"So, what are you calling it now?" A scientist wearing a chemical-stained white laboratory coat and thin silver-rimmed glasses was leaning against a stainless steel table, which was covered in various liquid-filled beakers and test tubes. Opposite from him, sitting on a wooden desk piled high with stacks of loose paper, was a man in an unbuttoned business suit and a crooked red tie.
"Shyne," the man in the tie said.
"Shine?" the scientist asked.
"With a 'y'," the man clarified.
"Ah." For the first time since the conversation started, the man in the lab coat lifted his eyes from the single sheet of paper he was holding. "And who decided on that name?"
The man in the suit was holding a whole stack of papers, stapled together, and kept his eyes on one of the pages as he spoke. "Oh, it was a group thing, just a consensus we came to, you know. I don't know who came up with it originally." He flipped one of the papers over to the back of the stack and started reading the next one.
"So what is the official definition for shyne, then?" the white coat asked, setting aside the paper he was holding.
"Uh, hold on..." The red tie thought for a second, recalling something he had memorized. "'Any physical system which outputs more energy than put into it.' That's what we eventually decided on."
"Sounds very technical," the scientist said.
"Yeah, we put a lot of work into it. Originally the output was 'extra-dimensional energy', which is the term we usually use to refer to it in practice, but we decided that was a very loosely-defined term and there is no real way to tell the difference between regular energy and exden. Then we realized that it didn't matter whether the output was extra-dimensional or not—a shyne is always detected by producing more energy than should be expected."
"A shyne that produced an expected amount of energy, exden or otherwise, wouldn't be anything special, would it? It would just be like any other system. Indistinguishable."
"For the most part," the man in the suit said. He flipped another page. "At the very last minute we put the word 'physical' in there too. In the report we included a separate definition for what a 'physical system' was, for clarification purposes, saying that it was the opposite of an extra-dimensional system. From an outside perspective there might be nothing significant about shynes and they might not actually violate conservation of energy, but from a completely local physical perspective they are quite significant."
"I hear your team has collected quite a bit of research on these, what you now call, shynes," the scientist picked up a coffee mug from the table he was leaning against and took a sip from it. Whatever liquid was in the mug, it certainly wasn't coffee.
"Well, shynes and how they relate to living subjects at least. That's our area of study. Biological shynes, or just bio-shynes."
"Living subjects? This is the first I've heard of that. Research subjects? Or test subjects?"
"Both. Certainly you have at least heard of the Moira project. One of our simultaneously most successful and most...controversial...experiments." The man in the tie searched around on the desk for a minute and then found a file folder, handing it over to the scientist.
The scientist opened the folder and took a look at the documents inside. "Oh, this does seem familiar, yes. But...this was ages ago according to the dates on these. Over a century!"
"The subject turned out to be long-lived but, more importantly, the shyne turned out to be genetically-linked somehow."
"You mean..." The scientist trailed off, letting the man in the suit finish.
"It was passed down a couple of generations. Came as a bit of a surprise to everybody and nobody really knows how it happened. It's been the cause of basically all of the problems associated with the experiment."
The man in the white coat raised an eyebrow and looked down at one of the sheets. "The fact that the subject escaped wasn't a problem? Or the mental instabilities that seem to be inherently linked?"
"We know how to deal with both of those issues and we understand why they happened. The genetics are a bit more complicated. More or less, or so I've heard. All previous understanding of shynes led us to the assumption that they were not inheritable. This leads to the unfortunate issue of us never knowing when a new shyne might exhibit the same potential."
"Presumably you still have specimens from the subject that could be tested? If it's genetically inheritable then it'll be somewhere in the genes, right?"
"Yes, well..." The man with the tie hopped down onto the floor and walked around to the other side of the desk. He started searching through a drawer as he continued. "The thing is, we don't really know how the shyne works. Even if we located the affected genes, we're not sure how much that would help. We put the shyne there but we don't understand how it altered the genes—it was never supposed to, that's what doesn't really make sense."
"Hmm, odd." The white coat pulled a sheet out of the folder. "Well here it says there was some genetic engineering done on the subject. Something about blood production."
The red tie pulled a small glass vial out of the drawer and closed it. The vial was filled with a viscous indigo fluid. He held it up to his face as he spoke. "Yeah, the subject's blood was altered. Various chemicals and proteins added. Ostensibly the reason was to make the subject more compatible with the shyne, although I don't know how—not my area. In any case the genes that were altered had nothing to do with the shyne itself, that was added later."
