This story deals with a gay teenage relationship theme with occasional science-fiction, fantasy, and sexual situations. The usual restrictions apply: please read no further if this type of story isn't to your tastes, or if you're under legal age. This story may not be reprinted anywhere without permission. The contents are ©2010 by John Francis; all rights reserved. Comments to the author are welcomed at


by The Pecman
Chapter 7: Gristle and Bone

As Joey pushed his way through the emergency room doorway, the halls seemed to be filled with an alarming number of patients. One stretcher held a thirty-something man, holding an oily rag to staunch a bloody wound on his leg; another had an elderly woman, who was gasping for breath and clutching her chest, sucking air through a hose from a metal tank. A woman with a hysterically-crying baby sat off to the right, silent tears streaming down her face as she desperately tried to comfort the infant.

This is a total nightmare, the boy thought, pushing his hulking body up to the counter.

“Excuse me, uh... miss?” Joey said, a little louder than he intended.

“You’ll just have to wait,” the nurse said, barely looking up from her station. “We’re a little overloaded this afternoon — as you can see.”

“Please,” he said, his voice catching in his throat. “I’m just trying to find out the status of my friend. His name’s Michael Spears. They brought him in less than 20 minutes ago, from Arroyo Grande Middle School.”

The woman audibly sighed and hit a few keys on her terminal. “Room E11, on your right. Down that hallway. But he’s in quarantine.” She looked up, her face momentarily softened. “I’m afraid he’s not doing well. An officer from the Las Vegas CDC is coming in — we’re concerned that it might be something serious.”

“Ebola,” the boy whispered. “The Ebola virus.”

The nurse gave a start and leaned closer. “Please! Don’t even say that out loud. We don’t want to alarm anyone. But yes — it could be a pandemic.”

He turned away and hurried down the hallway, his eyes stinging with tears. Michael had been as healthy as a horse yesterday. And hung like one, too, he thought ruefully. He was swept with a wave of regret, remembering their quarrel in the cafeteria a few hours earlier.

“God,” he muttered to himself. “My best friend is probably dying, and he’s probably still pissed-off at me from lunch.”

As he approached the end of the corridor, he noted several large, official looking signs on the wall: Warning: Biohazard Level 4. Safety Suits Required by Order of Regulation 3A-101. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - Nevada Regional Division. A blue “CDC” logo was placed below, with an address on Maryland Parkway.

A security guard looked up from a small desk. “Yes?”

“The kid in there,” Joey said, pointing towards the glass-enclosed room. “Michael Spears. He’s a friend of mine.”

“Sorry. You can look through the window here. But no one’s allowed in — not yet, anyway. They’re going to take him over to the larger facility in Vegas in just a few minutes.”

Joey stepped up to the glass wall and stared in. A large, bloated body with Michael’s face lay on the hospital bed. His eyes were shut. His limbs were grotesque, bulging out like water balloons, the flesh distended, the limbs distorted. A medical technician covered head to toe in a white plastic suit leaned over and extended one of Michael’s arms. It flopped around as if it were made of rubber. Several diagnostic monitors displayed the patient’s current readings, casting splashes of weird yellow and red light across the room. The technician cleaned off a red, pus-like material that oozed from a dozen ugly sores on the boy’s forearm, and then began wrapping up the arm with a gauze-like bandage.

Even through the glass, Joey felt like he could smell a stale antiseptic aroma, tinged with the slight taint of alcohol. Hospitals, he thought with a shiver.

“Joey!” called a voice.

He spun around in time to see Mrs. Spears, a harried 30-ish woman in a white and blue cocktail waitress uniform. “Do you know how he is?” she cried, embracing him in a brief hug. She smelled like stale tobacco, and her face was pale, her forehead creased with concern.

“No, I just got here myself. What’s this all about?”

She wiped her eyes. “They called me from the school and said he’d collapsed during football practice. His right arm was bleeding with some kind of wound. Coach Rampart said his body was... moving, changing. He said it was as if there was something... alive under the skin.” She choked and shook her head. “It’s just not possible.”

Joey started to respond, then felt his cellphone vibrate. He checked the text display.

Act surprised. You haven’t seen me before. –Dr. N.

There was a small commotion down the hall, and he turned to see a physician in a blue-plastic smock pushing a cart down the aisle. “Step aside, please,” the doctor barked.

It was Noble, most of his head and shoulders covered in a protective hood, revealing only his eyes and mouth. He’d managed to shave and get himself completely presentable in less than 15 minutes. From his brisk manner and sharp speech, he immediately created the impression of a man in charge. He stepped up to the counter and began to snap on a set of sterile rubber gloves.

