas,” Sheila said causing the other two to look at her.

“Alright, how about you Sheila? What’s your project?” Annitta asked.

“I was thinking about the acronym. Specifically, the adapt part. I’m going to see if I can program them to adapt to changing situations and to protect the host at all times,” Sheila said.

“Interesting,” Jack said.

“Definitely, outside the box, but a bit vague. You might want to get more specific for Steinburg,” Annitta said.

“…yeah, you’re probably right,” Sheila said disheartened.

“Well, I’m going to turn in loves. Tomorrow the competition really begins,” Annitta said and got up from the table with her tray.

“Goodnight Annitta,” Sheila said as Annitta walked away.

“Don’t let her get under your skin. Your idea just shook her unoriginal one,” Jack said.

Sheila looked at him surprised.

“I like it. You’re basically trying to create the perfect biological organism,” Jack said.

“More or less,” Sheila smiled.

“I wonder…would you be interested in a side project?” Jack asked.

“What do you mean?” Sheila asked looking confused.

“The perfect biological organism would be immune to all disease right?” Jack said.

“You want to combined your project with mine?” Sheila asked.

“On the side. Call it a backup plan, if one or both of our projects fail to impress. Because while Annitta’s project is unoriginal, it does have potential,” Jack said.

“So do ours…lets do it!” Sheila said and smiled.

***

Excitement filled the air as the three were given their samples of w.o.m.a.n. Jack was the first to have a breakthrough in his project, but didn’t say anything. Sheila made steady progress and a few days after Jack’s, she had a breakthrough of her own.

Annitta’s project was progressing slowly with very little viability. Nothing seemed to be working. She watched the other two, who although worked on their own projects, seemed overly friendly. It was painfully obvious that Sheila was head over heels for Jack. However, Jack was hard to read. One thing was certain though, they were winning.

Two and a half weeks in Annitta casually asked at lunch “So how are you lot coming on your projects?”

“Great! I just had another breakthrough! A few samples of my nanites adapted to changing temperatures and of that group, the animal trials are showing potential!”

“Congratulations Sheila,” Annitta said without showing how much she hated this pock-faced ratty haired girl.

“Thank you. How about your project?” Sheila asked.

“It’s going very well. Viability is rising with each day,” Annitta lied.

“Is that so?” Jack said.

“Yes…” Annitta said annoyed.

“Awful lot of dead mice,” Jack said with a smirk.

“Progress requires sacrifice,” Annitta said furious.

“Well, if your cure doesn’t pan out, you’ve got a surefire bioweapon,” Jack said.

“How about you hotshot!? How is your cure-all coming along!?”

“It’s going very well. Viability is rising with each day,” Jack said.

Annitta was visibly shaking she was so angry and then stopped and said “I can’t wait to wipe that smirk off of your face.”

“That’s impossible. I’m a very happy man,” Jack said and laughed as Annitta stormed off getting looks from other scientists in the cafeteria from her outburst.

“Jack….that wasn’t nice,” Sheila said.

“She has nothing Sheila. It’s between me and you,” Jack said.

“You don’t know that. You haven’t seen her data,” Sheila said.

“I don’t need to see her data to see that she has nothing. Think about what you’ve seen Sheila. Bags and bags of dead mice, empty cages, and how Dr. Steinburg barely pays any attention to her project.”

Sheila knew how right Jack was. Dr. Steinburg hadn’t given Annitta the time of day, but had been frequently asking about how her project was coming along in an almost friendly way. Sheila smiled realizing that Dr. Steinburg respected her now.

“See. You know I’m right,” Jack said smiling himself.

“Even if you are…”

“What about the side project?” Jack finished.

“Yeah…”

“Be a shame not to continue something with such promise,” Jack said and smiled.

Sheila smiled and said “Do you think we should tell Steinburg about it?”

“No, not yet. Let’s continue with our projects until the last week and then see if combination is even possible.”

“Yeah, good idea. That way if it works we…”

“can change the world,” Sheila thought. This wasn’t just a competition for a job anymore. They had something that could reshape human existence.

Jack smiled as if reading her mind “And if it doesn’t we can go by our own merits. Although, Steinburg would be a fool not to take both of us.”

Sheila’s smile lit up her face.

***

Annitta subverted the security cameras that night and snuck into the lab. She went over to Sheila’s project first and looked over her data.

“This…is impossible!” Annitta thought and then glanced toward Jack’s section.

When she went over his data, she knew what she had to do.

***

The next day when they arrived in the lab, Dr. Steinburg was waiting for them.

“I have some rather interesting news for you three. The facility is on lockdown,” she said.

“Why? What happened?” Annitta asked with her heart skipping a beat.

“Apparently, some samples of w.o.m.a.n. are missing. Specifically, samples from two of your projects. Would any of you care to explain?”

Jack sighed “I can account for them.”

“Well, where are they?!”

“Right here,” Jack said pulling a small vial from his pocket.

“Where is the other?”

