The Retro-Chill: An Origin Story In Several Parts




This is one of my first under-takings in an origin story. This is just one of several parts. Comments are encouraged and welcome because I know this is far from perfect. I hope a few of you at least enjoy, and I will endevour to finish the ending (major re-write) and get it all up before too much longer.

The Retro-Chill

"Dr. Armstrong, I have the results from that last batch of tests," the lab
tech said handing a clipboard to the tall woman in scrubs. "It looks like at least some of the modifications you made are working."
Jada Armstrong studied the information on the clipboard intently. "It
looks like strain 7C produced something a little out of the ordinary," she observed. "Let's go take a look at the plates."
Together they strode down the polished, sterile corridors of Belton Corp's R and D department. Jada had only been on the project for six months herself having been picked up by Belton's government liaison shortly after her graduation. Belton's project was supposed to be part of a massive effort by the Dept. of Agriculture to develop plants and animals that could be farmed in the tundra regions of Alaska. They'd made great strides since she had joined the effort.
"Yes, strain 7C," the lab tech said. "We're not even sure how viable it is. The incubator it's in is malfunctioning; it didn't maintain the proper growth temperatures."
Dr. Armstrong frowned, "Well, strain 7C did something because the results
indicate a heightened degree of bio-activity."
Those results were bothering her more than she cared to admit even to herself. The retro-viral agents were all designed to thrive in their target host environment. In this case, the thermal range of the average rat, the usual initial live-trial subjects. If 7C were functional at lower temperatures, the whole strain might have to be scrapped in favor one of the less promising ones.
The plates containing the test bacteria were an interesting sight. Some of them evinced no visual signs of growth meaning the retrovirus used had either killed the cells or severely retarded their growth. Others showed colonies of apparently perfectly normal bacteria. They'd have to be tested to see if they'd even been altered by the retro-viral agents introduced to them, and then, if they'd been altered, further tests would be needed to reveal any genetic effects. The last set of plates was different. Despite being kept in a warm environment, the temperature around them was cooler than it should be.
"We moved those plates to a perfectly working incubator early this morning, Dr. Armstrong," the technician was saying apologetically as she moved to take one of the plates out for inspection. As she touched the first plate, she hissed in pain and drew her hand back rapidly.
"It's cold!" she exclaimed shaking her hand. "I'd use heavy gloves, Dr. Armstrong."
Jada Armstrong pulled on a pair of insulated gloves and picked up one of the plates. The agar media was covered with a rime of frost as was the plate. Most incredibly, there was visual evidence of bacterial growth! She drew in her breath excitedly. This might be the breakthrough they had been seeking. Those bacteria had to be cold tolerant to be surviving on that plate through the conditions they'd been exposed to. If they were still viable, they might even be cold-generating.
"Sarah," she said the lab tech, "I need a slide made of this right away, and go ahead and culture the bacteria from this plate into new ones. We'll see if they grow overnight with the same results."
Jada went to her computer and opened up her files on the various strains of retro-virus they had created for testing. Quickly she noted the combination of virus and genes that had led to strain 7C. She added some quick notes to her log reminding herself that nothing had been confirmed as of yet.
