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TPWKY Episode 222: DNA Meth(ylation) and Atypicality

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TRANSCRIPT: EPISODE 222

Released February 22, 2025

[Note: Mark is friendly and speaks casually, though very quickly, about his experiences]

Mark Bryant: I guess I was in high school when I first started really noticing my ability, but looking back, I’ve had it all my life. Once, I walked through a door — like, right through it. Another time, I pushed a kid and he practically went flying. It was… not a fine moment. But to be fair, I had no idea that I was channeling people’s abilities. I had no idea what I was. It wasn’t until I was in college, when I was able to do some digging and find out more about people like me, people who had weird things happen around them that they couldn’t explain, that I realized I was atypical. 

At first, it was sort of cool — I felt like, I don’t know. Spider-Man or Harry Potter. These magical powers and a big secret. But I didn’t have anyone to share them with, not safely, and I didn’t know how to control it. For a while, I got by — or got lucky, I guess. Didn’t meet too many other atypicals in college. I thought I could handle it, you know? 

Being atypical is both the best feeling in the world and the worst. It can be isolating even in a room of people like you, because none of our abilities really work the same. Actually, I’ve never met someone like me before at all. [bitterness creeping into his voice] One of a kind, they say.  

Still, when it all comes together and you’re with someone you trust and you can make such amazing things happen? It’s a rush, really. It’s hard to find something comparable. You’re part of something bigger and you’re so small, but it doesn’t even matter because you’re part of something. It’s like looking into the sky and seeing stars stretch for miles and thinking, I am part of all this. 

So, I never really minded being atypical, even long before the movement, even when I had to keep it secret. 

Then, of course, I got mixed up in the AM. And that’s when my story really starts. 

[musical interlude]

Erin Updyke: I still can’t believe this is for real. Are we in a comic book? 

Erin Welsh: We might be in a comic book. That firsthand account was from an interview I conducted a few weeks ago with Mark Bryant, one of the leading voices in the atypical rights movement. Mark is a mimic —

Erin U: What?

Erin W: I know, I know - and his older sister, Dr. Joan Bryant, is one of the current directors of the Boston Atypical Monitor Facility. We’ll hear more about her later this episode. 

Erin U: What a family. 

Erin W: Yeah, they’re pretty amazing. Anyway, welcome to episode 222 of This Podcast Will Kill You. I’m Erin Welsh. 

Erin U: I’m Erin Allman Updyke and if you haven’t figured it out yet, today we will be talking about - Atypical Genetic Mutation! Or, as most people call it, atypicality. 

Erin W: This is a little different from most of our episodes, but we’ve received a lot of questions and messages from people who are concerned about atypicality since their emergence to the public eye last year. We are not experts on this topic by any means, but well - we hope we did a good job! 

Erin U: And we want to preface this all by saying there is no reason for fear or discrimination against anyone for atypical abilities. People with atypical abilities are not inherently dangerous, or infectious, or —or any of the things that many people believe. These misguided beliefs and prejudices have created some real harm toward these individuals who are just people trying to live their lives. But —Erin, you’re gonna talk more about that, aren’t you?

Erin W: Yeah, I am. 

Erin U: But first - quarantinis. 

Erin W: Yes, quarantinis! What are we drinking today, Erin?

Erin U: Today we will be indulging in an AM - aka an Atypical Mule. 

Erin W: Ooh, an AM. We’ll talk more later about why that’s relevant. 

Erin U: Can’t wait.

Erin W: And what’s in this Atypical Mule?

Erin U: It’s basically a Scottish Mule and by that, I mean it’s exactly a Scottish Mule. So you’re going to take some scotch whiskey, Drambuie, and ginger beer, stir it all together in a copper mug - or honestly whatever cup you can get your hands on - and enjoy! 

Erin W: Just as a side note, scotch is Dr. Bryant’s favorite alcoholic beverage. However, I didn’t have scotch, so I’m just making a normal mule. Sorry, Dr. Bryant. 

Erin U: I’m sure she’ll forgive you. 

Erin W: We will post this recipe, along with the recipe for our alcohol-free placeborita, on our website and all our social media. You can also find transcripts for all our episodes there. 

Erin U: Shall we jump in?

Erin W: Let’s do it - right after this break. 


 

Erin U: Are you ready to learn about atypical biology?

Erin W: Yes. 

