Topiary Genetics: Part 3

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Wake Up Time

Lewis and Daniel watched as the slimy naked girl was lifted from the tank onto the gurney where Daniel would do his initial assessment. Lewis was there to take samples and make a visual assessment about the accuracy of his computer models prediction of the participant's appearance. This was the last girl to emerge from the tanks. Lewis remembered talking to the old guy, his name was Marvin, no Martin, whatever - he had done well by him.

Lewis Alvarez was a happy man today. He felt that his group E-33 to E- 44 were going to turn out better than any of the others. The researchers had been working together on a new gene selection algorithm until he had a difference of opinion with Howard Strickland the group leader. Dr. Yamato himself had then been called in to resolve the issue. The result being that Lewis had been given permission to develop his method independently. Even fresh out of the tank goo Lewis thought that his girls looked healthier than the others. If his work was as good as he expected, his eleven girls would live much longer, age slower and more easily maintain health and fitness as compared to other study participants.

Daniel began dictating into a small recorder. "Participant E-44. All vitals nominal. Height, five feet four inches, weight 85.3 pounds, eyes respond to stimulation, reflexes normal," He said as he tapped her knee with a rubber mallet. "Approximate age to be determined after the first round of hormone therapy."

"What color were her eyes Daniel?" Lewis interrupted. "I remember this one and eye color was one of the attempted changes."

"Oh didn't I say? They are hazel. Here I will open one so you can photograph it for your records."

"Thanks." Lewis said taking a close up of the girl's eye. It had been a good day for him. He was pretty happy with all eleven of his girls. It was a gratifying to see how close his results were to the outcome his computer model projected. He would bet his results were more accurate than Strickland's. With luck this would lead to Topiary Genetics adopting his modeling methods and he could get a big fat bonus check and even a promotion.

***

The Topiary Genetics main conference room was filled with all of the staff that weren't absolutely essential to the immediate well being of the sixty freshly decanted young women in the basement hospital suite.

"Congratulations everyone," Simon Graves was saying. "We did not lose any of the clients and Daniel assures me that they are all in good health."

Simon waited for the cheering to die down. "The next few weeks are going to be stressful on all of us. We have a lot of work to do. This is the largest group of clients we have ever had, and we have three more groups in process. I know you will each give it everything you have."

Simon continued, "Having fulfilled the first milestone of our contract, Daniel and I have decided to grant each of you stock options based on your salary and years of employment." There were more cheers. "What this means for you is that even young Mr. Alton our newest patient care assistant should be able to retire comfortably in a few years when everything is public and FDA approved. Also there will be a bonus in your next pay check. Thank you all for sticking with us. You are all as dear to me as my own family and we want you to know that we appreciate everything you do. Now there are refreshments in the cafeteria for those that can spare the time. Daniel, if you could please stay. We have some more things to go over."

***

"Now that everyone else is down at the celebration let's video conference in Rodney and Helen and get them to release the next round of funding," Simon said.

"Good afternoon General Richardson, Major Williams, Dr. Madden," Simon said as soon as the secure connection had been established. "It is a great day for the project. Our initial assessment is that all participants are free of adverse effects. However we have a month of work to do before any of them will be alert for long enough to test much of their higher brain functions."

"I thought that you had real results to report," Rodney said.

"This is a real result, Colonel," Daniel said. "This is the exact result specified in our contract for release of the next round of funding."

"Tom?" Rodney said to alert his subordinate to take over.

"Yes sir," Tom began. "What Dr. Yamata says is true. You and Dr. Madden will need to certify the results for the funds to be released."

"Dr. Madden, have you made your assessment?" Colonel Richardson asked.

"The data is very positive. My view is that Topiary Genetics is exceeding our expectations. I was impressed during my review of the facility last week. I would have loved to have been there for this phase but I have to give a talk in the ethics of using DNA in therapeutic treatments tomorrow in Boston."

"I see. I have been highly involved with other projects. I'm relying on Tom to stay abreast of things on the Topiary Genetics project," Colonel Richardson said. "Perhaps Dr. Yamata would give us a summary of the project to date and briefly cover next steps."

