Disclaimer: see Parts I & V.
Author's Note for Part VI: The following scenario
is completely made up. This is how I believe the scientist Hank
McCoy, backed up by Prof. Xavier's unlimited financial resources, would
design his working environment. As the saying goes... tell me how you
run your lab, and I'll tell you what kind of scientist you are... I just
couldn't resist making up all the tiny little details, but I realize they
might bore you to death. So just skip to the last paragraph, or read the
entire thing and then flame me all you want, or else tell me what's missing,
what you might change, what doesn't fit into McCoy's character as you
know him... and I myself am but a fledgling researcher, so I might have
gotten some of the equipment wrong. And I'm bound to get some translations
wrong, my dictionary has given up on me. Please, feedback, especially
the constructive-criticism-type 'coz me wanna get betta @ this!
I stepped through the door like a five-year-old into the toy section of a big warehouse. Better still, like a five-year-old whose adult accompanying person had decided to go and get some of that adult stuff done and leave her alone in Wonderland, with the promise that some older buddy would come and play with her in a few hours so why wouldn't she go and take a good look until then? And no 'adult supervision', and no "Behave nicely".
Of course, Professor Xavier knew I would behave. I'm a little over five, you see. Still, I wondered whether Dr. McCoy knew I'd be wandering around alone in his territory.
_He knows. He left you something to read on the table to your left, next to the computer screen._
I heard the elevator humming some fifty feet to my left, carrying the Professor back to the upper levels. No supervision, hum? But I didn't mind at all. Which was strange, considering I had led a petty war against my mother even setting a foot into my room since I was about twelve. Somehow, the Professor's voice in my head was very reassuring in this situation. It felt like someone was looking after me. And it wasn't like he was prying, I had asked, after all. Sort of.
So I felt safe to go in, carefully, almost tiptoeing. Awed. The lab seemed so very quiet. There were no windows, the walls were white and bare, lacking the usual mess of posters and printouts pinned or taped all over the place. Solid metal bars hung here and there from the roof like railway fragments, and I couldn't guess what they were for, except perhaps to hang something up, cameras, maybe, although it didn't make much sense. The illumination seemed to come from everywhere, as it cast almost no shadows. Actually, it originated in carefully placed halogen spotlights on the ceiling, covered with a metallic grid. I remembered the metallic doorframe. The entire room was a big Faraday's cage. Spacious, well designed, functional. And tidier than any lab I had ever seen. And yet I was sure McCoy hadn't just cleaned up because he'd be getting a visitor. He was just one of those rare individuals who where above a certain corollary of the second law of thermodynamics, the one that states that increasing order in the intellectual realm always wreaks a reactive havoc in the physical realm.
I picked up the papers, five in all, scanned the titles and the authors. Methodological papers; Gossamer, Lewis, Richards, Gennaro, Pascoletti. I knew two of them. Something to read, hum? How long intended Dr. McCoy to be gone? Gennaro's paper had taken me five hours to halfway understand it, Lewis' a little longer. Richards I had never heard of, and Pascoletti... I wasn't sure. Gossamer, of course... he was Yamoto's favorite author after you- guess-who. But Yamoto was a genius, somewhere near McCoy's caliber, whereas I would have needed a brain-transplant to be able to follow Gossamer's reasoning. I usually got lost after a few paragraphs into the introduction, and ended up needing professional translation. McCoy's papers were just as intense, information-wise, but his writing style was much more enjoyable, he didn't stuff the Discussion with information you wouldn't really need, and his references were always well picked and worth reading. I wondered why there were no papers from McCoy himself, and decided he either
(a) was too humble to promote himself that way; or
I ticked (e). And as my feet felt quite ready to rock despite the foregoing sightseeing tour, I set out to explore the environments. And that included everything, for the Professor hadn't warned me to stay in this very room, and I've always liked to start with the general outline. And there were a couple of very interesting- looking doors at either sides.
As I was to find out, there were four main rooms in a row, connected to each other and to the corridor by heavy, well-oiled, very broad doors. The rooms were big enough to accommodate all the instruments and furniture and computer terminals and still leave space to move comfortably, even considering McCoy's massive shape. Judging by the equipment, the one Professor Xavier had left me in was an electrophysiology lab. There was some gym equipment confirming what I already knew, that McCoy specialized in locomotor and cardiovascular system. Four huge wheeled instrument racks held all kinds of hardware; amps, filters, multi-channel oscilloscopes, function and pulse-train generators. Most were new and obviously acquired on the general market, but some looked self-made, switches and buttons and indicators unlabeled, or identified by nothing but a few cryptic signs scribbled in their general neighborhood with black or green marker, and protected by transparent tape so they wouldn't rub off. And then there were quite a few analog voltmeters, thermometers, amperemeters and other sensors I recognized as belonging to that famous generation of German production of the seventies, heavy, solid, voluminous instruments that after decades of hard labor still did their job with unsurpassed accuracy. They all looked quite clean except for a dark fluff stuck at the screws that fixed the instruments to the racks. I plucked some of that stuff and recognized the owner's signature, left to catch the dust of the years, and I smiled.