Erin U: Are you sure?

Erin W: Yes. No. I don’t know. Why? Should I be nervous? 

Erin U: Ok, so, to start - atypical biology is incredibly complex and individualized. The way an atypical person’s biology and neurological system accommodates their ability is really dependent on their specific ability, and we don’t know a lot yet, to be honest. 

Erin W: And by “a lot,” you mean we don’t know most things?

Erin U: I mean we pretty much don’t know anything. 

[both laugh]

Erin U: But that doesn’t mean nothing is known. There is actually a really robust medical community that has been devoted to studying atypical abilities and biology for decades. The problem is that a lot of the information they’ve collected over the years is still in the process of being declassified and taught to medical professionals, so the knowledge isn’t necessarily readily available. 

Erin W: Ok, - so - I have a question. Is it... can atypicals like. Go to a normal doctor then? What did they do before this was all revealed to the public? Did they just... not? 

Erin U: Great question, Erin. Short answer - sort of? For all of it? It really depends on your ability. I saw a lot of recommendations online for people to visit specialists if they had any concerns about how their ability interacts with their relationship with their physical state - like, if you’re a shapeshifter or whatever, a normal doctor may not be able to help you with a sprained muscle? But a mindreader is probably ok there. 

Erin W: So - but if information isn’t available - how do they - how many atypical doctors - ok, you know what, I’m going to just write these down. 

Erin U: Yeah, I’m going to cover more about doctors and healthcare and the current state of things in the epidemiology section. 

Erin W: I just want to get ahead. 

Erin U: Of course you do. 

Erin W: Ok, so - what do we know about atypical biology? What makes a person atypical? 

Erin U: Like I said, we are still uncovering a lot of information but the leading theory is related to epigenetics. Epigenetics is basically the study of how behavior and environment change how your genes work. 

Erin W: Okay, wait, hold on, so atypicality is a genetic mutation caused by the environment?

Erin U: Not quite — hold on, let me explain. Before we talk epigenetics, we need to talk genes. So, everyone has a set of genetic coding that basically tells your body and your cells what to do, how to do it, and what kind of things it needs to make. Sometimes, genes have the code to make certain proteins, but honestly they have, like, a million different purposes. Genes are made up by DNA, and they essentially serve as a blueprint for how to make a human. 

Erin W: Okay, okay. 

Erin U: I’m oversimplifying a ton but basically we’re all supposed to get two copies of each gene — one from each parent. Most humans have pretty much the same genes, because we’re all human and working off this same blueprint, but less than one percent of these little maps are different and unique for every person. 

Erin W: Except identical twins. 

Erin U: Yes, except identical twins, who share DNA because they split from same embryo. Anyway, we’ve all got genes, they make us up, they’re the instruction kit to the game of life. Alleles, which are these slightly different genes, are like when we make house rules. 

Erin W: Okay, great, cool, got it, genes. So what’s epigenetics then? 

Erin U: Right, so, we have millions of these genes and DNA sequences in our bodies. Sometimes, when there is a physical change to the hardcopy of the gene, there are problems with those DNA sequences — those would be mutations — but sometimes the genes don’t actually change — the way our bodies read them does. The epi in epigenetics means “above” or “on top of,” so it’s like saying this is in addition to our original DNA. Environment and our behavior and experiences have a huge role to play in this — kind of like if we’re trying to read instructions without our glasses or in the dark or after someone spilled water on the paper. This leads to different expressions of the genes. This is especially important when we start thinking about alleles, that less than one percent that is different for each person. Another way to think about it is that epigenetics turn what might be dormant code “on” and “off.”  

Erin W: Okay, okay, so — what does this mean, though? Like. Can you give me an example?

Erin U: Yes, I can actually give several, but first, let’s break down the different ways that epigenetic modifications can manifest. 

Erin W: Ooh, this is getting complex. 

Erin U: [deep breath] Yep. Okay. Let’s do this. 

Erin W: I’m ready. 

Erin U: So, there are three main types of epigenetic modifications. The first type I’m going to tackle is called DNA methylation, which is when a chemical group is added to the DNA sequence and blocks the body’s ability to read it. This process usually turns things “off” but it can be undone by something called demethylation. 

Erin W: So it’s like taking off your glasses while trying to read the instructions. 