“I’m here to move this patient to the CDC treatment facility over at the University,” he said curtly. “The transport is waiting outside.”

The guard gave Noble a wary eye, then held out his hand. “Your I.D.?”

Noble flashed him a plastic card. The man scanned it, then nodded at his computer display.

“‘Garcia, Rueben, M.D.’ Alright, Dr. Garcia. You’ll need a mask. We suspect it’s a level 4.”

“I already have a respirator,” he said, immediately snapping a clear oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. “We already have an idea as to what caused the boy’s condition. It won’t require level 4, and there’s no potential risk of air-to-air contamination. But we’ll keep him contained in a sealed H2 suit for transport.”

The guard considered this. “Alright. We don’t get too many of these.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “I should hope not. The chances of this kind of infection are normally approximately five million to one.”

Mrs. Spears grabbed the man’s arm. “Are you going to take care of my son?” she said. “Is it serious?”

Noble nodded. “We’ve seen similar cases before,” he said. “It’s serious, but I think we can stabilize his condition in 12 hours — perhaps sooner.”

Joey stared worriedly at the doctor, whose face was almost 90% covered by the oxygen mask. The boy prayed that the Michael’s mother wouldn’t remember Noble as the same man who had picked both boys up as hitchhikers three months earlier. I’ve got to distract her, he thought quickly. Maybe calm her down a little bit.

“I just saw Michael at lunch,” Joey explained, as Noble disappeared into the room behind him, the electric air lock door hissing shut. “His arm was itching, but it didn’t look that bad. Just a rash.”

The woman shook her head wearily. “You boys know I’ve had to work two shifts, ever since Johnny...” her voice trailed off.

Ever since her husband went to jail for possession, Joey thought.

“I know,” he said quickly. “And I’m positive that Michael appreciates it.”

“I do the best I can,” she said in a low voice. “We’re just barely getting by, but we’re at least paying the minimum on all our bills. It’s been so difficult over the last few year, but we’re managing.” Mrs. Spears looked up at Joey and touched his face. “You’ve changed so much,” she said. “You’ve grown almost as big as Michael. That exercise program you two have been on this summer is really amazing.”

Before Joey could respond, there was a sudden click and hiss from the airlock door, and Noble began wheeling the stretcher out into the hall.

Joey looked down. Michael’s unconscious body was visible through a clear plastic tent, fed by an oxygen tank below. A blue-clad orderly walked over and helped maneuver the front of the cart through a crowd of onlookers.

“Move, please,” the orderly called. “Patient coming through.”

“Doctor, can you—” she began.

“Just relax, Mrs. Spears,” Noble interrupted. “We’ll call you in a few hours. Chances are, we’ll have a prognosis by 7PM.”

“Can I... can I come along?” she asked, her voice filled with concern, as they walked together down the hall.

“Sorry, ma’m,” he said, “The patient is in much too weak a state. His immune system has been stressed to the limit — even the slightest contamination could harm him. And there’s the potential risk of you getting infected by the bacteria as well.” He checked his clipboard. “We have all your phone numbers. We’ll contact you within the hour and keep you posted of his condition.”

“He’s right,” Joey said, thinking fast. “I’m sure they’ll do all they can.”

The woman began to tremble. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she sobbed. “I work my second job on Tuesdays and Thursdays... I couldn’t get over here any faster!”

The boy gave her a hug. “Hey, it’s OK, Mrs. Spears. Michael’s in good hands.”

“The very best hands,” echoed Noble, rolling the cart out through the hospital’s exit doors.

Joey and Mrs. Spears watched as the two men loaded the stretcher into a plain white cargo van at the curb.

The woman stared. That’s odd, she thought. That doesn’t look like any normal ambulance.

A strong arm reached out to give her a reassuring squeeze.

“Hey,” Joey said in a soft voice. “Michael’s gonna be alright. I’ll ride home with you if you want. In fact, I could use a lift. Maybe we can have dinner while we’re waiting for word on his condition.”

She nodded, then daubed her eyes and began walking towards the parking lot. First Johnny, and now this, she thought. How am I ever going to make it through the night?

§ § § § §

The world was a blur: muted patterns of dull green, blurry faces hidden by hazy plastic, the voices echoed and unclear, like static from a distant radio station. His past memories were distant and vague, like something he’d seen in a movie.

I was at football practice, Michael thought, forcing his mind to concentrate. We were running the tire agility course. My arm began to swell and sting, then I felt dizzy.

