Fight or Flight


amber_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title Fight or Flight
Synopsis Bella and Amber meet for the first time, and quickly enter into a debate over the primacy of their own disciplinary backgrounds.
Date June 8, 2010

Staten Island Hospital

The Project Icarus facilities.

Too much new territory - Bella never planned to go into reverse viral genetic engineering, or whatever the formal name may be for what this project entails. She trained to be a psychiatrist, not a geneticist, and so she must rely on her basic intellect alone to guide her - that, and heavily leaning on the talent of her subordinates. Newton himself said he stood on the shoulders of giants. Then again, Newton spent half his life trying to find useless Bible codes so… maybe not the best example.

The circumstances find Director Sheridan in one of the labs, peering at Mortimer Jack's charts. She's been at this for she isn't at this point sure how long. She removes her reading glasses, rubs at her eyes with the back of her hand, then gentle replaces them, letting them perch low on her nose. She cannot hope for a truly persperatory breakthrough. For the moment, she can also pray for inspiration. So far, the dull black on white of the print out is doing her no favors.
You paged Chinatown with ‘So, what songs are you gonna sing for us, chum?’

Where Bella is a trained psychiatrist, Amber is a geneticist. Well, technically a molecular biologist, but either way, she's damn good at her job. She comes into the lab wearing the typical white coat and carrying a folder full of notes and whatnot. She's looking said folder over as she walks, then comes to a stop when she realizes that she's not alone in the lab.

Her head tilting, Amber studies the stranger for a long moment. "Hello," she says finally, closing her folder.

Bella is, sadly, much too eager for distraction from her work. It's not getting her much of anywhere at this moment and… new person!

Or not so new. Dr. Sheridan frowns slightly, then breaks into a smile. "You must be Dr. Mitchell," she says. Oh, this couldn't come at a better time. Bella badly needs a co-worker she can actually speak to. The redhead rises and offers her hand, "Isabella Sheridan, project director. I heard that you were on our team, but our paths never crossed. I'm glad to have the chance to remedy that."

"Director? I was under the impression that Doctor Suresh was leading this project," Amber says, even as she takes the offered hand briefly. "But yes, I'm Doctor Mitchell. I'm sorry that we haven't met sooner, but I've been…well…too busy for meet and greet type things," she explains with a small shrug.

"There are various levels of oversight," Bella says, with a small laugh, "I don't think it pays to split hairs over heirarchy in what ought to be a mingling of minds." Her shake is firm, just as her lawyer father taught her. Her hand comes to rest on her hip when it parts ways with Amber's. "In that spirit, may I ask what you've been working on? I've hit something of an obstacle in my own work, so fresh information, a fresh perspective, can only help."

"Unfortunately, nothing too exciting. I need to find some good specimens so I can do a full analysis on their blood and compare it. I'd love to find someone who has yet to manifest too, and compare their blood both before and after manifestation to see if and how it changes once the dormant ability is activated," Amber says, sounding almost as though she's thinking aloud rather than explaining. It also brings a bit of an excited gleam to her eyes.

Bella nods, "That was a road we were going down as well," she says, "The manifestation mechanism is a crucial piece of the puzzle. I've recently turned my attention to trying to restore an ability to an Evolved after it was removed - stolen really - by another Evolved. Reverse engineering whatever process transferred the ability from one individual to another, I'm thinking, could lead to a better understanding of how the un-Evolved might be imbued with abilities artificially."

That plan causes Amber's brow to furrow. Something about it bothers her, it seems. After a moment it passes and she nods. "I'm trying to focus on what precisely causes the abilities in the first place, and what gives a person a specific ability. Why does one person have pyrokinesis instead of, say, the ability to fly?"

"Speaking from my own experience," Bella says, arms folding across her chest, "Both with Evolved patients in private practice and in my pharmaceutical research, I've a strong suspicion that it has to do as much with acute survival conditions and traumatic personality formation as with genetic predisposition. I'm biased, of course, by my discipline, but I think the psychological factor can't be underestimated."

Amber shakes her head, clearly disagreeing. "The psychological factor may be part of what allows control and how the evolved use their abilities, but it has no bearing on whether a person manifests, or what ability they'll end up possessing. That's all in the genetic makeup of the individual. Otherwise we would have a great many more manifested evolved people out there, and their abilities would be, I believe, a great deal more flashy. Criminal types would have abilities that would help in their preferred method of crime, or something that they could use to show off."

Bella dips her head, deferentially, "This may simply by a disciplinary bias on both our parts. It's natural that the psychologist would say 'it's psychology' and the molecular biologist would say 'it's genetics'. I'm not suggesting something as simple minded as physiognomy - that the firestarter has a fierce temper, or anything silly like that - only that the specific conditions under which the individual manifests have some say in the way the ability is expressed. Just take a look at the numerous manifestation cases, in which the individuals suddenly discovers just the ability they need to survive their circumstances."

"Even that is biology though," Amber insists, warming to the topic. "It's the fight or flight survival mechanism that is built into our DNA. People in danger are able to do extraordinary things. The grandmother who can lift a car to save someone trapped beneath. Running faster, further because of danger. And in the case of the evolved, surpressed genes activating and giving them an ability that they didn't have before."