Erin U: Yes, exactly! Thank you, Erin, for bringing back my kind of sloppy metaphor and making it work. 

Erin W: I’m here to help. 

Erin U: Then, we have histone modification, which is when the DNA gets wrapped around and around a protein called a histone so tightly that it can’t be read — it gets turned off. The thing is, it’s not a totally even wrap, so some of the DNA is still accessible and that will be on. 

Erin W: Okay, got it. DNA meth is all off —

Erin U: [laughing] Meth? Like, the drug?

Erin W: Is that not what you said?

Erin U: DNA methylation! 

Erin W: ... Ok, I’m still calling it DNA meth. Anyway, DNA meth turns it all off, histone modification turns some of it on, some of it off. Am I getting this right so far?

Erin U: [still laughing] DNA meth! 

Erin W: Look, I want to get to the atypical part, I’m just trying to speed this up! Get it? Speed it up?

Erin U: Oh my gosh, Erin! 

Erin W: I’ve been planning that joke for five minutes. 

Erin U: [calming down] I can tell, I’m very proud. All right, ok, can I finish this?

Erin W: Yes, yes, go on, please. 

Erin U: All right, so that’s DNA methylation , histone modification, and finally — non-coding RNA. So coding RNA is what our bodies use to make proteins, but non-coding RNA also helps by attaching to the little coders to help break down the process and control the gene expression so they don’t go overboard with the protein creation. 

Erin W: Ooh, like a cat trying to sit on your lap while you’re writing a paper or something. 

Erin U: Yup, that’s the non-coding RNA. So, the thing is, it can also recruit proteins to turn things “on” and “off.” Now, when genes are turned on and off, we get genetic expressions that are outside the norm because certain proteins that don’t usually get created are being churned out or proteins that are usually being made halt or slow production. There are a lot of theories around epigenetics and the likelihood of developing cancer — if you have a certain mutation in a certain gene, you may be predisposed to one of those epigenetic changes occurring. Cancer is often linked specifically to DNA methylation. For instance, an increase in DNA methylation in a mutated BRCA1 gene leads to reduced gene expression, which puts a patient more at risk for breast cancer. 

Infections, genetic mutations such as cancer, behaviors such as smoking, nutrition, age and development — these can all trigger epigenetic change. 

Erin W: Wow. So. Pretty much living life can do it. 

Erin U: [deep breath] Yeah, pretty much. 

Erin W: So, how does this all connect to atypicality? 

Erin U: Well... we’re not 100 percent sure — like I said, this is a leading theory, not a proven fact — but two other theorized triggers for epigenetic disease and change are inheritance and trauma.  Sometimes these come hand in hand, sometimes they don’t. You see this often with people with predispositions toward mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Epigenetics are also a huge component in research about intergenerational trauma. Basically, these changes can be carried in our DNA sequencing and inherited by our children. 

Erin W: Trauma goes deep. 

Erin U: Yeah, it does. The thing is, the expression of this trauma does not always manifest on its own. It’s not like inheriting hemophilia or cystic fibrosis, which will generally manifest early in development. These things need an outside spark to get them going. 

Erin W: Something on top of the genetic sequencing or mutation itself. 

Erin U: Exactly. And sometimes it’s something as routine and ordinary as puberty, when you have all these hormonal changes happening and your body is under stress and you are stressed because middle school is hell and everything is a mess — and sometimes it is triggered by an external traumatic event. While we don’t yet know the gene — or genes — that atypical abilities are sequenced by, researchers believe this is a very probable model for how and why they begin to express themselves at different points in a person’s life. For some people — like Mark Bryant from our firsthand account — it occurs over time in childhood or adolescence, while others can pinpoint a specific moment where everything changes. 

Erin W: Wait. I feel like I’ve heard of this type of model before. Is this... this feels similar to the way schizophrenia manifests? 

Erin U: Exactly, yes, it is super similar! 

Erin W: Heck yeah, making connections!

Erin U: Good work! Now, obviously there are so many ways that atypicality can express itself — you’ll talk more about the AM’s classification system later, right?

Erin W: Yes, I will be. 

Erin U: Perfect, so I won’t spoil anything, but scholars think that there could be multiple types of mutations, each of which give way to a different type of ability... or that atypicality resides in multiple genes and it’s a game of roulette to see which one gets triggered first. There’s also a lot of funding currently going into research on comorbidity between atypicality and neurodivergence and mental illness. 

