Roland ter Borcht is a minor villain in the third Maximum Ride book. He’s briefly mentioned in the second book, but does not appear. He’s a disgraced geneticist with a complex past – but it's not really borne out in the actual text. We get a little bit of it, but not everything.
What we know a little more about is the role he played in the marketing campaign for the third book. And that gives us enough to begin to piece together a story. Let's go to the evidence.
At some point around 1994, Jeb Batchelder helps ter Borcht fake some paperwork related to the flock. Here's an excerpt from School's Out - Forever:
“Oh, gosh,” Nudge whispered as the screen suddenly filled again. “Look, look!”
Frowning, I watched as pages of documents tiled before us. On the top was a photograph of a baby. It was wearing a white hospital bracelet that said, “I’m a Girl! My name is Monique.” The Monique part was hand-written.
“That’s me, me as a baby,” Nudge said excitedly.
I had no idea why she thought this, but whatever. She started scrolling through the pages and hit a huge patch of, like, blueprints or mechanical drawings, schematics, design plans. I looked closer and frowned. These were plans of how to recombine the baby’s DNA, graft avian DNA into her stem cells.
“Max, Max, look at this,” Nudge whispered, pointing. There, at the bottom of a long medical form, was the signature of Jeb Batchelder. “Oh, my gosh. Max — can you believe this? Fang?”
Fang came over silently and read over her shoulder. His eyes narrowed. I didn’t understand — how could Jeb Batchelder be here in Itex’s files? We were supposed to be finding out stuff about how evil Itex was — not about the scientists at the School.
Nudge clicked on a link, and a small media-player window popped up. It was labeled “Parents, two days post.”
A fuzzy video clip of a black couple started playing. The woman was crying, and the man had a pained, frozen expression on his face, as if he’d just seen a horrible accident. The woman was saying, “My baby! Who would take my baby? Her name was Monique! If anyone knows where my baby is, please, please bring her back. She’s my world!” The woman broke down sobbing and couldn’t go on.
This wasn’t the stuff we were supposed to be seeing. We were supposed to be looking at file after file about how Itex was polluting the planet, destroying natural resources, using child labor, and so on. Despite myself, I was intrigued by what Nudge was finding.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said, after the video played. “We saw the medical consent form a few screens back.”
Nudge sniffled and clicked back to the form. At the bottom were signatures of Monique’s parents, authorizing someone named Roland ter Borcht to "treat” their baby.
But, now that we looked at them, the parent signatures looked exactly like Jeb Batchelder’s.
Five years later in January 1999 – ter Borcht’s reputation is at its best, and he’s at a party in Washington, DC. He’s backed by Itex.
Image transcript: a clipping from the Washington Examiner, dated January 23, 1999. The byline is Erin A. Hogan. Headline: Roland Ter Borcht Celebrated By Peers for Medical Achievements at Black Tie Affair. Article text:
World renowned and controversial geneticist, Dr. Roland Ter Borcht was honored at a black tie, invitation-only event at the Kennedy Center in Downtown Washington yesterday.
A pioneer in his field, he spent the majority of his early career living in Europe as a botanist, developing his technique of genetic splicing in plants, later incorporating his methods into human experimentation, beginning with stem cells. Notorious for working alone in closed quarters, his medical journals have been both criticized and honored by the genetics community for his testing methodology. Frequently outspoken, Ter Borcht revealed to the audience that he was working on some of his best research yet, jokingly adding that he was looking for sponsorship. His longtime backer, Itex Corporation has had a powerful showing on the NASDAQ market this year. Ter Borcht, incidentally, is one of their biggest shareholders.
Two months later, March 1999 – a body is found in the Potomac. Odd, but what does this have to do with ter Borcht?
Image transcript: a newspaper clipping dated March 18, 1999. Headline: Itex Laboratory Employee Found Dead in Potomac. Article text:
An unidentified male employee of corporate giant Itex Corp. was found dead Monday morning during the annual crew regatta of Washington-area colleges.
