“Smithers, what is that revolting smell?” Mr burn took a tissue from his pocket and covered his mouth.
“Science, sir.” Smithers took Mr Burn elbow and helped support him as they walked down the glaringly bright corridor, past all the reinforced windows behind which men and women dressed in white gowns and hairnets moved and mixed, studied and compared. A slightly built man who was balding prematurely walked ahead of them, his own white gown swishing in step. A yellow security tag bounced on his lapel, the title ‘Doctor Chastelard’ visible in bold black letters next to a rather unflattering photograph. He glanced over his shoulder.
“Oh, umm, we had a bit spillage earlier. Nothing to worry about though.” He added hastily, turning back. A small wrinkle appeared on his forehead – those labs were hermetically sealed, there was no way his employer could actually smell what was going on inside. He must have checked the security footage from earlier and prepared the comment, Dr Chastelard thought, just to put me on the defensive from the beginning. It confirmed how much trouble he was in.
“As if badly handled spillages haven’t done enough damage...” Burns muttered, sending another shot across his bows.
Let him rant, the doctor thought. He knew he was being set up as a scape goat, that though the Simpson incident wasn’t his fault he would be blamed because it was triggered by his research - it reminded him of the way people bemoaned the scientists who created atomic weapons instead of the political systems that proliferated them. And now he was being forced to give a report on the progress made determining exactly what had happened to the girl, even though Mr Burns had only told him to start the investigation a little over a week ago. The hospital hadn’t even released any blood samples yet...
But he had an ace up his sleeve, oh yes. The question was whether or not he would be allowed to play it. He led them into a sparsely furnished conference room. A circular imitation pine table sat in the middle, encircled by five or six plastic swivel chairs. A laptop on standby hummed on the table and a projector hung from the ceiling.
“Please,” he said, gesturing to one of the swivel chairs. Smithers ran ahead and spread a white handkerchief over the seat, then helped Mr Burns sit. “And close the door,” Dr Chastelard added, waving his hand towards it. Smithers automatically obeyed and he felt a smile flicker of a smile at this. This was his conference room, the only place he felt more secure in than his lab, and here he felt he had some authority. He had insisted on giving the presentation in it for that very reason – had he been forced to stand before Mr Burns huge oak desk, surrounded by books he had never read and stuffed animals he had never shot, he almost certainly would have left today without a livelihood. He turned and began to tap the keys of his laptop. His PowerPoint presentation popped up on the laptop’s screen.
“Before you begin you song and dance routine just tell me one thing, you poor excuse for a chemists assistant.” Mr Burns spoke from behind his back. The doctor stood there, his cursor hanging over the ‘start slideshow’ tab, weighing up whether or not to answer or just proceed – he knew what the question was and where it was leading, and it was not somewhere he wanted to go just yet. But something about Burn’s tone told him that he would not be brushed off.
“It was TROJAN.” He clicked the enter button before Burns could reply. “Lights,” he said. The lights switched off and the projector hummed into life. As it warmed up his first slide appeared on the screen.
The Chinese Use The Same Word For Crisis As Opportunity
He let this sink in, then moved onto the next frame. It showed a picture of a plant sprouting feathers.
“I’m sure you recognise this. An anomaly due to our …disposal methods. We cleaned up the mess and incinerated all evidence, save a few samples I requested.”
Dr Chastelard was tempted to bring up how often he had complained about said disposal methods but decided it wouldn’t help his case – his science had caused the incident, ergo his fault. He stepped forward and placed a finger in the centre of a mass of grey feathers.
“This instance was only notable for the fact that whilst the mutations seemed to occur randomly, the structures they produced” he tapped a feather “were orderly and well developed. But as we couldn’t recover any viable samples of the ‘fertiliser’, there seemed little point trying to investigate it further.”
Dr Chastelard stepped back and clicked to the next slide. A picture of a girl with spiky blond hair appeared. She wore a pink cardboard hat and sat proudly behind a birthday cake with eight candles. Mr Burns sank slightly in his chair, his scowl deepening. Dr Chastelard hadn’t asked how his employer had come by the picture.
“Some time later we heard rumours of strange goings on. A normal eight year old girl who grew wings, and who claims to have been in contact with the same substance as the aforementioned crops. The...”
“Yes yes, we know this. Get to the point man.” Dr Chastelard closed his eyes and tried to ignore Burn’s heckling. He waited a second or two, then continued.
“The wings were well also developed and thankfully it seems the girl will be alright. Well, aside from the obvious…”Dr Chastelard turned and leaned towards them, resting both hands on the table. Although neither Mr Burns or Smithers noticed it, they leaned back slightly – now he had gotten started Dr Chastelard was becoming more confident with every word and on some level they could feel it, feel a little of the resolve that had allowed him to graduated from Springfield University with the highest score ever achieved since Professor Frink.
“The press are currently blaming the mutation on radiation, but this won’t last. A fish may grow a third eye but that eye will be the same colour as its other two – in general the mutation can only work with the information already present in the creatures DNA. Failing that it will form some sort of tumour. It will not be long before some member of the scientific community realises something had happened to introduce new information into her genes. Something like -”
“Trojan,” Smithers whispered, interrupting him. Dr Chastelard paused. He hadn’t expected that, nor the way his two guests now sat in silence, apparently deep in thought. He had suspected that the radiation card was Mr Burns’s fallback. That if it became impossible to publicly deny the contence of his barrels had caused the mutation he would have tried to explain it away with this, probably asking what-was-the-girl-doing-tampering-with-toxic-waste-in-the-first-place in the process. The idea that it may no satisfy everyone, that they may conduct further investigations and in the process uncover TROJAN, would force him to re-evaluate his intentions. Dr Chastelard smiled, unseen in the darkness, and clicked to the next frame.
It showed a microscope slide of a muscle cell, a transparent balloon with a single black pip near its centre. Next to this, circled in red, was a small black spiral. It did not look like it belonged there.