Erin W: Ok, so this is super interesting, but now I’m thinking — in my reading, I noticed that atypicality showed up frequently in families. Would the hereditary   predisposition associated with epigenetics be why?

Erin U: Probably, yes. 

Erin W: So how do you explain those cases where there is no clear family lineage?

Erin U: Great question, Erin. Just because there’s a predisposition toward atypicality doesn’t mean it will always be triggered. Sometimes, this gene can lay dormant for generations only to find itself in the right body, in the right circumstances to be activated. Anyway, that is a super super simplified explanation of atypical genetics. 

Erin W: Huh. So we could have atypical genes in us and not know it?

Erin U: Possibly!

Erin W: That’s kind of crazy. 

Erin U: I know, it’s so cool! 

Erin W: Well, are you ready to hear some of the history?

Erin U: Ooh, yes, I am. 

Erin W: We’ll get to that — right after a break. 


Erin U: Ooh, I’m so excited to learn about atypical history!

Erin W: Then let’s dive right in. So, just like with atypical biology, not a whole lot is known yet about atypical history — a lot of this information is still classified. It’s also important to note that “atypical” is a fairly modern term for classifying these individuals, and it’s hard to know what other names and labels they’ve used for themselves in the past, in different regions of the world, and what others have used for them. It’s also hard to know what accounts are of people with genuine atypical abilities and who were simply innocent victims of witch-hunts. Of course, this isn’t to imply that atypicals weren’t also innocent in these situations. The persecution of people with atypicality is as entrenched in the history of their community as the abilities are themselves entrenched in them. 

Erin U: Ooh, nice simile. 

Erin W: I mean, it’s kind of tragic — 

Erin U: Well, yes. 

Erin W: — But thank you, I worked hard on that. Anyway, one of the earliest recorded accounts of a possible person with atypicality can be found —

Erin U: Wait, let me guess — Egyptian scrolls?

Erin W: Yep! There aren’t many details, but many texts speak of magical and impressive feats such as transmuting substances and controlling the flow of water. 

Erin U: Oh my gosh, was Moses atypical? Was Jesus?

Erin W: [laughs] I know you’re joking, but a lot of scholars believe that the miraculous feats recorded in Biblical texts may have actually been inspired by witnesses to atypical abilities being flaunted. However, over the vast span of history, it seems like atypicals existed in the dark, hiding out from those who feared them. 

Erin U: Oh no.

Erin W: Oh no is right. I’m sure you’re going to talk more about it later in the “what’s going on today” section, but unfortunately, prejudice and violence toward atypicals has a long, long history that we are only beginning to uncover now. While we have limited access to accurate texts, we actually do have atypical time travelers who are joining the hunt for information and collecting first? Second? I’m-not-sure-what-hand accounts. [pause] Would time travelers who go back to witness events be primary sources?

Erin U: Huh. I feel like they should be. But maybe not? Without the context of like. Living in it?

Erin W: Hm. Maybe we need a new term for them. First-and-a-half-hand sources. 

Erin U: Works for me. 

Erin W: Anyway, these teams are working to collect data and stories from atypicals in the past whose voices may have been drowned out or erased by people who feared them too much. 

Erin U: I know there’s not a lot published yet, but do you have any stories?

Erin W: Oh, you bet I do — but I don’t think you’ll like it. 

Erin U: Oh no. Go on. 

Erin W: Mark Bryant and I talked a little bit about the persecution of atypicals in our interview, and he shared some stories. Like I said earlier, Mark is a mimic — meaning he takes on other people’s abilities — and he’s a leader in the atypical rights movement. Though he’s not a time traveler himself and chooses not to engage in it most of the time, he does have friends who are part of these research teams. Sam Barnes — you may also recognize her name as part of the movement — apparently has been to medieval Europe several times to observe reactions to atypical children. 

Erin U; Oh no oh no oh no. 

Erin W: Yep. It was not uncommon for these children to be labeled changelings or for priests to declare them possessed by the Devil and —

Erin U: Oh no no no. 

Erin W: — many were met with horrific fates, such as drowning, torture, and exposure. 

Erin U: That’s terrible .

Erin W: Adults were not met with much better. Earlier, I mentioned the witch hunts. Between 1300 and 1850, an estimated seven thousand were put to death for witchcraft in Germany alone — an estimated two percent of those people were atypical. 

