Five North American academic adventurers get stuck in a post-apocalyptic South America and in their attempt to get back home they are enslaved by a local crime family. If they are to escape with their lives, they will be forced to make every use of whatever inventive skills they possess, an endeavor which takes them on an inner and outer journey in this harsh world, through a landscape of Jungian psychology, a battery of psychedelia induced visions, an army of nano technology and a churning tempest of ancient wisdom unlocked from the depths of the human psyche.
Richard Larsson holds both a bachelors and a masters degree in cognitive science, and presently works as a freelance BI-developer. He is a hobby writer and a hobby artist as well as a relentless gamer. His two greatest passions are artificial intelligence and the human mind, not necessarily in that order.
The tension had lifted from Abel's heart as the big man escorted him through a myriad of corridors, past more guards, seemingly on one drug or another, past people who looked as if they handled the maintenance of this place, such as janitors, electricians, cleaners, cooks etc. Though he realized that there were no kids around anywhere, and he remembered something Charlie had said about these families only being comprised of adult staff, and the families lived somewhere safe, receiving the money their risk taking parents made, and only when they grew old enough to be of use were the children welcome here. They had apparently realized that kids in a place like this meant that parents would act to save them rather than the place itself from attacks and made it a permanent rule to ban such distractions. Either way, this place was otherwise definitely self-sufficient, and after having seen some faces not riddled with murder at last, Abel felt strangely at ease as they walked.
"You mind if I light up?' he asked the gorilla, which didn't even bother to nod in approval (nor denial), so Abel lit the joint he had prerolled in his jacket pocket in case of emergencies such as this.
The other guy hardly showed any reaction in his stern gaze, but since he didn't interrupt him, Abel felt it was okay. Now that he was high, the silence felt unbearable to him, so Abel started talking to the guy as they walked past some industrial areas of unknown nature to him. They were outside the tower they had arrived at and were walking towards one of the inner ones, invisible from the entrance, at least in the darkness presently covering the land.
"In case you're wondering,' Abel resumed after another toke, 'my team and me, we're not so much a family of friends as a collective of interrelated disciplines of academia. You see, we simply met serendipitously over a course of a few years, starting about a decade or so ago.
"But either way, here we are, right smack in the shit storm of the century - counting by our standards at any rate - trying to make sense of this latest piece of technology we managed to get ahold of, make sense of, and even manage to further develop into something that turns out to be useful to a big-assed corp back stateside.
"So we're all in the clear at this point, right, but there's a catch of course: there's no way to get this information we possess past any of the local tribes around here. The case started out clear-cut, but we were working together with another team of scientists on this, so they had partial knowledge of what we had, or at least the general scopes. They lacked the combo of a biochemist, a computer scientist / mathematician specializing in artificial intelligence - which is more important to understanding biological systems than you might imagine - and my own specialty, a pharmacologist, doubling as a systems biologist. Now, I don't know if you know what all that shit means, but when it comes down to cracking the codes of nature's mysteries as we're interested in, it's a fucking recipe for wizards, you understand."
He didn't feel at all sure if he had sold a point to this potential fuckwit or not, but he rambled on just in case he struck ore somewhere along the line:
"You know, I was valedictorian in my class. I don't know what that means South of the Border, but at my university, it was the dope that got you any position you could've asked for if you had the imagination to keep up with the demands of the industry. That gave me the opportunity to go anywhere I chose, and I chose to go to South America in search of plants that could give me some answers to a couple of questions I had had."
He ranted on for a few more minutes about his recent past, most likely a stupid thing to do, but he was too tense and stoned to tell, and all the while puffing on the shortening stump of burning embers betwixt his fingers, getting himself high enough to be able to use synesthetic thought processes efficiently, visualizing his thoughts as maps that he just read off from his inner vision to the guy as he continued his quasipointless reminiscing.
