Cythlic Laboratories was the angry, rebellious, teenage child of Terran Defense Industries, formally the largest of the science based corporate titans on earth. When the colonies were first founded, the majority of people on earth decided to pack up and leave. Though genetically modified crops and new energy sources, earth had stabilized from the violent downward spiral it had been in for a century, but the scars showed. Overpopulation, pollution, food shortages, and unemployment made life unpleasant. There were six major forests remaining, and 60% of the world's species were extinct except for vials of their DNA, which some insisted meant that the species wasn't really dead, just not currently alive.

Regardless, they wanted a fresh start, and most companies bowed to the inevitable and let their workers go, finding new employees in the ones who disliked space travel. Unfortunately for Terran Defense Industries, 95% of their workforce were scientists, and thus very eager to go off world. Rather then lose them, TDI had established branches on all seven colony worlds, and had grown briefly even richer then before. Soon, however, the methods of TDI, as well as where the products were going (overwhelmingly to earth), began to clash with ideals of the people in the colonies. They complained, and when TDI ignored them, all off world employees of TDI simultaneously quit and established new branches on each planet. TDI, of course, had been shocked and infuriated, and had demanded all company property and facilities back. The colonies had responded with varying messages all baring the same meaning: come and get them. Since none of TDI's remaining employees wanted to go into space in the first place, the corporation's bluff was called, and TDI faded into obscurity on earth. As a kind of cruel joke, all the TDI facilities were studiously avoided on all planets, while the new companies built facilities and products suiting the resident ideals of the people working for them.

Tiny, pacifist, Sora created Residential Harmonics, who's innovative communication and domestic products were among the most advanced in the region. Indus, a world populated by religious refugees with an obsession of maintaining religious tradition yet promoting tolerance, created Revelation Industries, from which came more philosophy then science. The survivalists of Sparta, who's harsh planet mirror their harsh outlook on life, spawned The Black Company, which was responsible for creating some of the most powerful weapons in existence. Oculus, a shadowy world populated by shadows who were obsessed with intelligence, created Hidden Eye Laboratories, to augment and supply their network of spies that penetrated every populated planet. Licentia, home to freedom-lovers, anarchists, and anti-government activists founded Liberty Inc., who's products, although as erratic as it's employees (who only went to work when the felt like it), are the most unusual of any company. Though close to earth, residents of Mars found the answer to their desire to be an independent, self-sufficient, socialist world in the creation of Aevum Technologies, who's terrafourming and genetic modification methods have transformed their barren world into a paradise. Finally, scientists of Novus had created Cythlic Laboratories, an outlet for the passion for science the population harbored. Cythlic Laboratories was, in general, the most advanced of the TDI offshoots, mostly because while the other worlds focused their attention on discovering technologies relevant to their agendas, discovery its self was the agenda of Cythlic Laboratories.

The company would have been extraordinarily wealthy if Novus had chosen to fully indulge in capitalism, which it did not. While money was used on a small scale, knowledge was the preferred currency. As a result, the company primarily provided a place to learn, experiment, and create. Cythlic Laboratories was also famous for the aesthetics of its facilities, often placing them on cliff-faces, underwater, or underground for no apparent reason other then to be unusual or pleasing to the eye. The lab Alex entered, known as Lab 086, was primarily underground, with one giant reception room on the surface, for no real reason. His face and retinas was scanned as he walked through the front door, and the security doors clicked open for him as he approached them. Unrecognized visitors would have to go through all sorts of hell to get access, including an interrogation and full background check by the extremely bored security guards who were always spoiling for something to do. Or, if you wanted to bypass the security guards, a fully automated security system equipped with technology that had been developed downstairs awaited. Alex felt very sorry for anyone trying to get in, as fully half the "security measures" an intruder would face were actually devices that the resident scientists couldn't legally test, and instead had placed in among the security systems hoping some unlucky attacker would test it on himself.

Alex made his way through the building, arriving at the negative eleventh floor and punching in the access code to the section he shared with three other scientists. As he entered, he found Demetri Slazborni and Alice Styvor had beaten him there. Demetri was a likable man who's interests included nanotechnology, biological chemistry, and reinforcing every stereotype ever made about Russians. He loved to play the old fashioned, blunt, and heavily accented Russian scientist, speaking in barely recognizable English whenever he was bored. At the moment, he was recording results from a chemical compatibility test onto a chart, muttering in to himself in Russian simply because he knew they could hear him. Alice was a wraith-thin Asian woman who had transferred here from Sparta, and was still Spartan to the core. She was the group's nano weapon's expert on top of being an expert on all things involving the nervous system. She was a fully qualified security guard as well, and as far as Alex was concerned, a ninja. She was currently applying her ninja skills to a biological conductivity experiment she was setting up. Both paused to acknowledge him as he entered the room, but completed the tasks at hand before doing anything further. Alice finished first, activating the monitoring program and snagging an extra pair of gloves before walking over to Alex. She was dressed, as Alex was, in all black, though where his was faded, hers was not. Her utter devotion to that color was simply more evidence of her ninja status. She lobbed the gloves at him, which he caught, and slipped his hands into.

"I see we decided to get up for the big day," she noted with a smile. "I take it the alarm clock won again?" Demetri laughed his overly-hearty "russian" laugh, nearly tipping over the results. Practically everyone at Lab 086 knew of his battles with the alarm clock, and practically everyone found the situation hilarious.

