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Beyond the Brink, chapter 2

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2024 Frost Giant Studios All rights reserved. No part of this novella may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles, reviews, wikis, and other Stormgate player resources. Stormgate and the Stormgate logo are trademarks of Frost Giant Studios, Inc. Published by Frost Giant Studios, Inc.


Cullin never could believe the view. Over two years now since he stepped up to lead Sigma 3’s genetic engineering project and the vast golden plains that surrounded Sigma Central took his breath away. Marilyn and Cullin, city kids at heart, never expected to feel at home in the middle of the country, but there was something special about this place. Central was a place where all facets of Sigma met. Data collected from Sigma 2’s satellites was shared with researchers for Sigma 5’s space colony program. The great minds of engineering amassed from around the globe helped both Sigma 1 in the construction of the Exodus Armada’s interstellar fleet and the Sigma 4 deep-earth drills.

The sheer intellectual energy of the place was undeniable–but Cullin always felt like he was only moments away from drowning. While Marilyn now operated as the face of his department and always had his back when advocating with the top brass, everything remained precarious–their positions, the project, the world-at-large. Everything except for their bond.

Cullin and Marilyn were married in a quiet ceremony with only a few guests, including Julian, the only real friend in Cullin’s life, and Lilla, another Sigma 3 scientist who had become Marilyn’s closest confidant. They did it at sunset out on the western viewing platform. Cullin surprised her with two rings made from meteorite fragments that Julian acquired from a contact in Sigma 5.

“Nice touch, buddy,” Julian winked as he handed off the rings on the big day. “You owe me one.”

That had been the happiest day of Cullin’s entire life. Yet all of that was before what had become known as the “Reed Incident.” Years of preparation meant nothing when their first trial subject went haywire. The MEG, or mind-enhancing genome set, was Cullin’s most treasured creation, his flagship–the culmination of his life’s work.

And it had ended in blood.

Behind him, the sliding doors of their apartment opened. Marilyn was home from her meeting on the top levels. Cullin turned and tried to read her look. Her first stop was their drink cart.

“News that good, huh?”

Marilyn gave him a sad smile as she prepared two Moscow Mules. Cullin left the grand view behind, wondering how much longer it would be his. The couple sat together on the couch and clinked their glasses. Even in his lowest moments, she was still right here with him.

“One more test. That’s all they’ll allow.”

Cullin absorbed that. “Okay. I think we’ve sorted the kinks in the MEG set. We’ll be ready this time. It won’t be–”

“No. No more MEG subjects.”

What? But…we’re talking about the evolution of the human mind. This has been what it’s all been about–!”

“We have other subjects, Clive. Other genome sets.”

Of course she was right. The mind-enhancing set was just one of many, yet it was the project with the grandest ambition. When Cullin took the lead on Sigma 3’s human genetic engineering, it was the mind that fascinated him the most. Those at the top had always been more focused on the creation of superhuman physical specimens who might survive in deep space with fewer constraints or–as Clive always suspected and feared–super-soldiers to head off simmering conflicts around the world. Cullin had no desire to create the next great weapon. In fact, an early discovery that held promising results for adrenaline-boosting effects was shelved–by Cullin’s own orders, hidden away from the top brass in the fear that it could be easily exploited for genetic hackjobs by wannabe commandos.

“This goes against everything for which we’ve fought…”

Marilyn reached out and took his hand. “You’re not making monsters. These effects could still be life changing. Wound recovery, muscular development…” Their twin meteorite rings twinkled in the fading sunlight of the day. “And Julian’s agreed. He wants to be our alpha subject.”

“Our alpha…and omega.”

“If it doesn’t work. If it does, they are willing to reconsider and fund another round. Maybe then…” Marilyn trailed off. “I won’t lie to you. But don’t you think it’s worth a shot?”

The entire genome project was fraught with uncertainty. First, viable test subjects were identified through blood tests and physicals. From there, they were sorted into trial groups: the MEG subjects, the physical-growth or PGG subjects, and the recovery-rate or RRG subjects. Cullin and his team created specific retroviruses for each genome set. Over the course of the last year, these subjects were injected with these sleeper-agent viruses, with the goal of bonding them across the adult subject’s entire genetic make-up. From there, hypothetically at least, the viruses could all be switched “on” at the same time–setting into motion a rapid transformation of the subject’s former genome.

