Scientific Progress Hits a Snag by SnowyPenguin

I suppose every radical scientist comes up against this sort of thing eventually. The peons just don’t understand the kind of work we’re doing. Limb regeneration! Cures for cancer! Immortality! The common cold! No more floaty specks on the edge of your vision when you get sleepy! All that and more, from one simple injection!

But no. They decided to deny the world all that in favor of the most base thing they could think of: V– No. I’m not even going to say it. You can figure it out for yourself; you look to be an intelligent person. They had a cure for the floaty specks on the edge of a person’s vision sitting just out of reach, but they canceled it because the CEO’s wife hurt his ego. I was offered the option to switch to the new project, of course (after all, it was based primarily on my research), but I respectfully declined. If all they could see in my research was that, then I would simply carry on by myself. I’d get rich eventually.

Actually, there wasn’t much “eventually” about it. I only had a few doses, so it was basically make or break. My plan was simple: Find a terminal cancer patient, inform them of the risks, sign them on, waiver them enough to give a lawyer headaches, and then test on them.

What? Why didn’t I just test it on myself, you say? Let me tell you something. I saw an old college chum once who tried testing on himself under similar situations. He’s currently in an insane asylum dribbling on himself and murmuring about fairies, and he was lucky to scrape by with that. So there was no way I was going to test my solution on myself; I’m not an idiot, and more importantly, I’m in perfect health.

The plan may have been simple, but the execution would require a lot of legwork. This wasn’t something you could put an ad in the paper about; it would require clandestine interviews at hospitals with each prospective test subject. If anyone in the medical community found out what I was doing prematurely, my career would be ruined.

But it turned out that wasn’t my only problem. The other problem was finding people who would believe me. And even the ones who did believe me generally weren’t in a bad enough position that they were willing to take the risk. I tried for at least two weeks of doing nothing but interviewing patients at every hospital in fifty miles.

After what seemed like hundreds of attempts (it might actually have been hundreds, I don’t know), I finally found a willing candidate. It was a man and his wife; the wife was dying from breast cancer. I almost didn’t catch them, actually. They were on their way out, because the hospital was sending them home. There was nothing conventional medicine could do for them anymore. They had literally nothing to lose and so much to gain, so I must have seemed like an angel to them.

We arranged the appointment for the next day, persuading the hospital to let them keep their room for just a little while longer.

That night was probably the longest night of my life. I must have spent half the night pacing the length of my hotel room. Tomorrow would be the day we found out if Mrs. Smythers lived or died – and whether or not the serum worked as intended.

The next morning, I woke early and made the hour and a half drive to the hospital, with the classic rock station and a double Americano to keep me company. I walked into the Smythers’ hospital room at a quarter past nine. Glancing behind me to make sure I wasn’t followed, I closed the blinds on the hallway window. The outside window looked out onto the street two stories below; there was little chance we could be watched through it, so I left it open for light. Mr. Smythers watched me without question. I had more or less explained the nature of what we doing, and he understood my desire for secrecy. His wife lay on the bed, all but asleep.

“How are we doing today?” I asked them as I opened my briefcase.

“As well as could be expected, I suppose,” Mr. Smythers answered. “What are the chances of this working, again?”

“Pretty good. Our last tests were promising. Can I have you sign one last paper?”

Mr. Smythers extended his hand, and I gave him the sheet and a pen. This was the one last liability waiver, which filled in a couple loopholes I’d noticed in their previous paperwork. He dashed off the signatures and returned the form and pen, which I returned to my briefcase.

“I just wanted to hear that again. I… I just don’t know what I’d do without my Angeline.” A single tear ran down his face. I could see how much they loved each other, even without input from the wife.

“Well, hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

I produced a syringe and a vial of serum from my briefcase and set them on the counter, then availed myself of the box of latex gloves. I filled the syringe over by the windowsill, watching the marvelous green liquid through the sunlight.

This serum itself was very different from anything attempted before. It was derived from DNA fragments of a reptilian fossil recently found in the mountains of China; the sequence was surprisingly similar to human DNA in many places, with the notable exception that we could not find any known genetic triggers for cancer - or for vulnerability to any known disease. Entire chromosomes were completely unidentifiable, with no equivalent in any other known species. Furthermore, despite the specimen’s apparent age, there was little or no apparent shortening of the telomeres. In other words, this subject had obviously been mature for who knows how long, but it had not aged! Imagine what would happen if those genes could be added to humanity at large! Or barring that, just those with significant risk of cancer! Entire categories of diseases could be wiped off the planet in one fell swoop, and the average lifespan could be expanded incredibly.

There had been concerns about it, of course. Tampering with the genome is always a perilous process, because of how little of it we actually understand. The test rats had come out none the worse for wear, and many of them showed improvements in a wide variety of trials. The project had been switched over just before clinical trials on people were scheduled to begin, however, so we never got the chance to see what would happen for humans. But now we were about to find out, as soon as I…

Someone knocked on the door, disturbing my thoughts.

