Authors: Sara Brooke
The Zyne Project
by Sara Brooke
Biting Dog Publications
The Zyne Project copyright by Sara Brooke
This digital edition copyright 2012 by Biting Dog Publications
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For Shy Gluzman; May the light of your memory remind me of that which I cannot recall
The Zyne Project
he piano music mixed with the air. It sifted through the silence and danced amongst the invisible gentle winds that swept through the palatial mansion. Crystal glasses clinked in the distance, followed by laugher augmented by the blushing freeness of intoxication, while outside, warm breezes flowed freely through the palm trees and exited out towards the southern skies.
She walked quickly through the halls, her high heels clicking as they swept across marble floors. Gentle lights glittered from the chandeliers hanging overhead. As the door to her bedroom approached, she increased her pace, quickly reaching out to grasp the bronze door handle and escape inside.
Once in her room, she removed the now-quite-uncomfortable shoes and dress, choosing to sit in front of the vanity mirror wearing only lace thong underwear and a matching strapless bra. The vision that stared back was most impressive to many and certainly to the majority who were attending the dinner party.
But it didn’t look the same way to its owner.
Slowly, the woman began running her fingers through her hair, looking almost distracted as her vision seemed to glaze over. Sinking deeper into her thoughts, she furrowed her brow and began to push elegant fingertips through ebony hair.
As time quickly ticked by, she pushed her fingers harder and harder against her scalp until each motion was more of a scratch…
She began to pull her hair out. Piece by piece she continued yanking out strands, while scratching her scalp, causing it to bleed. Crimson, stained skin lodged itself under her fingernails as the act continued, again and again. She tugged and mutilated herself for twenty minutes until she realized that her 10-year-old son was standing in the doorway, watching.
“Mom, what are you doing? What are you doing?”
Scientist Dr. Dan Johns was exhausted. It had been hours and hours, standing over a microscope and alternately punching formulas into a PC that seemed to be working more slowly by the minute. He’d been up for nearly 19 hours straight, but after many months...finally figured it out.
The directive given to him by the Zyne Corporation was top-secret and anything that confidential usually meant he wouldn’t have many people to rely on and every move he made would have to be documented. Despite his reputation as an astute medical doctor and esteemed scientist as well as all of the clinical articles he had published over the years, it felt to Dan like he had to continuously prove himself to the major manufacturers that courted and eventually retained him for assistance. That had been the protocol pretty much ever since he decided to allow himself to solicit for outside work, while still committing himself to treating patients part-time to the University of Southeast Florida.
But when Zyne came his way, the proposal was one of the most exciting he’d ever heard. They wanted him to conduct research using a new concoction they’d created in theory…but needed him to help make the formula a reality.
Zyne specialized in hair products. Gels, hairsprays, shampoos, and conditioners, they were involved in all of it. But their president and CEO had greater aspirations. It was his dream…his desire…to fundamentally
the choices people had when it came to hair. He wanted to give people the “choice” to pick the type of hair they wanted and not be shackled by the color they were given at birth. By changing hair color, the hope was that the formula, once created, would also be able to change the consistency of the hair. So, in essence, a person could choose to have thick, black hair, or fine, blonde hair.
It was a concept that had long been discussed by genetic engineering experts globally, but never fully realized.
Not until now.
Dan took the information derived by Zyne researchers and reviewed what he knew about hair pigment types: Eumelanin, which causes black or brown hair, Pheomelanin that creates red hair color, and the loss of these melanoctyes, which causes gray hair. He studied the pigments and the variations of hair color created through different levels of each. But then, he dug further in the genetics of hair color and the alleles involved and discovered that by isolating those genes within a special mixture, he could deliver a genetic cocktail through an infusion. This infusion contained a weakened virus that carried the hair genes to the cells of the recipient.
Tests took months. But finally, on a rainy, dark, Friday evening, Dan saw what his eyes could not quite comprehend at first. The infusion had worked on a small laboratory mouse that was greedily eating a morsel of cheese. Only, the mouse was no longer white.
It was auburn.
