Sneak peek at Anagama

Dear readers, I’m 99% of the way finished with Anagama– just one last pass, and then I can feel secure in it, and start the process of finding an agent to represent it. I have thought about self-publishing and if finding an agent proves to be impossible, I’ll go that route. I already have a few short stories on Smashwords (here, at bottom of page), some of which I am very fond of, that are self-published, as well as a novel (here). The main reason I don’t want to go this route again is that I am not fond of marketing my work and no one will see it unless I do, or unless I hand that off to someone else (the publisher, for the most part, though I know if I do get a contract I will have to promote my book as best as I can).

Here is a sneak peek at the first chapter. If you like it, send me a note at cloaked.diamond@gmail.com.

Chapter One

She ducked out of her lab for a moment to take a sip of coffee from her travel mug, since food and drink were forbidden inside the lab. In order to do this she had to first take off her protective gloves, safety glasses, mask, and lab coat. Under all the protective gear she was just another middle-aged woman, long dark hair streaked with silver and twisted up into a bun, slightly overweight and soft from spending long hours sitting in front of a computer or laminar flow hood.

Two armed, helmeted figures in black security gear rounded a corner at the end of the hall, one on each end of a white stretcher. A slender figure lay trussed up on the stretcher, barely conscious, moaning. She noticed blood on his—his? It was difficult to tell, but the lines of his ashen face she thought the figure might be male—temple, under short dark hair, more blood coming from the neck. The towels put on his neck to stop the bleeding were soaked in blood.  The rest of him was hidden under cords and a pale blue sheet.  From his bare shoulders, she surmised he was naked—perhaps stolen from bed.

The stretcher moved past and Beatrice, standing in the hall with her coffee, pretended not to be interested in the figure on the stretcher.

She closed her eyes and pushed.

Are you there? She asked, silently, listening intently as the guards and the figure moved down the hall. Can you hear me? Think your name.

I’m cold, was all she heard, indistinctly; she took a sip of coffee, and then—

LET ME GO LET ME GO LET ME GO

Beatrice started and nearly dropped her coffee; she slammed her mental gates shut just as a loud, screeching wail emanated from down the hall, in the direction the guards had taken.

“LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET—”

There was a crash, sounds of a scuffle, wordless cries, and finally, a thud.

Beatrice set her coffee down on the small table by the lab door that was situated there just for that purpose. Her hands shook slightly.

“Beatrice!”

She turned, saw her supervisor. He wore suit pants, a pressed shirt, a black and white tie which, when examined closely, was a repeating tiled pattern of the Zurvan Corporation’s black octopus logo. Beatrice had looked closely at it hundreds of times.

“How’s the run doing? Specimen 5-15?”

Beatrice blinked.

“The run will be ready in one hour,” she lied. The run would be ready in fifteen minutes. However, her customized script which she had set to alter the run statistics would take forty-five minutes. “I can send you statistics after that.”

“Good, good,” Phil Knight said, stuffing his hands into his pockets and jingling some change. He looked toward a wall.

That one may be particularly valuable, she heard him think.

“I don’t need to tell you that the more mutants we uncover, the better it is for Zurvan, and for the stability of your job?”

Beatrice smiled back at him. “The run says what the run says. I don’t alter the data,” she lied, and thought back to the boy they called Specimen 5-15.

She remembered drawing blood specimens from him. His eyes had been bloodshot and he had been able to hear her.  Luckily, he had not given this away.

Where am I? he had asked. Where is my family? What do they want with me?

She had collected his blood into a vial and put a cotton ball on the wound, then a bandage.

They don’t think you’re human, she told him, and his eyes had widened.

Shhh, she said. Don’t react. I will make sure the data shows you are human. They will give you back to your family. But move, after—make sure you move, and make sure no one knows you can heal so quickly. Try to keep it a secret. 

He had simply looked at her. Why are there people locked up here? What did we do?

You didn’t do anything, she said, taking an inordinate amount of time to write the boy’s specimen number on her labels. It’s your DNA. They think you have DNA different enough to make you not-human.

The boy started to cry. Beatrice put down her blood sample vials, reached instinctively toward him to give comfort.

The black barrel of a tranquilizer gun appeared between them.

“What are you doing, Dr. Holloway?” The guard’s voice was female. She still wore her helmet here, inside this room they had caged the boy in, as was regulation.  “You know the rules.”

Beatrice smoothed over a scowl and an angry reply, and instead reached for a box of tissues from her medical kit, handed one to the boy. He took it, did not look at her.

I will make sure they let you go, she said. I promise.

My stomach hurts, the boy said. I’m hungry.

I will make sure they feed you, she said.

“How long has it been since he’s been fed?” she asked.

The guard shrugged.

“He’s young, make sure he gets enough food and rest,” she said. “After all, we don’t know that he isn’t human yet. We could have a lawsuit on our hands. Bad publicity.”

The guard shrugged again. Both of them knew no one who wound up in these cells came from financial wealth able to take on Zurvan Corporation.

The captive boy, sitting on his thinly padded cot, seemed to shrink in on himself, and Beatrice felt him withdraw. 

She bit her lip, then collected her things, and stood, blood sample vial in hand.

“Feed him,” she said, trying to not seem very interested in whether they did or not, and hoped for the best.

She would spend the next few hours preparing the blood sample for sequencing and running it through the sequencer, and the data through her custom scripts—scripts she had quietly set in advance to make the percentage similarity of the boy’s DNA to standard human DNA rise above the cherished 99.5% cutoff. She could do this for the normal-looking mutants they brought in without raising too much suspicion.