“Mr. And Mrs. Smythers?” a gruff voice asked. This was bad. This was very, very bad. I panicked for a moment, unsure of what to do. If I got caught doing this, I would be finished. Then I remembered that the hotel had ornamental brickwork that stuck out from the rest of the building slightly. Looking down, I noticed that one of those ledges ran directly under the windowsill. I capped the syringe and set it on the ledge with the vial, hiding them before leaning on the windowsill nonchalantly.

“Yes?” Mr. Smythers answered. He unlocked the door and opened it. Two policemen pushed past him and into the room. Their badges read “T. Jones” for the tall one and “R. Davis” for the shorter one.

“Doctor Arthur Fowlis?” Jones asked, indicating me and ignoring Mr. Smythers. “You’re under arrest for the theft of experimental materials from the Lytek institute. Please come with us.”

“I’ve done nothing,” I replied as calmly as I could. “I obviously don’t have any experimental medicine here, so why don’t you… er, go eat donuts or something.”

Jones raised an eyebrow, and Mr. Smythers recoiled in shock. Angeline woke up, very confused. I may or may not have told the Smythers that I had stolen the serum. Ideally, they wouldn’t have found out until it wouldn’t have mattered anymore, but there were bigger problems right now - like the police.

Davis was the next to speak up. “Sir, you don’t work at this hospital, so why are you wearing exam gloves like you’re about to treat a patient? You look like you’re about ready to do something, and I think I know what it is.”

“Y-You can’t prove anything!” I stammered. They weren’t easily fooled, even if they couldn’t find the serum on me.

“We can, if we find the rest of the stolen goods in your hotel room,” Davis replied. “We have a warrant, and we have men going there now.”

Was there any way this could have gone worse?

Behind and below me, I heard a pigeon cooing. It didn’t register at first, but then I realized where the pigeon was - on the same ledge where I’d put the serum. A surprised shout from the sidewalk below confirmed my fears. I broke my decorum and looked down out the window. Some poor man had been walking under the ledge at the time, and the vial had fell on him, breaking on impact. There were only five of those in the whole word, and now one of them had been wasted because of two bumbling policemen and a stupid pigeon.

Davis and Jones joined me at the window, squeezing past me and almost getting us all stuck. Jones watched the sidewalk, checking for casualties, while Davis swatted the pigeon away and grabbed my syringe, which was still where I had left it. Their case against me now basically unassailable, Jones started to grab me and cuff me, but the accidental recipient of my serum superseded his attention.

The victim looked to be in his twenties and was completely bald. From our vantage point, we could see the top of his scalp, where he had received a cut from the glass. A woman with him, who looked to be a girlfriend or spouse, was trying to clean the wound with a tissue. What we could see that she couldn’t was that his skin was starting to turn blue around the cut. Not the blue that comes from oxygen deprivation, but a rich, royal blue like one might find one a tropical parrot. It was starting slowly, but once it got a foothold, it spread like wildfire.

A passing EMT saw what happened and began to usher them inside to the emergency room. The spouse folded up the tissue and investigated her hand as though checking for a splinter. The man doubled over after a few steps, clutching his head.

“Derek, are you okay?” The spouse asked, nervous. No response. “Derek, look at me, are you all right?” She tried to move Derek’s hands so the EMT could get to his head. She must have seen the blue skin then, because she backed away and screamed.

Derek himself was barely standing, staggering for balance and shaking his head. I couldn’t see what was going on in the front of his face, but I could see what was going on in the back: two lumps formed on the back of his head, which erupted into what looked like horns, or possibly antlers.

The woman kept screaming, and the EMT radioed for help - perhaps it was unnecessary, because the scene had attracted its share of attention. Nobody wanted to get close, though.

The changes hit Derek’s neck, causing it to lengthen by at least a foot in the course of a few seconds. Once it got past that, the blue skin branched out and went everywhere at once. His torso grew to roughly twice its previous length, and a blue lump of some sort squirmed underneath his jeans like some sort of angry snake. He finally lost his balance and fell over, rolling onto his back. In the brief second before I was yanked back into the hospital room, our eyes connected. His face was by no means human anymore, but I could see exactly what he was feeling - pain, confusion, primal fear, and (what worried me the most) blind rage.

“What the hell was in that?” Davis yelled in my face, taking me by my shirt collar and shoving me against the wall. “You are going to be in jail for the rest of life and so help me if you don’t put him back to normal!”

Mr. Smythers, who still had no idea what was going on, was standing defensively between us and his wife. “Doctor, what’s going on?” he asked. His wife had woken up, and she seemed to be doing her best to disappear into the bed.

“I… I… heh…” was all I really managed to get out. They had good questions all… very good questions that I couldn’t easily answer.

Davis shook me once and pushed me back into the wall. “Answer me!” he shouted.

Screams resounded from the sidewalk. It sounded like mostly the bystanders, but a woman’s voice came through the loudest. I guessed it was Derek’s spouse, who had finally lost control.

“It’s a DNA therapy for cancer, nothing more!” I said.

Jones looked out the window. “Ummm, Steve?” he asked.

“Not now, Dick. What else was in there?”

