The green activists and animal rights groups loathed my creations and often picketed the farms. Sometimes they grew obstreperous and attempted to break in, vandalize or even burn down the compounds. As a result, the Company hired security and required clearance at the gates of each edifice. While this cut down on the number of incidents, I still caught wind of quite a few even to this day. Although initially I’d speculated on the possibility of encountering just such an assemblage, the rain had sufficiently disheartened them and the way was left clear. The watchman didn’t so much as bat an eyelash at Arlo as he flashed his identification. As if it were a single, smooth motion the gate began to peel away from the road the moment my guide flicked his wrist, slapping his wallet neatly closed and sliding it back into his pocket deftly.
He cleared his throat with a low rumble and gave the guard an authoritative glance and curt nod, tipping his hand slightly with only his middle and forefinger extended in a simultaneously approving and dismissive wave. The rain’s cadence steadily increased as we drew nearer the large utilitarian building. The truck sidled into the reserved handicapped parking space as it was nearest the door. I turned up the collar of my coat, and Arlo glanced over as he cut the power on his vehicle. Illuminated only by the impersonal blue light of the factory’s exterior, the crags and rivulets of wrinkles on his face deepened and became haggard.
“Want an umbrella?” he asked absently, gesturing to floorboard where just such an implement existed as a half-forgotten courtesy. I shook my head and he nodded, stepping out. We took our time walking in the torrent knowing that regardless of our speed we would nevertheless be soaked through. He swiped a key card and seized the handle, tapping something on the access panel with his free hand. The door clicked, and we exited the storm into the building’s massive half-lit interior. I fleetingly looked at the silent conveyors and machinery which formed the processing portion of the plant, only mildly interested. I’d observed these same contraptions during the beginning stages of my work, seeking ways to circumvent as many costs as possible.
“This way.” I followed Arlo with a growing sense of anticipation. I salivated as I reflected on the images I’d been shown of the conglomerate mass growing in a quarantined space somewhere on premises.
Abruptly both of us stopped in unison. Our breath caught in our throats. In the half-lit gloom ahead, we saw a dark form moving slowly across the vacant space. We heard a low, soft shuffling noise as if it were dragging itself forward. I saw a door left ajar in my peripheral vision. A light streamed through, adding scant illumination to the scene. My body began to move automatically, and I found myself running towards the creature. I heard Arlo calling for me to wait but paid him no mind.
It was glorious.
Sensing another being approaching, the creature shifted and turned. Its body was a mass of Freds, all merged together haphazardly just as I’d observed over dinner. However, unlike the photos this being had a definable face burgeoning amid the muck. The manufactured food products which made up its form were engineered without eyes. Yet all the same it met my gaze with a pair of large, cat-slit reflective orbs. Discerning a need for vision, it created a complex sense organ independently within a mind-bogglingly abbreviated interval. I could make out the jutting bridge that may develop into a nose, the curve of what would become a jaw, and a pair of holes that were possibly already functioning as ears.
What I saw made no sense. How was it even possible that these creations could merge, let alone reshape themselves so quickly? The mutation rate was inconceivable to the best of my scientific knowledge. All the same, it was literally staring at me in the gloom. My heart pounded. I heard the blood rushing in my ears, matching the torrent flooding the outside world. I scarcely breathed. It was dizzying.
“It’s heading for the rest of ’em.” Arlo said quietly, an edge of fear tinging his voice. He stood next to the open door. “I closed up myself earlier and this was shut tight when I left.”
“I need to take it back to the lab.” I whispered in a breath. None of the observational tests had produced results such as this. All had behaved normally: tube-fed and paralyzed, growing like plants awaiting harvest. All the same, Fred still evolved when beset with starvation. What triggered the mutation in this creature? More importantly, had it been deprived at all or was this anomaly completely spontaneous?
“Check on the others. See if there are any more like this.” I uttered. Arlo nodded and strode quickly across the expanse, disappearing with the metallic clang of an opening and shutting portal. I meanwhile approached the mass and placed a hand lightly on its side. The eyes tracked my movement, but the creature had stopped advancing toward its brethren and shifted focus entirely to me. I was eager to observe its brain, as its development of eyes required a central processing point for the nerves.
“What are you thinking?” I breathed lovingly now that my audience was gone. I was almost rapturous. Never in my life had I felt such exaltation.
“Do you want to merge with me?” It shifted.
“Eat me?” I paused.
The world faded away, and there was nothing left of my former life.