Erin U: Wow. 

Erin W: Yeah. Pretty much anywhere in history where you find people being accused of unnatural abilities or magic, you’re going to find atypicals — which means you’re going to find atypicals getting hurt. It’s no wonder they mostly went to ground in the nineteenth century, forming secret communities around the world. However, by forming these networks, they were also able to begin formally organizing as a group. 

Erin U: Heck yeah!

Erin W: Yeah, it’s really the silver lining of it all. Some of the earliest atypical organizations are really hard to find information on — I feel like I’m saying this a lot today, I’m so sorry. 

Erin U: It’s ok, I love a good mystery. 

Erin W: Anyway, there are some vague mentions a  religious order called the Vafi, which seem to be an extremist offshoot of a cult called Sodalis Eximus which collected atypicals who believed they had been gifted with a greater power. There is… very little known about them, to be honest, but I thought it was worth bringing up because they are one of the only organizations I could find that were actually formed by people with atypicality. 

Erin U: Are they still around? 

Erin W: No idea. I couldn’t find any modern writing on them. 

Erin U: So there are no other known atypical organizations actually created by the people they serve?

Erin W: Well… “the people they serve” might be putting it generously. 

Erin U: [big sigh] I knew this episode was going to make me lose faith in people again, I know America’s track record with marginalized groups and the medical community, but boy, is it depressing to hear. All right. Hit me. 

Erin W: So, the Order was actually founded quite a while ago, though their inception is a bit of an urban legend. They say it was created by monks who wished to research and study people and artifacts with unusual abilities, and this eventually did evolve into wanting to help them fit in and control their powers. The Order is an international organization that does still exist, however, their operatives are incredibly difficult to get ahold of and when Joan Bryant tried to get me in touch with the Boston AM’s liaison, he apparently changed his number and left her on read. 

Erin U: Oof. Ouch. 

Erin W: Yeah. Still, I understand how after centuries of secrecy, suddenly being available for comment might be a little unnerving. That being said, the Order may be some of the beginning of atypical research, it’s certainly not the end. In an effort to delegate and regulate atypical movement around the world, the Order began to open up dozens of smaller facilities connected with and funded by local and federal governments in the mid-20th century following World War II. In the United States, they are called the Atypical Monitors, or as we refer to them mostly — the AM. 

Erin U: [sarcastic] Sounds really friendly. 

Erin W: Oh, you bet. While they originally opened in conjunction with the Order and had a mandate to protect, observe, and register atypicals in their area, many of the facilities began to break away from their progenitor and create their own mission statements with a focus on control and experimentation. 

Erin U: Oh boy. 

Erin W: Now, there are at least a dozen AM facilities across the US, and each has enough stories to fill at least one book, or maybe even a few seasons of a podcast, but what I’m going to focus on today is specifically the Boston facility, Division 4. I know you’re going to cover the current movement in your section, but the mismanagement and abuse that occurred in this division are directly linked to the Bryants’ decision to go public with their knowledge of atypicals. 

Erin U: Here we go. 

Erin W: So, like I said before, the AM began opening facilities in the United States in the 1940s. Their goal was to help atypicals control their powers and integrate smoothly into society without revealing their existence. Most people were quite happy to abide by these rules, of course — after so many centuries of persecution, the promise of control and a normal life in exchange for just a little bit of monitoring seemed desirable. Many volunteered for experiments, eager to understand their own abilities and limits. 

Eventually, a classification system arose. Class A is psychic abilities, Class B is elemental, Class C is physical, Class D is time and space, and Class E encompasses anyone who is particularly high risk or dangerous. Within these categories, atypicals can be ranked from 1, their ability being mostly dormant, to 10, where the ability is so strong it controls them rather than the other way around. Most experts say a healthy place for atypicals on this scale is somewhere between 4 and 6. 

Erin U: That last one, Class E… it seems, uh… broad. 

Erin W: You bet it is. So, while the AM began to help people with atypical abilities — and they did offer treatment programs and therapy — the organization was, at its core, a research facility.  

Erin U: Uh oh. 

Erin W: As the organization and facility grew, corruption began to run rampant. 

As a heads up, I’ll be using codenames for nearly all the agents mentioned, partially to protect them and their families’ privacy but also because, well. I don’t have most of their real names. The AM was super secretive about a lot of things, especially the people who worked for them. 