“TROJAN,” he announced, “one of very few man made viruses and the only one we know of that targets its host DNA directly. Its modus-operandi consists of invading the host’s cells disguised as a normal Creatine and inserting itself between the two helical halves of said DNA, then triggering an explosive increase in growth rate. The cell divides, carrying two halves of the virus’s genetic material with it, and the process is repeated. The cells’ rapid division results in their not bonding properly with their neighbours, and as a result they break off and are carried throughout the body - cancer in a bottle, to all intents and purposes, but lethal within a week.”
He looked at it in loathing – something was wrong when you loathed your life’s work. But he had been so far in debt, so close to the breakdown of his marriage, that when Mr Burns turned up at the door of the three roomed apartment he, his son and wife were sharing and offered him a sixty thousand a year job (with six months advance pay to ‘get him on his feet’) that he jumped at the chance. Only later did he discover exactly what his job would entail, and had resolved to quit as soon as he could find another.
But a month went past, then three, and after a year or so he realised he was trapped – that the only jobs he could apply for paid a pittance and in order to take them he would have to explain to his wife and son why he wanted out, that he had spent twelve months developing one of the most potentially horrifying weapons the world had ever seen.
“Or it would be if it worked.” Smithers muttered and Dr Chastelard felt their hostility flaring up again. It shook him from his reverie. The fact he had managed to breed RNA capable of penetrating nuclear membranes and then reproducing within them like this would have stunned the medical world if it knew, possibly won him a Nobel prize. The catch was it only seemed to work in point-two percent of individuals, and despite his best efforts he couldn’t figure out why. And as such, Mr Burns labelled him a failure – he wanted results, not progress.
“It seems to be working now,” he replied quietly. “Gentlemen, it is my professional opinion that a mutated version of TROJAN is the only thing capable of producing what we have seen. I did everything within my power to ensure that the animal material I supplied to you for disposal was free from traces of it, but no system is foolproof - had I known exactly what you intended to do with it this time I would have paid to incinerate the waste myself. And am I right in assuming that there were other agents present in those drums aside from my own? Possibly radioactive ones, despite my requests otherwise?”
No one contradicted him. Turning, Dr Chastelard clicked to the next slide. It showed a scan of an x-ray. In the bottom right hand corner human bones were visible – a shoulder and the top of an arm, some ribs and the bottom corner of a skull. Most of the image was taken up with something that looked more like a fossil – long thin bones, blue in the centre and white at the edges, forming the unmistakable span of a wing. Near the shoulder three white lines stood out against it, their blunt ends and straight lines identifying them as man made. He had only received the x-ray yesterday.
“I believe she had something of an accident,” Dr Chastelard said, gesturing to the pins where Lisa’s wing had broken. “But look here,” He ran his hand along the wing “all these bones are hollow like a birds.
“Whereas these,” he said as he gestured to Lisa’s shoulder “a solid like a human. Her genetic makeup has been altered beyond belief. Normally a single gene controls all bone development in the body; thus genetic bone disorders affect the whole body. By all rights all her bones should be solid or hollow, not a mixture. Somehow her body is choosing when to use particular genes.
He moved his hand down to where the wings met the shoulder blades. “What’s more, we have a stable transitional stage, fading from solid to hollow. Her immune system should be trying to destroy this, just as it attacks prosthetic hips where they meet bone. Yet it is tolerating it, accepting it as another part of the girl. We never managed to achieve this with TROJAN, unlike normal cancers the immune system always recognised infected cells as being in some way foreign - it was simply a matter of ensuring they reproduced more quickly than the body could destroy them. But that is not the case here. Somehow those wings really are hers.” He paused and looked at the x-ray in something close to wonder. “Hers, but most definitely not of her.”
Dr Chastelard tapped a button on the wall. Simultaneously the image vanished and the lights flickered on. He turned just in time to see Mr burns and his lackey blink and look around, as if waking from a dream. For a while no one spoke.
“So?” Mr Burns asked, holding up his hands. “What the devil does all that mean for us?”
Dr Chastelard leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. He looked tired and almost twenty years older.
“I am trying to make you understand the miracle that has taken place here. We have stumbled across what those in the medical profession refer to a ‘the magic bullet’. Somehow the mutant virus has absorbed a section of DNA from some member of the Aves class – birds, sir - an introduced it into her genes. That is the only way I can make sense of what we are seeing. But if we could get a sample of the virus perhaps we could replace the bird DNA segment with another of our choosing, control the mutation. Accident victims could re-grow limbs or internal organs, surgery performed with a single injection, viruses such as AIDS coerced into self-destructing. All this with no risk of rejection or necessity to obtain a perfect match genetic match with the patient.” He opened his eyes. Mr Burns was staring like he was expecting him to continue, as if this was still leading up to something. Smithers however looked stunned, and turned to his employer.
“Think about it sir,” Smithers said, his voice betraying his excitement, “if you posses the only cure for certain diseases you can charge people whatever you want.” Mr Burns raised one eyebrow, his curiosity piqued. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. Dr Chastelard leaned his head back against the wall until he was staring at the ceiling and folded his arms. Then played his ace.
“It goes far beyond that,” he said. “Have you ever heard the story of the man who invented a tire that could never wear out? A company paid billions for exclusive rights to the formula and then destroyed it. After all, if everyone had tires that never wore out then no-one could sell tyres ever again.” He cracked open one eye, checking they were both paying attention, then closed it and continued.
“If we can make this process work reliably then the whole pharmaceutical and healthcare industry could be held to ransom. No more drugs, no more prosthetic limbs. Who would have a heart operation when we can convince the heart to re-grow correctly itself? What would happen to the economy if overnight a billion dollar industry became worthless – America is built on commerce after all. You could demand almost anything you wanted from companies and governments all over the world in return for not producing it. The billions of dollars would be the tip of the iceberg. Power,” Dr Chastelard concluded, “complete control of the healthcare system so many peoples’ lives depend on – that is what this represents.”