Suddenly, he felt a lurch. His eyes opened. He was tied down on a stretcher inside a van, and a black man was hovering over him.

“Don’t try to move,” the man said. “We’re taking you someplace so you can get well again.”

“Hos— hos—” Michael rasped.

“Not exactly. But Dr. Noble is here. He’ll set you right.”

“Noble? Good.” He let out a long sigh of relief.

Suddenly, he felt a pinprick on his wrist, and he sensed a cold fluid trickle up into his shoulder. Michael felt a momentary sense of euphoria as he fell into an abyss, and a black curtain abruptly descended.

§ § § § §


Joey stared at the outside of the warehouse. “This is no hospital,” he muttered, looking around the ugly tan brick building. He glanced again at his cellphone.

Come to 2001 West Horizon Ridge Parkway, Unit 12. 5PM. Tell no one. –Dr. N.

He rode his bike around the corner, checking the numbers from unit to unit. Not much of a secret headquarters, he thought, remembering the villainous lairs of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, or Blofeld’s palatial retreats from the old Bond films. But then, Dr. Noble isn’t a villain.

Joey pulled up to an abrupt stop. “Or maybe he is,” he murmured thoughtfully.

No — that made no sense. He ran down the list of reasons why he had no choice except to trust Noble. Everything the scientist had told him and Michael over the previous four months had been true: the effects of the Cerulean serum, the control drug he’d given them to restrict their massive growth, the details on the side-effects, like their limited life-spans... it all added up. But what did they really know about Noble, other than the files and what the man told them?

I’ve got no choice but to trust him, he thought, hiding his bike behind a dumpster near building 12. Noble’s the only one who can save Michael.

Joey trudged over to a large, roll-up metal door, the corners of which bore slight signs of rust. A “for lease” sign was plastered right above it, followed the name of a commercial realtor and a Las Vegas telephone number. The boy rapped on the aluminum surface, a little louder than he intended, and heard it rumble and echo on the inside.

“Yes?” asked a clipped voice, from a nearby speaker box.

The boy stepped over and clicked the button. “Dr. Noble? It’s me... Joey. Can you—”

Without warning, a conventional door off to the side suddenly burst open, and a black man grabbed him and yanked him inside.

“HEY!” Joey cried, pushing the man back as hard as he could. The man sprawled on his back onto the concrete and slid back nearly ten feet.

“Joseph!” yelled another voice from the back of the room. “Kindly stop that racket and close the door. I’m trying to work in here.”

The boy blanched, then quickly shut the door behind him. “Sorry,” he said, helping the black man back up to his feet. “You didn’t give me much warning.”

The tall man caught his breath, then dusted himself off. “Yeah. Maybe I owe you an apology.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ray,” he said, extending out a large hand. “Ray Mitchell. I was Dr. Noble’s assistant back in... back in the old days.”

Joey nodded. “Yeah. At the Cerulean Project.”

The man winced and waved his hands. “Don’t even say that out loud. We just called it the Project — leave it at that.”

“Raymond!” called the scientist. “I’m almost ready here.”

The man and Joey made their way to the back of the warehouse. It was a large, rundown concrete building, with a corrugated metal roof. Small piles of sand and dust were scattered over the floor, and clumps of weeds sprouted through cracks in the cement. Joey guessed it was at least the size of his house, roughly 3000 square feet. Several laptops were set up on a folding table positioned next to a hospital gurney, flanked by a series of computer displays and readouts. A dozen beakers and flasks of colored chemicals stood on stands nearby, two of them bubbling softly over bunsen burners.

The room was dim, but there was enough light to make out the details of the unconscious figure lying naked on the hospital bed. It was Michael: hideously distorted, his head nearly twice its normal size, his face puffed-out and enlarged like a grotesque horror-movie version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Michael was sweating profusely, and his mouth hung open, a trickle of drool coming out the left side. His body pulsed and throbbed like a water balloon, the skin rippling in waves.

“God,” Joey said, fighting the urge to panic. “What happened to him?”

“We’re not exactly certain,” Noble said, adding a green liquid to a yellowish solution, swirling it around thoughtfully in a glass jar. “But it’s clear that Michael’s genetic structure has been radically altered.”

Joey stared at the bloated figure. It looked like a caricature of a human being: saggy arms, distended stomach, almost as if it were entirely made of rubber. All his muscles are gone, he thought, his eyes widening with horror. Like some kind of horrible melted doll.