Despite Cullin’s misgivings, Julian had become one of their RRG trial subjects. Now, his good friend was the last thing standing between Cullin and professional disgrace.

“Okay,” Cullin murmured, coming out of his daze of disappointment. He squeezed Marilyn’s hand. “What are we waiting for? Let’s get prepped.”


“Are you kidding? I was born ready.”

Julian was strapped into the activation vessel that always reminded Cullin of a chrome sarcophagus.

Lilla rolled her eyes. “You say that now…”

“What? It’s all going to be fine.” Julian was his usual breezy self, despite the metal bars that held him into place. Sigma brass weren’t willing to risk another experiment gone wrong. There were other soldiers in the room, Julian’s own team, who stood ready to execute their own captain should another “Reed Incident” come to pass.

Cullin watched the exchange between Julian and Lilla with interest. In his years with Marilyn, he’d become better at picking up on body language. Though there was nothing obvious on the surface, Cullin detected an undeniable attraction between the two. It wasn’t a pair anyone would predict. Lilla was steely-eyed and indomitable, a keen scientific mind who actually reminded Cullin a lot of himself. That’s why he’d brought her onto the project in the first place, transferred from Sigma 3’s other wing devoted to the genetic alteration of crops and other organic material. However, in the years since then, Marilyn had grown very close to Lilla.

“She’s not who you think she is,” Marilyn had once explained to Cullin, after another stilted dinner in their apartment. “She’s intimidating, sure, and I respect that. I respect that…a lot. But don’t you see it in her eyes? She’s desperately…human.”

“Desperate for what?” Cullin had questioned.

“What are any of us desperate for? Love, acceptance, survival…whatever it is, it’s people like her that you want on your side. The dedicated ones.”

So Cullin followed his wife’s intuition and brought Lilla deeper into the fold. It had been the right choice. When the MEG experiment went wrong, it was Lilla who saved their entire team. While Reed, their subject, died in the process, the rest of Cullin’s Sigma 3 division–and maybe even all of Sigma Central–owed their lives to Lilla.

Maybe that’s what did it, Cullin thought, as Lilla left Julian’s side but not without one last look over her shoulder. Heroes fall for heroes.

Like clockwork, Cullin spotted it–Julian winked at Lilla, who turned away, blushing. Cullin held himself back from laughing. Now wasn’t the time. His friend’s life was on the line, and for what? My ego.

No. He couldn’t let himself think like that. While an enhanced recovery rate wasn’t the same thing as unlocking the hidden depths of consciousness…it could still change the world. One drop at a time, as Marilyn liked to say. He would do his duty.

“Okay, Julian, time to go under.”

Julian grew serious. He gave Cullin a nod as the lid of the activation chamber was shut. Lilla moved to Cullin’s side behind the glass partition in the lab. With a hiss, sleeping gas filled Julian’s tank. His eyes fluttered. Then closed.

“Subject ready…” Lilla reported, checking Julian’s signs of life.

“Activate.” Cullin didn’t hesitate. He never did, when moments like this finally came. His choice had already been made. There was no use fighting it now. A blue light flashed from within the activation chamber. All they could do now was wait…and see if the next stage of humanity was truly within reach.


Their apartment was boxed up. The dream was over. They were merely moving a few floors down, and Marilyn had kept her position within Sigma bureaucracy, but Cullin knew this was the end of something. While the top brass promised they would find him a new project soon, Cullin was certain that he was being put out to pasture. Damaged goods.

Luckily, Julian lived through the experiment, but the RRG set failed to move mountains. While the Sigma soldier’s genetic make-up was successfully altered, he gained only a minor healing factor in exchange.

“Guess I’m not Superman, huh, doc?” Julian took it in stride, though he knew Cullin was crushed. “But hey, the next time I cut myself shaving…I won’t sweat it.”

