“You want a key to the lab,” he stated in disbelief, repeating my earlier request. This prompted me to adjust my gaze back to his beady black eyes, miniscule against the wrinkled, tanned creases extending from the corners like rays. Flecks of the fluorescent office lighting reflected from the upper curves, revealing the slight bump of his contact lenses. His sight wasn’t poor enough to require glasses yet, and I surmised that he’d resisted the temptation of corrective surgery due to old-fashioned values. These were stolid indications of how best to manipulate my answer to placate him. I didn’t wish for the Company to learn about this development in Fred.
“For working after-hours,” I responded smoothly in a near-purr, offering him a cool smile in deference. “I realize the Company’s urgency. At times I’ve had epiphanies strike at home, and I keep finding myself wishing I had access to the lab to get a head start on testing my adjustments.” I paused, glancing at the caller ID as the phone sprung to life again. Noting my shifting attention, Mr. Dovak extended a hand and flicked the ringer on mute without breaking his studious gaze. I turned my head back to him, thrusting a finger up to shove my glasses against my brow line as they’d slid inexorably downward once more.
“Why are you coming to me rather than your supervisor?” he shot back, “I’m not in charge of the lab.” I allowed a respectful interlude long enough to show mild obeisance before responding with strident honesty.
“Mr. Watson doesn’t seem to grasp the sincerity of my efforts,” I advised, recalling with acute distain the flat rejection he’d offered. “Nor does he seem as interested in furthering Company interests as controlling his particular niche.” I allowed a trickle of my disapproval to seep into my voice, my lip curling up ever so slightly, flashing a hint of teeth. Judging by the trifling tic I noticed whilst Mark’s eyes remained calm, his opinion of the man was lower than his wariness in the face of my request.
He placed a hand to his clean-shaven chin, rubbing it almost imperceptibly as if lost in thought. I examined him as one might examine an insect crawling underfoot. This incognizant Company man sitting in his overstuffed chair was the deciding factor in whether or not I would have unobstructed access to work with Fred’s genetic code at my own discretion. I needed the lab equipment in order to conduct the chemical testing necessary to seek out and isolate the section of rDNA responsible for his as yet inexplicable adaptability. I didn’t wish for prying eyes to discover the specifics of this research. I was the lead scientist working on the F-series coding, but I had a team of technicians working to assist me with monitoring, testing and other such tasks. After the initial production of Fred’s brethren I was given permanent employ in the R&D department as the Company dabbled in more than just a restaurant chain or two and had its finger on the pulse of the food production industry. Self-sufficiently it therefore kept staff on hand to examine further possibilities into the manufacture of new monsters to feed the general populace.
The inimitable Mr. Watson was quite the micromanager, adept at hovering over each employee and ruining the concentration of even the most intense technician with a volley of questions. He wanted to know if this analysis was strictly necessary to the work at hand; if this were the first or fifth trial and how many variables had changed; whether this or that sequence had been isolated, properly bonded, et al. He jabbered on and pinched pennies, driving many of the gentler hired hands to drinking or smoking, if they hadn’t previously possessed that vice. The R&D lab continually suffered from poor morale and the HR department – including Mark Dovak – had tasted quite enough of the fruits of Mr. Watson’s labors.
“Let me remind you, John, that you are salary. If I were to agree to this, you would not receive any further financial compensation.” My reptilian smile widened. He believed he knew precisely what I was hinting at: that Mr. Watson was the cause of some sort of slowdown in my teams’ progress, and thus I was really asking for permission to pursue my research without my supervisor’s interference. The former was untrue, but Mr. Dovak was disinclined to sleuth things out for himself. He was by and large a hands-off sort of dictator with egomaniacal middle manager syndrome. In my case, however, I knew he would personally handle my inquiry the moment I left his office. His reaction, though subtle to the average observer, spoke volumes. He disliked the recalcitrant Mr. Watson more than he felt uneasy around me. I worked quickly, quietly and bothered no one.
“Of course, Mark. I wasn’t expecting any. I am simply eager to pursue this as a scientist.” He examined me momentarily before looking away, and I knew I’d won. His computer screen had entered power save mode and had flicked off several minutes prior, thus he pulled his keyboard tray out and wiggled his mouse. The monitor obediently flashed back to life. He straightened and scooted his chair closer to his desk as he cleared his throat.
“I’ll see what I can do. I can’t make any promises.”
“Thank you.” I responded with as much warmth as I could muster. I turned on my heel, taking my leave. I expected to receive my key tomorrow morning.
Fred’s tentacle had developed only under prolonged life-threatening duress, yet required a few days to manifest. The short-term power outages had not been enough to generate the response. In my home office I’d left Fred independent of his life support, and had in fact set a dish of water out of reach before leaving for the day. I was excited to know what might have come of the experiment. The man-made horrors furnishing “chicken” meat to the Company’s fast food chains should not have cause to develop in the same manner as Fred. Even if they did, the average processing plant employee would just dismiss it as a mutation and move the monstrosity down the line. All the same, I had to work quickly to learn all that I could. Any of the technicians in my team – all working with my creation in order to streamline different parts of the growth, development and harvesting – could potentially stumble across this oddity as well. I needed to mislead them during the day, pursuing my true research at night after they left.
I was the one piecing together the puzzle of these recombinant creations, yet I was hired by men desiring to feed their fellows genetically modified meat from animals with far too many legs, far too few bones, and little to no brain. These employers in fact decreed that society must pay them for the privilege of these tasty morsels. My department’s goal was to drive costs down so the upper management could reap heftier profits. I doubt a single one of them had ever tasted Fred’s brethren. Fewer still would ever consider it. In the face of this, who then was the true demon?