Then there were a couple of dedicated DAQ computers on wheeled tables, plus another couple that stood on a table near the entrance, looking like the numbercrunching ones to me. The computers were all turned off, and I wouldn't try and switch them on, much as I wished to. That's considered very bad manners in a strange lab. But peeping into closets isn't, and so I found about every kind of wires and cables, including a small treasure of Kinar cables in five different colors, and shelves loaded with a mess of small handmade instruments, waiting to be of use again, and a tool collection I'd be proud of. There was a workbench that held a giant protoboard and an equally giant multiple power supply, and dozens of tiny drawers with about every kind of resistors and connectors you could come up with, including, to my delight, isolated BNCs. I made a mental note to ask him where he got them from, and maybe to ask him (very nicely) for a couple of them. A shelf held a small collection of handbooks and data sheets, including a first-edition Horowitz I greeted like an old friend.
The door at the right wall led to a biochemistry lab with a U- shaped table in its center, loaded with familiar-looking equipment and then some I couldn't guess the function of. The left wall held an entire wall of shelves behind glass doors, accommodating the obligatory seven feet of company catalogues and all kinds of indexes, and scores of neatly arranged white boxes and plastic containers and glass bottles of all sizes and forms. The opposite wall was occupied by a door leading to the main corridor, a giant, full colored Table of Elements, an equally huge Map of Radioactive Isotopes and an apparently hand-drawn, 6x6 feet Map of Metabolic Pathways and Inborn Errors of Metabolism. Professor J. would be dumb-struck with envy. I studied it for at least half an hour and didn't even start to cover all the interconnections. Recalling my struggle with biochemistry and endocrinology a few years ago, I wished I'd had a copy of this map back then. I'm sure I'd've gotten an outstanding at the finals.
Next door was the histology lab, with a center table and, at first glance, three fridges, three freezers, and five different microscopes, four of them sitting beside computers with twenty- seven-inch screens. Then there was a workbench with a beautiful, unique ceramic cover, and on top of it half a dozen small rectangular glass containers filled with cobalt blue liquid of decreasing intensity. McCoy must have been working here this very morning, for there were some dye spots on the creamy-white ceramic, and they hadn't dried up yet. Then I recognized the cigar box I had brought, sitting to the left, open and empty, and realized the samples I had brought were probably immersed in the blue dye. I wondered if they shouldn't be rinsed anytime soon, as far as I knew dying is a very time-sensitive procedure. But it was wiser not to touch anything. Especially since I knew very little of histology. So I took a glimpse behind the couple of smaller doors at the far end. One led to a comparatively small cell- culture room with the neatest sterile workbench I had ever seen, and a huge humming incubator I was very tempted to open, although I knew enough about growing cultures to resist the urge. The other small door led to a liquid nitrogen freezer. After a last glance at the dyes (histology isn't really my thing, but they sure work with beautiful colors) I went back to the room I had started in.
Back at the EPh lab I recalled the other door I had seen on entrance, and headed right to it. At first I thought I had stepped into another dimension, until I remembered that McCoy jobbed as medic for the school. But I would have expected some kind of first-aid room, or maybe standard ambulatory care equipment. This was a full-blown private clinic, including a fully equipped two-bed intensive care section behind a glass window that could probably also be used as isolation unit for infectious diseases, and a set of doors that looked suspiciously like the entrance to an OP room. Then there was a door that read "CT." I couldn't believe it, computer tomographs are usually much too expensive for small private institutions. But there it was, a real-life scanner, white and shiny and ready to use, and looking very much like the most recent model on the market. How much money did the Professor have? Or did they receive donations? Maybe there were a few Rockefeller offsprings among the students?
I shook my head and decided I had done more than enough reconnaissance for the time being. I returned to the main medical attention room, ignored another couple of lesser doors, and made a beeline for the biggest one, just to make sure I had grasped the outline of this huge medical-care-and-research-facility. Indeed, it led to the corridor. I walked to the unmarked door at the right, away from the elevator. The EPh lab, as I had expected. The entire complex was so well designed I could imagine a versatile man like McCoy running it all, and yet big enough to accommodate a dozen biologists, biochemists and MDs, plus another two dozen students and lab assistants, and maybe one or two computer engineers. I had once worked in an institute that had held that many people in about two thirds of the space. There was only one thing I expected to find yet, something that no self-respecting research facility of this size could lack. And I found it, it's entrance a comparatively small door in a corner of the EPh lab, almost hidden behind a huge instrument rack.