Team members from District of Columbia University spotted the body floating in the water, wearing an Itex security clearance badge. All racing was suspended and rescheduled for later this week. The identity of the deceased is being withheld until family members can be notified by DC police. The victim's cause of death is still under investigation.
April 1999 – an email exchange between Walter Powers and ter Borcht. Some answers! The dead body was ter Borcht’s former assistant. And Powers is under outside pressure...
Image transcript: an email conversation between Roland ter Borcht and Walter Powers. I've stripped the formatting and presented it in chronological order for ease of reading. Email text:
On Apr 1, 1999, at 10:24 AM, Walter Powers wrote:
We have a schedule to maintain. Our client can't wait any longer and I have a press conference to schedule. I need to maintain the facade that we operate a legitimate business here, remember? You're not answering your private line, and we had to take care of your "assistant," so how else am I supposed to get a hold of you? Carrier pigeon?
Stop the bureaucratic crap and play the game.
From: Roland Ter Borcht. Subject: Deadline Approaching Fast. Date: 2 Apr 1999 14:28:33 -0400
Stall. You should know by now that I will not answer my phone whilst I'm running trials. And he couldn't keep quiet. Wasn't a team player.
Frankly, I don't care what you do. I care about my work, and only my work. At this moment, I need more time to fix what you've done. Don't try to rush me.
Say whatever you want. Focus on the new plant. Just do your damn JOB.
Undated: this business card.
Image transcript: a business card for Walter X. Powers, associated with the Institute for Higher Aeronautics. The address is given as 11-86 Florida Avenue, N.W., Suite 34B, Washington, DC 20036. His telephone number is listed as 202-555-5567; his fax number is listed as 202-555-8799. His email is email@example.com. There is a brief handwritten message on the card. It reads "R: Call to discuss Itex ASAP. - WP"
This plane ticket is only dated “30 Dec” - no year.
Image transcript: a boarding pass stub for Euroair. The passenger name is given as Ter Borcht / Roland. The flight was from Soesterberg, Netherlands to Death Valley, CA, USA. The flight number is 426F. The date is 30 December. The gate was B1. The seat number was 1B, in the non-smoking section.
The text of this article also appears, in a different format, in chapter 51 of School's Out -- Forever.
Image transcript: A printout of a short article. A black-and-white, close-up shot of a man in a surgical cap and mask appears at the left. Article text:
Ter Borcht, Roland. Geneticist.
- Medical license revoked, 2001.
- Imprisoned for unauthorized criminal genetic experiments on humans, 2002.
- A controversial figure in the field of genetic research.
- ter Borcht was for many years considered a genius, and the leading researcher in human genetics. However, in 2002, after being found guilty of criminal human experiments, ter Borcht was declared insane. He's currently incarcerated in the "Dangerous-Incurable" wing of a rehabilitation facility in the Netherlands.
There is just enough here to tantalize. In early 1999, ter Borcht is at the height of his fame - but his nameless assistant is causing problems. The assistant is murdered in March by persons unknown but perhaps under the control of Powers.
Powers and ter Borcht barely have a dynamic – boss, star researcher – but there’s enough there to play with. Powers is sniping at ter Borcht for his refusal to “play the game”; ter Borcht snipes right back.
Speculation: following the discovery of his assistant’s body in the Potomac, things begin to come to light that implicate ter Borcht, but not Itex as a whole. Something happens in spring 1999 that drags a great deal of things into the light that we, as readers, are not privy to. And they’re all pinned on ter Borcht, who is subsequently found guilty of “criminal human experiments”.
Ter Borcht’s medical license is revoked in 2001. He’s tried by a jury of his peers and declared insane. The following year, he's confined to a rehab facility in the Netherlands. (Which seems slightly odd to me – he was working in the US. Is he Dutch? Why there?)
On the page, ter Borcht is a shadowy figure in the last half of the second book. We know he is important in some way, and was involved in the creation of the flock. We know that Jeb Batchelder helped him fake some paperwork related to Nudge.