Erin U: I wonder why… 

Erin W: Yeah, just wait. So, as Division 4 in particular grew, so did the corruption within their walls. Their programs are tiered from one to five, one being short, in-patient treatment to help atypicals get their abilities under control and learn how to exist in the world. 

Erin U: And what was Tier Five?

Erin W: Indefinite imprisonment. Some people were locked in the basement with no sunlight for upwards of seven years. 

Erin U: [gasp] No sunlight?

Erin W: These were the people who were suffering under the AM’s regulations, the people who bore the brunt of the persecution. While it’s true that many, many atypicals passed through their halls and emerged as healthy individuals within weeks, therapy and treatment was only a small portion of what the AM did. Remember, their mission was also to regulate and control . Anyone they deemed a danger to the world or to the secret — anyone they labeled Class E — was at risk to be disappeared and locked up forever. 

Erin U: Oh my gosh. 

Erin W: Now, Tier Five is not something that is unique about Division 4, but it is the one we have the most information about, namely because of Mark Bryant’s experiences. He has been very vocal about the abuses he has undergone under the care of the AM. 

Erin U: Hold up, hold up — isn’t his sister the director

Erin W: Yes, I’ll get to that, but first — let me tell you a little story. 

In 2007, Joan Bryant — codename Bright — finished graduate school with her degree in psychology and joined the AM, having been recruited several years before due to interest in her undergraduate thesis. She had become interested in the topic of atypicals when her brother, Mark, began showing signs of unusual abilities a few years prior. She kept knowledge of his abilities quiet; while she did not know about Tier Five at the time, she did know it was safer to not say anything. 

In 2010, Annabelle Wadsworth became director of Division Four and almost immediately began working on the Immunity Project. While the so-called purpose of the AM was to protect atypicals from non-atypicals , Director Wadsworth was mostly concerned with how to protect us from them. In this search for immunity from atypical abilities, she began to stretch the already blurred lines of ethical experimentation and consent. She and Joan were already close friends, though their relationship became more strained as she rose through the ranks and gained more clearance. 

Joan finished her doctorate in May 2011, the same month that Mark Bryant graduated college with a BFA in photography. He moved into an apartment in the same city as her, Boston, and though they had grown apart over the years, they stayed in touch regularly — until that August, when he went abruptly missing. Though Dr. Bryant filed a missing persons report, little came of it. 

Erin U: I have a bad feeling about this. Was he —?

Erin W: Yes, he was taken by the AM despite having done nothing to warrant their attention. No crimes on record, no risk of exposure — simply a very unique ability that someone found out about and wished to take advantage of. 

Erin U: Do we know who found out? Or how?

Erin W: According to the Bryants, no, they don’t know. They had theories, they said, but weren’t up for sharing them. 

Erin U: Totally understandable. Continue, please. 

Erin W: So, that’s 2011. Dr. Bryant is working at the AM and has no idea that her brother is locked in the basement below her very feet, being experimented on by one of her best friends. See, like I said before, Director Wadsworth had an interest in immunity from atypical abilities, and Mark was an atypical who could simultaneously be every single one. From testing his ability, they learned that he could pick up on another’s powers just by being within range. If you can have someone who is a conductor for all...

Erin U: [horrified] You can figure out how to reverse engineer that ability into some sort of blockade. 

Erin W: Not without a lot of trial and tribulation. Mark didn’t know it at the time, but many of the genetic samples forcibly taken from him at the time were used by Director Wadsworth to eventually create a serum that would produce immunity. 

Erin U: Did it work?

Erin W: Yes, it did. 

Erin U: That’s… wow. I don’t even know what to say. 

Erin W: It’s an incredible scientific feat, but it was produced in truly horrific conditions. Mark was imprisoned there for about four to five years, and in that time, he was forced to give samples, participate in experiments with other prisoners, and never once saw the sun. 

Erin U: Dr. Bryant found out eventually, though, right?

Erin W: Yes. In summer 2013, two years after Mark initially went missing, Dr. Bryant found herself curious about what was happening in the basement where Director Wadsworth so often snuck off. She didn’t have clearance, but she did have friends, so with a stolen keycard, she snuck downstairs to come face-to-face with her brother. Before they could reconnect and clear the air, she was escorted out of the building by guards. 