“Would... would another injection of the Cerulean formula fix this?” the boy asked hopefully. “You know — make him like he was before?”

The scientist shook his head. “No. I was initially concerned that we were encountering some of the same phenomena we observed back in 1988. But I’m happy to say, I was wrong. There’s something in his bloodstream, some foreign contaminant that’s interacted with my formula. It’s essentially mutated all of his muscle tissue and temporarily turned it into fat, and also made his bones flexible. Look at this.” He reached over and grabbed Michael’s right arm, then slowly bent it back into a sharp V. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Remarkable, isn’t it?”

Joey shuddered. Michael’s formerly-handsome face was now twisted and deformed, like a rubber mask left outside too long in the hot desert sun. Tears filled Joey’s eyes as he reached out, letting his fingertips brush against his friend’s formerly-handsome face.

Michael moaned, then his eyelids fluttered open. “Pain,” he said in a muffled voice. “Hurts... hurts all over. Help me... I’m dying.”

Noble quickly turned to a roll-around machine connected by plastic tubes to Michael’s right arm and hit a button. The machine let out a series of short beeps, and he turned back to the patient. “There,” he said soothingly. “The morphine will reduce the pain to a manageable level.” He lightly touched Michael’s shoulder. “I promise, you’re not dying. Once I can stabilize your cellular structure, I’m confident I can restore you to normal. Unfortunately, I warn you, the recovery process will be quite painful.”

“Just do it,” the boy said in a whisper. “I can’t... I can’t live like this.”

The scientist nodded, then returned to his workbench. The bubbling green solution he’d been mixing in the beaker slowly dissolved to a turquoise color.

“How could this happen?” Joey asked. “Michael had just a little rash on his arm two days ago. I can’t believe it could turn into this.” He pointed his own muscular arm towards the fat blob on the stretcher.

“I think I have the answer,” said Ray, who slid a duffle bag across the table. He held a bottle of pills in his hand and shook it for emphasis. “These were in the side pocket. Apparently, Michael took some of these pills right before practice: ephedra and a bunch of other stimulants. They sell ‘em over-the-counter all over town — quick energy pick-me-ups. Football players use ‘em all the time to keep their edge.”

Noble took the bottle out of his hand, broke one of the caplets in half, tasted a small sample, then nodded and spat it out. “Yes,” he said with a thoughtful nod. “That could most definitely cause this kind of reaction. We specifically forbade any of the original Ultra-soldiers to use caffeine-related stimulants of any kind. Guarana, ephedrine, caffeine... each of these chemicals tends to increase the metabolism and causes unpredictable reactions with the Cerulean formula. Especially in high concentrations like this.”

“But what’s happened to his body?” Joey cried. “He’s like some freak in a bad horror movie!”

The doctor sighed. “In a way, that’s not far from the truth. Essentially, all of his myofibrils — that is, the core of his muscle cells — have metamorphosed into liboplastic tissue.”

“Into fat, you mean.”

“Yes, exactly. His muscles, the tendons, all that subcutaneous tissue... everything is disintegrating into fat.”

“But what about his bones?” the boy asked, shuddering at the sight of Michael’s arm bending almost double, as if it was part of a rubber doll.

“Yes, that is quite puzzling,” Noble agreed. “But it’s all somehow related. I’ve stabilized the cellular disintegration, and now that I have this missing piece of the puzzle, I’m confident I can come up with a modified formula to change him back, using the modified pattern already imprinted upon his DNA. My calculations will be complete in a matter of minutes. In truth, I think he would eventually change back on his own, but it would take at least two days. And we need to change him back quickly, before anyone asks any questions.”

From behind them, Michael let out a gurgle and began to choke.

“Doctor!” called Ray. “I believe the boy’s going into cardiac arrest!”

“Get the defibrillator!” the man snapped.

Quickly, the black man opened a gray case and pulled out two plastic grips, which were connected by black coiled cables, then flipped a switch. In less than ten seconds, the machine hummed to life. Ray leaned over Michael’s pasty, bloated body and parked the paddles on the boy’s chest.

“Clear!” he ordered.

There was a sharp electronic crack and Michael’s body stiffened. At once, the readouts on the left began to pulse in response. Noble checked the displays and nodded approvingly.

“That was only a momentary arrhythmia — a reaction to the formula. His body is fighting the cellular change, which is good. I’m confident his heart muscles were not affected. Only his skeletal muscles were affected by this reaction.”

“How long before he... he goes back to normal?” Joey asked in a small voice.

“We’re going to keep him here overnight,” Noble said. “Ray here will assist me.”