For a while no one said anything. Outside the door the familiar whine of the photocopier in the next room kicked in, but slowly Dr Chastelard realised he could hear something else. Mr Burns was laughing – not his megalomaniac villain's laughter but more a sinister chuckle, the sort that hinted he was finding something funny for all the wrong reasons. It died away as gradually as it had arrived, and finally Burns spoke.
“What do you need?”
“I’ve made a list of lab equipment, and a proposal of how I believe we should proceed with the investigation. I’ll have it sent to you by the end of the day.”
Burns nodded. With Smithers help stood up to leave. Dr Chastelard watched them go, waited until he was certain they were out of the lab complex, then made his way to his cluttered office. Sitting down at his desk he pushed his fingertips together in an unconscious imitation of Mr Burns then stared at nothing. He had just promised the world. In order to get the world he needed the virus. And in order to get the virus he would need the girl.
He opened the file sitting in the middle of his desk, flicking through what little it contained, eventually stopping at a large glossy photograph. Two or three green blurs hung near the top – out of focus leaves, hinting perhaps at the hiding place of the photographer. In the background there was another blur as a car went past, and the corner of a building he recognised as Springfield elementary. But dominating the centre stood a small girl in a red dress. She carried a rucksack by her side and was looking anxiously over her shoulder, almost but not quite staring out of the photograph as if she knew she was being watched. And sprouting from her shoulders…
She’s only a little younger than my son, he though, and I may just convinced a man willing to produce biological weapons that she holds the key to something of incalculable value - in order to keep my job. Dr Chastelard snapped the file closed and began to stare at the wall again. For not the first time that day he wondered if he was selling his soul.
- Sydney Brenner
- Insane Underling
- Posts: 11684
- Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 2:00 pm
- Custom Title: Jokin' LeEdger
Marge sighed and folded the book she had been reading around two fingers. It was a book about birds.
"Bart, honey?" she said, watching her son's shadow on the hallway wall, bending down to prop his backpack up. "Can you take it?"
Footsteps, someone jumping back from the opened door, and a brief altercation.
"Just some guy from school", Bart called out. "Fat Virgin!"
Smoothing her green dress worriedly, she managed to flash a smile at the spindly blond boy on the sunny doorstep. Backpack sloping from one shoulder... a heavy book in one hand. He angled it worriedly, looking away from her.
"Mrs Simpson?" he said. Even his voice had odd angles to it. "My name is Wysthan Chastelard. I... know your daughter, just a little."
"Lisa isn't in at the moment", Marge said, neutrally. "She's at the hospital." Wysthan looked so terrified, she had to continue. "Oh, not like that, she's feeling fine. She's taking physiotherapy."
His gaze flew off ballistically over the rooftop at those words. "I heard she likes poetry, so... I brought her a book. I was thinking, you see..."
Marge registered his name and filed it away carefully in the pigeonholes of her brains, as his voice raced on.
"... I mean, she even went to my class, that's third grade, for a brief stint, and though the tempo was a bit too high, I remember her saying that she liked the intellectual challenge... second grade was quite awful, to my recollection, Miss Hoover just seemed to pander to the needs of the slowest students... sorry, Mrs Simpson, I'm babbling. But some other students and I have a bit of a get-together, we analyse poetry and such... in case your daughter would want to join..." He fiddled with the cover. "The address and times are on the inside of the cover, here..."
Marge took it and saw him scamper off across the street, his steps dancing as though the book had been very heavy. She worried, but then, she always did. He did not seem a threat, and she respected any boy who could use the word "stint" in daily speech.
Bart snickered behind her. "I heard his family changed their name. They used to be named Chastelaine!" She growled slightly, but it was better than the worries.
* * *
There was aching fatigue, but Lisa was happy. Sun fell through the windows in long shafts and folds, shining on every piece of blank-worn wood in the antiquated hospital gym hall. Back... before... she had never really liked PE class, but there were sweet memories in the plastic scent from the gym mat where she was lying prone, arms stretched forward, fingers gripping the edge.
She was wearing a swimsuit in her favourite colour of red, with no back. Marge would never have let her wear it before. (She could smile at that thought.) The wings rose like a cloud above her, at the edge of her field of sight. They didn't smell as bad anymore.
"And... lower", Mitch Sweeper commanded.
He was the one instructing her, though Dr Hibbert and a nurse looked on by the sliding doors. He had designed the simple exercises for a human girl with wings. For such a nice man, he had been almost merciless with her physiotherapy, but it was hard to object. He might tilt his head and be sad if she didn't do what was good for her.
The wings flopped onto the bright orange mat like a blanket thrown across her.
"How do you feel?" he asked, smiling at her through the beam of dustmotes in the sun.
"Tired", Lisa answered, pulling her elbows up to lie more comfortably. It was true, her voice was getting weak.
"Just a little bit... it's mostly exertion. Not that pain." But the thought made her shiver. The feathers rustled.
"Just once more, then. Lift... hold still..."
It had been very hard, the first few days. As hard as learning how to wiggle your ears... harder. She had found muscles she had never used because she'd never had them, muscles which had no name on a human body, and she had learn how to flap.
Dr Sweeper reached out and touched the edge of the wing, ruffling the feathers, then pinching slightly to feel the radial bone. Lisa burrowed her face into the mat, letting her sweat-tousled face curtain it. He must have seen.
"What's the matter? Does it hurt?"
"Not at all", she whispered truthfully. "It's just..." It made her skin crawl. Couldn't say it. "I'll never get used to it... to feeling..."
"It seems very healthy." Stepped around her, cool shadow, touched the other one. "Keep still. Yes." His hand slid down, maybe halfway, and she got the feeling he was staring at her shoulder, just where the down gave way to fine hairs. "Interesting." But he would not tell her. "And up. Try to make them touch."
She continued the exercise. It was like practicing swimming on the shore.
"That would be it", he said, letting her relax. "There we go. Your folks should be here to pick you up soon... got anything to do while we're waiting? Anything to read?"
Lisa sat up. Not gracefully, she would likely never be graceful again, but she could drape the wings around her like a triangular tent and almost forget...