Erin U: Oh no

Erin W: Roughly two weeks later, Director Wadsworth conducted an experiment using Mark that involved a mental time traveler — a woman who, when asleep, could travel through time and space. When Mark was asleep and nearby, he could, too. It wasn’t the first time he had participated in this type of experiment. In fact, it was almost routine at this point — and it was a chance to see somewhere beyond his cell walls. 

However, this time, something went wrong. Camille, the time traveler, died and Mark was stuck. With his mind in the past, his body went into a coma, where he would remain for the next two to three years. 

Erin U: That is so horrible. Please tell me there’s a happy ending. 

Erin W: There is, though it would honestly take me several episodes and seasons to tell you the whole thing. Dr. Bryant continued working with the AM after she was escorted from the building out of hopes of saving her brother. With the help of several atypicals — like Sam Barnes, the time traveler I mentioned earlier — she was able to bring her brother back to current day and break him out of the top-secret government facility. 

Erin U: Heck yeah! 

Erin W: Don’t celebrate yet. In 2017, Director Wadsworth presented her finalized immunity serum — made with Mark’s DNA — to the headquarters in Washington, DC. She was offered a promotion. 

Erin U: Why am I even surprised. 

Erin W: Here’s a bright spot — in turn, she promoted Agent Green, a colleague who had a vision for a better AM, one dedicated to helping their patients. He asked Dr. Bryant and Sam Barnes to join him in revamping the facility. Together, they revitalized the educational and social programs, hired more atypicals in leadership roles, and, most importantly, closed Tier Five in Boston for good. 

Erin U: That’s pretty cool. 

Erin W: Sadly, Director Green died a few months after taking the helm, but Division 4 is still working hard to live up to his hopes for what the AM could be — a place for atypicals to learn and love and belong. 

Obviously, Mark Bryant’s story is not the only one from Division 4, nor is Division 4 the only facility that mistreated and abused their patients. Many atypical stories do not even include the AM at all. Mark and Dr. Bryant told me stories of dozens of atypicals they’ve met and worked with — empaths, dreamwalkers, telekinetics, telepaths, you name it — and they all have their own, unique experiences in this world. 

However, the knowledge that the medical community has about atypicals and the fear they have sowed in the wider population about atypicals largely stem from cases like Mark’s. The atypical rights movement is a direct result of how the AM has weaponized fear, surveillance, and medicalized torture against a marginalized community. 

But… I expect you’ll be talking more about that.

Erin U: Yes, I will, Erin. Right after the break. 


Erin W: So, Erin, how many people are atypical in the world?

Erin U: Well, estimates vary but most experts in the field believe that anywhere from 2% to 4% of the population may be atypical. 

Erin W: That’s a big range. 

Erin U: Yeah. 

Erin W: That’s a lot of atypicals. 

Erin U: Yeah. The thing is, it’s hard to have an accurate number on how many people have atypical abilities because, up until a year ago, this information was intentionally kept hidden from the public and people who were able to stay out of the AM’s grasp did not self-report. Even now, when positive public perception of atypicals is on the rise, many fear retribution from family, friends, and employers if they reveal their atypicality. 

Erin W: Okay, yeah, let’s back up. What exactly sparked this exposure? After thousands of years of staying hidden, why did atypicals decide to reveal themselves?

Erin U: First of all, it’s important to remember that this was not a decision made by every atypical. There’s actually quite a lot of debate within the atypical community regarding if this movement was even the right path to take — however, this is an intra-community conflict that I’m not really qualified to cover. 

Regardless of individuals’ feelings about it, atypicals were revealed to the world about a year ago when a group of hackers leaked documents from the Washington, DC AM headquarters. These documents included audio and video of atypicals from all levels of the facility, as well as intake forms, some classified files, and the AM employee handbook which details introductory information on atypicals. While many were willing to write it off as a hoax, atypicals pretty quickly started coming forward. 

Erin W: Like Mark. 

Erin U: Yes, like Mark. Many of the people in these videos were recognized by peers and colleagues, and it became harder and harder to hide. 

Erin W: So, who leaked the files?

Erin U: Classified information. We still don’t know. 

Erin W: Huh. 