“Just like the old days,” the black man said with a wry chuckle.

Joey gave him a wary eye.

Ray turn to the boy and shrugged. “I was only an intern at the project. Really, just a low-level Specialist, barely above Private. Dr. Noble here showed me the ropes.”

“You were there? When the place... when the project blew up?”

“Yeah. I was there. But let’s not talk about that now.” He gently put his arm across Joey’s back, turned him around, and began leading him away from Noble’s makeshift laboratory.

“But — I really should stay here,” Joey protested.

“Your parents will worry about you,” Ray said quietly as they walked towards the exit door. “We’re going to have to come up with a cover story to explain what happened to Michael. Sanford – that is, Dr. Noble — will keep an eye on him and will call you later with an update. We’ve already removed all the evidence from the hospital and the real CDC.”

“This is going to work,” called Noble from a distance. “The treatment should start within the next twenty minutes.”

“Alright,” Joey said, rubbing his eyes at the bright afternoon light as they exited the warehouse. “But I still have a lot of questions. Where’d all that equipment come from? How did Dr. Noble get that ID card? And how did you survive the fire in the 1980s?”

The man smiled. “That’s a long story. Short version: I still work as a medical technician right outside Vegas. I had access to the equipment at short notice, and I owed Dr. Noble a favor. Maybe a few favors.” He nodded towards the building. “He’s a good man. I know he might come across as a mad scientist to somebody like you, but trust me: he’s brilliant. Noble got a raw deal from the boys back in Washington.”

Joey nodded, then hopped back up on his bike. His T-shirt rippled in the wind, revealing a little more of his muscular physique.

Ray smiled approvingly. “Man,” he said, whistling. “Son, you are definitely ripped. You’re... how old? 16?”

“I’ll be 14 in November,” he said, flipping up the kickstand with his heel.

“You’ve got the build of an adult middleweight boxer, yet you’re 13,” the man said, shaking his head with disbelief. “How big are those guns?”

“You mean my arms? I think I hit 16-1/2" a few weeks ago.”

“Impressive. And your mental acuity?”

Joey grinned. “Page 143 of the New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007 edition: ‘The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from about 542 million years ago to 488 million years ago. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the classical name for Wales, where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed.’”

“Impressive. And who was Sedgwick?”

“One of the founders of modern geology. Lived in England in the late 1700s and 1800s. Pretty cool guy, but very old-school.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “So you have an idetic memory.”

“Yeah, almost like a photograph. I’ve already made it through the C’s. I figure I’ll have most of the encyclopedia memorized by the end of the month.”

“That’ll come in handy in school.”

Joey shrugged. “I was already getting all-A’s before the... well, what happened to us. But Noble told us not to try to get noticed.”

“Definitely. Keep it on the DL.” The man thumbed back towards the door. “We’re gonna have our hands full with Michael. We’ll contact you before midnight. Between Sanford and myself, we’ll come up with a story to give Michael’s mother. Keep her calm until then, and don’t let her call any hospitals or the police.”

“What about the school?”

“Tell them you’ll know more in the morning. Tomorrow, you’ll have a convincing story to tell them.”

The boy thought for a moment. “A friend of mine is the vice-principal’s son. Maybe he can help.”

“Just don’t tell him too many details.”

Joey shook his head. “I know what to tell him.”

The man opened the door again. “We should be finished by midnight. Either Dr. Noble or myself will contact you the moment we know more.”

“Thanks. Good to meet you, Ray.”

The man waved as the boy rode off, his bicycle bouncing over some rough concrete and through a dusty, rocky path. After a moment, the man pulled out a Blackberry and began quickly typing a message.

Patient 2 is asymptomatic at present. Definite signs of idetic memory and high IQ. Physical characteristics transformed from endomorphic to mesomorphic. No initial signs of sociopathic or narcissistic behavior. Strength and reflexes very high, as expected. Resistance to disease: still be determined.

He clicked the send button, then turned. Noble stood in the doorway, frowning.

“Filing today’s report, Ray?”

The man shrugged. “That was the agreement. The General won’t have it any other way.”

“‘General,’” Noble scoffed. “Ridiculous. Mycroft never even served in the military.”

“He has his own de facto army. Come on, Doctor — we need to keep this boy alive. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The scientist nodded, then held the door open as both men headed back into the warehouse, the door clanging shut behind them.

