Asylum Bonus Story #2 – The Companies

History Lesson: The Companies

From a class taught by Agent five years ago.

One hundred years ago, Pharos Industries and King Enterprises, along with a myriad of other, smaller, enterprises, changed the way our world works. Historians call it the Age of Genetics, as eugenics research was the top priority of every scientifically-inclined company on the market. Pharos and King rose to the head of the class through government funding – they both began as arms dealers, and profited from the country’s military spending by applying their research towards weapons. Aside from the obvious reasons – which we’ll get to in a moment – their continued arms dealing is the main reason why we keep them on the Agency’s watchlist.

In the Age of Genetics, the original heads of King Enterprises and Pharos Industries were Laura King and Salil Malik, respectively. They pioneered the genetics race when Pharos researchers began working on a serum designed to create super-soldiers. Now, I know you know the story; it’s taught in grade-school history class, after all. Pharos Industries created Third Gen, and King Enterprises came up with the Satyr serum to keep up, leading to the current evolutions of humanity that live among quote-unquote “normal humans”. What they don’t teach, though, are the details as to how that happened – details that I think are the whole point of the story.

Laura King and Salil Malik had always been rivals. They started out competing for Valedictorian at the same private school (which Mr. Malik won), and then at the same university (MIT, and Mrs. King won that). They started their companies at the same time, and were up for the same government contracts, the same private sector jobs, and even poached each other’s scientists over the years. The rivalry got so bad that Mr. Malik had the phrase “Pharaohs are Greater than Kings” engraved in the entrance to Pharos’ headquarters when he was first to become a Fortune 500 company. Mrs. King, for her part, had the phrase “Kings overthrew Pharaohs” etched in her headquarters when she was the first to become a Fortune 100 company. If you go to either building, you can still see the phrases over the doors etched in large gold letters.

After a major pandemic caused a massive shutdown in multiple countries, many developed nations began funding eugenics research. The world wanted a new standard so that there would never be another crisis like that again; the solution presented was to enhance the human race so that vaccines would no longer be necessary to prevent diseases. As major R&D corporations, Pharos’ and King’s rivalry led the eugenics race. Both companies began developing their own serums designed to improve a human’s durability – not just boosting their immune system, but also increasing their strength, speed, and dexterity.  By marketing their research to the military first, they acquired the funds they needed to put their companies in a substantial lead over the others.

Pharos was the first to come up with a working serum. Malik called it “First Gen”, as it was designed to create the “first generation” of superhumans. First Gen worked, to an extent – it was an immune booster, and the people who took it no longer got sick. All it took was drinking a bottle of the serum every month, and people would be immune to all but the deadliest pathogens.

In response, King created a new serum that she marketed as “Second Gen” – mainly to thumb her nose at Malik. Second Gen not only boosted a human’s immune system, but it was proven to increase metabolism and muscle mass, which worked the way First Gen was intended. It even fixed certain genetic-based health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes, if you took it regularly for a decade or so. It sold better, and in larger quantities – even though you only needed a bottle every two months.

Not to be out-done, Pharos figured out a way that the serums could be improved upon: what if they could create a one-time procedure that would permanently improve the human form? No more need to take the boosters, and Second Gen sales would plummet in response. That was when Pharos developed the Third Gen serum. They made it through three rounds of human trials before eugenics was banned.

You can see the pattern forming, right? Pharos created Third Gen, so King had to come up with her own version. At the time, she sold it as “Gen Zero” to her shareholders, and they made it through one round of human trials.

Now, this is a Task-Force history class. If you want to know the exact details about what went wrong, you’ll have to ask the scientists in your other classes. I can only tell you the socio-political fall-out of the serums.

Gen Zero killed half of its human trial sample, and the remainder became mutants. Eugenics research was banned, and even Third Gen had to stop production. King Enterprises took a major hit, and Laura King spent the rest of her life – and most of her son’s life, after she passed the company on to him – rebuilding the brand as a weapons manufacturer. But, as you know, that wasn’t the end of it – within a decade after the Gen Zero fiasco, the people involved in both serum trials began reporting strange mutations in their children.

The first of these was a kid born to a Gen Zero survivor who had goat hooves instead of feet. Because the anomaly made the news, the media began referring to King’s serum as “the Satyr serum” – and the nickname stuck, to the point where most people don’t even remember the name “Gen Zero”. That was the start of our current climate, with three different types of humanity: humans, Third Gens, and Satyrs.

