Warren Murphy: American Obsession

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Warren Murphy American Obsession
  • Название:
    American Obsession
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    Детективная фантастика / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Fatted Calves The new body culture is finally bringing its rewards, thanks to a hormone treatment that rapidly restructures body fat to muscle - all overnight, during a true beauty snooze. But it's way-out expensive, and only the rich and famous can indulge. After all, what's a thousand bucks a day when the result is a body to die for? There   some side effects - no pain, no gain! But when innocent people start paying a steep price for the star's self-improvement regimens, CURE's Dr. Smith sends Remo and Chiun to infiltrate the Lycra crowd and the hallowed halls of the legalized drug trade. Soon their investigation is blocked by a greedy corporation, but the worst challenge is from an army of celebrities - lean, mean products of a killer diet...

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Destroyer 109: American Obsession

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

PROLOGUE

From the top of the white granite campanile, a great bell tolled twice. The quavery tones echoed around the wide brick quadrangle that formed the core of the Purblind University campus. With its lecture halls' stately parapets, steeply sloping roofs, tall windows and ivy-covered walls, as well as its broad, curving walkways, Purblind seemed an idealized vision of an American institution of higher learning. Under the whistle of the winter wind, one could almost hear a sweater-clad glee club humming a rousing drinking song.

But appearances could be deceptive.

There was no glee club at Purblind University. Nor was there a tower bell. The peals came from a digital recording of a sixteenth-century church clock in Bruges, Belgium, and the recording was amplified and played through huge audio speakers concealed in the top of the campanile.

Likewise, Purblind had no athletic teams. No school paper.

No school colors.

Purblind University was a research institution. A knowledge factory. Which meant it was devoted to the study of one subject: the making of money. Students, and particularly undergraduate students, were considered a regrettable annoyance by professors and administrators because they drained away time and energy that might have been more profitably spent on the development of patentable products and processes. Products and processes that could be licensed to commercial interests. The name of the game at Purblind was royalties.

Most of the university's funding came from faceless corporate donors or research partners. The AgroChemical Information Council. The National Cybertronics Consortium. The American Meat Board. The Dairy Consumption Task Force. The International Society for Pharmaceutical Advancement.

In its ten years of existence, P.U.'s basic-research successes had produced a parade of well-known consumer products: One Million Flushes Toilet Bowl Cleaner; Perpetu-Wrap, an infinitely reusable synthetic gift-wrap material; Your New Face, a noninvasive, do-it-yourself home-plastic-surgery kit based on Perpetu-Wrap technology; All-White Chicken, genetically engineered to have vestigial legs and thighs; and PG-5, widely used as a freshness stabilizer for processed food, as a UV protectant for outdoor house paint and, in high concentrations, as a chemical-warfare nerve agent. The school's individual triumphs could have easily stocked the shelves of a gas-station minimart.

As the recorded bell tones faded into the distance, professors and their graduate-student assistants singlefiled, like so many families of white ducks, out of the cafeteria in their lab coats and into the chill, dark February afternoon. Inside the steamy warmth of the cafeteria, a few undergraduates lingered over the dregs of their cafe mochas. As they commiserated over the trials of life at old P.U., a scrawny, balding scarecrow of a man entered via a side door and passed through the turnstile into the food-service area. His skin was pale as milk and liberally dotted with brown moles of various sizes. The skinny scientist carried with him a truly awesome odor. Not quite as meaty as skunk. Not quite as fecal as civet cat. It crept through the cafeteria like a noxious fog.

"Jee-zus!" one of the students gasped as he clamped a hand defensively over his nose and mouth. "How can that dweeb stand himself?"

"Why don't you go over and ask him?" suggested the undergrad sitting on the other side of the table. "Uh-uh," the first student replied, sweeping his notebooks into his day pack and scraping back his chair. "If I don't get out of here quick, I'm gonna hurl."

The sentiment was universal.

Breathing through their mouths, the lunchtime stragglers rushed past the cash register for the exits. The hapless cashier remained trapped at her post. Her face flushed deep red as she watched the scarecrow man mull over the day's hot selections. The cafeteria servers, plump middle-aged women in disposable plastic hair caps and gloves, had already made themselves scarce, as they always did whenever "Professor Polecat" appeared.

The scientist's campus nickname was, in fact, doubly erroneous. Carlos Sternovsky was a research assistant, not a professor, and he didn't work with Mephitis mephitis, the striped skunk, but rather with Gulo gulo, the wolverine. Same taxonomic family, Mustelidae, but different subfamily and species.

Sternovsky helped himself from the stainless-steel tray of simmering pork goulash, then to steamed brussels sprouts, to a whole-wheat dinner roll and a dish of Jell-O fruit salad. For him, the food had no aroma and virtually no taste. A childhood virus had destroyed his sense of smell, and with it, the ability to distinguish complex flavors. Despite the loss, he still felt hunger, and he appeased it every five or six hours in as rational a way as possible, based on the prevailing theory of proper diet composition: the food pyramid.

The cashier grimaced as he took the time to count out exact change. Her expression said, God, don't you ever wash? She was a simple, ignorant undergrad. Of course he washed. And he changed his lab coats daily. But washing and changing never did any good because of the chemical nature of the odor. The oil-based, superconcentrated musk spray had to wear off his skin, like layers of paint-and because he was constantly reexposed to it, that never happened.

She took the money from him but didn't put it in the register. It went first into one airtight bag. Then that sealed bag went into another. As he turned away with his tray, she was looking frantically under the counter for something to wipe off her hands with.

Though he could have sat down anywhere, Sternovsky took his usual seat at his usual table. He felt no anticipatory pleasure as he stared down at the paprika-seasoned meat stew. He got no enjoyment from chewing and swallowing the meat, either, but he did feel relief as the gnawing pains in his belly gradually subsided. The only sound in the cavernous hall was the scraping of a cheap metal knife and fork against a thick, institutional-ceramic plate. He finished the last spoonful of lime Jell-O and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. When he looked around, the place was deserted. The cashier had slipped away while his back was turned. That didn't surprise him. He was used to being shunned. For the year and a half he'd been employed by Purblind, he'd endured official and unofficial scorn on a daily basis.

Six more months remained on his contract with the school's biochemistry department. According to the fine print in that eight-page, single-spaced document, for the princely sum of $16,500 a year the university held title to every thought in his head. Never mind the fact that his research supervisor had undermined his work from day one, and through funding cutbacks had tried to force him to abandon his chosen line of inquiry and move on to something more "promising."

Sternovsky had swum alone and against the current for more than a year before achieving the initial breakthrough in his research. Despite the encouraging results, despite his monumental solo effort, on the recommendation of his supervisor the biochem department had flatly refused to underwrite the cost of a primate testing program. For Sternovsky, it was a teeth-rattling slap in the mouth.

In the end, he had paid for Arnold, his pygmy chimpanzee, out of his own pocket, this by downgrading his transportation, by spending the last of a small inheritance and by maxing out all his credit cards. When the primate study began to bear fruit, the embittered scientist had kept the news from his supervisor. He knew if the department got interested in his research at this late stage, Purblind U. would steal all credit for the discovery. His doubting Thomas overseer would claim the Nobel. The university would suck up the commercial royalties, which could, over time, run into billions of dollars. And for all his trouble and pain, he would be put onto the street without so much as a thank-you when his employment contract ran out. Or even before, if they could prove he'd misappropriated so much as a rusty paper clip. Sternovsky bussed his tray and tossed his napkin into the recycle bin.

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