“It’s got some samples from a fossil in it, but there shouldn’t be anything like this. Just replacing a couple defective markers is all. Shouldn’t be anything like this, there just wasn’t enough material!”

The screams again, and the slamming of a door.

“Ummm, Randal? You really should see this.”

“What?” Davis (or Randal, evidently) hauled me back to the window. Derek and his spouse were both gone, and the rubberneckers were all staring at the hospital doors. I turned white as a sheet. Derek knew exactly where to go, and so did I. A quick exchange of glances confirmed that the policemen did too. Jones wasted no time in ushering the Smythers back behind their bed to relative safety and dragging it to cover one corner of the room, while Davis affixed the other end of my half-closed handcuffs to the cabinet, apparently to make sure I didn’t jump out the window or something. No sooner had they finished that then roars and screams came from down the hall. Davis and Jones drew tasers and pointed them at the door.

The next few seconds were tense as we could hear Derek (or what was left of him) bounding down the hall at incredible speed, strewing chaos behind him. I swallowed nervously and took a glance over at the Smythers, who I could see huddling together behind the bed.

I’m going to die, I thought. It’s going to come in and kill me. First it’ll kill the cops to get to me, then it’ll kill me, and then Mrs. Smythers will die of cancer if it doesn’t eat her just because it can…

A blue creature that looked like it could have jumped off the side of a Chinese take-out box slammed open the door. It was about eight feet long and two feet high now, more than large enough to do some serious damage. Jones fired the opening shot from Derek’s left. The taser needles bounced off hard scales and landed on the floor, useless. Derek snarled at me, not having noticed Jones’ attack. Then Davis fired, his needles finding purchase in Derek’s relatively unprotected mouth. Derek yelped in pain and surprise, and its body convulsed for a second, sending an arc of power back into the weapon. The taser shorted out and quit working, so Davis reached for his baton.

But it he didn’t need it. After the little electricity trick, Derek’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed on the floor.

“Is it dead?” Mr. Smythers asked.

Jones approached cautiously and stared at the creature for a moment, unsure where to check for lifesigns. He put his hand on its chest for a few seconds, then shook his head.

“Nope. He’s still alive, just knocked out.”

Then came the truly unexpected, as another creature staggered through the hallway and stopped in front of the door, leaning against the far wall for support. This one was much more identifiably human, and also definitely female. It stood on two legs and had far more human proportions, save for a slightly elongated torso and a very long neck.

“Derek?” it whispered, seeing its partner on the floor. “Derek!”

It lunged from the wall, straight for Derek, almost eliciting a baton strike from Davis until he realized where it was going. She picked up its head and stroked it, checking to make sure it was still alive. “What did you do to us?” she asked, pleading. “Why?”

“Long story?” I said. “It was an accident.” I then explained again what had happened with the medication. “Nobody thought that it was possible for this to happen; all we used were a few select sequences. It shouldn’t be possible for the entire genome to reconstruct itself like that, but evidently it did. There must be some difference between the lab mice and humans that triggers a different process. Say, was Derek taking chemotherapy, by any chance?”

“Yes, he was. There was a malignant tumor on the left side of his stomach.” She felt his left side, then felt his right for comparison. “I don’t feel it there anymore!” she said. “I think it’s gone!”

It had actually worked… It had one hell of a side affect, but it had actually worked!

“We should have some tests run, just to be sure,” I said, my head reeling.

Hospital personnel and security started to flood into the room, despite the policemen’s best efforts to keep them at bay. Suffice it to say, the room erupted into a nigh-indescribable chaos. Everyone was shouting instructions at everyone else, people getting run over was trying to get back out of the room, and then there was the dragoness, who was doing her best to keep anyone from touching Derek.

Near the end of it all, my phone rang. It was Dr. Amari, a colleague who had switched to the other project. I picked up with my free hand.

“Art! Whatever you do, don’t use that serum!” he practically screamed. I held the phone away from my ear.

“Slow down, slow down. What’s wrong?”

“The mice from your last test… I was just checking on them, and about half of them are growing these weird blue scales. It just happened this morning. I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, but don’t do anything with the serum! Actually, where are you? Sounds like a complete zoo in there.”

“About that...”

“You really expect the jury to believe that story?”

“Yes, I do. It’ll be hard to deny when we bring Mrs. Smythers to the stand. She’s doing a lot better now, even with the species change.”

“Wait, she...? You...? How? You said you were handcuffed to the furniture.”

“That wasn’t me. Mr. Smythers palmed the other vial out of my briefcase and had a nurse friend administer a small dose to both of them. They’re both at the halfway stage, like the other woman, and they’re getting along as well as can be expected, from what I hear. I got a letter with a photo from them yesterday. Says they’re hiding out in the woods, making plans to go somewhere a bit more remote.”

“You realize that being your attorney is going to be the hardest case in my entire life, past, present, or future?”

“Yes, I do.”


Scientific Progress Hits a Snag


29 January 2014 at 16:41:10 MST

A trade with KettouRyuujin on DA.

Back from 2011.

Sometimes mad scientists just screw up.

Submission Information

Literary / Story