"Certainly Colonel," Daniel said, smoothly switching to lecture mode. "As you know each candidate went through a rigorous selection process. We then spent weeks saturating their systems with a precisely defined cocktail of hormones and pharmaceuticals to prepare the subjects to receive the process. During the last week of preparation we induced the majority of the subjects' cells to become, in essence, stem cells. At that time the subjects were placed in life support tanks where the body could reconstruct itself to the new specifications, with a few enhancements and alterations. Today we have removed the subjects from the tanks and will begin..."

"What enhancements were these?" The General asked.

All of the others present were wondering if the General had read any of the material that had been sent to his attention over the last six months. All except for Major Williams that is, who knew for a fact that he had not.

"As you know we groom the patients DNA to eliminate known genetic disease markers. During that process we also have been experimenting with altering physical attributes. Aside from the potential commercial applications, the DOD expressed an interest in having soldiers who undergo the process come out being naturally stronger, faster or having more endurance. To that end we have done what we can although from our past efforts I expect only minor success. Our previous effort gained only a one half percent increase in muscle strength over the general population. We were also able to show a slight increase in oxygen utilization efficiency which should translate to a small but measurable increase in endurance. Cosmetically we asked each subject to list, for example, hair and eye color preferences in descending order and tried to comply."

"Are those the only physical changes you can manage? No super powers?" The colonel asked with a smirk.

"Sorry. We can't do super powers. It goes without saying, all of the subjects wanted to as be attractive as possible. We are fortunate that in general, and with some notable exceptions, physical attractiveness is an indicator of overall health. Broadly speaking those who come through the process are generally as attractive as the base genetic material will allow. This is due both to our efforts in eliminating bad genetic sequences as well as the fact that the body emerges from the process never having been exposed to adverse environmental factors. The major drawback so far has been that they tend to be shorter than one would expect. This is due to the amount of free energy available to the body as it changes itself. We have seen from our women volunteers when we compare them to their former selves that they have somewhat more symmetrical features than before, however they lose an average of an inch in height every time they undergo the process."

"I understand," Colonel Richardson said. "What's next?"

"After this meeting I will begin overseeing the process of rebuilding their immunities. We saved samples of blood from each patient and we will repatriate them with their donors. We will also be transplanting samples of fecal matter into their intestines."

"You are going to what?" The General barked.

"The blood contains a lifetime of antibodies. It will boost the patient's immune system in the short term. The feces are needed because our bodies have huge amounts of bacteria on and in them. We can't live without our colonies of microbes to help us. For the patients to live, we have to re-colonize their systems with appropriate microbes. Even with these steps and a vaccination program they will have a tendency to become ill easily for some time to come without proper care. That is one of the reasons why we have to quarantine them at site two before sending them on."

"So at this point if a soldier needed this process he would come out as a shorter female version of himself who might have almost as much endurance as he did as a man but not be nearly as strong. So... basically useless," Rodney said with his usual tact.

Simon stepped in. "Rodney, this is still early days. Every time we do this we learn a lot. I imagine once these girls start training up their bodies we will get a lot of good data that will not only help this project but will help the armed forces in how new recruits are fed and trained. Remember it will be months before we have enough data to judge which changes had the desired effect, which were negative or if a change did nothing measurable. This is science, but it is not an exact science. That is why your predecessor pushed for this large scale test. We will be receiving a massive amount of information that we can work with to overcome our current challenges."

"Fine, I will release the money. If you will excuse me, I have another meeting to get to," Rodney said cutting his connection abruptly.

"Asshole," Daniel muttered.

***

Hailey looked down at the sleeping brunette. She had been busy all afternoon piercing all of the girls ears and was glad this was the last one. She still felt that she had the better job today as Dr. McCullough had been through this morning checking their IV tubes and dialating all of the girls that had opted not to deal with the hassles of first time sex. Erin would have to repeat the process several times before the girls were fully conscious. She didn't seem to mind though. Erin always struck as the cheerful and helpful sort.

She quickly placed the silver studs in the lobes of the comatose girl. She was happy that the patient care associates would deal with cleaning and rotating the posts. Hailey thought that it was a great idea to get as much as possible dealt with while the new girls were sleeping.