Then he shows up in the third book in person and... is yet another interchangeable mad scientist, of the basic kind we meet again and again throughout the series. His whole schtick is “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent is funny”.
There’s at least a short story’s worth of intrigue here, I think. You’ve got the prima-donna researcher at the height of his fame. A murder that directs attention to him. A trial that brings terrible things to light, but ultimately results in a verdict of insanity rather than of criminal activity. And a corporation so powerful they can unwrite that verdict and bring him back into the world, just a few years later.
Did ter Borcht commit that murder himself? Did he approve of it being done by someone else? Was he horrified to find out? How did everything Itex was doing get blamed on just one guy? How do you think he feels about getting moved around like a chess piece by a megacorporation?
Ultimately, of course, this trail leads nowhere. After the end of Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, ter Borcht is never mentioned again – though I would be more surprised if he were. But it still interests me to think: was he ever intended to be more important than he was? It seems like a lot of work was put into building his background.
Except for Jeb, no other villain in the series got the same treatment. There is one close competitor: Hans Gunther-Hagen recurs over multiple books, but didn't get the same sort of attention in promotional materials.
Part of that may be due to how the marketing strategy for the series changed over time. In 2006 and 2007, Fang's Blog was the center of promotional activity for the series. Making a series of posts designed to drive interest in the next book, by slowly revealing information about an important character in it, just made sense. (When it comes to posts building interest in the third book, the nine that were made about ter Borcht were only part of that effort. Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports had its own miniature marketing campaign, including multiple commercials.)
But an important thing happened after Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports came out: the official fan forums went offline in fall 2007, and they didn't truly reappear until November 2008 with the launch of Maximum-X (later Max-Dan-Wiz), which marked a new direction in marketing for the series. Fang's Blog moved to Maximum-X, and it stayed there for the next four years. Now promotional activity was on the same site as the fan forums, and a lot of work went into creating a sense that Fang's Blog was truly interactive. Where previously the majority of blog posts had been in some way related to the books, now many of them were focused on encouraging community engagement.
I can't know exactly how things worked behind the scenes, or what anyone's thought process was at this time. I can show you all these things, but I can't know why they happened the way they did, why the choice was made to pivot away from the marketing strategy that ultimately brought us this sketched-out backstory.
I've always found ter Borcht an interesting character. I wish we had seen more of him.
This is a story I've pieced together from many scraps of information.
Image credit: Caitlin Bergmann.
Some of the images here appear in paperback editions of the second book, and were also viewable on the main site in early 2007. Some images were only viewable on the main site at that time.
Some of these images were also posted on Fang's Blog in late 2006 and early 2007. Here are the relevant entries:
"This guy!!" [31 October 2006]. (I think the missing image was this article, but I'm not absolutely certain.)
"More info on the 'Soup Doctor'" [6 November 2006]. This article.
"More secret stuff." [14 November 2006]. This email.
"A stinky situation" [20 November 2006]. One of the images was this article.
"Exhibit A: Weirdos-R-Us" [3 January 2007]. This business card.
"Exhibit B: Flying Soup!" [3 January 2007]. This ticket stub.
Ter Borcht is also mentioned or alluded to in a few blog entries:
"And...we're BACK." [30 October 2006].In the meantime, I just checked the IP address of where hairy wolf-boy was "posting" from. ... It's registered to the "Itex Corp., LLC" & some guy whose name I can't pronounce cause it's all foreign-exotic-sounding & stuff."Permission Slips and Field Trips." [6 November 2006].Since [Nudge] took it upon herself to begin our little game of show-and-tell, I can share the rest of the printouts I found about "Dr. Soup," as Ig likes to call him. His name is just too darn tongue-tying to say more than once without seriously botching it up."Dear Fnick," [31 January 2007].Now taking bets that Dr. Soup was at that hospital. Perhaps he was, I don't know, the German one who spat when he spoke. ...Or yelled. ...Or, just while standing still pondering the meaning of life.
The School's Out - Forever excerpt is from chapter 131. Page numbers vary by specific edition.
Go back to the Articles index.
Last edit: 25 May 2022.