It was the only room with natural light, pouring through a high shaft in the ceiling that ended in a thick milky white glass window, protected by what looked like thick iron bars. Tiny flakes of dust started to dance like microscopic fireflies in the oblique column of early afternoon sun as I entered. It was the only room of the complex that had a wooden floor, darkened by age and scarred by use, yet waxed and polished to a soft glow. There were five rows of bookcases of the same dark hardwood, reaching up to the ceiling and containing neatly arranged journals and books, classified by topics, covered with just enough dust to give them a cozy appearance. There was an old-fashioned metal filing cabinet, containing, as I found out when I opened the topmost drawer, an indexed, somewhat messy collection of reprints and papers and notes. There was a huge armchair in the corner opposite the door, with a worn leather coat that spoke of hours of lonely reading in the light of the tiny halogen reading lamp fixed to the left corner with masking tape, and of little naps between experiments, or at dawn, after a full night's work, when exhaustion set in and the bedroom seemed just too far away. A tiny table at its right held a stack of books and papers, a pair of slightly bent reading glasses, and a crumpled candy-bar wrapper. More wrappers were in the waste bin on the other side of the chair. The only concession to modern technology was the computer humming on a table behind the door, probably the server of the lab's intranet, as it was the only one that was turned on. I moved the mouse, and a login window appeared, username already typed in: administrator. QED.
I stood a long time in the door of this room that seemed to house the very soul of Henry McCoy. It was a warm room, and cozy, and a sharp contrast to the neat efficiency of the research facility. But it also spoke of a loneliness I could hardly comprehend. I felt my throat tighten. I turned around, leaned against the doorframe and scanned the libraries' counterpart, a huge lab room, yet empty for all its instrument racks and tables and screens and wires, waiting for voices and footsteps that would never come. For the chief researcher of this facility was a mutant, and to come here and work with him meant to tattoo the mark of leprosy on one's forehead, invisible and yet shunned by anyone within the trade, and forever.
Who but a mutant would work for a mutant?
I am a loner, you see. As signal processor I have to work very closely with those who generate the data and interpret them, based on my analysis. Yet I have always liked to do the actual number- crunching alone by myself, going to the lab on weekends, or arriving at mid-afternoon and staying up the entire night, listening to the same CD over and over again and turning off all lamps but the one on my desk, alone in a cone of light and music and work. But even then there are always traces of the presence of other human beings, maybe the muffled sounds of one or two loonies like me working a couple of doors away, or maybe nothing more than some notes written by another hand, and somebody else's coffee mug sitting on the table next to me. And on regular working days, on my many trips to the coffee-room, I'd always encounter people sitting at the small table, reading, or just staring into the air cupping a steaming mug, and they would look up and acknowledge my presence with a nod and a little smile, and I'd be free to join their silence or start a conversation about this or that trivia. Or there might be a heady discussion going on, to which I could listen more or less attentively as I mixed my favorite brew, a real-life discussion in which I was free to join if I felt that I had something to say. There was always someone to beam at when something went exactly the way I had expected to, or to exchange depressed sighs with when something went wrong. The absence of people while I worked was always temporarily, an exceptional situation I sought out and enjoyed, but never a permanent state. I couldn't even begin to imagine the solitude this man was enduring.
I could feel the Professor somewhere at the edge of my mind, but for once I really didn't feel like talking, and he understood and backed off. Anyway, I knew what he would have said. That McCoy wasn't alone. That he had friends here, and tons of support. That he guest-lectured all over the country, that he worked with some of the most famous scientists all over the world, and that the students of this school loved him, for they surely did.
But that means nothing. Eager high-school kids don't replace a PhD student, no matter how many and how enthusiastic they might be. A bunch of dear friends don't replace a colleague, no matter how patiently they might listen, unless they were scientist themselves. And nothing makes up for your footsteps being the only ones to echo off the far walls, or for your coffee-cup to be the only one to leave stains on the tables, or for your everyday pitfalls and little achievements to drown inside your own mind, for lack of a genuinely comprehensive soul nearby.
And then I did what I do when I just don't know how to handle something. I fetched the papers from the table across the lab, and snuggled into the most comfortable spot I could find, and started to read. Nothing like reading methodology papers to prevent depression. And as I was particularly affected, I started out with Gossamer. That way I made sure my entire population of brain cells would be too busy to...
...and then I woke up, and the sunlight had wandered across the room, and had reached the door, bathing blue fur with a dark golden glow.
"I should have put a warning sign on that chair," said McCoy, smiling apologetically for waking me up, but beaming, and eager, and behind his broad back the lab had suddenly come alive with light and sound.
Continued in Chapter Seven.