"A friend of mine said he would lend me a book", she murmured, her voice still tired, as she turned to her bag at the corner of the mat. "Well... later. Nothing much now."
"Another thing", Dr Sweeper said abruptly. He seemed to be listening to her breath. "Would you mind running around the hall again? You don't have to if you're too tired..."
But she might as well. Lisa got up, feeling her gaze turn determined, and ran.
It had become easy. She had learned how to balance... God she had learned how to balance! Her breath sounded slightly like a shriek of triumph as she sank back on the buoyant mat, still feeling the wind in her feathers.
To run like this...
Dr Sweeper leant closer to her. "I'm not pushing you too hard, am I?" Again, listening. "You don't seem to be out of breath."
"Energy", Lisa murmured. She gave a little laugh. "I think my body is producing more..."
By that time, Marge entered the hall, helping her daughter up, her arm around her shoulders, handing over her dress and a heavy book of poetry, thanking Mitch. As she was led to the car, Lisa fancied she saw a blond head low among the now-familiar staring crowds, but it was gone by the time she looked up from her book.
Riding on the missile with a cowboy hat?
Oh, well the world is gonna end
So dance around the fire that we once believed in
Oh, wanna tear it down again, now
'Cause there's nothing left for us to bleed
Give it up, the sons of anarchy
So come around and have another round on me!
DANCE, F***ER, DANCE, LET THE MOTHERF***ER BURN!
-- The Offspring, "Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing and Rides the Bomb to Hell"
“Where’s Maggie gone?” Lisa asked. Maggie giggled from somewhere between her sister’s wings. Lisa was kneeling in front of her, wings arched over her back. One was curled round behind Maggie, the other in front of her, totally enveloping her in feathers. “There she is!” Lisa continued, pulling her wings back so quickly it was as if they had never been there. Maggie looked around, making happy questioning-noises in baby talk. “Where is she?” Lisa asked, her wings snapping forwards and hiding Maggie from view again.
“This is just how I pictured family life,” Homer sniffed as he watched them, wiping his eye. Marge gave him a puzzled glance but decided not to ask. She was knitting what looked like a huge pink sock with a line of buttons down the heel. A complete version of it was folded neatly next to her. Lisa was adamant that she would never wear them, maintaining that her feathers were insulation enough. Marge however was sure that when the snow came Lisa would be glad of something to cover her wings.
“Oww-oww-oww!” Lisa shouted. Marge looked up. Maggie had one of her sister’s longer feathers (a remige, Marge knew from all the reading she had been doing) in her hand. Lisa turned awkwardly, trying to stand up without pulling it out. Maggie however had begun crawling towards the settee, forcing Lisa to fall on her behind. She scooted backwards along the floor with her heels, trying to keep up with her sister, dodging round Bart who gave her an irritated glance.
“Oh, is that for me honey?” Marge asked, crouching down on the floor and reaching out to Maggie. Maggie nodded, holding out the end of the feather. “Thank you,” Marge said, taking it from her them quickly letting go. Lisa pulled it back and examined it, brushing the surrounding feathers back into place. She flapped her wings experimentally. As she was doing so the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Marge said, standing up and walking into the hall.
“It’s probably for me,” Lisa said, distracted. Satisfied she folded her wings back into place and scowled at her sister. Maggie instantly looked upset and stuck her bottom lip out under her dummy. Lisa’s face softened. She leaned over and hugged her sister briefly, then stood up and made her way into the hallway, grabbing a pile of books from beside the door as she went. She was walking so quickly she almost barrelled straight into her mother, who was standing by the front door.
“What promotion? What are you talking about?” Marge asked whoever was there. Lisa stuck her head round her mother to see, then blinked in surprise when she saw the owner of the comic book store.
“I am, of course, talking about the ‘X-panded’ edition of the ‘X-men The Movie’ DVD, being released this Monday,” he said, folding his arms across his chest. He looked down and noticed Lisa. “Ah, there you are.”
“What’s that got to do with her?” Marge asked. The comic book guy sighed.
“Well, as Springfield’s only recognised mutant, I thought it would be a good promotion to have her present at the launch.” He held up a leaflet showing various scenes from the movie. Along the bottom was written ‘Endorsed by genuine mutants’.
“She’s not a mutant!” Marge said, outraged, “If anything she’s a miracle!”
“Yes, well be that as it may she is the closest thing locally. Naturally she will be given a share of the profits. Oh, and please do not make any judgements until you have seen the costume I have managed to procure, which you will be allowed to keep,” he replied, pulling something from behind his back.
“And another thing,” Marge began, then stopped, staring at the costume.
“ ’SG?’ ” Lisa asked, squinting at the large yellow letters across the chest of the outfit.
“ ‘Springfield Girl’,” the comic book guy announced proudly, “to tap off any sense of town pride that may still be lurking in the embittered youth of today.”
“That’s practically a swimsuit!” Marge said, finally having recovered the power of speech.
“Please Mrs Simpson, as I’m sure you are aware, tight fitting clothing is quite standard for superheroes,” the Comic book guy maintained, handing Lisa the costume. Not sure what else to do she took it. “Do not fear though, it comes complete with accessories,” he continued, “namely a utility belt and cape.”
“No way, my daughter’s not wearing anything like that,” Marge said, folding her arms. Comic book guy scowled at her. There was a terse silence.
“Hey, what about wolverine,” Bart piped up from somewhere in the house. Marge and Lisa turned to look. He was half way up the stairs, trailing his skateboard behind him. “He wears a t-shirt and jeans,” he continued, then shrugged and carried on climbing.
“Hmm,” the comic book guy said, stroking his beard. Then his face lit up. “Why yes, a reluctant hero!” he said rather grandly, causing Marge and Lisa to look back round. He leaned down. Taking one of Lisa’s feathers between his fingers he spread her wing. “We would need an altered leather jacket, and we would probably have to weather these a little,” he said, running a finger across Lisa’s feathers, “perhaps remove one or two, clip the others to give a slightly tattered look-”
“Mom, make him stop,” Lisa said, pulling away. She pulled away and hid behind her mother, her wings fluttering anxiously.