Traffic was awful, but Rosa Rodriguez managed to find her way to the Illusions building, despite the hidden sign and remote location. Directions had been emailed to her by the Zyne Public Relations Director, but she was unfamiliar with the area and hence, found them difficult to follow. The roads this far west were much different than the heavily traveled routes in downtown Miami. There, Rosa felt much more at ease. But here, passing through heavily wooded roads, she worried about hitting some strange, wild animal making the unfortunate decision to cross the street.
Zyne chose to conduct its human clinical trials at the Illusions building for many reasons. The primary one being that it belonged to the company and had been used before due to its secluded nature and the ability for test subjects to basically live at the facility during the duration of the trial, enjoying the amenities provided while essentially standing in as “human guinea pigs”. Granted, that wasn’t how the Zyne people positioned it, but Rosa wasn’t dumb. She knew that you could dress it up all you wanted, but in the end, you were still getting stuck, prodded, and tested for
She needed to be here. There were rumblings throughout the higher ranks at the CDC that this trial was not 100% safe and had been allowed due to the influence and powerful financiers of the company. It was no secret that Zyne contributed heavily to politicians who were very influential in the decision- making affecting the FDA and associated agencies.
After reading the reams of paperwork available through the CDC about gene therapy, Rosa agreed to become a part of the month-long experiment and keep an eye on progress. It wasn’t a commonly publicized assignment, but whenever experimental therapies were tested on humans, the government managed to get involved.
And this truly was experimental. The test subjects weren’t common laboratory rats. Chuckling to herself, Rosa thought about the group she was about to join. Far from small, helpless animals, this group represented some of the most wealthy, popular people in the country.
Upon discovering that the formula, called “Z”, was actually working, a very strategic recruitment process had begun. Invitations to participate were given to an exclusive group of people who wanted to change the color of their hair and were prominent enough to be considered for the trial. These weren’t common men and women…but rather, the elite…given the opportunity to participate in a life-changing event. The ability to change their hair color…permanently.
Pulling around the long circular driveway that led to the Illusions building, Rosa mentally recited the names of the other subjects in her head. The first was Tim Drake, one of the world’s most accomplished surfers who would be joined by Bryan Jackson, an NBA all-star and Rick Danzer, a billionaire hair products tycoon. The women included Jennifer Blazer, a socialite extraordinaire with long blonde hair and legs to match and Teresa Lee, the multi-millionaire owner of a travel related website.
And then, there was Rosa.
Zyne executives had reluctantly allowed Rosa to join the group because of her government status, but she was given specific instructions before arriving to keep her identity private. She should masquerade as a famous surgeon who was lucky enough to have been chosen given her ability to utilize the “Z” technology on recovering cancer patients who had completed chemotherapy and were able to grow their hair back. With this new treatment, she could offer them the chance to grow their hair back in any color they wanted.
The story seemed a little far-fetched to her, because what recovering cancer patient who had just been through numerous infusions would want another one? But she didn’t have time to argue because she wanted this assignment and would do what was needed to make it work. The only way for a woman to rise through the ranks was to take chances. Rosa, a self proclaimed workaholic, wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to make her mark.
She parked her car and looked around. The Illusions building, to her surprise, was not one building but three different shaped structures connected together in a long snake-like fashion. The main central building was two stories with the other two at ground level. All participants had been warned that to ensure privacy and security from the media, extreme measures had been taken to keep things private. Those “extreme measures” hadn’t been detailed in the contract, but she knew that could mean outside security, immediate lock-down, and swift legal action to anyone who tried to breach the perimeter.
Stepping out of the car, she looked at what would be her home for the next few weeks. On the outside, the compound was painted a stark white, but once inside, was extremely well furnished and had the look and feel of a luxury resort.
Rosa knew that was part of the plan. In order to keep the high-maintenance guests comfortable, they would enjoy spa-like amenities during the day. The trial would require all subjects to shave their heads so that the newer hair could grow in as desired. And while they waited for their hair to grow back, massages, facials, and other spa treatments would commence.
“Hello,” a manicured blonde said, greeting Rosa as she approached what appeared to be a reception desk. “I hope you found the building ok. It really is in the middle of nowhere.” The blonde chuckled at herself and proceeded to gather all of Rosa’s information, while motioning for a uniformed man nearby to take the bags. She stopped smiling and stared at Rosa with stony blue eyes, “Please understand, we will need to take your cell phone and all personal belongings. This study is extremely confidential and we need to ensure that all of our guests are in controlled surroundings. Are you ok with these terms?”
