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Aberrant: 200X - Salamander Related Media

Juri 'Salamander' McClendon

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I'd Rather be a Quantum Accident

By William Miller, originally published in ROLLING STONE, Dec 2007.

Ever since Randall Portman lit up the streets of New York in a literal blaze of glory, nearly every soul on the planet has wished to follow in his footsteps and erupt into a nova. But how does one actually accomplish this feat? Although evidence is emerging that one must be genetically predisposed to become a nova, this is a very recent discovery and ignorance of this fact did not stop (and I hazard, will not stop) many people from making the effort to force an eruption.

Even today, eruption is a poorly understood process and esteemed researchers Mazarin and Rashoud, discoverers of the M-R Node, cannot fully explain why some people will erupt and others will not. You're far more likely to die in an automobile accident than you are to develop elastic skin, even if you possess the right genetic make-up. Which is another way of saying that being genetically capable of erupting doesn't mean you will erupt, even if the conditions would have enabled someone else to do so.

You'd think this would be a fairly large deterrent for most people, and perhaps in light of this discovery the number of people who seriously injure or kill themselves attempting to erupt will drop. Before all this came to light, most people held the common hope that anyone could erupt. With that hope, many people tried.

And many died.

We may never know who the first self-erupted nova was. One of the earliest confirmed self-eruptions was in April of 2001, when there was around a mere two-thousand documented novas in the world, and she is the most notorious of those first impossibly lucky lunatics who somehow erupted instead of dying. The numbers bear a little more study. Two-thousand novas. Two-thousand in a population of just over six billion, or approximately a one nova for every three million baselines.

What kind of arrogance imbues someone who believes they can join such elite company? What kind of determination must one possess to put yourself in a sufficiently dangerous situation that erupting would even be possible, especially with how poorly understood eruption was back then compared to how it is now? Myself, I simply can't imagine endangering my well-being for such a low-percentage gamble, as much as I'd love to be a nova.

I'm referring, of course, to Juri McClendon, the self-erupted nova better known by the handle of Salamander. Soon after her eruption, McClendon coined the term "Quantum Accident" to refer to novas that erupt in more traditional, random-event circumstances. McClendon was seventeen on April 20th, 2001 when she gathered her friends atop Monte Sano in Huntsville, Alabama. Six eyewitnesses observed her dousing herself in gasoline, igniting it, and throwing herself off an incline. Halfway down the mountain as she fell, the pain of her immolation was enough to force the eruption and her transformation into a being made entirely of fire. She survived the fall to the bottom, likely by developing the rudimentary elements of her flight ability.

While recovering in the hospital, she declared to the representatives of Project Utopia that she was "no quantum accident." Declaring that she had earned her quantum as opposed to being "given it undeservedly for conveniently being in the wrong place at the right time," she simultaneously earned the ire of novas and the admiration of nova-wannabes throughout the United States.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by McClendon's gumption; approximately 1900 American teenagers killed themselves in the year 2000, a number which ironically resembles the population of known novas in the same year. Apparently, it takes someone willing to accept the risk of their own demise to force their own eruption. I can't even fathom the willpower McClendon's stunt required, especially at the age she pulled it off at.

Unfortunately, most who try to erupt aren't as lucky. I have to wonder how many self-inflicted injuries and deaths in 2001 were caused by teens and young adults following McClendon's lead, as well as in the years past. Obviously, the number of "quantum accidents" significantly outnumber the self-erupted and the gap is not narrowing. Despite that, McClendon's popularity hasn't waned much; it appears every desperate teenager needs a role model.

McClendon continues to champion the idea of the self-erupted nova to this day, and with the discovery of the genetic potential for eruption, has become more vocal than ever. Since it's now apparently true that not everyone can erupt, and it's a specific few, she believes allowing those with the potential to erupt to know they possess it will cause the ambitious to succeed more often than before. Especially since the knowledge that you can't erupt should deter the merely hopeful.

I can't escape the feeling that widespread "Latency Testing" will increase the number of deaths. The science of eruption itself hasn't shed enough light on the process to raise the chances of success, even if the genetic potential is possessed. I think McClendon's NQA Initiative would be better served in devoting funding to eruption research rather than latency testing.

But who I to say? I'm the guy who is too chicken to ride a motorcycle, much less douse myself in gasoline and jump off a mountain. Maybe I'd be a bit more willing if I knew that I had a Caestus Pax in me waiting to emerge. All things being equal, though, I think I'd rather do it the old-fashioned way.