"Oh, I'm not suggesting that there isn't a biological basis," Bella agrees, arguing from the position of compromise, "There is no mind/body divide. Psychology is biology. Emotions are chemical compounds. But the expression of the gene is often contingent on psychological conditions, and the somatic changes those conditions produce. Of course these things are built into our DNA - what isn't? But that is the substructure to a superstructure of more complex operations that have to be considered."

"How can psychology be biology though? If you get a set of twins, their genetic makeup is the same, yet they can have vastly different personalities," Amber asks, head tilting, setting her folder down finally. "Unless you apply some sort of odd chaos theory to genes, then it makes no sense. And if we apply a chaos theory to genetics, then we're…well…we're screwed."

Bella lifts a finger, "The twin study is precisely the case to cite," she says, "Twins, even separated at birth, routinely share a variety of specific common psychological traits, and of course have the same susceptibilities to developing genetically predisposed psychological disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. What I ask, is how could psychology not be biology? At no point does the psychological occur without that very real organ, the brain, and a physical change in the brain leads to a concurrent change in psychology," the redhead shrugs, "At the end of the day, any given thing we think, feel or imagine boils down to some chemical or electrical change in our body, and the door swings both ways: thoughts and feelings change our bodies in turn."

"But are the emotions because of the chemical change, or is the chemical change because of the emotions?" is Amber's retort. "When we get frightened the body releases adrenaline into the system, for example. But in that case, the emotion causes the chemical change, not the other way around.

"The mind - not the brain, but the mind - is affected by outside stimuli. Which is why twins can have such drastically different personalities. They experience different input from the world around them." Amber smiles, clearly enjoying the debating a great deal. "You take a set of twins. Put one with a rich family, and put the other with a poor family who skirts the law to survive, and you will have two very different people, despite the genetic makeup. There may be some similarities, yes, but more than the differences?"

"I don't differentiate - it's a false division. Emotions are the chemical changes, and vice versa. The only difference is the word you use to describe it, and the discreet phenomenological experience of the one going through the chemical change," Bella insists, "Which really just means I'm agreeing with you - it comes back to biology, genetics. But I think you're agreeing with me, too. As in the case of your proposed twins, outside stimuli can have a profound effect on the way genetic predisposition manifests. And so I maintain that the manifestation of Evolved abilities relies similarly upon such outside stimuli, many of which appear as psychological or emotional effects."

Amber shakes her head. "Impossible. Outside stimuli may affect when manifestation happens, but not what ability the individual will have. More, emotions are not only caused by chemical changes, discreet or not. They're caused by outside stimuli, period. If someone were to sneak up on you and grab you, it would scare you, yes? Fear is an emotion, and in this example, it's clearly caused by something occuring outside of biology. Without that individual grabbing you, you wouldn't be afraid, and thus, your body wouldn't release the adrenaline."

"Semantics," Bella says, "Without the adrenaline release, there would be no fear. Without the neurotransmitters that are identical with the experience of fear, fear itself wouldn't exist. There is no 'fear' outside of the chemical change that marks it - that's simple material fact. Therefore, we are talking about an outside event that changes the physiology of an individual. Such a change might well effect manifestation."

Amber sighs and shakes her head. "Are you really saying that the circumstances surrounding someone's manifestation might alter what ability they have? You do realize that if you truly believe that, if, hypothetically, we said it was true, then our work here is for nothing?"

Bella nods, "I am. In the same way that someone's personality is effected deeply by events in their life. And I don't think that invalidates our work in the slightest. It merely asks us to consider what chemical-emotional changes are involved in manifestation, since such changes would be relevant to our research. If a subject needs stress of a certain level to manifest, artificial manifestation would require we replicate those stress levels. I am not saying that circumstances dictates the difference between a telepath and a pyrokenetic, only that it might determine the difference between a passive telepath or a coercive persuader."

"Now that is something entirely different. You're talking an aspect of an ability, not the ability itself," Amber argues. "I can agree with that, because I can see how the way someone's ability manifests could cause psychological blocks that affect their ability. For all we know, there is no difference between a passive telepath and a coercive persuader except for psychology."

Bella nods, "If you'd like to cut it that way, that's fine. It amounts to the same thing, as far as I'm concerned. Psychology is an important factor, and determinate of the specific nature of manifestation. And should the difference between the passive and the coercive be psychological, well…" she smiles, "Psychology would be necessary to allow each one to access the blocked aspects of their ability. Of course, that's rather long term thinking. I, admittedly, get ahead of myself. Luckily you're here to ground me, Dr. Mitchell."

Amber looks a bit startled. "To ground you? I'm not certain I'm the best person for that job. Give me a strand of DNA and I'm god, but I don't do well with people."

Bella laughs, "That's just what I mean. I've spent my whole career doing well with people, and that tendency is as much a liability as an advantage. Just as long as we are able to get along, I will consider your misanthropy a valuable kind of perspective," she tips Amber a wink, "I prefer mean people, anyways."

Amber's brow furrows as she studies Bella for a long moment. "I think I'd better get back to work. Until I can find some suitable candidates I should focus on unraveling what I already have…"

Bella extends her hand once more, "It was a pleasure conversing with you, Dr. Mitchell. I look forward to a fruitful partnership, and shared success!"

Amber takes the offered hand and smiles weakly. "To success then." She withdraws her hand, then retreats quickly enough that it seems like she might almost be fleeing. At least she's not losing her dignity enough to run!

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