"Actually," Alex stated with dignity," I won." He unsheathed his wrench and tapped it against his palm suggestively. Alice just laughed again, and pointed in the direction of a biological reaction monitor which had just whirred it's self to a stop.

"You are a terrible liar," she said. "And one who needs to check the final results on the bio-monitor before we can finish up here. Besides, we all know that alarm clock goes beyond the limits of mere physics." With a growl, he did as he was told. Their team had chosen to explore what hundreds of other teams had failed at creating: fully compatible, bio-mechanical implants. The problems they had to overcome were staggering in volume, the immune response, creating a neural interface, a power source, the list went on. The problems were so many, that eventually they had decided it was necessary to change the entire body. So then they had been faced with an even more daunting task, completely rebuilding the human body to accommodate bio-mechanical implants. And, of course, you needed some way to make those changes happen. The solution, they promised, was innovative, brilliant, and effective. Alex had no idea what it was.

For the past twelve months, he had been monitoring test after test with no apparent correlations. All he could surmise at this point was that it had something to do with nanotechnology, as most of the tests had nanomachines as a common element. Today was the day the project leader was supposed to announce his results. That leader, a tall, balding man named Dr. Cromanin, was late. This was hardly unusual, as he routinely appeared several hours after the rest of the team had started. The rest of the team arrived right on cue, marching through the door just as Alex finished recording the results of the test. Katharine, a short, lean Frenchwoman with piercing green eyes and a dry sense of humor entered first. She had planned to live out her life on Mars, and moved there from Paris two years ago, only to find she was deathly allergic to something residing in the Martian dust. Extremely annoyed, she packed up and moved to Novus, building her home in the middle of a seven acre plot made to look like Mars (minus the dust). She and Demetri loved to egg each other on, at times competing to see if her French accent could be less understandable then his russian accent. She stood in the doorframe for a second with her hands on her hips, and then cut her eyes to Demetri.

"Bio-monitors keep you up, Demetri?" She asked casually. Demetri was always at the lab before Katherine, and he always left after she had gone home. As a result, she liked to assume he lived there. This greeting was part of a daily ritual, and if Alex remembered correctly, this was when Demetri hit on her.

"Come to work sometime, and I might show you," he replied with a wink. Katherine rolled her eyes and moved out of the doorframe, revealing Larsh. A former resident of Oculus, Larsh was the master of all things covert, or meant to record. He was average in build, with nondescript hair and unmemorable eyes. Nothing about him warranted memorizing, which it its own way marked him as a resident of Oculus. While the high-ranking members of the Oculian intelligence network for the most part appeared slim, hawkish and intimidating, those who carried out their orders were an entirely different case. They were bred (and on occasion altered) to look and act in such a way that no one would notice, let alone question, their presence. Larsh had all the markings of a highly effective Oculian agent. Why he was here and not in the field, or working for Hidden Eye, was up for speculation. It was generally assumed that he either had his cover blown on an assignment, and was quietly re-located here, or he was here to let the Oculians keep an eye on the project. Since the Novan team had already agreed to share the results of the project, the second seemed unnecessary, but it was all rumor and guess. Larsh gave no greeting, silently entering the room and moving unobtrusively to the side. He didn't talk much, but when he did it usually was with some piece of information that saved them months of research.

Finally, Laura stumbled through the doorframe, apparently having tripped over own feet, or maybe just the air around the door. Nothing was required for her to stumble, as she was the clumsiest person Alex had ever known. Tall, gangly, and utterly brilliant when it came to metallurgy, she usually contributed more then she broke. The others, for little reason other then the fact that she was horribly accident prone, had taken to blaming things with no explanation on her. Last week's hail storm, which had damaged several of the lab's solar collectors, had been examined for three days. After exhaustive research had found no feasible explanation for the storm having occurred, everyone finally blamed it on Laura and went back to work on their original projects.

With the team assembled, the settled down to wait for Dr. Cromanin. And waited some more. Ten minutes passed, and he still didn't appear. Finally, after twenty minutes crawled by, Alice finally snapped "Well, where the hell is Chromium anyways?" The nickname had been earned by his unnaturally shiny head., and as if conjured by the outburst, the owner of that head ambled through the door.

"Right here." He said calmly, attempting to strike a pose and not succeeding at much except bouncing light off his head. Everyone in the room squinted, trying to see past the glare. Realizing the pose was costing him points, he grinned and sat down at a lab bench.

"Well, I'll get right to it," he said, his grin widening. "We're done, and the results are better then we expected."

Though everyone but Alex knew how close they were to completion, they all broke into wide smiles. Alex, who still didn't have a clue what had been completed, smiled too, though he wasn't sure exactly why.

"But I also have bad news," Cromanin cautioned, his grin fading a little. "As you know, new laws have gone into effect after the accident involving the hobo and replication virus." Everyone grimaced, the accident had become the battle cry of those calling for restrictions on lab testing. The outcome hadn't been fatal, the poor homeless man had simply gained six arms and a tail, but it represented a problem nonetheless.

"The new laws state that while human testing is still allowed, it must be done on someone who was involved in the project to start with. While that makes sure that people know what they're getting into, it also narrows the choices considerably." He let that hang in the air, as it sunk it.

"You mean... one of us?" Laura asked indignantly, after a short pause.