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Authors: S.L. Dunn

Anthem's Fall

BOOK: Anthem's Fall
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Table of Contents
Part II Apotheosis
Chapter One
Kristen

I
t had its certain comforts and learned familiarities, but New York had never felt like home. The initial novelty of Manhattan and all of its cultural and architectural grandeur had long waned, and what she once regarded with wonder, she now felt only a moldering cynicism. These days Kristen Jordan considered the soaring edifices and crowding streets to be the material shape, the substance, behind the insatiable and thoughtless ambition of the modern. Nudging her straw against the melting ice cubes at the bottom of an empty vodka tonic, Kristen looked about the shabbily decorated and dimly lit college bar. Glowing neon beer signs and television screens hung on walls that enclosed a dozen booths and tables. A distinct smell of stale beer and hot wings hung in the air, yet the nearby conversations of fellow academics, exultant and self-assured, ignored this atrophy.

Kristen studied genetics at Columbia, and her brilliance was unrivaled. Sitting quietly and gazing across the young faces of the bar, Kristen wondered if she stood out among her outwardly preoccupied and self-satisfied peers, or if they too were all carrying unspoken anchors of anxiety and doubt. On some level, though, she knew her general restlessness was an unfortunate byproduct of her intellect, and not an affliction shared by the masses.

From across the table her fellow graduate student Steve Armstrong had started rambling over the loud rock music, his hand clutching a perspiring glass of beer. “My point is that there’s a difference between intelligence, or even consciousness for that matter, and
awareness
. They’re two entirely different phenomena that are always lumped into the same category. Don’t you think?”

Kristen Jordan groaned and rolled her eyes, which elicited a laugh out of another graduate student sitting beside her, Cara Williams.

“I don’t care, Steve,” Kristen said, her voice distracted and leaden. “I hardly think it’s a topic worthy of lengthy discussion. There’s no way of knowing for certain because that kind of technology doesn’t exist.”

“Are you kidding me?” Steve gulped his beer and glared at her, his words faintly slurred. The alcohol added a note of indignation to his tone. “You’re saying we shouldn’t consider how a new technology will operate?”

“Please not another booze-fueled theoretical science argument,” Cara said. Steve and Kristen ignored her.

“No,” Kristen said to Steve in her ever-composed manner. “I’m just saying this specific discussion is comparable to cavemen arguing whether a gas-powered or an electric-powered car is superior. It doesn’t
matter
—a hybrid won’t exist for thousands of years. You know? Yes, it’s a worthwhile topic, but not at the present, and certainly not while we’re out having drinks.”

“I take it this is the type of conversation I should start to get used to around the Columbia crowd?” Cara asked.

Kristen nodded with a begrudging smirk. “Honestly, and shamefully, yes, this is pretty much par for the course. Professor Vatruvia likes to handpick researchers who are big on ideas and less caught up in practicality. The result is a strange group of argumentative theorists.”

“And a staggeringly high ratio of undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome to boot,” Steve added. Kristen laughed.

“Well, however Professor Vatruvia chooses his people, it clearly produces results.” Cara said, leaning back as a waitress hurried by and plopped down a fresh basket of cheap chips and salsa. “I must say I’m a little intimidated to be working on the same research team that actually created the Vatruvian cell. Were you two working with Professor Vatruvia when he won the Nobel Prize?”

“I was,” Kristen said, gratification in her tone. Her gaze moved across the table with a satisfied expression. “Steve hadn’t joined us yet.”

Cara regarded Kristen’s youthful features with confusion. “Were you an undergraduate assistant?”

Steve chuckled, nearly spitting his beer. Nonplussed, Cara looked from him to Kristen. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to say something insulting. What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Kristen lifted a hand from the table and waved off Steve’s amusement. “It’s fine. I get that reaction a lot. No, I was on the
actual
research team when we invented the Vatruvian cell. I wasn’t an undergrad. I was head geneticist.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean offense. You just seem a little young, you know, to be halfway to your PhD.” Cara spoke with genuine surprise. “And I totally mean that as a compliment.”

Kristen blushed. She’d heard it all before, but this reaction to her age still made her uncomfortable.

“Kristen Jordan here is the resident teenager of the research team.” Steve spoke into his glass, taking some pleasure in Kristen’s embarrassment.