***

Martin opened his eyes to find himself in what seemed to be a hospital room. Had there been an accident? He was having trouble moving his head and focusing his eyes properly. "Perhaps I've been in a car crash," he thought. His mind was a confusion of different impressions. The bed seemed very large. There was someone in the other bed. He was very cold. There was no pain. He did not itch. That seemed to be important for some reason. Soon after he was had drifted off again.

Sometime later he awoke. Martin tried to sit up but he wasn't able to control his muscles. He began to panic. "Have I had some kind of stroke? I am in a hospital, the nurse will be able to tell me what is going on." he thought.

"Nuawwwa," was what came out. This was bad. At least he didn't itch. Why was he obsessed with itching? His voice sounded strange. The tone was higher, perhaps his throat had been damaged in the accident or whatever had happened.

He heard footsteps coming down the hall. Someone entered the room. "I am Pam, your therapist. It's great to see you awake finally. I will try to answer all of the questions that you are unable to ask. First, you are a volunteer in a medical research project. As far as we can tell you came through the process with flying colors. All of you did. We have had you in a medically induced coma for several weeks. You are weak as a kitten. You are going to tire quickly because you need to develop some muscle tone, which is part of what you will be doing here.

"You are not going to be able to speak properly for a while. That is expected. You need to experiment with sounds. Don't try for words yet just work on making different tones. Try for vowels, those are the easiest. Also work on focusing your eyes at different distances. I will let the others know that you are up, then I will be back and we can begin working on your gross motor skills. Give me a long ahhhh sound if you understand. "

"Ahhhhhhhh," Martin sounded.

Pam beamed at him in pleasure. “Excellent. Be back soon.”

Martin closed his eyes in thought. At least he could manage to do that much. He was beginning to remember more about the project. Pam had said that he had come through with flying colors. He remembered a strange lady coming to his home one night and offering him a chance to change. That meant that he was no longer a he. That also meant he was no longer old. He was getting a second chance at life and he, uh she had better not waste it. With that thought she drifted back to sleep.

***

The next time Martin opened her eyes she saw Hailey standing at the foot of her bed.

"Good morning Martin or I should say good morning Kelli," she said. "I am so happy that you are finally awake. Anyway, I like being the one to tell each of you your new name and officially welcome you to your new life. You name is Kelli Renee Bellamy. We will get you a packet with your official personal history in a week or two. Your sleepy head roommate is Nicole. She may be awake again soon. Please put forth as much effort as you can with the various therapists while they are available to you here. Early effort will pay off in the long run. Good fine motor skills mean better handwriting so you can upgrade that chicken scratch you signed in with to something more appropriate to a young lady. We will talk more when you can actually talk." Hailey gave her a big smile and a wink as she walked out.

'Kelli,' she thought to herself. 'Not my first choice but at least it was on the list.' With that thought she fell back to sleep.

The third time Kelli woke she found her roommate looking across the gap between the hospital beds at her.

"Awwww," the other girl babbled smiling. It seemed that she was pleased to have company. Kelli interpreted the sound as 'Hello I am pleased to see you awake.'

"Ooooo," Kelli said back. She was trying for 'I am happy to see you also,' however her tongue and jaw seemed not to be team players at the moment. Oh well. Time to have a look at the new neighbor she thought as she continued to make happy baby noises at her new friend.

The girl, Nicole, she remembered, had a light fuzz of blond hair on her head, perhaps an inch long. She had very fine dark blond eyebrows, making her blue eyes appear very large. The girl was frail looking, laying as she was in her thin hospital gown. Even so, her face was beautiful. Kelli hoped she didn't look so birdlike but knew that she probably did. She wondered what she looked like right now. With luck she would turn out to be pretty as well.

The two girls continued to make noises at each other and occasionally laughing at the absurdity of the situation until Pam showed up some time later.

"You two are doing great," she said with enthusiasm. "This is exactly what we are looking for at this stage. Our first job is to get your diapers changed then start to have you relearn speech. If you girls are ready we will start with the vowels..."