Under the microscope, the slides showed living bacteria. It was hard to tell for sure though because the mounts kept freezing making it hard to observe any direct life processes. Well, the cultures would give them a better idea of whether or not the bacteria were viable. If they reproduced themselves, not only was the genetic effect of the retrovirus passed down from generation to generation, but the bacteria were extremely cold-tolerant as well.
As the weeks and months passed, successive tests and generations of the strain 7C cultures proved that the cells caused a sharp drop in temperature in their immediate surroundings. Another interesting finding occurred when someone happened to notice the initial reaction the cells had when introduced into a new, warm agar plate. The technician described a pulsing effect followed by a rime of frost that quickly deepened into a hardened freeze.
At first, he wasn't believed, but in time others noted the same effect, and finally Jada observed it herself. She wrote this dutifully into her report, and continued to work with strain 7C and the cultures it produced. She was convinced that she could somehow remove the heat-removing effects and leave the cold-tolerance behind. Repeated attempts were met with repeated failures, and she was beginning to toy with the idea of going back to the beginning of her strain 7C work to start all over again. This also was dutifully noted in her reports.
It wasn't long after that that Belton's facility was toured by the government head of the project, Dr. Scanlon. Everyone rushed into action preparing for the inspection with strain 7C and its children the star exhibit on display. Jada was more determined to try to show off another strain she had been working with on the side that also showed some promising effects, but she was overruled.
On the day of the inspection, Dr. Scanlon greeted her first, "Dr. Armstrong, it's a pleasure to meet one of America's most promising young minds."
"The pleasure is all mine Dr. Scanlon," she replied nervously brushing some
close-cropped brown hair out of her eyes.
"I hear you've got a promising candidate for our project growing in your
labs. Why don't you tell me about while your technicians prepare some slides for me to look at."
"Well, Dr., I'm afraid strain 7C has produced some stubborn bugs. I can reproduce my results without problem, but all my attempts to keep the cold-tolerance and shed to cold producing elements of the retrovirus have met with failure. I'm afraid I'm beginning to think that strain 7C might be a failure after all, sir."
"Why would you think that, doctor?" he asked peering at the slides her
technicians had prepared. They were already covered with a coating of frost.
"Well, the cell cultures by themselves are difficult to handle. They get cold enough that they can burn. I can't imagine what the effect would be in a living organism," she replied.
"Maybe it's getting to be time we found out," He said. "In fact, I'm ordering you to proceed with testing strain 7C in rats."
"Sir, it could kill them," she said.
"That's why we test it in them isn't it? I've read your reports. You've tested strain 7C in variety of cells from a variety of tissue types. There's no reason to believe it won't be able to permeate the entire body of a living organism." When it looked like Jada was going to begin protesting, he continued on another subject. "Now, have you even thought of testing this in plant cells?"
As Dr. Scanlon continued to outline his orders for the expansion of what he was now calling Project 7C, Jada could only follow along listening and taking notes on where her research was to go in the following weeks.

