Chapter Seven: Descending Spiral
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2000 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
I'm skipping portions of the next two weeks, mostly because major portions of it were unbearably boring. Paul and I spoke often by telephone, but didn't see each other, which is just as well as I was spending about twenty hours a day at the lab with just two goals in mind. The first was to find out more about my newfound ability and the second was to stop the human testing project.
With respect to the first, I accomplished little as I could only work on my personal research project when Felix and José were not around. On a positive note, I kept "practicing" new forms and my body somehow accommodated to the process so that the pain was barely evident and the time to change was now a mere five minutes. Additionally, I was now at the point where I only needed a couple of "energy bars" to recover from the energy drain. Aside from becoming male, I really do have a broad range of options, so broad I am still testing the limits. I suppose I could come close to becoming myself again, at least in terms of everything but genitals. I'd always have some small growth of breast and a void where I'd be scratching if I were a ball player. Having never wanted to be a Pushmi-pullyu, I had early on resolved that if I had to be female, I would be female.
With respect to my efforts regarding human testing, they were little more than exercises in bureaucratic frustration as I tried to stop, or at least postpone, further testing. Felix and José almost quit as I kept pushing them to review and re-review the animal results looking for something, anything, I could use to justify my goals without letting them realize that my intentions were other than to be extremely cautious.
Interestingly, once I had finally decided to try to be female and put my mind to it, it was relatively easy to control them. Instead of trying to shout them down and having a temper tantrum when they ignored me, I expanded a bit on my makeup use, broadened my attire to include some above the knee skirts and asked them to do little things for me, the "helpless" woman. The first time Felix got me a cup of coffee and stood attentively in front of me waiting to see if it was satisfactory, I knew I had it down. I also nearly bit my tongue off trying not to laugh and spoil all that work. It is interesting to note that the reason why most women feel they can change a man is because they can.
Patrice did quit once -- yes, the same Patrice who had been my nurse during my initial recovery. She was tired of dealing with Dr. Maldonado's rudeness, but I talked her into coming back before her paperwork could be processed. Carlton was being difficult; more difficult than usual, if that was possible. I swear he still had it in for me because of that ancient mishap with Paul in the college chem lab. It was his position that testing needed to proceed apace and everyone from project director to cleaner was responsible for insuring that it did. Furthermore, he felt it was his responsibility to remind each and every one of us of our responsibilities, as he saw them, and insure that we complied. It's not a good idea to insist that a secretary explain why a project is behind schedule and harangue her to get it back onto its appropriate place on his projected timeline.
One of the reasons Patrice came back was that I told her that I'd convinced Carlton that his constant telephone calls were taking us all away from necessary final preparations and that he should cut back on them. Of course, I also told Patrice to get the phone company to install the "Caller ID" feature and use it. From then on, Carlton always seemed to catch us when we were all away from the phone working busily to finalize the next phase of the project. I suspect Carlton was so frustrated he would have fired us, if he had just been able to reach us. He actually did at one point, but he did not realize it as Patrice recognized his voice and quickly repeated the answering machine message and then beeped at him. Smart girl, that Patrice.
It was late Friday evening, just four days after the start of Operation: Caller ID, and I had already changed. Now I was a rather plain looking middle aged woman with short graying hair, average height, and a tendency to enjoy chocolates just a bit too much read stocky. Everyone else had gone home for a well-deserved weekend and I was back to the old drawing board. My latest theory regarding how I could control the changes had just gone down the drain when the MRI and C-scan showed absolutely no abnormalities in the brain. I'd gotten the idea from an episode of the X-Files where a brain tumor had caused new mental powers to manifest, which also demonstrated how far afield I had been searching for research hypotheses. Anyway, Carlton had actually left his ivory tower at the administrative offices of BioLogicInc and come a-visiting, thousand dollar designer suits and all.
"You! What's your name?"
"Ulp!" He shocked me. I thought I was alone and I had not realized that I had left the door unlocked. Careless.
"I asked you your name. You do have a name, don't you?" You would think he could be a bit ruder and more abrupt, but I guess he reserved that for people he really disliked.
"Umm, yes sir," I almost gave him my real name, which would have blown my secret out of the water, especially given Carlton's inability to sniff out a profit. "Virginia, sir. May I ask what you're doing here?"