“Yeah, I’m really a teenager.” Kristen shook her drink, indicating the empty vodka tonic. “And I was overseeing the genetic sequencing for the Vatruvian cell while you were struggling to get accepted into graduate school and cheering your nerd friends through
World of Warcraft
.”

“Wow, that’s unbelievable. I had no idea you were that young,” Cara said.

Kristen cast a wan smile at the hardened glass rings engrained into the wood of the table. “I’m twenty-one.”

“If you hadn’t already noticed it about her, Kristen’s a genius who missed out on a childhood. It’s a shame really—overambitious mindset, overbearing parents, closet insecurities, the works.”

“And you have it all figured out, huh?” Kristen threw an ice cube at Steve, which missed its mark and fell to their feet under the table. She would not admit it, but her somewhat intoxicated coworker was not far from the mark.

Kristen was a biologist by degree, though she was well learned in several academic fields. Now in her third year of a doctorate program at Columbia, she had become the renowned Professor Vatruvia’s right-hand colleague, more of an associate than a student. Technically speaking she was the youngest researcher on the team, though at the same time Kristen was also a leader within the team’s ranks. She had been involved since the very beginning of the groundbreaking Columbia Vatruvian cell research project. No one could deny that—aside from Professor Vatruvia himself—Kristen knew more about the inner workings and nuances of the Vatruvian cell than anyone else on the research team, and therefore in the world.

Kristen’s looks were a common source of discussion among the male portion of the laboratory teams. She never wore any makeup, not seeing the use in such vanities. Yet try as she did to avoid accentuating her looks, her discreet beauty penetrated through. Even though they were usually concealed behind her glasses and dark bags from late nights spent looking over DNA codes, she had enthralling green eyes and graceful features. Her dirty blonde hair was often pulled back, revealing her exquisite cheekbones and the soft skin of her neck. With the slightest bit of effort, Kristen could have been called stunning. Most of her acquaintances would have classified her as gorgeous regardless—her lack of cosmetic efforts only providing an air of refinement to her often-overworked countenance.

“How is it possible that you’re so far along in your career at twenty-one?” Cara asked.

“Oh god,” Kristen sighed and shook her head. “I’d need another drink for that tale. It’s pretty unspectacular really. I graduated high school young because I skipped just about every other grade of elementary and middle school. I have my parents to thank for that one. Then I hurried off to MIT and graduated in two years. The next thing I knew, I was here at Columbia working with Professor Vatruvia. Basically the tone of my life has been a hurry with no clear purpose.”

“Wow . . . I thought you looked young for your age . . .” Cara trailed off. “MIT in two years . . . that’s unheard of.”

“Yep,” Kristen sighed, greatly desiring a change in subject. Her age had always been a touchy issue, having generally been the youngest individual in any given social situation since as long as she could remember.

After graduating from MIT at the top of her class, Kristen Jordan had been unsure which direction to take her career. She knew she wanted to continue in the field, though into which specific sector she could not say. Working for some faceless pharmaceutical company in a lucrative attempt to cure obesity or male pattern baldness seemed so mundane and fruitless. Medical school felt like a colossal waste of time and effort: to spend the majority of your days fixing people who were either unwilling or simply too lazy to fix themselves.

Graduate school seemed to be a logical progression, but in truth Kristen did not know how much more there was to learn from textbooks and lectures. Furthermore, graduate school was merely a mechanism by which to delay her inevitable career decisions. Kristen had been only eighteen years old, staring down the barrel of the settle-down-and-get-a-salary world, and she resented it deeply.

It was during this post graduation stagnation that Kristen received an unexpected email from a research professor at Columbia University, the renowned synthetic biologist Professor Nicoli Vatruvia. Professor Vatruvia had happened upon Kristen’s senior thesis in an open-access journal to which she had uploaded it on a whim. The basic idea of her paper had stated that the DNA double helix was the most elegant model for an information network. Kristen had proposed further research into modeling computer and mechanical databases after natural ones, such as genetic codes. Most scholars had read her thesis and quickly shrugged it off as interesting, though purely theoretical. Even Kristen had thought it was a little lofty and out there, but nevertheless she had supported her data and presented an interesting case. Her professor at the time had given her an A, with a comment scribbled in red pen,
Laudable work, with points defended appropriately, though ultimately impractical
.

BOOK: Anthem's Fall
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