“Get out!” Marge shouted, grabbing a magazine from beside the door, rolling it up and swatting him over the head with it.
“Ow! Well there’s no need to –Ow!” Marge smacked him again. He turned to leave only for her to catch him a blow neatly across his backside, sending him jumping forwards. He fell over on the step and landed in the flowerbed, just as Marge slammed the door.
“Oh well,” he muttered as he stood up and brushed himself down, “at least I still have my dignity.” He turned and looked at the closed door, then sighed. “Though I fear I have lost whatever chance I had of convincing her to join me on this venture. Now she’s liable to adopt some cunning disguise so that I sharn’t be able to recognise her. Such as a pair of glasses.”
He looked down at the crumpled leaflet in his hand. The words ‘…by mutants’ were still barely visible. He sighed again. “Yes, it is looking like I shall have to ring Michael Jackson back after all.” Glumly he shoved the leaflet in his pocket and trudged down the path, ignoring the blond haired boy that ran past him in the opposite direction.
- Sydney Brenner
“We don’t want -” Marge began, raising a rolled up magazine above her head. She stopped and looked around, puzzled, then noticed the cowering boy. “Oh, sorry Wysthan. Lisa! He’s here!” Wysthan decided not to pry and waited politely. Lisa appeared from the living room, books under her arm, tossing some sort of clothing onto the bottom of the stairs as she went past.
“Okay, take care then honey,” Marge said, bending down and hugging Lisa.
“No worries mom, we’ll just be in the school library,” Lisa replied, hugging her back.
“Oh bother,” Wysthan said, slapping his forehead. The pair looked at him. “I forgot to tell you, we’re holding it at my house today. The library’s closed – apparently they’ve got a problem with mice.”
In one of the reading room of the library a pair of mice scuttled across a long table, the only sounds their tiny footfalls and the distant ticking of a clock. They ran up to a third, who was busy nibbling a copy of ‘Watership Down’ that had been left open on a table. The three sniffed each other carefully. Satisfied, the pair began to move on again and the third mouse turned back to its work.
At that instant there was an almightily thud from the other side of the door. A crack appeared down it. The mice froze and stood up on their hind legs, whiskers twitching, watching the door warily. A second thud followed. Then with the third and final blow a huge segment of the door fell in, closely followed by the head of an axe. The axe was pulled back and replaced by a scowling face and ginger beard.
“Hear’s Willay!” the groundskeeper roared. He pulled his head back then kicked the door open, shards of wood flying from the handle as it was torn from the frame. With terrified squeaks the mice scattered. Axe held high overhead, Willie rushed after them.
“Oh, well be sure and call if you go anywhere else,” Marge said. Lisa nodded and they set off.
Lisa and Wysthan walked along in a comfortable silence. She had only been to the poetry group twice now, but already it had become something of an oasis in a sea of people trying not to stare. The other members had seemed a little awkward around her at first, but they had quickly thawed. Almost all of them were ostracised in some way at school for what they thought or looked like, and in that respect she was no different.
Wysthan had even started waiting for her after her physiotherapy. And though the crowds of people staring had not lessened, having someone who she could talk to among them had dispelled some of the awkwardness. She had even asked him once if he wanted to come in and sit in the hall instead of waiting outside. But he had looked flustered and said he didn’t mind waiting, so she hadn’t pressed the issue.
Almost without being aware of it Lisa paused her train of thought and looked around, checking for people watching her. A couple of younger children seemed to have materialised a hundred yards or so further back. They were following them, whispering to one another. Lisa ignored it. She had drawn much bigger crowds on several occasions, and learnt it was best to carry on as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Other than that the only people about seemed to be washing their cars, and their raised eyebrows were quickly passed. She smiled and nodded to herself.
Wysthan meanwhile was just enjoying walking with her on a beautiful summer’s afternoon. He had thought about offering to carry her books, then worried that it might look like he thought she couldn’t manage, so didn’t. He carried his in a rucksack, which he made a point of not wearing over both shoulders, or even one if he could avoid it. Not that he thought she would mind him doing it, but it would bother him. It would be like watching television with a blind person in the room, he thought, then instantly dismissed the analogy as overly morbid. It would just bother him was all. Besides, they were nearly there now.
“Wow, is this your house?” Lisa asked. She stared up at the small mansion. Its white clapboard facade was spookily similar to how she had imagined one of the white landowner’s homes to be in Roots. “I thought you said your dad was a scientist,” she said, unconsciously checking over her shoulder as she did so. At some point or other the children following them had melted away.
“He is. But he works for a private company,” Wysthan replied. He specifically didn’t mention that his father worked for Mr Burns. He’d heard all the rumours at school, but knew his father would never be involved in any immoral research. Lisa didn’t know that of course, so it seemed best not to tell her in case she became suspicious. “We have a swimming pool out back,” he added proudly as they walked up the driveway, then glanced at her wings, terrified he had put his foot in it.
“Neat,” Lisa said, not noticing, “we used to have one. I think mom made dad get rid of it after she found him filling it with hops to try to brew beer. Hey, if you ever have a pool party invite me round.” Wysthan nodded as he showed her into the kitchen. He had never thought of having any such thing, but now it was a top priority. His father was in the kitchen, standing with his back to them. He seemed to be talking to himself.
“Hey dad,” Wysthan said, “this is Lisa.”
“Hi,” Lisa said.
“Hold on one sec,” his father said, turning towards them and in the process revealing the cell phone he was talking into. “Hi Lisa, nice to meet yo-” He stopped mid sentence, openly gawping at her. When he didn’t stop Lisa looked away and rubbed her neck nervously, suddenly feeling like a complete and utter freak.
“Dad!” Wysthan hissed, shocked by his father’s reaction. His father blinked, as if woken from a dream.
