Raymund Eich

Katalysis’ Heart


A biotechnology cyberpunk short story.


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In its off-line data vault in Vienna, the biotech company Katalysis hid a gene therapy technology that could cure diseases and remake people into strange new forms. Could two young American hackers, and a jaded European agent, work together to penetrate the company’s vault and release that new technology to the world? Or would their assignment turn into a love triangle ending in betrayal and death?

Sample of “Katalysis’ Heart”

Katalysis’ Heart

The coffeehouse door swung open on creaking hinges, and in walked a lone man silhouetted by sunlight reflected off a bus window on Kärtnerstrasse. “That must be him,” Chris said.

Elena looked closer. He stood five-ten, and short brown hair receded from his high forehead. He wore a blue plaid three-piece suit and carried a leather briefcase. The angle of his cheekbones and the cut of his lapel marked him as European. He walked up and asked, in English with a flat German accent, “You are the Van Pelts?”

Schultz, the middleman, had assigned them that codename. Elena spoke. “Yes. Herr Schroeder?”

Wrinkles radiated from his eyes, and creases crossed his forehead. “Call me Hartmut.”

“I’m Chris.” They shook hands.

“Elena,” she said, and raised her hand.

Rather than shake it, Hartmut turned her hand over and kissed it. “A beautiful name, Elena.”

She blinked. “My great-grandmother’s.” When had she last heard something like that?

“Sit,” Chris said, his eyebrows lower.

A waitress, this one with orange hair and spider tattoos on her cheeks, came up to take Hartmut’s order. Their dialects clashed for a few seconds, until he ordered in English. She bustled away.

Hartmut asked, “You arrived yesterday?”

Chris nodded. “We’ve already gotten to work. This morning I nosed around the internal network at Katalys–”

“Shh!” Hartmut said. “They have ears all over Vienna.”

“But they’re just a biotech company,” Elena said.

The waitress returned with Hartmut’s coffee. The hot aroma filled the air. “Schultz’s clients underestimated how many agents the EU Technology Affairs Bureau moved into Vienna. They have thirty in place, in addition to the target’s own security. The target’s security chief is named Berndt Müller. He was an East German military advisor in Angola in the ’80’s, and he’s done paramilitary and security work ever since. We have to be careful.”

Elena frowned. Where was Angola? And wouldn’t all of Germany have sent military advisors?

Chris’ mouth puckered. “As I said, I’m probing their network. I can beat their security like a drum. In a week I’ll have all we need to plan a physical penetration of their off-line data vault.”

“I’ll tailor my stock of worms and Trojan horses,” Elena said. “They won’t know what hit them.” She and Chris were the best in L.A., in part for dividing their talents.

Hartmut sipped again. Chris’s eyes narrowed. “While we’re working, what about you?”

“Some work can be done off-line,” he said with a cold smile. A tremor shook his hand. Coffee dribbled down the outer wall of the cup to pool on the saucer. Hartmut winced, and dried his fingers with his napkin. “Too much coffee on the drive from Frankfurt.” He shook his black steel watch past a pearl cufflink. “I have a number of errands to run this evening. Shall we be in touch in a few days to compare notes?”

“Sounds good,” Elena said. They traded e-mail addresses, and Hartmut left. Chris scowled at his back.

“You don’t like him,” Elena said.

“I don’t trust him.”

Because he kissed her hand? “Schultz is certain of him.”

Chris raised an eyebrow.

“Do you trust Steffi Yi?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“If she says Schultz is the hottest middleman in Europe, and Schultz trusts Hartmut, I’m cool with that. If you’re not, fine, we’ll catch the next flight back to L.A. We don’t need two million euros, after all.” Kept in an offshore bank, free of the dollar’s hyperinflation, it would be enough to retire.

“Okay, you’re right,” Chris said, and sipped his coffee. “Katalysis’ neovirus must be incredibly hot.”

