The LazTech tower in Collswell City was located at the edge of the industrial district, directly across from their factory, which still operated in the city, unlike many of the other businesses which had moved manufacturing overseas in the last few decades. Tinker-owned corporations tended to behave differently than those run by baseline humans, and Lazarus Technology was no exception. Dr. Mind shifted the cloth-wrapped bundle under his arm to a more comfortable position eying the dark metahuman-resistant concrete.
Lazarus had somehow managed to construct an entire building out of the substance of his own design. Mind couldn’t help but be impressed -and a bit jealous. He was living in a warehouse. He had to stop for a moment to remind himself why he did what he did. If he guarded his patents and forced hospitals to pay market price for his inventions, they wouldn’t help anyone but the hyper-elite. He walked through the automatic doors into the sparkling lobby. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of ozone in the air.
“Welcome to Lazarus Technology Incorporated,” said a cheery holographic receptionist who appeared hovering before him in the lobby. “How may I help you?”
“I would like to speak to Dr. Lazarus,” Mind said. The holograph crackled as it moved, producing a stronger ozone smell.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Lazarus is not available at this time. Would you like to schedule an appointment?”
Dr. Mind waved his hand dismissively at the projection and walked towards the elevators at the back of the lobby. It remained in front of him, matching his speed. “Just patch me through to Rena, will you? It’s Dr. Mind.”
The hologram flickered and was replaced with a youthful woman with hair that seemed to spiral and float around her head, defying physics and reason. She sat in a strange high-tech chair that conformed to her body which had also been captured by whatever was recording her to project her hologram. “Dr. Mind?” she said with her high, somewhat nasal voice. “What are you doin’ here?”
“I need to talk to Lazarus,” he said. “And I brought a present.” He tugged the cloth off a corner of the plate of white ceramic he’d harvested from the Cherubim he’d dissected at his lab, when he’d still had a lab.
“Ooh, you know him,” she said, leaning in closer. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open without a sound.
The g-forces from the elevator’s acceleration almost made Dr. Mind drop the ceramic plate. Not one of the new inertialess ones designed by Dr. Ives and his team. His knees complained from the added force, until all at once, he was almost weightless for a moment and the elevator slid to a stop.
The doors opened to reveal a mad scientist’s playground. While the middle floors were reserved for actual R&D, the top floor was designated for Dr. Lazarus’ mad experiments. That was the problem with Tinker-owned corporations. Tinkers weren’t reliable. Hordes and hordes of toiling beaker-breakers, however, were.
Dr. Lazarus, PhD of material chemistry, material science, chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, biochemistry, chemistry, and civil engineering. If he ever branched out into biomedical, Mind was sure he could compete with Dr. Chlora, but of course that was not where his specialty lay. Lazarus’s name referred not to resurrection of any sort, except symbolically. He manifested his abilities when a building collapsed above him during the Rose of Thorns event in 2000, trapping him in a basement. He’d been stuck for four days, living off a broken water pipe, when he’d gained an intuitive understanding of the properties of the materials that made up the building, and managed to move just enough rubble to squeeze through before the basement collapsed.
As with most powerful tinkers, most patents with his name on them weren’t credited solely to him, but to the hordes of apprentices and interns that flock to tinkers of his influence. The same way Atlas, who originally designed specialized exercise equipment for the ultra-strong, turned into one of the premier weapons manufacturers in the world.
Rena sat at her desk to the left of the elevator, eying Dr. Mind as he entered. Her hair drifted around her as she turned her head. She flicked a bobblehead of Dr. Lazarus on her desk when he walked past.
“Mind!” shouted a hoarse voice from the lab. “Get that fine brain of yours in here.”
Dr. Mind exited entry room into the lab proper. Lazarus’ lab was stocked with a plethora of exotic equipment which Dr. Mind, intelligent as he was, couldn’t even guess at the purpose of. A sign next to a door on one wall read “Warning, massive spectrometer.”
Plastered across another wall was a huge table of periodic elements that extended well beyond the standard 118 elements taught in grade schools. Included were such gems as Lazarium, Odinium (just below Thorium, of course), Picardium, Picassium, Eulerium, Euclidium, and, confusingly, Platonium. Each named after someone Lazarus thought deserved an island of stability named after them, starting, of course, with himself. Beyond those were a series of square whiteboards in case he came up with another name and wanted to scribble it down. Currently the first three candidates read “Cranium,” “Delirium,” and “Paramecium.”
Dr. Lazarus. The mind of a genius and the heart of a child.
The tinker was standing in front of a microscope which filled the entire space between the floor and ceiling- not using it, just leaning against it. Dr. Mind cringed at seeing him treating the multi-million dollar piece of equipment like a fencepost. A crop of short brown hair stood up at odd angles from his head- in a few decades, he would sport a magnificent mad science mane.
“Watch this!” Lazarus dropped the small metal sphere he was holding and it bounced off the concrete floor with a sharp clink, rising to exactly the height he dropped it from. It continued to bounce, bounce height staying exactly the same, ticking like a metronome. Dr. Lazarus lowered his face so the ball would be level with his eyes. “Wow!” he said like a kid with a new toy, though his rough voice made it a bit off-putting.
“Weren’t you supposed to be working on some kind of passive invisibility metamaterial?” asked Dr. Mind, resting the bundle on a countertop. “There was an article and everything.”
“Yeah, I finished that like, a year ago,” said Lazarus, waving a hand dismissively at a corner of the lab marked off with yellow tape.
“What?” shouted Rena from the entryway. She stormed into the lab, hair dragging behind her like a contrail. “Where is it?”
Lazarus kept his arm up and pointed towards the rectangle of yellow tape, and Rena stomped through the lab, muttering profanities under her breath.