§ § § § §

Joey avoided most of his parents’ questions during dinner. His mother and father had several tearful conversations with Michael’s mother, who sobbed for more than an hour in their living room. The school coach had called once to inquire about Michael’s progress. Throughout, Joey kept his mouth shut, remembering Noble’s precise instructions.

Promptly at 7PM, Mrs. Spears’ phone rang. Noble — posing as Dr. Garcia — explained to her that her son was “improving,” and would be sent home before midnight to recuperate.

Joey’s parents reluctantly let him ride with Mrs. Spears back to her house to wait for Michael’s arrival. “Only for tonight,” his father warned. “And I still want you back at school first thing in the morning.”

A few minutes after midnight, Joey’s cell buzzed with a text message:

Coming up the street now. Help Ray take Michael inside. –Dr. N.

“Where are they?” fretted Mrs. Spears as she paced back and forth. “They should’ve been here ten minutes ago.”

The boy feigned a yawn. “Don’t worry. The doctors said an hour ago that Michael was practically back to normal.” It didn’t seem possible. The blobby, misshapen freak he’d seen that afternoon was a far cry from the sleek, muscular athlete he’d known all summer long. It’d be a miracle if they could get him even close to human, Joey mused.

His hyper-sensitive hearing detected the truck coming up the road. Joey glanced at his watch. “Should be any minute now.”

As if on cue, there was a door slam in the driveway. Moments later, there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Spears immediately burst into tears, frozen with fear.

“What if... what if he still looks like...”

“We’ll deal with it,” Joey said soothingly, walking her to the door. “Michael built himself up once — he can do it again.”

They opened the door to see Ray’s smiling face. “Here’s our patient,” he announced. Michael’s arm was around the black man’s shoulders. The boy’s face was a little pale, and he walked somewhat unsteadily, but seemed otherwise alright, his physique unchanged from the day before.

“Hey,” he said, smiling weakly. “Good to be back.”

Michael’s mother let out a small cry, then ran over and embraced him, practically knocking down Ray in the process.

“Whoa,” the man said with a laugh. “Be careful. Your son’s still a little weak, but we’ve cleared up the infection.”

Joey helped Ray walk Michael in, then sat him down on the couch.

“You feeling OK?” Joey asked. He had a million questions, and barely knew where to start.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “I’ve only started to come out of it in the last hour.” He turned to the woman. “Hey, mom? Could I have a protein shake?”

“Make it a double,” added Joey. “I’m starved.”

“The doctor approves,” Ray added. “Dr. Garcia was insistent that Michael stay on a high protein diet.” He reached in his pocket for a list. “He’ll also need these nutrients and supplements over the next few days, to build up his strength.”

Mrs. Spears daubed her eyes. “Is that all? I mean, shouldn’t he be taking... what are they called — broad-spectrum antibiotics? Would that help the ebola?”

The man shook his head. “Actually, there is no cure for the ebola virus. That’s certain death.”

The woman covered her mouth. “Then what...”

“Michael had a sudden allergy attack,” he said firmly. “It was unusually severe, but that’s really all it was. It wasn’t anything as serious as ebola. The original ambulance crew simply overreacted and misdiagnosed.”

The woman raised her eyes in surprise. “But he looked...”

“His face was badly swollen, and his body showed signs of traumatic edema, along with the rash on his arm — all due to an allergy. But it was only temporary, as you can plainly see.”

She put her hands out and tentatively felt Michael’s face and shoulder. “The coach told me that one of his arms was twisted and the bones were completely shattered!”

Ray shook his head. “His shoulder was dislocated, but not broken. His arm’s still a little sore, just a bad sprain, but otherwise as good as new. Michael will be somewhat weak for the next few days, but I think he can go back to school by Thursday or Friday. Make sure he sticks to that diet.”

The woman looked relieved but somewhat puzzled. “This is all so strange,” she said, almost talking to herself. “I mean... his father never had any allergies. And I’ve never so much as sneezed in the last five years.”

The black man walked over to the doorway and paused. “Allergy attacks this severe are uncommon here in Nevada, but it happens.” He turned to Michael. “And don’t forget what the doctor told you back at the clinic.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Michael said. “No caffeine, no energy drinks.”

“Bad for your stomach,” Joey added, giving his friend a knowing look.

Michael nodded, his face grim. “Yeah. Bad news. Never again.”

“Caffeine?” Mrs. Spears said. “But what...”

“I have to get back to the clinic,” the man interrupted. “Call the contact number on this form if you have any further questions. And for all of us, I’m very glad this turned out to be a false alarm. Nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious,” both boys repeated.