* * *

"Hey blue eyes! Watcha got cookin'?"
Jada flipped her growing hair out of her way and turned away from her computer screen to face her project partner and boyfriend, Dr. Richard Garner. He'd been transferred about six months ago to her section of the project by Dr. Scanlon to help in running the live trials of 7C. While they weren't having much luck in the live trials so far, their relationship had quickly moved beyond professional. Jada's mother scolded her about it constantly, but she was so busy with her work that she just didn't have time to meet men any other way.
"It's not good, Rick," she replied. "We still kill every rat we inject, and I'm no closer to finding out why."
"Well, let's take a step back and look at the problem from the beginning again," he replied moving to rub her shoulders and neck. "Something tells me we've missed something fairly elementary in all this mess somewhere."
"You may be right, but I'm shot at the moment."
"Let's get some take-out and we'll discuss it at my place over dinner. How's that sound?"
"That sounds like the best offer I've heard all day," she replied leaning her head briefly back against his stomach before getting up to get her coat.
Rick's apartment was becoming a sort of second home to Jada these days. More and more she wondered if she should just give in to his urgings and move in, but her mother was the old-fashioned sort who would never approve of such a thing. She'd be angry enough if she found out just how many times Jada never made it home as it was.
When she'd first met Rick, she'd thought him insufferably arrogant. He had everything from brains to his dark haired, dark eyed good looks, and he knew it. For the first month, they'd fought each other more than they'd worked together. Each had been confident that his or her own position was the only right one, but they'd quickly learned to respect each other. That respect had deepened into something Jada was afraid might be very close to love by now.
"OK," Rick began between bites of chow mein, "we know that strain 7C penetrates cells because your old cultures are still going. And when we introduce it into an unaltered culture, it takes over quickly."
"Right, and we've seen evidence that it begins to do the same in the rats post introduction," she replied. "What confuses me is why we continue to fail. I thought for sure we'd solved something when we began trying to saturate the bodies with retro-virus, but they still died."
"Maybe we're still missing something in the timing," Rick said thoughtfully around another mouthful of noodles. "You said the original cells when introduced into a plate with normal cells at normal temperatures produced an almost energetic chill effect killing off all other cells and chilling the environment to a suitable temperature."
"Yes, the best hypothesis we currently have is that the energy dampening effect that produces the chill is like a self-defense mechanism for the cells. They seem to use it almost like a weapon anytime they encounter too much warmth, and that's why we have to handle plates with heavy gloves; the chill they produce will give you frost bite if you hold onto it long enough."
"So, we tried saturating the body with the retro-virus to even out infection rates as much as possible," he continued.
"That still hasn't solved our problem. Not a single rat in any of the trials has survived infection. We've been over this before," Jada said thowing up her hands in frustration.
"What if . . . different tissue types become infected at different rates? It would only take a slight difference in infection rate to insure that entire systems would be frozen causing death. Maybe, we need to go back to the plate stage and observe the infection rate of tissue types more closely. Timing could be everything!" Rick's eyes blazed with excitement.
Jada smiled radiantly back at him. She loved seeing that particular look on his face. It quickly made her think of other things, and judging by the sudden intensity in his eyes, he was thinking the same thing. No other work got done that night.
The next day, they went back to the culture stage with 7C. They cultured just about every type of body tissue they could think of and timed how long it took for the retrovirus to penetrate the cells and alter their nature. It turned out that nearly every different type of tissue had its own saturation and infection rate. The sheer amount of time variance was staggering, and both Rick and Jada knew that any difference in timing would spell death for one vital group of cells in a living body. Once again, they were left scratching their heads waiting a new break to come through.
Several months later, Jada was reading an article on gene therapy when the necessary piece fell into place. The article was about a doctor working on techniques in retroviral therapy. He was trying to find a way to avoid rejection by the body during the retroviral changes themselves. His answer had been to infect all the cells of the organ in question with his retrovirus which remained dormant until he signaled them to activate using a chemical signal like a hormone.
Jada dropped the paper out of her hand and went running down the hallway to the lab. "I've got it!" she cried bursting in. "I think I know how we can get 7C to work in a living subject."
Rick jumped around hiding something behind him with an almost guilty look on his face. "What's that?"
"Make 7C activate on a trigger of some sort. Hormone would be too slow, but if we could find a way to activate it with a small electric current it might be quick enough. That way, we could let the virus saturate the body, penetrate every cell . . ."
"Honey, I love it when you're like this, but I wish you'd waited to make your break until tomorrow," he sighed moving aside with a grin. Behind him, tied to her microscope neck was a ring. "Jada Armstrong, will you marry me?"
For the first time in her life, Jada knew what it was to be truly struck speechless. He'd given her no sign of his intentions. The surprise was absolute. For what seemed an eternity, she struggled to process his words while her mouth gaped like a beached fish. In the end, words failed her, and she merely went into his arms.
Now, Jada's life was divided between two obsessions: her work at the lab with 7C, now being called the retro-chill by the technicians, and planning her wedding. In the end, they had to strip down 7C's make-up again to find room for a few new genes that would keep it dormant until triggered. Then they had to find genes that would respond to the chosen trigger: a small electrical current passed through the body. Meanwhile, there were decisions to be made on dresses and invitations and colors.
Progress on Project 7C had slowed to a crawl, and Dr. Scanlon was threatening a visit when Jada and Rick were married on a perfect late autumn day. The happy couple danced and drank and toasted friends and family. Jada's younger sister joked that when they won their Nobel prize it would be Garner and Garner now instead of Armstrong and Garner.