“They’re both right here. Sheila and I have been working on a side project. A combination of both of ours.”

“Is that so?” Dr. Steinburg said looking at Sheila.

“Yes…” Sheila said looking away and feeling like she had been caught doing something wrong.

Dr. Steinburg actually smiled and said “From now on, you keep all samples in the lab. Is that understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jack and Sheila said in unison.

“Ok then, get to work.”

While they headed to their work stations in the lab, Sheila said: “I thought we were going to wait on the attempt at combination.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Jack said smiling.

“Why are you smiling?” Sheila said with her heart beating faster.

“It worked Sheila.”

Sheila’s eyes grew as wide as her smile “Are you serious?!”

“Yeah, have a look for…” Jack was cut off by Sheila kissing him.

Jack laughed and Dr. Steinburg who had been watching smiled. Annitta who had also been watching also smiled, but something was different about hers.

“Wonder what you’ll do when you see the data,” Jack said still smiling.

Sheila was blushing hard from the spontaneous moment.

“Let’s take a look,” Sheila said.

As soon as Sheila turned on the computer it set off a micro E.M.P. that wiped out all of the data on both her and Jack’s computers.

The screens flashed like they were turning on, but then went dead.

“I think something is wrong with my computer,” Sheila said.

“Here, we can use mine,” Jack said trying to start-up his computer.

Jack then glanced at Annitta who seemed occupied with her on project.

“Mine’s not working either…Hey Annitta, is your computer working?”

Annitta turned on her swivel chair and said “Yup. Something wrong with yours love?”

“Hmm…that’s odd. Neither of ours is working and yet yours is working fine.”

“Want me to take a look? I minored in computer science,” Annitta said.

“I bet you did. No thank you. We’ll just get some laptops. Luckily, I backed up all our data on flash drives.”

There was a slight twitch in Annitta’s smile before she said “That was fortunate. Well if you need any help, just let me know.”

Jack went to Dr. Steinburg and informed her of the computer situation and got some new laptops to continue.

“Jack…I didn’t back mine up…” Sheila said with her eyes watering.

“Like I said, I backed up all OUR data on flash drives.”

Sheila gave Jack a look of gratitude followed by confusion and said “You…had my data too?”

“For the side project yes. I’m sorry I took it without asking, but I had to know if it would work.”

“It’s ok…just no more secrets,” Sheila said.

“Ok, I promise. Now want to see what I’ve been up too?” Jack said plugging in the flash drive.

“Do you really think she’s the one who did it?” Sheila whispered.

“Without a doubt….but honestly it was a stupid attempt. Even if all of our data was lost, we still have the nanites and can just get more data…” Jack stopped typing his login password and glanced at Annitta who was pipetting some nanites into vials for more trials.

“Sheila…check your nanites,” Jack said heading over to his own.

“Why, what’s wrong Jack?” Sheila said.

“Just check’em.”

Sheila opened the container that held her nanites and pipetted a small sample onto a glass slide then put it under a microscope. They were all dead.

“Wha…”

“Are yours too?” Jack asked.

“What happened?” Sheila asked with her eyes watering again.

“…she did,” Jack said nodding toward Annitta who happened to turn and smile at them right at that moment.

“She…she can’t get away with this,” Sheila said on the verge of breaking down.

“She won’t because there is one thing she didn’t count on.”

“What’s that?”

“That we would combined our projects. We still have a viable sample, albeit a small one,” Jack said bringing out the vial of combined nanites.

Sheila’s smile was something more that gratitude.

“You ready to win this thing and take that bitch down?” Jack asked.

“…yeah!” Sheila said.

***

The last week Sheila and Jack didn’t leave the lab except for food and to go to the restroom and then only one of them went at a time. During the third night, while waiting for the data to process, Sheila asked “Jack…”

“Yeah?” he answered with a half awake stare.

“Why did you go to Florida state?”

Light came back into Jack’s eyes and he said “It was a good school.”

“You could have gone anywhere though. Why did you stay and go there?”

Jack sighed “My mom…she was sick.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. You actually kind of remind me of her.”

“How so?”

“She was brilliant and kind.”

Sheila smiled “Tell me more about her.”

“She continually pushed for me to go to Harvard or Yale or some other ivy league school. I told her I wouldn’t be caught dead walking the halls with people who think they’re better than you just because their daddy is rich or mommy’s a senator.”

Sheila laughed.

“That reminds me. We never got to hear your about your credentials.”

Sheila grinned “Well I got my Bachelors in organic chemistry and cell biology. My masters were in organic engineering and genetics.”

“Nice, where did you go to school?”

“…Harvard…” Sheila said and snorted into laughter and was joined by Jack.

“So why did you want to go into this field?”

“I wanted to make a difference.”

“Ok, how about the non Miss USA answer,” Jack said.

Sheila smiled “When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with progeria. Specifically, Werner’s syndrome. I dedicated myself to learning all I could about the disease and swore I wouldn’t let it stop me from living my life. So I guess you could say the diagnosis lead me to my field…to…”

“Make a difference,” Jack finished.