“I’ll be sure to call the school in the morning,” Mrs. Spears called as Ray disappeared out the front door. “Thanks again!”

As the woman closed the door, Joey heard the van start up, the wheels crunching backwards down the rocky driveway, and move off into the night.

“Very strange,” Mrs. Spears mused, sitting next to the boys on the couch. “I really don’t understand this.”

“What’s that?” Joey asked. “I mean... Michael’s here, he’s okay. No problem, right?”

She stared at both of them. “No one ever even asked me for any insurance information. I never filled out a form... nothing. It’s a good thing, too — we haven’t had any health coverage in over a year.”

“Uh, the CDC is part of a government facility,” Joey said, thinking quickly. “I’m positive there’s no charge. Your tax dollars at work.”

“But the emergency room...”

“No, they said it’d all be taken care of,” Michael said. “Hey, can we talk about this while we eat in the kitchen? I’m really dyin’ here.”

Joey and Mrs. Spears glared at him.

“Just an expression!”

Joey laughed, and even Mrs. Spears finally joined in, laughing with relief. It was good to see Michael back — the one who looked like a muscular teenage boy, not the blobby, amorphous monstrosity from this afternoon.

§ § § § §

“So, ya think she bought it?” asked Michael, as he stretched out on his bed.

Noble had managed to work miracles. The scientist been able to filter out all the chemical stimulants from Michael’s blood over a period of four hours, then had given him a transfusion and a small booster shot of the Cerulean formula to bring him back to normal. Michael shuddered as he recalled the amount of discomfort he endured during the second transformation, but at least this time, he had several gallons of intravenous protein available as nutrients, along with some morphine to ease the pain.

“Yeah,” Joey said, sitting in a nearby chair. “There’s some holes in the story, but if we’re lucky, your mom won’t look too far. Ray’s going to make all the hospital paperwork and computer records disappear, like some kind of Jason Bourne movie.”

“Sounds like a whole lot to sweep under the rug to me,” Michael said thoughtfully. “I mean — what if the newspapers found out?”

“This’d be all over TMZ in five minutes. People would ask too many questions. It’d be a total freak show.”

The boys fell silent. They both realized the enormity of their secret, along with the havoc it could wreak on their lives, those of their families, and everybody they knew. For all they knew, the government would take them out to the desert, dig a deep hole, and throw them and Dr. Noble in it, followed with a metric ton of dirt.

“So what’s the story on this guy Ray?” Michael asked.

Joey’s mouth fell open with surprise. “I thought you were going to explain him to me! I mean... he was taking care of you for the last eight hours.”

Michael snorted. “I was delirious for most of that time. All I got out of him was that he was some kinda assistant for Noble in the 1980s, like Igor and Dr. Frankenstein. Nowadays, he works for some place called the Mycroft Life Institute on Maryland Parkway in Vegas — some kind of fancy-schmancy clinic for fat-cat millionaires.”

“Mycroft? Mycroft who?”

“How should I know? What do I look like... Wikipedia?”

Joey flipped open the laptop on Michael’s desk, then launched a browser and typed a few keys. After a few moments, he stared open-mouthed at the screen.

“Jesus,” he said, momentarily stunned.

“Jesus Mycroft?” Michael asked, exasperated.

“No,” Joey said, spinning the laptop around. On the screen was a large display webpage for the Mycroft Institute, with a spinning logo filled with streaming circles and a colorful, hypnotic design. “Alexander Mycroft. He’s the ninth-richest guy in North America. He owns a dozen tech corporations, along with these health clinics in twenty countries — something to do with life extension. Mycroft claims he can make people younger, cure diseases, even extend their lifespans.”

“Sure,” the boy scoffed. “And I’ll believe Paris Hilton’s tits are real, too.”

“No,” Joey said. “This is the real deal. I think he’s somehow connected to Noble. That lab operation they set up in that warehouse — there’s some serious money going on with this thing.”

“Yeah. And yet Dr. Noble’s living in a trailer and drivin’ a 20 year-old clunkmobile. Somehow, I don’t think he has that much cash in his piggy bank.”

Joey got up from the desk and sat on the bed. “Hey, listen,” he said softly. “I was really worried about you. The way you looked eight hours ago...” He made a vague gesture and turned away, brushing a tear out of his eye.

“I’m okay now. Check this out.” Michael pulled the sheet down, exposing his chest. It was every bit as massive as before, with two large meaty pectorals, sharply defined down the middle, with veiny striations in the center. The nipples were small and pointed, and the skin was smooth and blemish-free.