Coming back to herself in the hallway, she watched her supervisor’s smooth, handsome face, listened without moving a muscle.

“You’re always in the lab, Bea,” he said, jovially. “Maybe we should hire you an assistant.”

God, woman, you look like shit.

Beatrice smiled.  She hated being called Bea.

“It’s just that I love my job,” she replied. “The workload is not that much. I’d prefer to be the one doing this work, and I like to work alone.”

Suit yourself.

“That’s the spirit,” Knight said. He clapped her on the shoulder.

Does the work of three people, for one salary. Cost too much to replace her, she heard him say to himself. What a chump.

“Keep up the good work,” he said, tossing the words over his shoulder as he sauntered down the hall, no doubt to look at Zurvan’s latest acquisition.

Beatrice ducked her head so the cameras couldn’t see her expression, then ducked back into her laboratory, pulled on her protective gear. It was as much there to protect her equipment and reagents from her own DNA as it was to protect her from harm.

Beatrice thought of her own DNA. Her DNA that was only 99.2% similar to human normal—DNA which, if she hadn’t altered her own sequence data files, would peg her as nonhuman, with the same lack of rights as the poor souls kidnapped and locked up by Zurvan, just down the hall.

She checked that the sequencer was running, checked that her software was encrypting the raw data files as each was written. She checked that the files being uploaded to company cloud storage were the faked ones which would give Specimen 5-15 freedom again. Beatrice hated that she hadn’t asked him his name.  She checked that her own private cache of files on Zurvan was there, and that her scripts were adding to this pile as they were supposed to, without interference.  Every other day she synced this cache with the one on a data cube she kept on her person. Someday, she hoped, the files would be useful in bringing Zurvan to its knees.

Beyond the heavy door to her laboratory, she thought she heard someone screaming again.

Beatrice walked over to the lab computer, set it to play soothing jazz music. She started tidying up her lab bench, moving boxes of pipet tips to one side, closing boxes of microcentrifuge tubes, wiping down the bench surface with 70% ethanol to clean it. She knew it was only a matter of time before blood from this new acquisition wound up on her lab bench—and she would be ready for it, she would be waiting. It meant another evening spent in the laboratory instead of at home, but she didn’t mind.

What was waiting for her at home, anyway? An empty apartment, seeming to echo with the ticking of the grandfather clock she had inherited from her parents; the small comforts of a glass of wine and a book with dinner. But no other living soul, no pets, not even a potted plant. She needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She lived with a packed bag ready to go in her closet, her account information carried with her on data cubes she kept concealed in a keyring, she had her personal cloud storage encrypted.

Her lab computer pinged. She walked over to it.

The new one’s retroviral, the screen read. Give me the run reports on 5-15 tomorrow morning. If the new one makes it through the night, you might have to get ready to sequence once the infection clears. It’s already showing signs of great strength and altered musculature—I think we have a winner here!

Beatrice pursed her lips. There was no way she could save him if he were undergoing genetic change after a retroviral infection. Even if he had been human prior to the infection, afterward he was almost guaranteed, with the bad viruses, to have experienced enough mutation to make him either nonhuman-looking or dead. Or both.

She thought of walking down to Specimen 5-15’s cell and trying to speak to him one more time, but expressing too much interest in the acquisitions would bring too much attention to herself, and might lead to the uncovering of her work. Best to leave him be, and hope someone had fed him, at least.

As for the new specimen, Beatrice felt with a sinking heart that he was doomed—most retroviral infections led to abnormalities that were fatal. It would be fine for Zurvan—they could learn things from the genes that could lead to medical breakthroughs and new therapies—but not so fine for the poor man they had picked up somewhere.

As she stripped off her protective gear on her way out of the lab, she silently pushed toward Specimen 5-15 and the new man they had just brought in, so new he did not yet have a specimen label.

Please be at peace, she thought, pushing out as hard as she could.

Nothing in response.

Beatrice made her way to her locker, collected her coat and purse, made her way out the staff entrance side door. Every doorway she passed through required her to swipe her keycard, white with the black Zurvan logo on it. Every doorway she passed through, getting closer to the outside world, felt like the lifting of a noose from around her neck. She finally drove her small electric car away from the Zurvan parking lot, finally was out of reach of the cameras for good. Her keyring, nestled in her jeans pocket, pressed into her thigh. It was innocuous, featuring cartoon characters popular in the 2000s (a white dog carrying a martini glass, a baby with a football-shaped head).

She drove silently. The news story on the radio was about the Humane Treatment Party, a fringe element with no resources and the best of intentions. They wanted to change the global legislation that made it legal for Zurvan to kidnap and incarcerate humanoids with a less than 99.5% genomic DNA match to human normal, basing this on legislation commonly found on some the outlying planetary colonies. Beatrice actually agreed with them, but did not do a thing to support them in her personal life because she knew if this were discovered, she would be investigated.

Halfway home, she stopped at a red light. She exhaled. The news was now about stock prices. Zurvan stock was up thanks to its invention of a genetic therapy for treating Parkinson’s.  Beatrice remembered hearing gossip about this in the cafeteria—the gene therapy idea had been sparked by a mutation found in a retroviral victim. Someone had died, incarcerated, and Zurvan had turned this into profit.

“Fuckers,” she spat. Then she grinned, toothily.

“One day you will slip up, and I will get you. Fuckers.”

The light turned green, and, smoothing her expression, Beatrice continued her drive home.