“Oh sorry,” he said, rubbing his face, “yes, well, it was just a shock is all. No, they’re good, really. They look very…” he struggled for the right words, “…strong.” Lisa couldn’t meet his eye. Carefully Wysthan took her by the shoulder and led her past and into the hall, scowling at his father as he did so. Dr Chastelard waved his hand feebly. Once they were out of sight collapsed into a chair.
Dear god, he thought, the carrier! In my home! How long has Wysthan been friends with her? He had almost torn his son’s hand away when he put it on her shoulder, an irrational part of him screaming that maybe he could catch it. Irrational, he knew, because the girl had been in close contact with her family for months now, and none of them were showing any symptoms. But still, should the virus mutate again…
“Who was it?” his wife Samantha asked, breezing into the kitchen in a flow of blond curls. She had been searching through the big freezer in the garage for ice. This she deposited in a large jug of orangeade, then lifted the jug onto the tray with the poetry society’s snacks on.
“Just Wysthan and a deformed little girl,” Dr Chastelard replied vaguely, still feeling like he was on some alien planet where the air was thin. His wife looked shocked.
“Oh dear, the poor mite,” she said, picking up the tray and heading upstairs. He listened idly to her footsteps as she walked across the landing, then heard her knocking on his son’s bedroom door. Her voice drifted down the stairs. “Hello. I just brought some – oh why those are darling! Don’t you just look the sweetest thing?” The door swung shut above him, reducing all further conversation to a distant murmur.
“Dr, are you there?” his cell phone buzzed. He looked at it for a second, then held it back to his ear. “Yes I’m here Larry. Family thing. Do carry on.”
“Well”, Larry, his chief assistant, continued, “After you left we carried on trying to recover samples from the barrels, but then a short while later the blood samples finally arrived. We decided not to bother you but start the preliminary tests straight away. Most are still incomplete, but I thought you might like to know -”
“She’s not HIV positive.” Dr Chastelard finished the sentence for him.
“No sir,” Larry responded, “thank god for that, eh?”
“Yes indeed,” Dr Chastelard said. It had been his one greatest fears. If she had been HIV positive then no wonder the virus was free to work so spectacularly, with no immune system to stop it. Hopefully then, once they recovered it, it would still be just as virulent in other hosts.
“Could you imagine breaking the news to her family?” Larry continued.
“Huh? Oh yes, yes,” Dr Chastelard said. “Listen, I know you can handle it but I’m going to come back in anyway, ok? I just want to be there. Carry on till I arrive.” He snapped the phone off without waiting for a reply, just as Samantha came in.
- Sydney Brenner
“Oh, umm, yes. Well, technically… Look I’m afraid I can’t take this weekend off after all. Something’s come up,” he said, running his hand through his hair.
“Okay then, don’t be too late out,” she said without turning round, already busy fixing more snacks. She well used to her husband being called out at all hours. He pulled his bulging briefcase out from under the table and kissed her briefly on the cheek. As he did so he heard the front door bell going. He left Samantha to get it and let himself out the back. The last thing he wanted now was to get bogged down in some mundane conversation.
Once the door was closed he leaned against it and let out a deep breath. Thinking dark thoughts about overly judgemental wives and co-worker he made his way round the house. By the time he got to the front whoever had been there was already inside. Dr Chastelard nodded to himself, and was about to carry on when he noticed something. He looked upwards. The sounds of his son and his friend talking and laughing was drifting from the open bedroom window. It sounded like his wife was there too. Suddenly amongst all the others he could pick out the subject’s – Lisa’s - voice. ‘Hey, neat,’ it sounded like.
You know, a small voice piped up inside him, you’ve never actually said her name before today, have you? He swallowed hard. Then, plunged into a black mood, he turned on his heel and started down the driveway. As he walked his pace picked up. He concentrated on making the gravel crunch under his shoes, and was so lost in his thoughts that he jumped in surprise when he caught a flash of something white on the ground beside him.
A single feather lay on by side of the drive, inches from his foot. He stopped dead and stared. Then he crouched down, examining it closely.
“Waste not want not,” he muttered after a while. Reaching back he popped open the latch on his case and rummaged around through its stuffed pockets, eventually pulling out a handkerchief and an empty brown envelope. Wrapping the handkerchief round his hand he carefully picked up the feather by its stem and dropped it in the envelope. Then he peeled off the white strip on the envelope’s flap to expose the glue (he didn’t believe in envelopes you lick – you could catch all sorts of things) and sealed it. Pulling a pen from his case he scrawled a quick message on the front; ‘Larry – Possibly subjects. Run a few tests and see what it throws up.’
Nodding to himself he pocketed the envelope and closed his case. Then at a more leisurely pace made his way to his car - and realised he was feeling better. By the time he reached it he was humming tunelessly and tapping his fingers on his thigh. Truth be told he was looking forward to getting his teeth into the samples and seeing exactly what sort of beastie they were dealing with.
Wysthan’s mother had come back up with an extra tray of snacks. “Look who else is here,” she chirruped livelily, showing Martin in, “and a new one.” Milhouse appeared from behind her, still in his white dress. Lisa, Wysthan, Allison, and a boy and two girls from third grade who Lisa didn’t know were all sitting in a circle on the floor.
“Milhouse?” Lisa asked, “You like poetry?”
“Sure,” Milhouse replied, “I just never realised it until I heard that you did.” Lisa and Wysthan both frowned and murmured in annoyance.
“Oh don’t ruin that pretty face with a frown,” Wysthan’s mother said, depositing the tray of snacks on a bedside table. Lisa smiled – as far as she knew, Wysthans mother was the only person who had taken an instant liking to her wings. It had done a lot to cheer her up after his father’s reaction.
“Okay Mrs Chastelard,” Lisa said.
“Call me Samantha,” she replied. She looked at Lisa’s wings again and smiled to herself. “Oh I’m sorry to keep staring,” she said apologetically, “ but I can’t help but be reminded of this wonderful little fairy costume Wysthan had when he was little, with clip on wings. He would wear it everywhere – I still remember him skipping down the street, waving his wand at passers by...”