"Well, not knowing how shyne works, I suppose it's possible that it altered the genes by itself. Did you take a sample of blood before and after adding the shyne?"
"Ha, you ask like I was there to see what happened. Over a century ago, remember? I don't know whether they did or not. If any blood samples were taken in between the gene splicing and the shyne implant they weren't included in the report and I don't know where they'd be now. There's something else though," the man in the suit said, tossing the glass vial over to the scientist.
"What's this?" the scientist asked, looking at it. The vial was cold and he suspected that it had just been taken out of refrigeration. "Looks like..."
"It's blood, yeah. Not the original Moira subject's though. Third generation. The laboratory has already looked at it and they've been unsuccessful in figuring out how the shyne can possibly be passed down through it. It isn't something they previously believed could be reduced to genetic information like that. The shyne is kind of like a complex machine—it would be like getting a pacemaker implanted into your chest and then passing that down to your children. Makes no sense, you know?"
"Well actually, you realize that a mechanical pacemaker is designed to replace the heart's natural pacemaking function right? Anyway I guess I'll take a closer look at this when I get a chance to isolate the DNA. I'm guessing that's why you gave it to me, yes?"
"Of course. Good luck with it though."
"It sounds to me like this shyne thing is a black box," the scientist said, walking around to the other side of the lab table. He opened up the vial and used a dropper to put a small drop of it onto a microscope slide.
"A black box. You put something in, you get something else out."
"So what's inside the black box?"
"That's just it. You don't know. That's why it's a black box. Something happens between the input and the output but you don't know what. You don't know how it works so you can't alter it or make your own. You might be able to copy it, by just looking at it and making another one exactly like it, but you don't know what does what or how it all comes together to do whatever it does."
"Sounds about right." The suit sat on the desk again, picking up a different stack of papers and glancing over it. "Makes it difficult to work with, doesn't it?"
The scientist had his eye to the microscope. "Quite. Certainly you know a little bit about how shynes work though, considering the research you've done. How was this Moira subject made again?"
"Well, as you put it, we can't build our own black boxes. At least, not on purpose. We have to find them, or stumble across them. This is all bio-shyne stuff, by the way—I don't know about other, non-biological systems that qualify as shynes, if any even exist. But as far as bio-shynes work, they are intrinsically linked to living, organic matter. As far as we can tell anyway."
The business man put down the stack of papers he was holding and idly adjusted his tie, then readjusted it to its previous state. "We can't seem to reduce them down to their base functions of course, so the only way to work with them is to just take the system as a whole and just sort of jury-rig it into the test subject. With advanced cloning and such we can make more 'black boxes' but we still can't build our own from scratch because we don't understand how they function."
He searched around on the desk for yet another stack of papers. "I don't know where the original sample came from, but it was brain tissue. The lab determined that most of the brain tissue was nothing special. In the end, they couldn't figure out exactly what part caused the strange effects that we now call shyne, so they had to use the whole thing. No doubt the extensive brain surgery that followed was what caused a significant portion of the subject's mental health problems."
Finding the papers he was looking for, he started to flip through them. "Anyway, that was ages ago. We've gotten a lot better at it, although we're still working with the same shynes we've always had. With a bit of control over the input and manipulation of the output it produces, we can tweak the results to actually get something useful out of it." He hopped down from the desk again and brought the stack of papers over to the table where the scientist was working.
"It's kind of inefficient—think of, say, a machine that you put a bunch of scrap metal into and it produces a car, only the car is painted some garish color that has to be repainted and all the windows have to be replaced because they're made from sugar or something. But you still use it because it's easier than building the cars yourself." The suit tapped the table. "Here, look at this."
The scientist looked up from the microscope and at the papers the business man was trying to hand him. "What's this?"
"More recent bio-shyne project. Perun project. Sort of a side-project really, or a precursor. Proof-of-concept to my current project. Ultimately derived from the same biological material as the shyne used in the Moira project, after quite a bit of cloning and engineering to make it part of a smaller, more refined system. Mental instability right out, not genetically inheritable. Quite a bit more limited in its functions, but it's only a prototype to prove we can do it."