Erin U: The thing is, this is all so new that most people don’t know how to proceed. While the right thing to do is obviously continue treating people with atypicality the way we’ve always treated them — granted, we should be treating them better than they’ve been treated before — dozens of legal questions have arisen. Can atypicals prosecute the AM and, in turn, the US government for the abuses they endured? Can information and data collected via forced experimentation be used to develop treatments and healthcare systems for atypicals? Can doctors be liable if they treat an atypical and their systems do not react well to typical treatment? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Erin W: That’s wild. 

Erin U: Forty-six states have still not determined that it is illegal to fire someone for being atypical. There are countless lawsuits across the country suing states for denying atypicals marriage licenses. One girl, a pyrokinetic, had her acceptance to Yale revoked last summer after she posted on Facebook about her involvement in the atypical rights march in New Haven. She’s now trying to fight the school, but most courts do not accept atypical cases yet. There simply isn’t legislation to support them. 

And these are just the legal battles. The social ramifications of atypicality are just as intense. While many are fascinated by these powers, just as many fear them. Rates of bullying in high schools have sky-rocketed toward anyone perceived to be atypical, and there are new shelters being formed across the country for atypical youths who have been rejected by their families. Just last month, the employees of Meeks Modern, a start-up tech company based in Boston, were trapped inside their building for eight hours after violent protestors blocked their exits. Frankie Meeks, the CEO, revealed recently that he is atypical. 

Erin W: That is so messed up. 

Erin U: And none of this is even touching on healthcare! Insurance companies are now counting atypicality as a pre-existing condition that excludes anyone with even an inkling of documented ability from receiving benefits. Doctors with specialization for atypicality practically don’t exist, and most medical schools are not willing to offer programs at the moment. Unfortunately, most of the research we have about medical procedures and atypicals come from —

Erin W: The AM. During their sketchy phase, too. 

Erin U: Yep. 

Erin W: So where does that leave us? Where does it leave atypicals? Like. Is there anything we can do?

Erin U: Of course there is. Look, change takes time — legal change, social change, all of it. I don’t think anyone in the atypical community is shocked by how things have shaken out in the last year, but I think it’s important to remember that a year in social revolution is such a short amount of time and we have made great strides. There is legislation in the House right now that would include atypicality in the Civil Rights Act, and it has massive public support. Labs are receiving boatloads of funding to allow them to conduct ethical , regulated experiments and research that would bolster our medical knowledge and understanding so we can better support atypical communities. Like you mentioned before, atypicals are now part of some of this research — especially when it comes to collecting historical and archeological data. 

What can we do? Well, if you are atypical — live your life. Do what you need to do to feel safe and healthy and secure. If that means staying quiet about it, do it. If that means joining a march and helping the movement, do it. It’s your life to live.

If you’re not atypical, I would recommend supporting the atypical rights movements, by donating to their legal funds, by volunteering your time, or even just promoting their material and information on whatever platforms you use. I’ll put some links on our website. Even more importantly than that, though, is that you remember to be kind. Atypicals are people — people who have been through a lot, and need your compassion. Fear and distrust is never useful. 

Erin W: Well-said, Erin. 

Erin U: Thank you! Is it time for sources?

Erin W: Yes, I think it is. As always, all of our sources can be found on our website — along with our recipes for the quarantinis and alcohol-free placeboritas! You can also find our reading list on Goodreads. Erin, would you like to go first?

Erin U: Yes, sure. So, sources are a little weird this time around due to the nature of the topic. I read a lot of documents from the AM leak, along with a couple of papers on epigenetics more generally. I also got information on the current state of the world from, well, the news. I’ll put links to specific articles and interviews on the site. Erin?

Erin W: Hoo boy. Yeah, same, as far as weird sources go. A lot of my information comes from interviews with Mark and Joan Bryant, the almost-full contents of which are posted on the website with transcripts. We did have to redact a few things, so don’t be alarmed if there are gaps in your listening and reading. 

Erin U: Oh my gosh, Erin, did you have to sign an NDA?

Erin W: Wouldn’t you like to know? [pause] Yes, yes, I did. 

Erin U: That’s so cool! Okay, okay, continue. 

Erin W: I also got information from a few scattered files in the AM leak — again, specific ones will be posted on the website. They are worth taking a look at it. I think that’s it for today? 

Erin U: I think so too. Until next time!

Erin W: Wash your hands!

Erin U: Ya filthy animals! 

Erin W: And stay strange.