Wysthan put his hands over his face and groaned at this revelation. Everyone else exchanged glances, trying not to laugh. Even Lisa had trouble keeping her face straight.
“But those days are long gone now,” Samantha continued sadly. She paused and looked pensive. “Though I think the costume may still be under his bed somewhere.”
“Hey,” Milhouse called, “she’s right!” Everyone turned round. He was busy rummaging through a cardboard box, half dragged out from under the bed. With a flourish he pulled out a battered pair of wings, a tiara, and a wand with a star on the end. There was a scattering of sniggers. “Heh,” Milhouse said, leaning over and nudging Lisa, “you’d never see me in something like that.”
“You’re wearing a dress,” Alison pointed out from next to them. Lisa hadn’t been in the least bit surprised to learn that Alison had been a member of the group since it was first formed.
“Yeah,” Milhouse replied glumly, “social services said I now have to wear it eighteen hours a day to claim compensation. I even have to bathe in it.”
“Give it here,” Lisa said, snatching the tiara from him, annoyed at his dragging it out. She pause, looking down at it, then brushed some of the dust off. “Hey, neat,” she said, genuinely surprised at how well preserved and what good quality it was. She thought about it for a second. Then she blew the rest of the dust off and tried it on, balancing it atop her spikes of hair. “Oop,” she said as it slipped to one side. She pushed it back into place and this time it stayed. Satisfied she reached over and plucked the wand from between Milhouse’s fingers.
“It suits you,” Alison said, hiding a smile with her hand. There was a general murmur of amused approval.
“Oh this brings back such memories,” Samantha said, clasping her hands together, “You know, I have lots of photographs of Wysthan when he was little, and-”
“No mom,” Wysthan said, looking up in horror, “I mean, uhh, we’ve got a lot to get through here and all. Okay, where are we starting?” Samantha looked crestfallen, but brightened quickly.
“Oh my,” she said to Milhouse and Martin, “since you boys joined us we’re two glasses short. I’ll go and fetch some.” And she bustled out of the room.
Wysthan sighed. Lisa couldn’t help but feel sorry for him – as of late she knew exactly what it felt like to be the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. She playfully tapped him on the head with her wand and smiled. He looked round, warily at first, then smiled back. More confidently he turned to face the rest of the group.
“Okay, where are we starting?” he repeated.
“Well now Milhouse,” Martin piped up, “since it’s your first time, maybe you’d like to lead us in?”
“Umm,” Milhouse said. He looked round at the ring of faces, all eyes now on him, and swallowed. “Okay,” he said. Standing up, he coughed a couple of time, cleared his throat, then in a loud voice began.
“Mary had a little lamb…”
Everyone groaned in unison.
- Sydney Brenner
- Chief Executive Officer
- Posts: 5708
- Joined: Mon Jan 10, 2005 9:45 pm
- Location: Scotland
"Bye, Wysthan! Thanks for letting me come round! See you later Lisa!" Allison called.
"Bye Allison!" Lisa called back as Allison left, but then Allison rushed back and poked her head around the door.
"Oh wait, Lisa! Will I see you at sunday school tomorrow? I was going to give you something but I forgot it."
"Huh?" Lisa was a little torn. "Well, maybe..." Lisa was uncertain about whether she wanted to go to church. Everything in that place seemed designed to unnerve her these days. "I'll see."
"Oh, well, okay then. See you later!" Allison left.
"Do you need a lift home Lisa?" Wysthan's mother asked.
"Not really. I'm supposed to get all the excercise I can handle, so I was just going to walk. But thanks, Mrs Chastelard."
"Oh..." Samantha looked concerned. Those wings were beautiful, but she had a bad feeling about the kind of people they would attract or aggrivate. She didn't like the idea of Lisa walking about unsupervised. "Well, I'll walk with you."
"It's okay, thanks." Lisa replied, smiling. "I know my way home."
"No, I was going to Evergreen Terrace to visit a friend anyway, Lisa." Samantha lied. "Let me accompany you."
Soon, all three of them (Lisa, Mrs Chastelard and Wysthan - who had insisited on coming too) were heading back to Evergreen Terrace.
Pierce Oldfield was tired, hungry and dissatisfied. Not a good condition to be behind the wheel of a car in.
He was a "journalist." Journalist was in inverted commas because he worked for the World Weekly News. He'd wanted to be a science fiction writer but had never been able to get published. Eventually his way with words and fairly fertile imagination had got him a job at the World's Greatest Toilet Paper.
This explains why he was dissatisfied. Even for a science fiction writer, it's only possible to write "alien" so many times before it becomes repetitive. As for tired and hungry, he'd just finished a two-state drive to meet a farmer who had seemed to have an interesting story. at least over the phone it had seemed good. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the farm all the journalist had seen was a few handfuls of burnt feathers, and an unlikely story about strange fertiliser. Some hick trying to get some money for a failed crop with a stupid story. Just perfect for the WWN, though he'd probably have to worn aliens into it to make it more interesting. "ET turned my corn into feathers!" No, that was rubbish...
He glanced around as he drove. Just another suburb. Nothing going on here and WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?
He stared. His cigarette fell out of his mouth. And then the entire car jolted as the wheel hit the kerb, and the car went careering over the pavement and hit a tree.
"I've been working too hard..." were his last thoughts as his head hit the steering wheel and he passed out...
It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do bad things. - Jingo, Terry Pratchett
Samantha Chastelard, knowing that her son had a strong reaction to the sight of blood, sent him to the nearest house to have someone call for an ambulance. Then she joined Lisa next to the crumpled car. "Oh my goodness! Don't you worry, dear, help will be here soon."
"Maybe we should get him out of the car," Lisa half asked, feeling like she should be doing something to help.
Mrs. Chastelard answered sweetly, "Well, there doesn't seem to be anything on fire, and he may have injuries we can't see, so better let the paramedics take him out, just in case."
That mention of paramedics made Lisa's stomach sink, though she wasn't sure why. For now, she was so concerned about the man in the crashed car that she didn't even think about her wings.