At first, people thought that the mutants would die out – particularly the Satyrs.  After all, the vast majority of animals can’t cross-breed, especially not with humans.  However, time proved that wasn’t the case; not only could Satyrs and Third Gens reproduce, but their offspring usually ended up with the enhancements as well.  It wasn’t a recessive gene, but a dominant one – the first examples in eugenics history of artificially-induced dominant bloodlines.  Because of that – or, to be more specific, because of the growing concern in the public’s eye over the loss of “true” humanity – eugenics research was banned by the U.N. in all developed and developing countries.  Not that it made a huge difference – aside from Pharos and King, nobody else had even come close to what they had achieved in the twenty years of the Eugenics Race.

As for what happened to the companies: Mrs. King had founded King Enterprises off of the remnants of her parents’ company, and passed it on to her own child when she retired. Despite the Satyr fiasco, they never changed the name; the King family is still prominent in this country, and Laura King’s grandson Jonathan King is the current CEO of King Enterprises. Mr. Malik, on the other hand, was the first in a long line of executives appointed by Pharos’ board of directors. Since his own children had no interest in the company, he sold shares on the stock market and had the board pick his successor. The current CEO of Pharos Industries is Sean Hannah, who was unanimously voted in three years ago as one of the youngest CEOs in history.

We’re still seeing the effects of Laura King and Salil Malik’s rivalry today.  Not only are Third Gens and Satyrs still around (obviously), but programs like Watcher and the Satyr Preserve are still worked on by their companies. There are many other socio-political effects that branched from this, but I’ll talk more about those next time.  Class dismissed.

* * * * * * * *

Scene: King and Pharos.

The King Family Mansion.

Chip, about to have dinner with Jonathan and Lena King.

“I’m pleased to announce Pharos Industry’s Gen Juice project has yielded positive results,” a voice from the television said as Reginald, the King family’s butler, let Quinn “Chip” Kaine into the King’s mansion. “In a few years, everyone could have the powers of a Third Gen.” Thunderous applause came from the speakers as the live audience showed their enthusiasm. Third Gen abilities were uncommon, and many people wished that they had been born Third Gens – a jealousy at the heart of the current Humans First climate that had been gripping the nation for decades.

Chip strolled into the living room, surprised to see the CEO of Pharos Industries making a speech on the King’s giant screen. Lena waved to her and motioned for her to sit, making a “quiet” gesture as her gaze fell back to the TV. Mr. King scowled at the screen from the easy chair, looking as though he had just come home from the office in his neatly-pressed suit.  Only his slippers and the easy chair he sat in showed that he had, in fact, come home.

Taking a seat on the couch near the doorway, Chip focused on the man on the screen. Sean Hannah was young for a CEO of one of the most successful companies in America, if not the world. He was only in his late thirties, and seemed to play that up for the media: he wore an impeccable suit and tie, but his curly brown hair was left unkempt. His pointed chin was raised, giving him a slightly proud appearance. The camera angle, showing his face and shoulders as he spoke to the press, accentuated his pale blue eyes and sly grin. Chip noted Mr. King’s reaction, and realized that the younger man might have even been taunting him a bit.

“Pharos Industries has always been the leader in medical research,” Mr. Hannah told the camera, pausing on the word “always” and looking directly at the camera, “and now we prove once again how our innovations can take America forward in scientific discovery.”

“Gen Juice,” Mr. King scoffed when the interview was over. “I know our companies collaborate on quite a few projects, but genetics research has always been a major point of contention between us.”

Lena rolled her eyes and explained to Chip, “Ever since my great-grandma’s debacle with the satyrs, Pharos has always one-upped King in genetics research.”

Mr. King started, as if he had only just noticed that Chip was in the room. “Don’t get me wrong,” he told her, standing up and facing her as he would any subordinate. “King Enterprises does much better with weapons development than Pharos does, but all anybody ever thinks about is the Satyrs and the Third Gens. Makes it damn near impossible to get contracts unless we show collaboration with him.” He pointed harshly at the screen, indicating his frustration with Mr. Hannah. “That… boy keeps mocking me in all his interviews. It’s like he’s hoping that I’ll watch.”

“Which you do every time,” Lena pointed out.  Mr. King scoffed, but said nothing to that.

“He did say it’ll be a few years before Gen Juice goes on the market,” Chip pointed out. “Maybe King Enterprises could come up with something…?” she trailed off, seeing Lena shake her head behind Mr. King’s back.

“The name of ‘King’ has already been dragged through the mud enough,” he told her. “Pharos has a head start in this, just like they did a hundred years ago. Trying to replicate their work ended in disaster back then, and I won’t be responsible for it now!”

“The board already asked him that,” Lena said, standing up and putting a calming hand on her father’s shoulder.  “I think it’s the right thing, too – there’s no need to rush just because Mr. Hannah has something new.  We already have enough on our plate with the satyr rights laws.”