Joey tentatively lifted his friend’s arm. It was thick and heavy, with only a slight mark where the bloody rash had been hours before. The bicep was broad and well-defined, with a thick, rounded head, and a ribbed vein etched down from the shoulder.

“I think I still beat you on triceps,” Joey said slyly.

“Yeah? Check out these abs. I’m fuckin’ ripped.”

Joey pulled the sheet down further, revealing the boy’s flat, muscular stomach. Sharply-etched lines were carved into the skin like a statue. Light downy blond hairs covered the lower part of the stomach beneath the bellybutton, leading down to a V-shaped light brown tuft below.

“So, uh... does everything still work?” Joey said, his voice slightly hoarse.

As if in answer, Michael’s tremendous cock began to stiffen and rise upwards, the shaft rapidly thickening. In less than ten seconds, it was fully extended, pushing up nearly a foot, throbbing several inches off his belly.

“I’m gonna take that for a yes,” Joey said huskily, then leaned down.

Michael moaned as his friend took him in his mouth, reveling in the immediate jolt of pleasure. “God,” he murmured. “Sick or not, I’ve really needed to do it for the last twelve hours. I’m way overdue.”

Joey momentarily came up for air. “You and me both.” He pulled down his pants, letting his own erection spring free. “Would you mind if...”

“Shut up and suck,” his friend ordered. “Let’s get this over with.” He moved further down on the bed, allowing Joey to reverse direction and lie on top of him. The boys’ altered physiologies allowed them to engulf each other’s enormous cocks with almost inhuman skill, plunging deeper and deeper.

God, Joey thought, his mind almost consumed with pleasure. I thought I wanted Aaron... but maybe it’s always been Michael. He let his hands stray on his friend’s sweating flesh, as tight and muscular as that of a young god’s. As if by some secret signal, their hips began to thrust automatically, pistoning in and out like a machine, their bodies in perfect synchronization.

Michael’s smell was warm and familiar, a subtle mixture of musk and salty sweat. His heavy balls began to tighten with the impending orgasm, and Joey began to pick up the pace. He let his tongue lap gently around the engorged head, his mouth momentarily expanding to accept its wide girth. He sucked on it greedily, feeling it immediately twinge in response, then basked in the simultaneous pleasure of Michael inhaling his own member.

At last, Joey began to feel a warm sensation rising up from his groin. It was as if a volcano erupted, belching molten lava across the horizon. Again and again they thrust, like mirror images of Olympic statues moving in unison, the electric sensation rocketing through their bodies, their hips bucking uncontrollably. Joey’s mouth overflowed with hot fluid, and for a moment he nearly blacked out with pure, unrelenting pleasure.

At last, Joey rolled over, gasping for breath, still trembling with the last throes of his orgasm.

“Holy shit,” Michael murmured, wiping off his mouth with the bed sheet, then lay back panting, thoroughly exhausted. “That was fuckin’ incredible! For a minute there, it was like I was inside your head — feeling what you were feelin’, like I was somehow hardwired to your cock and my cock at the same time.” He caught his breath, then rolled over to stare wondrously at his friend. “I guess that’s what happened with you in phys ed yesterday.”

“Shit,” Joey said embarrassedly. “Has the whole school heard about that?”

Michael shook his head. “Naw. Hector Ramirez was standing in the stall right next to you. Hector knows you’re my friend, and he told me right before practice that he had some kind of crazy hallucination with you in the shower.”

“He told you that?”

He shrugged. “Well... not in so many words. Hector was too embarrassed to give me the details. But he was only five feet away from you. I think he got hit with it first.”

Joey raised an eyebrow. “Hit with what?”

“Something in your brain. I felt it myself — it’s like you almost forced me to come, in less than a minute.”

“Wait a minute. You’re saying you and I just had a simultaneous orgasm?” Joey asked.

Michael laughed. “Better than that. You came before me and I felt it. And it was so intense, then I had my own, like a double-whammy. I almost fuckin’ blacked out. It was like... I dunno, like your cock and my cock were the only things that existed in the universe. That never happened before.” Michael sighed, then chuckled. “You really oughta patent that. You’d be a lotta fun at parties.”

“Yeah,” Joey said thoughtfully. “Or as a weapon.” He hadn’t forgotten the conversation he’d had with Noble earlier that afternoon. “Toss me a kleenex, will you?”

As the boys cleaned themselves up, Joey made a mental note of all the questions he had for Noble in the morning. We’re going to get some answers, he thought. About Mycroft, about this guy Ray, and what it all has to do with us.



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