"I run this lab. Where is everybody?"
"It's after eight on a Friday night and everyone's gone home. Now I'm going to have to ask you to leave too sir, I know Dr. LaPierre and you're not him -- or her so you can't be who you say you are." I began moving toward him, as much to keep him from coming to me where he might peer over my shoulder and see my research on the computer monitor as to get him out of the lab. It was interesting to note that he was my height, and I was only 5'2 at the time. I wondered if all small men acted as pompous as he did.
"I am Dr. Carlton Maldonado, Ph.D., Executive Director of BioLogicInc and Dr. LaPierre's boss." He puffed out so nicely, like a bantam cock. I knew then and there, I was going to have some fun with him.
"And I am responsible for insuring the security of this lab until I can finish getting it cleaned and locked up for the weekend," I huffed. "Like I said, I know Dr. Pierre and I don't know you. Do you have some identification?"
Did you ever meet one of those people, usually new doctors (Ph.D.s or M.D.s, it does not matter which), who are so full of themselves they introduce themselves with their degree and insist on being called by the title as if it were their first name? Most seem to be able to move beyond it within a year or two, but Carlton had been doing this for the past quarter century, which is why I took every opportunity to call him Carlton instead of Dr. Maldonado. As a result, I was only surprised with the intensity of his response until I remembered that I was not his peer and needed researcher at the moment. I was just some faceless underling to be lorded over, not to be challenged by. He immediately went from his usual pallid color to a ruddy hue, but he didn't stop there. Even before he could start talking read shouting at the top of his lungs he moved on to a mottled, reddish purple. I was actually wondering if he was going to burst some of the small blood vessels in his scalp and was reviewing the medical procedures for dealing with apoplexy when the dam finally broke.
"You ignorant little pissant," he stormed. "How dare you. What is your full name? I will have your hide for a wall hanging by the morning. You'll never work for BioLogInc or any related company again."
"I told you my name sir. It's Virginia, Virginia Hyde." I know, it was not very original, but I was betting he would fail to get the hint. "Now if you're going to be rude, we can forget about any ID check and you can leave right now." I took him by the shoulder and squeezed, hard.
Did I mention that I had been working on unusual features? I had long ago run the gamut of extra sensory perception and had found that abilities like telepathy and telekinesis did not really exist, at least not in any of the genes I possessed. The closest I would come there was the occasional hunch, like woman's intuition or "spider sense" I you prefer. I liked that ability so much, I had kept it and I will bet you can guess what it had been telling me about Carlton.
Tonight I was also working on enhanced musculature. Just prior to Carlton's arrival, I had been experimenting by lifting the slate-top lab tables with one hand. So, while I looked like a slightly dowdy forty plus year old, I was strong; almost as strong as the Great Muldoon, but that's another story. Carlton's yelp reminded me how strong and I felt a twinge of guilt for hurting him. Despite that, it felt great to have the upper hand and I quickly turned the surprised man, grabbed his belt with my other hand and quick-marched him out the door to the lab. Coming back inside, I locked the door, leaned back against it and, sad to say, laughed hysterically. I do not know what it was about the situation, maybe the look of shock on Carlton's face, but in hindsight, it was not really that funny.
When he spent the next few minutes pounding on the door, it became even less funny. With Carlton making all that racket, the MPs would be around shortly. Then I would have "some 'splainin' to do," and my name was not even Lucy. Worse, it was not even Virginia as I had told Carlton. I could just imagine what the MPs, and Carlton, would think when they were introduced to someone in a research lab who did not have a legal existence.
That is what I got for letting my hair down and having fun. I felt the quiver that presaged another change and quickly reasserted my current image before I was in a position to do the Lady Godiva routine although a good chocolate or two did sound nice.
Those were two of the problems that I was discovering with respect to these changes. First, it was getting too easy to initiate a change and second, if I was not careful it could get really annoying dealing with the various drives and urges of whatever body I was wearing. Besides liking chocolates, this body was not the smartest M&M in the bunch, which was not making things easier at the moment. I almost changed back into my Dr. LaPierre form and let Carlton in, but then I would have to listen to him rant and I really did not want that if I could help it.