They had now reached the next tower, and Abel simply allowed himself to be dragged along with the big guy, who relentlessly continued down the alleyway until they reached the huge, shiny metal gate at its end. The big guy didn't even stop to open it, just bulging it open with his frame as if it was air, leaving Abel about two seconds to breathe before he had to face his destiny in the sterile looking room beyond it.
It was sort of a repetition of the situation he had found himself in when he faced el Hefe back in the previous office.
"I sure don't need to remind you that you shouldn't keep el Hefe waiting any more than you absolutely have to. So let's get to it, dipshit,' said his escort encouragingly, and took a step inside, combined with a gentle push in Abel's back, which, willing or not, sent the latter sprawling right into the Lion's Den.
"So what can you tell me about this new formula I hear you're in the habit of using?' asked the raspy voice of a woman who must've been in her sixties at least, dressed in a lab coat so wrinkled and spotty it seemed as if she slept in the garment.
Her black, beady eyes scrutinized Abel with the intensity of an interrogator and she had an intravenous liquid dripping into a vein in her hand from a bag on an automated drip stand beside her.
He simply took a deep breath and began the sales pitch.
"It's a simple procedure, technically speaking, but you need the right tools, and it's not simple enough that you'd stumble over it in a million years if you tried it out yourself. Just how technical do you want me to get? Are you merely interested in the possibility of reproducing it yourself or are you an actually trained professional who wants to know the recipe itself?"
"You're here to give us the entire formula, asshole,' retorted the woman behind eyes that were gleaming with intellectual frustration.
"My bad,' Abel tried again, then clearing his throat to begin on another note now that he had a lay of the land. "We use the doubly acetylated opiate as a precursor, but we found out that there is a feature of the brain's physiology that causes almost instant dependency to the drug, and also makes it last much longer than ordinary heroin, if treated with the procedure we manufactured.
"It has to do with the RNA intercalation in the membranes of neurons with endorphin receptors that the heroin molecule usurps, and it basically works by inducing a resonance wave through the neural networks of the surrounding cortex. The wave functions as a synchronizing agent for higher cognitive functions, and, like any molecule of the opioid family, it naturally stimulates most of the limbic system and other emotion processing systems.
"Strictly neurochemically speaking, we've already worked out all the kinks in the metabolic process of this drug, so we only need to tell you how to cook it up and you can start manufacturing this shit yourselves, with any bunch of test subjects you feel like. We've measured the LD50 level to around 30 mg/kg.
"So the formula from precursor to finished product is like this,' Abel said, starting to write on a pad lying handy in front of him, scribbling down the chemical structure, the short story of the cooking procedure (molecular formulas etc.) and some notes about this and that, which he thought could be prudent to include if you didn't want a fuck-up to blow up an entire lab while handling the potentially explosive steps of the procedure.
When he was done, he handed over the note along with the bag with the precursors he had brought with him to the waiting woman, whose eyes had now taken on an even more intense glow than before, revealing some atavistic hunger that had awakened to smell something so new and different that it was out of bounds with all she had previously known about drug manufacturing. This was a reassuring indication, thought Abel.
"Well, well, well,' she said after eyeing the pad for a while. "We seem to have a deal here. All we need right now is for you to sit your ass down anywhere you'd like, as long as it's in the confines of this room, while I get the boys and gals in the lab working on this shit. Once they know if we're happy or not, you'll receive your payment for the formula. This shouldn't take more than an hour or two from what I can judge of your notes."
Well, hopefully not, our argonaut surmised, now feeling even more at ease than on the way here, as he seated himself on a bench to roll up another joint.
"Is there anything to drink while we wait?' he inquired of the surly looking guy with a neat machine gun slung over his chest. Whilst he popped the question, he had already spotted the bar that was its unpronounced answer, so he simply nodded towards it with his eyes fasted on the guard to get his approval or denial.
Upon the expected nonexistent response, Abel waltzed over to the object in question, splif-in-hand, pouring himself a vodka tonic, initiated sipping on said beverage, and sat down on the steel bench closest to the bar.
What the hell was he gonna do if things went south before they got out of this shit hole that he'd dug the five of them into? This place...