Unlikely Singularities – Chapter 71


A Case of the Mondays

January 23, 2017

Mrs. Barton-”

Laura cut off the condescending Ph.D. candidate with a scoff, “And how, exactly are you thinking we would be able to reconcile the exploding human population with shrinking usable topsoil, global warming, salinization, and potable water shortages? Put everyone on a diet?”

I realize you haven’t studied the fundamental economic implications of food consumerism, Mrs. Barton,” the woman sneered, “but over consumption by bloated, rich countries like the United States are what causes an imbalance in food production and distribution. The terrible and unknown risks of genetically modified crops are unnecessary, if we simply curb American expectations.”

Do you have any idea the ratio of unmodified grain production to modified?” Laura wanted to tear out her hair. Or slap the candidate. Slapping seemed like the most reasonable option. “Corn alone produces seven times more product per acre than it did prior to modern seed manufacture. Seven times! And that is with less water, fewer chemicals, and less fuel expended. More food with fewer inputs – that’s an environmental and social success you snot-nosed, over-educated, ivory tower pea-brain! And over a hundred and thirty billion dollars of that is exported, moron, not consumed by any of us bloated Americans! You want only unmodified, all-organic foods – for the entire world? You better be prepared to decide who lives and who dies because starvation goes hand in hand with that future!”

Unknown risks-” Candidate continued, her olive toned skin going blotchy with anger.

Out of curiosity,” a new voice interrupted their argument, and Laura whipped around so quickly she had to grab one of the many half-packed boxes of equipment so that it didn’t fall over. “What do you think seed is being modified with?” A tall blonde in a pale blue blouse, matching slacks, and mid-thigh sweater stood just inside the door to her lab. Darcy Lewis was beside her, biting her lip. Laura would have bet hard cash money that Darcy was dying to jump into a discussion of the social and political ramifications of revolutionary change to the world’s grain supply.

Excuse me?” Candidate looked over the frames of her glasses with a deep frown. “I don’t believe I was made aware of any new scientists starting today.”

As if you have clearance to be made aware of jack shit,” Darcy muttered, but didn’t try very hard to keep it quiet.

Pardon my lack of manners,” the woman responded smoothly with a small, tight smile. If Laura had been a lessor woman, she would have wanted to take a step back. That sort of smile hid fangs, she was sure. The blonde, and her hair was coiled in a perfect French twist that Laura envied in comparison to her own ponytail, stepped forward and held out a hand. Her blunt nails were unpolished and trimmed short, her hands smooth and a pale golden tan even in January. Candidate shook her hand reflexively.

Dr. Evelyn Vivas,” she introduced herself. There was no specific emphasis on the doctor part, but the mere candidate who looked down on Laura for only having a MS flinched as if she had been struck. “I do a bit of work in genetics myself.”

As soon as she said it, Laura placed the name. Dr. E.G. Vivas had co-authored a ground-breaking paper the year before with one of Laura’s former professors. She could easily be named one of the top five geneticists in the world. She was younger than Laura had imagined, around her own age. The candidate blanched, also obviously recognizing the name.

Dr. Vivas, I-”

Obviously, there are concerns with any genetic modifications to living organisms. Thankfully, at least in this country, we have oversight to ensure that product approval and use is driven by safety and scientifically proven methodology and not media misinformation fueling consumer panic. It is unfortunate that so many consumers, even the well-educated ones, have not taken the time to read through source material regarding the science.” She let out a brief, patronizing chuckle. “It is as if some people think a mad scientist somewhere is splicing their wheat with grasshopper DNA. Now, that does sound ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

And the elitism,” Darcy added, in a less dry and more fuck-you tone, “driving that sort of fear-based policy is what would lead to a commodities market where only the super rich can afford the quote good unquote unmodified, organic foods while the rest of us are forced to eat the huge portion of those crops that would rot, or under develop, or be plagued by disease and pests. A food oligarchy. Huh,” she tapped one finger against her chin, “I feel like I’ve heard about that somewhere before.”

Laura smiled for the first time since she had left the apartment that morning. This was her last week working in the Tower, and everything seemed to be piling up on her – literally, as she tried to figure out what to move upstate where Clint was already working feverishly to get the house livable. Having the pretentious jerk who worked in the shared lab next to hers stop by to shit on her research had been the final straw. Candidate huffed out, and Laura smiled wider.

Thanks for the assist.” She held out her own hand to Dr. Vivas, “Laura Barton.”

No problem.” She smiled, more genuinely this time, “Although I feel it should be noted that I have professional and personal qualms about several GMO strains currently in development. It simply irritates me that the entire science, which has fed billions, would be thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak. The USDA and FDA aren’t incompetent. Underfunded, yes, but they’re not all idiots.”

Kol HaKavod. Although, regarding idiots, I have a few thoughts about administration appointments and politically driven policies.” Darcy rolled her eyes, “Because of course I do. But unlike some people, I can have a spirited discussion with brilliant women of differing viewpoints without lowering myself to name calling.”

You can?” Laura pretended to look shocked and Darcy laughed. Laura was going to miss seeing Darcy and some of the other Tower employees every week. But there was Jane Foster to look forward to at the upstate facility, and Darcy assured Laura that Jane was good people. And the kids had practically salivated over the idea of living next to a lake – which Clint had assured her was safe and clean and surrounded only by their new place and Tony’s property. “And you’re implying that I was arguing with someone who was brilliant. That’s a false assumption, Darcy. Bad science form.”

Darcy lifted up a tray with coffees in it, the fancy kind from the lobby shop, “And on that note. Ready for a break?”

So ready.” Laura lead the other two through the mess to a worktable and pulled stools and a rolling chair over. “So, Dr. Vivas, what brings you to the Tower?”

Stark Industries,” she replied. “I have a research contract and office in LA, but Pepper suggested that I should solicit some people she knows here in New York to open more funding opportunities. And it will give me a second office where I could see potential patients.”

You’re an MD as well?” Laura raised her brows. It never ceased to thrill her how many smart women were out there. “Have you seen the employee clinic on twenty-seven?”

It was Darcy who responded, “Yep. And the infirmary. Pepper thought she might be interested in privileges, but Tony was in there when we arrived.” Darcy made a face.

Laura hid her surprise that this new doctor was so deeply in Pepper Potts’ confidence that she had already had a tour of the Avengers’ medical facilities. If Ms. Potts thought Dr. Vivas was worth that, then she had to be both excellent at what she did and trustworthy. Instead of voicing her conclusion, she turned and placed a sympathetic hand on the doctor’s arm. “I’m sorry you had to see that, Dr. Vivas.”

Please, call me Evie.” She took a sip of coffee and smiled behind the lid. “And I have a specialty in obstetrics.” She waited a beat, her timing impeccable. “I’ve dealt with babies before.”