The white coat took the papers. "And do you know where this one is?"
"Well, we seem to have...misplaced the subject, actually. We're dealing with it though. It's not as big of an issue as with the other subject. The shyne, s-Perun we call it, has had its output severely limited compared to the ur-type s-Moira to make it less difficult for us to control and less catastrophic if things go wrong. Besides, if all else fails, the subject will live a normal lifespan and die without passing the shyne on. Some problems are designed to solve themselves."
The scientist, looking over the papers, raised an eyebrow. "You're sure this is the same shyne as the original? It doesn't do any of the same things as the Moira subject's."
The business man returned to his desk. "It's not the same shyne. This is s-Perun, that was s-Moira. They're different branches from the original bio-shyne, just called s-Eve. It's kind of hard to explain. Let's see..."
"Wait, s-Eve? What's this Eve thing? You didn't mention that before."
"Oh, yeah, well. There was no Eve project or Eve subject or anything, at least not that I know of. This is all ancient history by this point though. I don't know what the original name was or where it came from, our team has just resorted to calling it Eve. There isn't any documentation on it, everything we know has been gleaned from the Moira file.
"In the Moira project, I told you they used brain tissue for the shyne, right? Well, that tissue—or rather the shyne associated with it, although it's basically the same thing as they are inseparable—is s-Moira. It had to be taken from something else though, presumably a full brain. That's s-Eve."
"Do you still have that brain?" the scientist asked.
"Not the original, no. Never seen it, not sure what the Moira people did with it. Maybe the part they took out of it was all they wanted or all they thought they needed and the rest was waste, who knows? They did preserve some samples though, particularly of the Moira shyne, and the lab's done their best to recreate it using cloning. Only so much they can do though, given the circumstances."
The man in the white coat looked through the microscope again. "So, let me get this timeline straight. It all goes back a century or so to Eve. Eve's shyne could do..." he trailed off, waiting for the man in the suit and tie to fill in the information he didn't know.
"Oh, practically anything, if what I understand from the Moira report is accurate. The scientists were somewhat disappointed at the abilities manifested by the Moira subject, as they were only a limited selection of what they expected based on the original Eve sample."
"...and then after Eve came Moira, who could throw stuff around with her mind and create matter out of nothing. Now if I'm following you correctly, Perun descends from Eve, alongside Moira, right?"
"Correct. You could consider them sisters, I suppose, if you were to put them on a genogram."
"And after Perun comes your current project. Does that descend from Eve as well, or from Perun?"
"From Eve, or, well, if you want to get pedantic about it there's an experimental step in between Eve and Perun, a sort of proto-Perun if you will, which we isolated from the Eve shyne for the purposes of the new project and which we used for the Perun prototype."
"Right. Are there any other bio-shynes? Or do they all descend from Eve?"
"Oh, certainly. For instance, it's a matter of somewhat contentious debate whether the Ki-1 specimen from the Gateway project qualifies, and certainly you've heard of the PRISM parachem scandal. The subjects resulting from that debacle almost certainly qualify, which makes them an interesting case since it would seem their shynes are chemical in nature."
"Fascinating." The scientist looked up from the microscope. "You really have done your research."
"Well," the business man said, "it's my job." A tinny jingle suddenly interrupted the conversation and the man in the tie reached into his suit to pull out his cellphone. "Yes?" he answered. "What do you mean, lost?" A tinge of annoyance marked his voice. "Oh?" The annoyance was replaced with a hint of curiosity. "Have you had that verified by Observation?" A short pause. "Get that done then and get back to me."
"What was that about? Observation?" The scientist asked.
"My research team. They've been tracking down the Perun subject. They suspect that the subject is...no longer present, so to speak."
"Ah, hence the Observation Deck. Interesting."
"Yes. Well, what with this possible development, I have to get back to work." The business man put down the papers he was holding, organized the ones sitting on his desk (well, shuffled them around a bit in what must have seemed perfectly organized in his mind), and headed for the door.
"Very well. I'd better get the DNA in this sample analyzed anyway. Can't do that with the equipment in this room." The scientist stood up, slipping the vial of blood into a pocket in his lab coat. He nodded to the other man as he left and then left himself, through a different door on the other side of the room.
Detecting that the room was now empty, the lights automatically dimmed to save energy and the doors locked to keep out unauthorized personnel.