Rosa wasn’t sure she felt good about giving up all of her communication to the outside world, but figured if she said no, she might be on her way out. So she agreed and handed over her cell phone and keys.
“Thanks! Ok, now please sign this paperwork. This just covers what you already know…that your head is going to be shaved in preparation… that you will be infused twice a day with a gene-therapy solution… that you may be a bit sick or have a reaction…”
The woman went on and on and Rosa felt her stomach turn as she reviewed the lengthy paperwork that basically allowed Zyne to shoot her up with whatever solution the scientists had created, whether or not it made her sick. With shaking hands she signed the document and was escorted to her second floor room by the uniformed bellman. Before he departed, he mentioned that dinner would be at 6pm and she would have a chance to meet everyone then.
Sitting on the bed, Rosa looked around and barely saw the elegance of her posh new home. Instead, her stomach hurt and she wondered if perhaps she had made the wrong decision.
Why had he decided to do this?
That was the question Bryan asked himself while filling out reams of paperwork at the front desk while a hot-yet-idiotic blonde smiled at him with the whitest teeth he’d ever seen. But, he knew the answer to his own frustrated question.
It was the gray.
his gray hair. Absolutely, positively hated it. And, it didn’t make him feel any better that all the men in his family had prematurely grayed as well. Bottom line was he still had a nice head of hair, but the damn thing was so full of gray that he chose to shave his head rather than color it regularly. It was just a frustrating, aggravating mess. So, when his agent called and told him that there was the possibility of fixing his hair problem with some new type of gene therapy, and he was eligible to participate since it was during his off-season, Bryan jumped at the opportunity. It was the chance of a lifetime and if there was anyone who was going to benefit from this stuff, it was him.
Finalizing his registration, he noticed a familiar face approaching the desk. He recognized Jennifer from the trash tabloid magazines his girlfriends were always bringing over. From the stuff he’d read, Jennifer Blazer was one of the richest women in Los Angeles…an heiress of some sort. But he also knew she was bad news and always getting into trouble one way or the other. So, he smiled when she approached but quickly turned and headed towards his room.
He could feel her watching him as he strode out of the lobby, and quickened his pace as he headed for the upstairs sleeping quarters.
Jennifer was annoyed. Why did it always seem like people disrespected her? She recognized Bryan right away. Hell, anyone would. He was all over Sports Illustrated and was one of the most talented basketball players in the NBA. Sighing, she dropped her purse on the counter and started the lengthy registration process. When the smiling blonde behind the counter mentioned that she would have to give up her cell phone, she seriously re-considered.
Do I really want to do this
? she thought
. What if something happens? How am I supposed to handle the next month without my phone?
The woman rambled on about how there would be breaks within the next five weeks when guests could use their phones, but for now, all communication would have to be terminated given the sensitive nature of the trial. It hurt, but Jennifer did turn over her phone. Feeling like a desolate child and a bit helpless, she allowed herself to be escorted to her room.
Once inside and alone, she looked out the window. The location was remote, surrounded by large trees and a forest that seemed to stretch for miles. All the excitement about becoming a redhead and making a huge publicity splash disappeared and was replaced by anxiety. Still, Jennifer knew that this stint would help her recover what had become a tarnished image over the years.
She was only 22, but had slept with many famous and infamous men. Somehow, the paparazzi always managed to find out who she was fucking and proceeded to hound her and the unlucky bastard nonstop, taking a million photographs and painting her face across the cover of trash tabloid magazines.
Her break-ups were the worst. Unable to control a somewhat short temper, Jennifer was often photographed screaming at a new ex, her face contorted in senseless rage.
This trial was a chance to be a part of something different. She would be taking steps in an unknown direction…changing the face of science…
But something didn’t feel right. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but somehow she didn’t trust these people. Everyone she’d met smiled and said the right things, but she was uneasy about shaving her head and putting her life in the hands of the nurses and staff who got their paychecks from Zyne.
It all seemed too good to be true. The ability to change her hair color to something she’d always wanted. The ability to start over. It sounded so enticing…
So, why was she so nervous?