“I brought you something,” Dr. Mind said, rapping a fist on the ceramic plate he’d brought with him. “Got it from one of Metatron’s robots.”
“Ooh!” Lazarus forgot about the bouncing metal sphere and raced over to inspect the plate of hardened ceramic Dr. Mind had brought with him. He unwrapped the cloth with fervor usually reserved for christmas morning or birthdays. He lifted the plate into the air and held it over his head, squinting at it.
“Wow! Somebody managed to make a stable crystalline alloy of… what is this, goethite?”
Dr. Mind leaned in to get a closer look at it. “Impossible,” he said, surprised “It’s the wrong color and too light to be goethite.”
“No.. nanofilaments? Golly.” He lowered the white armor plate and carried it over to the periodic table on the wall. “How’d ‘ya get this?”
“I tried using a chisel at first,” he said, dodging the obvious question of how he’d gotten the Cherubim in the first place. “Eventually had to bring in a metahuman.”
“Makes sense. Was wondering what made these cuts. They clean. My laser don’t cut this clean, even if it could cut this.” He spun and hurled the plate like a discus across the room.
“Jesus shit!” screamed Rena as she dived for the floor, dropping her armload of invisible metamaterials in the process.
The plate hit the wall with a dull thump and dropped to the floor. Rena continued to curse as she stood back up.
“Wow! That’s light! Lazarus exclaimed, then added, “Sorry.”
“Where is it?” she said, searching the floor with frantic energy. “Shit. I dropped it.”
“Throw sand on it,” Lazarus suggested. “Ooh, or paperclips. I think it’s magnetic.”
“Uncle Sam’s gonna love that. I don’t know why I work for you sometimes,” Rena muttered as she swept the floor with her hands.
“It’s ’cause you crave my smokin’ hot nerd bod,” Lazarus said, and snapped a pair of finger-guns at her. “I’m a rockstar, baby.”
“Chicks dig the labcoat,” she snarked back. “Not that you care.”
“To be fair, you volunteered.” Dr. Lazarus turned back to Dr. Mind. “So, what do you want? You wouldn’ta brought me that if you didn’t need something in exchange.”
“Honestly, I just wanted that somewhere it’ll do good. Since I lost my lab to bureaucracy-”
“A shame, that,” interrupted Lazarus. “Hey, if you want a job…”
“Thanks, Laz, but I don’t want a new job just yet,” Dr. Mind couldn’t help but feel bitter at the irony. “I have a few things to wrap up first. Speaking of which-”
“I knew it! Whatcha need?”
“Let him talk,” said Rena as she gathered up the last of the metamaterial.
“Yes, fine, talk,” said Lazarus, eyes lasered in on Dr. Mind.
“I had a few questions about the metahuman screening process your company’s been working on.”
“Oh! Yeah, it’s been having some problems. It always comes up positive, and we have no idea why. Here. I’ll show you.”
Dr. Lazarus took off across the lab at a fast walk, and Dr. Mind had to move quickly to catch up. They rode the elevator down a few floors and entered into another, much more orderly lab. The room was completely vacant of people, though evidence of partially-completed work was clear throughout the room.
“We have a stack of the results from all our tests over here,” Lazarus said as he bounded across the lab. He reached a filing cabinet and tugged one of the drawers open.
“Paper?” Dr. Mind asked, surprised.
“Hell yeah! Ain’t nobody gonna hack my research,” Lazarus said as he sorted through an armload of papers. “We use a modified cat scan using a special dye that bonds to anything created by metahuman abilities, and it always turns up something.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Dr. Mind.
“This one’s mine. No genetic oddities apart from a predisposition for high blood pressure, but I knew that, but I have brain patterns that should give me massive, crippling seizures all the time,” Lazarus threw a stack of stapled-together paper onto a nearby desk. “This one’s Rena. No genetic oddities except for an unexpressed recessive albinism gene, but she has weird floaty hair.”
“That’s a metahuman ability?” said Dr. Mind. He’d assumed she used some high-tech hairspray of Lazarus’ design.
“I know, right? This one’s Phillip. Genome is boring as fuck, but he’s got almost a hundred megameters of carbon fiber threaded through his veins. He didn’t even know about that until we did the test, ‘cause it doesn’t show up on x-rays or anything.” Lazarus started throwing sheafs of paper at a faster rate. “Aliah here has a third kidney, Rob has something with his growth plates, Lalit gets patches all over his skin…”
Dr. Mind was stunned by the implications for a moment before he managed to pull together an explanation. “But your sample size is way too small,” he said. “And definitely not representative of the general population. There could be some other factor. Maybe… Maybe something in the lab is causing it. We’ve known for years that the distribution isn’t statistically equal.”
“It’s possible. Very possible. But 100% of people on this project have some kind of metahuman touch. Whether or not there’s causation, there is correlation. What I have yet to determine is if everyone not on the project is also a metahuman.”
“Speaking of which,” said Dr. Mind, tearing his eyes away from the papers to sweep his eyes across the vacant room. “Where is everyone?”
“Hm? They’re not here?” Lazarus looked up and squinted at the room. “Looks like we have a mystery.” Lazarus dropped the rest of the files back into the filing cabinet and pushed it shut with his shoulder. He glanced over at a clock hanging on a wall. “Ain’t lunchtime.” Lazarus paused. “Oh! I know. Come on. I got a cool new toy a few days ago. I bet they’re checking it out.”
They returned to the elevator and started down the building. Only a few moments later, the elevator slowed to a stop. A familiar feeling crept over Dr. Mind as the elevator doors opened and he lunged for the “close doors” button, but it was too late. Hands grabbed him and Lazarus and hauled the two of them out into the lab.