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CNN Archives

Larry King Live Interview Transcript- July 23rd, 2009

Few novas have been made such a dramatic entrance to the world of the quantum born as Juri McClendon. From her deliberate, fiery (literally) eruption, to the derisive phrase she gave to novas whose eruptions are the result of fortuitous circumstance, McClendon seemed ready to step into the media spotlight from the get-go. Add a popular line of clothing and an activist movement on top of that, and you have the elusive Salamander.

LK: Welcome to the show.

S: Thank you.

LK: You've kind of fallen off the radar lately, haven't you?

S: I don't know if I've fallen off as much as there have been much bigger blips on it of late. I didn't deliberately go into seclusion, or withdraw from the public eye. A lot of what I've been doing isn't as exciting as what I use to do, so, the coverage just isn't there.

LK: Let's talk about that for a moment. You've still got your clothing line.

S: Burnin' Nation, yes.

LK: Are you still deeply involved with it?

S: Yes and no. I'm still involved with the overall operation of it, but it's grown far beyond what I ever thought it would. My staff now includes other designers with their own ideas, and what we create is no longer exclusively my work. So I am part of Burnin' Nation, still the heart of the operation so to speak, but I no longer have to be the rest of the body, too.

LK: Is it hard to let others have a share of something you created?

S: You know, I always thought it would be. In some ways, it's actually a relief to let someone else share the burden of it. Running an operation the size of Burnin' Nation is hard work, and I'm happy that I have people who are excited to perform those tasks, the ones who are excited to come into work every day and keep the monster fed and happy. It gives me more time to focus on design, more time to focus on things that have nothing to do with Burnin' Nation. And at the same time, you know, a little bit of possessiveness can't help but creep in. This was my baby for the longest time, and the more of it I let go, the less of me that it is in it.

LK: But you still have the final word.

S: Oh yes, definitely.

LK: Now, you didn't originally come up with the name, Burnin' Nation, did you?

S: No, no. I wish I had. After my eruption and the whole quantum accident controversy, I had a small, but very devoted following of fans that called themselves the Burning Nation. When I was coming up with ways to satisfy the demand for t-shirts and other things with my name or face on it, I decided to honor them by using a variation of it for the name of my label. It also played nicely off a meme that circulated around the same time, about a medieval dragon that brought "burnination" to the countryside, and would go around "burninating" the peasants and such.

LK: Have you ever 'burninated' something?

S: Oh, god yes. Sometimes, it is hard not to burn. Not because I enjoy the destruction, but because it feels good to stop holding back. Stephen King once wrote that talent begs to be used, that it wants to be used. Runners want to run. Pilots want to fly. Artists want to draw. My talent is for better or for worse, destructive. So on the rare opportunities I get to cut loose with it, it is better than sex.

LK: Really? Better than sex.

S: Better than some sex I've had, yes.

LK: Really?

S: Yes. I know that's hard to believe, but it's true. It's difficult to understand if you don't have a node.

LK: You mean if you're a baseline.

S: Unfortunately, yes, that's what I mean.

LK: Isn't that a bit racist?

S: No more so than trying to explain color to someone who was born blind. It's difficult to describe something to someone when they have no context or experience to compare it to.

LK: Do you think other novas feel the same way?

S: It probably depends on how often they have to restrain themselves. If I was a combat Elite, I'd have more opportunity to burninate and wouldn't feel the pressure of holding back the inferno. I assume when you don't have destructive or otherwise harmful talents, you have a more frequent outlet. Then again, who knows, maybe it makes it worse and you come become addicted, needing to force yourself more and more to get the same release.

LK: Do you ever get to use your non-destructive talents?

S: I try to take to the sky for a bit at least once a week.

LK: You mean flying, then?

S: Yes.

LK: When you fly are you burning?

S: Sometimes. If I focus the fire I can propel myself very much like a rocket. Most of the time, though, I just glide through the air quietly.

LK: Now, your destructive abilities are directly tied to your eruption.

S: Yes.

LK: And you forced your eruption with fire.

S: Yes.

LK: With how much you have to restrain yourself now, do you wish you'd erupted differently?

S: Do you mean erupted accidently, or used another means to self-erupt?

LK: Both.