“People changing their genes at will.…” Across the café, a busboy, one of the latest wave of refugees from the African border wars, cleared cups and full ashtrays. Was blackness merely superficial, like the olive tone to her skin, or was there something deeper coded into its genes? She could find out. Warmth flowed like chocolate down her throat. “I can’t imagine anything hotter.”

Sunset’s indigo dregs, seen through the pillars holding up the expressway, had turned black. Hartmut leaned against his Volkswagen sedan; behind him lay the headstone sea of the Zentralfriedhof. Over the low brick wall, monuments crowded shoulder-to-shoulder over centuries of the dead. He stared at his treasonous hands, gray blurs against dark plastic. Without a miracle, he had ten years before the Huntington’s would kill him.

But did a miracle exist?–locked up in Katalysis’s data vault–if Schultz was right, the neovirus–

The distinctive hum of Mercedes fuel cells approached. Three pairs of blue-white headlights pulled up in column, the middle car a limousine. The limo pulled abreast of Hartmut, and brake lights bloomed. Men in dark gray suits emerged from the lead and tail cars and fanned out. One opened the rear door of the limo for Berndt Müller.

Though five centimeters shorter than average and carrying a paunch, his eyes radiated ruthless calculation. He favored his left leg as he walked up, and he said “Guten abend” with a Mecklenburg accent.

Hartmut turned, dropped his hands to his sides. “Good evening, Berndt.”

Müller nodded. “We noticed the American boy snooping today. He’s good. Without you tipping us, we wouldn’t have found him. A shame we won’t be able to hire them.”

“You don’t need to float them down the Danube to Budapest. If the data isn’t stolen, your enemies are out of luck and you’re unharmed.”

“Why are you so squeamish?” Müller arched an eyebrow at Hartmut. “Ach, you’ve taken a shine to that girl!”

Hartmut kept his face still. Damn, Müller knew him too well. Why did Elena have to be so beautiful, and project such an aura of openness and fearlessness? “They’re kids. No threat.”

“Perhaps.” Müller fished a lighter and a carton of cigarillos from an inside pocket of his jacket, lit one. He offered another.

Hartmut hesitated, accepted.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Müller said, his tone carefully casual.

Hartmut inhaled deeply to buy time before responding. Nicotine had neuroprotective effects and he’d taken up the habit to self-medicate. “So many good lung cancer treatments these days.” He dragged again. “Why haven’t you applied for the patent on the neovirus?”

“Where’d you hear what the product was?”


“His goddamned clients! We figured the only thing that tipped them off was message volume at Tech Affairs. They got to someone in the company! Shit!” Müller jabbed at his cigarillo with a thick finger, and ash dropped through the headlight beams.

So it was true. Gene therapy dated back to the ’90s, with some minor successes in treating hereditary illness. There were limits, though: only readily accessible cells, such as skin or the lining of the lung, could receive the new DNA, and the new DNA would replace the genetic defect in only a few target cells. Now, though, Katalysis had developed an artificial virus, one easily replicated by human white blood cells, that needed only a tiny beachhead of infected tissue to transform every cell in an adult body.

“I don’t understand,” Hartmut said. “The neovirus is a gold mine. A billion people will get genetic face lifts.” He took a breath. “Plus the health care bene–”

“Like a cure for Huntington’s chorea?”

Of course they knew the cause of his father’s death. How much more? Did they have video of Hartmut’s tremors, the signature of one overexpressed protein in his brain? “If it turns out I’m positive, yes, I’d be at the head of the line.”

“We’d be happy to test you for the Huntington’s gene.” Müller said. “If the worst is true, you could plan for it.”

“I’d rather not know,” Hartmut said. The test would only confirm what he’d seen and felt. The spilled coffee that afternoon had been only one of a hundred heralds.

Müller looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged. “You’re right, there is a lot of money we can make off this, but we don’t want to get rich at the cost of being bad citizens of the EU. Think of the risks if


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Raymund Eich


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