“Yup,” Sheila said.

“I can’t believe I didn’t see it,” Jack said.

“See what?”

“Werner’s…that’s what my mom had.”

The computer signaled that it was done processing the data.

“Well…it’s time to make her proud,” Sheila said indicating the computer.

***

 The final day Dr. Steinburg allowed the three to explain their findings and project viability. Annitta went first.

“…and to conclude, the nanites have shown a 100% viability in removing cancerous growths.”

Sheila felt a tightness in her chest.

“Remarkable…you’re saying that you have in effect, cured cancer,” Dr. Steinburg said.

“Perhaps more than that. I believe that they can be applied to many other diseases as well.”

“You bitch!”

Every eye turned toward Jack.

“Something’s wrong,” Sheila thought feeling her heart beat irregularly.

“Now there is no doubt in my mind. Not only did you sabotage our projects, but now you’re trying to steal them!”

“I have no idea what you are talking about. I worked just as hard on my project as you two.”

“How about we examine the nanites?! Let’s see if they are different in any way!”

“Yes, lets!” Annitta said knowing that the only nanites Jack and Sheila had would be different since they had to combined theirs, especially since she only used Jack’s nanites to replace hers.

“There is no need. It is clear one of you is lying,” Dr. Steinburg said.

“Jack…” Sheila tried to say but the word never left her mouth and she fell to the floor.

“Sheila!?” Jack said rushing to her side.

“Move!” Dr. Steinburg came up beside them and felt for a pulse.

“No pulse. Starting compressions. Jack breath when I tell you. Annitta call an ambulance.”

For 15 minutes they worked on her, but there was nothing.

“Where the hell’s the ambulance!” Jack cried.

“Jack…she’s gone.”

“….like hell she is!” Jack said getting up and grabbing a syringe and filling it with their nanites.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Dr. Steinburg asked.

“I’m not letting this happen again!” Jack said and injected the needle into Sheila.

The minutes ticked by slowly and the ambulance finally arrived.

***

The morning light woke her up in an unfamiliar room. She noticed the heart rate monitor and the attachment on her finger. Then she saw Jack asleep in the chair beside her bed.

“Jack?” she asked.

Jack stirred and said “Hey, you’re finally awake.”

“What do you mean finally? How long was I out?”

“Three days.”

“Jack…what happened?”

“At first heart failure and then we started CPR.”

“We?”

“Me and Dr. Steinburg…but it didn’t work Sheila.”

“What do you mean?”

“You were dead…”

After pausing to take that information in, Sheila asked “So how am I here?”

“Lets just say our project started human trials early,” Jack said.

“What?!”

“On the plus side it worked,” Jack said with his eyes watering and hugged Sheila.

“Thank you,” she said hugging him back.

“Now…you need to look in the mirror,” Jack said.

“Why?”

“Trust me,” Jack said and helped her to the bathroom even though she didn’t need help.

When Sheila looked in the mirror, she barely recognized herself. Her hair was thick and vibrant where it had been thinning and graying (a symptom of Werners). Her skin was smooth without any pockmarks or scars to be found. Then she noticed her teeth. Where she had a crown and metal fillings, they were now solid and perfect.

***

Back at the lab, Sheila was welcomed by many of the staff that she had never even spoken too.

“Good to have you back Miss Rae,” Dr. Steinburg said.

“Thank you Dr. Steinburg. It’s good to be back.”

Annitta was the only one not present.

“Where’s Annitta?”

“Miss Prescott was removed from the premises because of her disgusting behavior.”

“But how did you know she was lying?”

“I was about to confront her when you fell. You see she only knew about the obvious lab cameras and looped those security tapes. However, do you really think in a secure facility such as this that they were the only cameras we had? And going to a single server?”

Sheila looked dumbstruck and then smiled.

“Now are you ready to get to work?”

“You mean we got the job?!”

“Well, I couldn’t overlook a project that brings people back from the dead. Now, that you’re awake, I believe we should get to work. We are going to need a blood sample,” Dr. Steinburg said.

“Huh?…Oh, right. I guess I’ve become the project,” Shelia said and laughed.

***

01/19/2052

Final Journal Entry

“I fully believe that when the needle touched my arm that day, the world ended. I mean it makes sense. The nanites were programmed to protect me (the host) at all times. We just didn’t count on them mutating…no that’s not right. Evolving…that sounds right. How could we have known they would dramatically replicate and become airborne? How could we have known that they would take the simple act of a blood sample as an attack? But none of that matters now…

I mean it does…

I just don’t understand it. Instead of killing the outside threats to the host…it made more hosts. Why the hell would it change everyone into a copy of me?!

…I miss Jack.

I honestly don’t know why I’m writing this. No one but “me” will ever see it *laughs*. Nevertheless, I will continue to work on trying to rid the world of myself…ves. One day I will see the world more diverse again, I’m sure of it. I’ve got nothing but time to work, since I cannot die…they won’t let me.”

The End

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