A few judiciously expended brain cells later, I decided it was time to leave. The front door was out as Carlton was there and he would make a terrible doorman. Besides, my name was not Rhoda Morgenstern. The back door was also out as it was for emergencies only and would set off an alarm that would guarantee the MPs came running. That left a window. Unfortunately, the windows were of the style that cranked out, far too narrow for my current robust form. I reached into my memory for one of the super-thin actresses currently on television, but quickly reconsidered as that would make me too recognizable and cause other problems. Instead, I reached back into my formative years and a lady from the "Laugh-In" series called Twiggy. Then, just to be certain, I made her even thinner. I think I ended up so thin, my internal organs were stacked one on top of the other, but I was thin enough to fit through the window and tall enough to easily reach the ground. Good thing this was a one story building.
Grabbing a copy of the Bernoulli with my research on it, I tossed the lab coat in a corner, grabbed my purse and slid feet first out the window furthest from the front door. Once out, I quickly changed back into my Dr. LaPierre persona and began slinking around the building toward the parking lot and my car. If I could get back to my quarters, I could come back to the lab for some late evening research and find Carlton there. I would still have to listen to his tirade, but it was becoming evident that I was going to have to face him sooner or later.
The parking lot was well lit and only had two cars in it, Carlton's and mine. Additionally, the front door was offset so that unless Carlton was blind, he would definitely see me if I tried making a run for it. The choices, face Carlton or make a break for it, were not great ones and they rapidly became even less appealing as a jeep pulled into the parking lot and two huge MPs got out.
I am not sure if it is natural selection or a planned breeding program, but I have never seen an MP less than six foot two and two hundred pounds with more muscle than any of the actors in Pro Wrestling. One went up to Carlton and suggested in a deep rumble that he stop pounding on the door and explain himself while the other one checked out the license plates on the two cars.
The two-car dash was now out so it looked like it was time to face the music, or rather the Maldonado. Maybe I could pretend I'd been out for an evening constitutional and then let Carlton dress me down figuratively, but the thought of him laying a hand on me in any literal sense caused me to shudder. With that in mind, I began changing back into Dr. Georgette LaPierre.
That is when the unthinkable happened. Like a little lap dog that barely stood tall enough to stare at the MP's chest, Carlton had been yammering away at the MP nearest him. The soldier had been stoically ignoring Dr. Maldonado's dance of death, repeatedly advising him to calm down and explain the problem when, without warning and in mid rant, the damn fool pushed the MP.
There I was, watching the end of my career. There was no way that Maldonado would ever settle for less than my head on a platinum -- forget silver -- platter. I told you he was not the best manager I had ever met and vindictive was just one of the few words acceptable in polite conversation his subordinates used to describe his administrative skills. I should have been panicking, and yet, I was nearly buckled over double struggling not to laugh aloud. He had not even budged the soldier.
Carlton just kept right on screaming and gesticulating. In his fury, I doubt he even realized what he had done, but the MP did. The soldier's voice got loud and curt, with an undertone that suggested he should be listened to but hoped he would not be, and told Carlton to shut up and step back against the wall immediately.
It is sad to see an intelligent man with the cortex, or at least the frontal lobes, completely disconnected from the body. That was Carlton. Instead of meekly complying like any sane person, he pushed the soldier again.
I was watching when it happened, yet I have no idea how it happened. One moment Carlton was pushing the MP, the next he was face down on the ground being handcuffed. In the words of a wise and learned professor of mine during grad school, "the fit had shit the fan." There was little more I could do but watch them cart Dr. Maldonado off to their jeep and then to the stockade.
I had no clue what to do now. As I said, I had just watched my career and possibly my research go down the tubes. I could take my car and go around to the stockade to try to bail Carlton out, but the damage was done, and the last thing I wanted to do was be the target for his anger just then. I knew he could get himself bailed out in short order without my intervention. It would be a small change, but even waiting the few days until Monday to see him would help him cool off a bit. I became Dr. Georgette LaPierre. Stopping off at my quarters, I packed lightly and headed up to the cabin, making a call to Paul from a gas station along the way. I asked him Paul to join me there, telling him I needed to talk to him and get some advice.
It is so easy to see things after the fact. The lab accident in college was the first and biggest mistake of my life. It brought me to the attention of Carlton Maldonado in the worst way possible. It set the tone for our relationship throughout the years to the point that I was surprised when he hired me for the cancer research project. In hindsight, this was probably the second biggest mistake of my life.