***

After a couple of weeks the girls were starting to be able to form almost all of the words that they wanted to although the 's' and the 'th' sounds were difficult to make. Kelli also was starting to get solid foods if one considered apple sauce and mashed potatoes to be solid. The girls had been getting most of their nutrition from baby bottles for the time being. It was the most reliable way to get the calories they needed into them, even if it was a bit humiliating. Kelli was beginning to feel her new teeth starting to break through her gums and wished that they would hurry the hell up.

As a matter of fact she wished everything would hurry. She knew she could walk if her legs would just get strong enough. The therapists had needed to warn her about overdoing her exercises. She felt she could do more though. Even though she quickly ran out of energy she usually lasted longer than the other girls in her group.

The room Kelli was in now was much nicer than the windowless room that she vaguely remembered from before. She had didn't think that this was the same location she was at initally but at least the lighting was better. She had been told that this would be her home for the next few months until they were ready to move.

"Hey Nikki," Kelli said to her roommate, who was lying in her own bed building a tower of Lego blocks on her tray table to develop fine motor skills.

"Hmm?" she replied, not taking her attention from her hand as it wavered toward the place she intended to deposit the next block.

"Do you miss it?" Kelli asked. "Your life from before? I have been trying to remember and it is almost like I am remembering a movie. It's like the past few years are something that happened to someone else. The memories get more solid the further back I try to go. I remember the beagle that I had when I was a kid in detail. I remember my kids. I know I had two cats recently but I have no recollection of what they looked like or if they had anyone to look after them after I left. It is really bothering me I don't think that I would leave them to starve. I am not that kind of person but I can't remember making any arrangements."

"I'm sure that they are fine." The blond girl said. "You probably left them with someone before you left. Remember that Hailey told us we had all been on a fishing trip as part of the cover to get us here. I am a little shaky on the run up to being here. I don't even remember agreeing to do this. I have no doubt that I did agree though because it seems to me that I'm much happier now. I do remember longing for something like this to happen but never having the nerve to do anything about it. Wishing to be a girl, I mean. Anyway I am sure that you provided for the cats. You should ask Hailey the next time she is in if you said anything about it."

***

It turned out that Hailey could help her out. As part of the memory sub-project each of the participants had recorded hours of video answering questions about their lives during the first weeks at the old location as well as a brief message to their future self. As soon as she asked Hailey about her cats, Kelli was given access to her message.

Hailey had dashed out of the room to get her lap top and accessed the message that Martin had recorded. "This should put your mind to rest. Do you want privacy or would you prefer me to be with you in case you have any questions?"

"You can stay. I want Nikki to hear what he has to say as well so we can talk about it later."

"Okay, I will put it on both of your screens," Hailey said as she busied herself pulling their monitors around on their swing arms to a comfortable viewing distance and connecting her laptop. "Here we go."

On the monitor in front of her, Kelli saw an older, somewhat overweight, man with thick glasses. "Hello girl," The man began. "If you are watching this everything worked like they said it would. They tell me that you may have unpredictable memory gaps so I am going to run through all of the important stuff that wasn't covered in the video interviews we have been doing." The man took a drink before continuing.

"I updated the will last year, so we are all good there. Before the trip I sent letters to the kids letting them know I was going to try to stop being such a recluse. I tried to sound upbeat about the trip and tried to leave them with a good memory of me. I left the cats with the neighbor I believe she will find them a good home or keep them after she learns of my death. They tell me I, we, I am just going to use we and us, this is weird. We won't need glasses anymore and our ankle shouldn't hurt anymore when the weather changes like it has since we broke it in college. As a matter of fact we shouldn't have any health issues. So, we have that going for us. Which is nice.

"I don't have much else to pass on that won't be covered in the memory tests. Hailey says we will be able to fill in the gaps when we start on that after some recovery time. I will just leave you now with the hope that we do better the second time around. Have more fun and less fear. Be the open and friendly person that we have always wanted to be. Good luck kid."

"Oh wow, I didn't realize I was that old and ugly," Kelli said after the screen went dark.

Hailey then played Nicole's message for the girls before leaving them to talk.

***

Thank you all for reading. The next part will be posted next Monday.



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