Cullin put on a false smile and accepted the sympathies of everyone on the team. It was only Lilla who never said a word about his grand failure either way. He took it that the failure hit her as hard as it did him. Still, it took him by surprise when Marilyn told him that Lilla and Julian had both resigned from Sigma. It hurt him even more than losing his position.

“It was Lilla, wasn’t it? She stopped looking me in the eye after the failed RRG trial. I don’t understand how she can turn away when we were so close!” Marilyn sighed. It rubbed Cullin the wrong way, as if she was dealing with a child. “Well! You’re the one who was able to get through that ice-cold exterior. Am I wrong?"

“...they’re starting a family, Clive.”

It was his and Marilyn’s first night in their much smaller apartment. No more Moscow Mules. Only a jug of bottom-shelf Morten Farms wine (from the finest vines in Ohio!) to accompany some mess hall pizza coated in lab-grown Sigma Sausage™–along with a view of the loud, crowded transit terminal. He knew where Marilyn wanted to take this conversation. Ever since the RRG trial, the hints grew in number. She wanted to start a family too–and it filled Cullin with a darker fear than he’d ever known. He tried to play it off. “Look around, do you see room for a crib?”

“The cavemen pulled it off without electricity–plus all those sabertooth tigers. We live at Sigma Central, the most advanced human achievement in history. I think we can support a baby.”

Cullin poured another glass. He didn’t answer. He let the conversation die. He felt a piece of Marilyn die along with it. He hated himself. He sipped his wine.

“We don’t have all the time in the world, you know? Every day. It’s running out.” Marilyn went to bed and left Cullin on the couch.

Unfortunately, he had no idea how true those words were. A few months passed. While Marilyn spent her days bustling through Central, lobbying for start-up funding for their next joint venture, Cullin wasted away at home. He flipped through his old journals, but his mind atrophied. He just didn’t see the point.

One night, Marilyn came home with big news. Her forehead gleamed with sweat, as if she had just run all the way from the top levels. “Time to wake up, Clive. The name Preston Swift mean anything to you?”

Preston Swift, billionaire entrepreneur. Infamous recluse. His seed money had planted the trees for many Sigma projects in the past. Without Swift, there would be no Exodus Armada project at all. Yet he never showed his face at Central…or anywhere else for that matter. He operated in the shadows.

“He wants to meet. Immediately.” When Cullin didn’t respond, Marilyn grew angry. “Do you understand what I’m telling you–?!”

Suddenly, Marilyn stumbled. She toppled to the floor. Cullin’s mind went blank. He pulled her up onto the couch. She was still sweating heavily and her skin was pallid. Even her red hair seemed drained of life.

“I’m…okay. Just been…a long day.”

Cullin got her some water and nursed her back to stability. Still, her chest heaved with every other breath and her hands were clammy and cold.

“How long have you been feeling like this?”

She shrugged and looked away. Tears in her eyes. “A few days…it’s nothing. Just a bug…going ‘round the top levels…”

Cullin was stricken by guilt. How did I just notice? How couldn’t I have seen it?

He rushed her to the hospital wing. The doctors detected a strange murmur in her heart and signs of influenza. They forced Cullin to wear PPE before he could go into her room to see her again. Marilyn was clearly exhausted. She could barely keep her eyes open–but she held out her hand when she saw him. Cullin took it, a protective glove keeping their skin apart.


He leaned closer. “I’m right here. I’ll be right here as long as it takes–”

“No!” Suddenly, that old familiar light flooded her features. She tried to sit up. The monitors beeped and screeched in response until she fell back against her pillow. “Swift…you need to go.”

“...what?” He’d forgotten all about the billionaire and his offer. “Marilyn, you’re sick. You need me here–”

“No, Clive. I need you…to be yourself again. I can’t…I can’t see you like this anymore. Swift, he told me…he had an offer…an opportunity…something the world had never seen before…”

Marilyn was racked with another coughing fit. Cullin was totally inept in the face of her pain. When she settled again, Marilyn locked eyes with the man she loved more than anything. “He told me…Clive Cullin was the only man for the job.”

Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

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