As he started to feel the pain in his back and shoulders, bits and pieces of what happened came back to Pierce: driving, being disappointed, seeing children, losing control... He suddenly gasped. "Oh no! Is everyone okay!? The children!?" He struggled to open the door, but between the airbag and the damage it wouldn't open more than a few inches.
Mrs. Chastelard answered calmly, without trying to be funny, "Everyone's fine, dear, though the tree may need some bandages. Be careful now: don't hurt yourself!"
Some other people from the neighborhood had gathered now as the sirens could be heard approaching. Wysthan returned, so Samantha figured it was time to continue on their way while everyone else's attention was still on the car crash.
When they arrived at the Simpson house, Lisa thanked Samantha again and they said their goodbyes.
"I'll see you in school tomorrow, okay?" Wysthan asked awkwardly.
"Oh, yeah, let me know if that man is okay, okay?" she said without waiting for an answer as she went inside.
"Sure," he muttered, slightly annoyed, before Mrs. Chastelard cheerfully motioned him on their way back home.
Marge poked her head into the dining room when she heard the front door close. "Hi, honey. How was it?" she asked as Lisa put her books down on the dining room table.
"All right," Lisa answered.
Normally, Lisa would have brought them straight up to her room, but Marge realized she must be tired after walking to and from the Chastelards' home, so she wasn't too concerned. "Oh, Aunt Selma's here, so why don't you go say hi. Dinner'll be ready soon."
Lisa walked through the living room, past her aunt's overnight bag, and then into the family room to see Selma on the couch, staring at the television while Bart reluctantly massaged her right foot. Meanwhile, Maggie was holding her nose and clumsily trying to put a clean diaper on the other one. Lisa was relieved that her aunt's only reaction was a somber, "Hiya, Lisa," followed by a puff of her cigarette.
"Hi, Aunt Selma. Where's Aunt Patty?" Lisa asked casually as she carefully lowered herself to sit cross-legged on a pillow on the floor.
"Mrrrrh!" was the only answer Selma gave as Maggie fell back into Lisa's lap, on purpose, and let out a squeal of delight when caught.
"Bart?" Marge called from the kitchen, "Can you...?"
"Sure -- I'll do it right now!" Bart answered while jumping up.
Marge poked her head in to say, "You don't even know what I was going to ask you to do yet."
Bart went towards the kitchen, passing her as he replied, "I don't care, Mom -- I'll do anything!"
Marge didn't complain. "I just need you to bring the trash out -- it will only take a minute."
"That's okay. I'll take my time and do it right," he said while walking past the full garbage can and into the hall.
"Where are you going?" Marge asked. "The trash is right there."
Bart called back, "I know, but I have to wash my hands first."
Marge shrugged and went back into the kitchen.
Lisa played with Maggie, holding her up, tickling her a little, and making happy expressions. "You're my little sister, yes you are! That's right," she said in a sweet voice, making the baby coo and laugh.
Selma muttered out loud, "Yeah, enjoy it while it lasts, Maggie, before you grow apart and it's never the same anymore."
Lisa sat Maggie down and gently rocked her while addressing her aunt. "Is something wrong between you and Aunt Patty."
Selma took another deep puff before replying. "You spend your whole life with someone. You think you know them like the back of your hand. But then one day you realize they've changed, and suddenly everything is different and you just can't stand to look at them anymore."
Lisa forgot to keep rocking, but Maggie simply looked up at Selma, also worried.
Selma continued. "I never thought it would end up like this..." She covered her eyes with her free hand and started to sob, interrupted by occasional puffs on her cigarette.
Lisa put Maggie down and got up. She put a knee on the couch so she could hug her aunt, but it was tough to hug too close without putting her feathers in danger of meeting the cigarette. "What happened?" Lisa leaned back, half-kneeling against the edge of the couch, keeping her wings from touching it.
Selma uncovered her face, her eyes a little red. "I still can't believe she can do this -- after all we've been through together." She sniffled and lit another cigarette. "It all started about a month ago. I heard Patty whispering on the phone about something, and she wouldn't tell me when I asked her. A week later, I saw her shredding the detail page of her credit card bill at work, which was unusual since she almost never uses it. Then, for a few weeks now, she always got a bit edgy just before I went out anywhere without her. I didn't think much of it.
"Then, today, I went to take Jub Jub out for a little fresh air. After we got out for a few minutes, I realized it was warm enough that he didn't need his sweater. So, we went back to the apartment and ... and ..." She sniffled.
"It's okay," Lisa encouraged her to continue.
"When I opened the door... I still can't believe it! How could she!?"
"There, there," Lisa reassured her while patting her right shoulder. "What was she doing?"
Without taking a puff, Selma blurted out, "She was putting in a Stargate: SG-1 tape! How could she defile all our memories of MacGyver with that... that filth! I don't know her anymore."
Lisa didn't know what to say. At first she wanted to commiserate by pointing out all the scientific problems with Stargate: SG-1, but she thought that anything said against Richard Dean Anderson, regardless of whether he's playing MacGyver or O'Neill, might just make her more upset.
Instead, she tried to put a positive spin on it. "You know, MacGyver was always a great show," she said while almost biting her tongue, "but that part of his career is over now. Both you and Aunt Patty will always remember how he was then, and him being O'Neill now doesn't diminish all that he did before. But we just have to accept that he's changed -- for better or worse -- and just because he's very different now from the way he was before doesn't mean he can't still be great."
"Well," Selma sighed. "He's just so un-technical now... But maybe you're right. Even if he can't be MacGyver anymore, any Richard Dean Anderson is still pretty good."
"That's the spirit!" Lisa beamed.
"Yeah, you're darned tootin' it is," Marge thought as she listened from the doorway. Then she noticed Bart washing the kitchen window from the outside. "Bart, why don't you go watch TV and relax -- dinner's will be ready in a few minutes."
"No way!" he exclaimed before jumping down and dragging the ladder to the next window.