“Don’t start again, honey,” Mr. King said, his voice softening.  “Not now.”

“If not now, then when?” Lena demanded, suddenly going on the offensive.  Chip realized that she must have come in halfway through a father-daughter debate at the King’s.  “The Leash bill is going to congressional vote tomorrow.  You have to withdraw your support for it.”

“Wait, what bill?” Chip asked.  She felt lost when the Kings had conversations like this one, as if her friend spoke a language that only Mr. King understood.

“The Satyr Registration Act,” Lena told her.  “If it’s passed, all satyrs will be forced to wear a collar and tags!”

“It’s not like that,” Mr. King sighed.  “The bill is to make sure that satyrs, like any other animal, are up-to-date on their shots, and allows people to see that they are cared for.”

“It also requires them to have a human sponsor,” Lena said, “as if they were somebody’s pet.”

“Mr. King, that’s not right,” Chip protested.  “Satyrs are just like us; if a bill like that goes through, a lot of people are going to be affected.”

Mr. King shook his head at them, the picture of a patronizing father.  “You two girls are idealists,” he said, “which is good when you’re in college; you begin to think for yourself, and see possibilities that young kids can’t.  But we’re talking about the real world here, where groups like the Fauns think that it’s okay to terrorize a DMV and destroy city records. Where the Asylum Watchers feel the need to patrol the city every day just to keep an eye out for crime.”

“The Asylum patrols the city so that people can see their faces,” Chip pointed out.  “The idea is that people will trust the Watchers more if they know who they are.”

“Right,” Mr. King said.  “And while the Asylum placates the humans of the city by taking care of the Watcher lists, dozens of other Watchers take jobs from the dark web to make ends meet.  We have a city chock full of mercenaries, and everyone is applauding it!  The Satyr Registration Act will help stop at least the satyrs from causing trouble.”

“What about the Third Gens and the humans?” Lena asked.  “What’s so different about the satyrs, other than how they look?”

“It would be a good idea for everyone to have mandatory registration,” Mr. King agreed, missing her point.  “However, Congress isn’t likely to pass a bill that requires humans to register. We have to pick our battles, and satyrs are the one we can win right now – especially since it’s so easy for Third Gens to pass as humans.  One step at a time.”

“Soon Pharos will give humans Third Gen powers,” Lena said.  “Congress will never pass an equal-opportunity registration bill; if the Satyr Registration Act passes, then satyrs will never be considered equal in society again.”

“If they ever were,” Chip added.

“That’s assuming a lot, my dear,” Mr. King said.  “Pharos is still years away from mass-production.”

“At least we can all agree that the Gen Juice thing is a bad idea, right?” Chip said, trying to mediate before the argument escalated.  Both of the Kings seemed to remember simultaneously that they had a guest.

“Right,” Lena said, calming down. “Besides, the laws around eugenics research tightened after the Gen Zero disaster.  I’m not even sure how Hannah is keeping his nose clean with this one.”

“He’s lobbying to change the law,” Mr. King said, scowling at the blank TV screen where his rival had just been shown.  “In the meantime, he gets around the regulations by calling it ‘medical research’ instead of eugenics.  When questioned – and believe me, I made sure he was questioned by every agency I could find – he skirted it by citing precedents and current vaccine research at the CDC.”

Chip raised an eyebrow.  “Smart,” she said thoughtfully. “He’s toeing the letter of the law, and he can’t be arrested for violating the spirit of it.”

“But we can talk about all of this later, right Dad?” Lena asked, taking Chip’s cue and defusing the emotional tension in the room. “We’re supposed to have dinner with our guest.”

“Ah, right,” said Mr. King.  “Follow me, ladies.”

He led them through the mansion, stopping every now and then to show something off to their guest.  Chip nodded attentively, but every now and then she and Lena rolled their eyes at each other conspiratorially.  They passed fancy art hanging in expensive frames in the hallways – as they neared the kitchen, it seemed to become more food-themed.  An oil canvas painting of a bowl of fruit hung just over the kitchen doors, which Mr. King threw open with a flourish.

“We’re not eating in the dining room?” Chip asked Lena in a whisper.

“Oh, we only eat in the dining room when we have a business dinner,” Lena explained.  “When it’s just Dad and me, we eat over here.”

She gestured to a tall metal island in the corner of the enormous kitchen.  Mr. King stood on one side, prepping knives to cook.  He pointed Chip to a stool on the other side of the counter, and she gingerly took a seat next to her friend.  Chip had never eaten at the King’s mansion before, and this was definitely not what she had been expecting.