S: Well, they are both non-issues at this point. Would I have erupted accidentally some time later in life? Possibly, but at that point in my life I wasn't in the frame of mind to wait for it to happen. Either I was going to erupt or I was going to die trying, and I fortunately, I had the intron-sequencing that allowed me to erupt. Could I have chosen a medium other than fire to erupt? I don't know. Fire was always my first choice. I don't know what I would have tried had I failed to erupt the first time, and lived, and retained the desire to keep trying.

LK: Did you suspect that you'd have to restrain yourself like you do now, back when you planned out how you'd erupt?

S: No, I was just a headstrong kid. Fire seemed glamorous and glorious, something that a T2M'er would be able to use. And it was also deadly, which I knew would force me to erupt if it were possible.

LK: Speaking of Team Tomorrow, why did you never join Project Utopia?

S: Well, for one I'm certain they'd have never wanted me. I mean, back then the image of T2M was spotless. I don't think they'd have wanted some hothead girl pointing her finger at the other novas of the world, basically saying they were undeserving of their power.

LK: Do you think they are undeserving?

S: Back then, certainly I did.

LK: And now?

S: Now, I'm older and and more experienced. I don't think they are undeserving, perhaps a bit lucky. I do think accidental eruptions tend to create novas who weren't ready for the transition. Novas that weren't prepared to deal with life as a nova and their adjustment to being a nova was harder as a result.

LK: You think that a deliberate eruption would prepare someone?

S: Well, everyone deals with the transition differently, but I think knowing this awaited you, and more importantly, wanting the life that was awaiting you makes it easier. Nothing is ever the same after eruption. Some people don't want their lives upended like that. For some, the trauma of having their old life upended exceeds the wonder of becoming a nova.

LK: Back to Team Tomorrow. You mentioned why you don't think they'd have accepted you, but did you ever consider it?

S: No, no. For myself, anyway, Project Utopia was never a goal. Before I erupted, it was always about simply becoming a nova, whatever may come. I never would have been a good fit, regardless. I simply don't have the stomach for that kind of public scrutiny or the desire for the potential combat that a member of that group has to be ready for.

LK: What about working for Project Utopia, but in a non-T2M role? In the science divisions, perhaps?

S: I don't think we have the same goals, really.

LK: You both are interested in learning more about eruption and what causes it.

S: We're interested in it because we want to give anyone with the latent potential to become a nova the chance to realize that potential. I don't think Project Utopia sees things in those terms. This is still a group that for whatever reason helped to enforce that ridiculous situation in Miami. It's hard for me to believe they have the best interests in novas at heart.

LK: You don't think that they do?

S: No, I don't. I don't think they are necessarily malevolent towards novas, or uncaring, but I definitely think that in some way they are first and foremost viewed as resources towards furthering the goal of Project Utopia.

LK: Tell me about the No Quantum Accident Initiative.

S: It's a not-for-profit organization that funds the study of eruption and nova latency. The overall goal is to one day provide resources for someone to find out if they are a latent nova, and if they are, to provide them a safe environment to try to deliberately erupt.

LK: Your critics say that since most accidental eruptions occur when someone is in great danger that a controlled environment would not be practical.

S: I think the biggest worry we have is simply not having enough latents to warrant a facility for it. If we use the current numbers as a reference, then we're looking at maybe three people in every million that possess the intron-sequencing necessary to erupt. This might change in time, if novas are indeed the next step in evolution.

LK: Do you have a facility?

S: Yes, we have one in New York City.

LK: So you can perform the testing on site?

S: Yes, we can test for latency. It took us a while, but we were able to get the protocols.

LK: Has anyone come in for testing?

S: A few.

LK: Do they have to come on site for it?

S: No. We can test samples shipped to us. We have certain standards that must be followed though, similar to any medical testing facility, so that we're assured of both safety and security.

LK: Any successful eruptions yet?

S: We haven't had a positive latency test yet.

LK: Do you have to have a successful eruption for this to be success?

S: Our critics will certainly say so. I don't think we need an eruption necessarily. The mere fact that we've gone this far is a big step. We're the first type of facility anywhere that provides these resources with the intent of helping someone transition from baseline to nova. Even if we fail and close up shop, we've laid the groundwork for someone else to do this a few years down the road if the numbers of latents increase.

LK: Thank you for your time tonight, Salamander.

S: Thank you.

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