“You’re cooking?” she asked Mr. King.

He grinned, looking like a kid in a candy shop as he told her, “This is my hobby, when I’m not running the company.  I had this hibachi installed specially, so I could talk to little Lena while making dinner, and she could learn by watching me.”

“Aw,” Chip said, giving Lena a good-natured elbow jab.  “‘Little Lena’ must have been so cute, following her daddy around the mansion.”

“It’s a house, you know,” Lena said, rolling her eyes.  “You don’t have to get hung up on the word ‘mansion’.”

“Honey, I had to get directions from your mailbox,” Chip reminded her.  “You have a security guard at the gate – which is a mile from your door – and this ‘house’ has more rooms than most motels.  You have both an indoor and outdoor pool, and a small movie theatre in the basement.  No matter what you call it, it’s a mansion.”

Mr. King laughed.  “What can I say?” he chuckled.  “This mansion has been in our family for generations.  My father added the outdoor pool, and I added the rest when it was passed down to me.”

“Where is the rest of the family?” Chip asked Mr. King as he pulled ingredients out of the refrigerator.  She knew from her talks with Lena that she had a few aunts and uncles, and that her grandparents were all still alive.

“Dad and Mom retired down to the Florida Keys,” Mr. King said. “Lena’s mother is currently visiting her folks in the Hamptons – we’ll be joining her there next week, as soon as we put out some fires at the office.”

“Like the Gen Juice announcement?” Chip asked.

“Among other things,” Lena said.  She couldn’t tell Chip much, given that her friend worked for their top competitor.  Chip would never leak King secrets to Pharos, but everyone there knew that some things were better left unsaid.

“Speaking of which,” Mr. King said as he began to cook, “my daughter tells me you’re happy with your job at Pharos?”

He really was good at using the hibachi grill.  Chip felt like she was in a restaurant as he spun the metal spatulas, making dinner into a show as they talked.  “Oh, yes,” she said, remembering that he had asked her a question.  “Good benefits, and the Asylum people are super-impressed by the smallest changes I make to their outfits.”

“They’re very stylish,” Lena remarked.  “Think you could design something for me?”

“For you?” Chip asked, surprised.  “Why?”

Lena shrugged.  “Oh, no real reason,” she said, too innocently.  “I like the outfits.”

Mr. King shook his head as he stacked an onion into a volcano.  “Lena wants to take the Watcher licensing exam,” he said.

When Chip looked at her, surprised, Lena rolled her eyes.  “I don’t want to take jobs from the list,” she explained.  “Just… during the riots, I couldn’t do anything to help – not legally, anyway.  I just had to sit in our bunker like a good little girl.”  She sounded bitter, as if there were more to the story.  “If something like that ever happens again, I’d like to keep my options open.”

Mr. King looked like he was going to say something, but Chip beat him to it.  “Are you sure?” she asked.  “I saw what the Asylum guys looked like the next day.  Trick was out for months with a broken collarbone, and all of them were black and blue all over.  Especially Outlier; I’m not even sure how she managed to patrol the next day.  Dale was exhausted just by taking care of the worst injuries.”

“Exactly what I’ve been saying,” Mr. King exclaimed.  “Riots are dangerous.  They’re no place for a respectable young lady.”

“I know how to take care of myself, Dad,” Lena said irritably.  “I just don’t want to feel that helpless again.”

“I care about you, sweetheart,” Mr. King said.  “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I know,” Lena sighed.

Chip put a hand on her friend’s shoulder.  “If it means that much to you,” she said, “I can whip up an outfit in my lab.  On one condition,” she added quickly, before either of the Kings could say anything.  “I’ll hang onto it until there is an actual emergency, and I’ll only give it to you if I think you can actually help.  Deal?”

“Deal!” Lena’s eyes sparkled at the thought.  Chip knew she would probably give her friend the outfit before an actual emergency, especially if she did end up getting a Watcher license.  But for now the stipulation seemed to placate her father.

“You know she’d have just found a way without me,” Chip told him as he turned a disapproving glare her way.  “This way, I can at least make sure she’s outfitted properly.  My designs are meant to be used as armor, you know.”

Mr. King sighed and started serving the food.  “I know,” he said.  “I just worry about her.”

“I’m sitting right here,” Lena reminded them.

Chip and Mr. King shared a look and chorused, “We know.”  All three of them laughed as they ate dinner.  Though the topic of conversation for the remainder of the meal switched to more mundane topics and anecdotes, Chip had a lot more on her mind for the rest of the night.

* * * * * * * *

Next: Bonus Story #3 – The Gangs

Also: Issue #17 – Fire and Water

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