PROJECT CERULEAN MX
by The Pecman
Chapter 4: Mind over Muscle
The boys progressed steadily as the week drew on. By the weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Hartford were impressed enough by Joey’s industriousness and discipline that they cautiously agreed to end his grounded status.
“But mind you, there’s still a curfew in effect over the summer,” warned his mother. “9PM sharp — and not one minute later.” She paused, then looked at the kitchen floor, which gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. That’s odd, she thought. I don’t recall it looking this clean yesterday.
The boy grinned, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then dashed out the back door. “Thanks, mom!” he called over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go over to Michael’s house and hang out over there. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Don’t cause any trouble!” she said in a loud voice, then curiously watched her son leap on his bike and pedal off down the driveway. Why would he wear a long-sleeved baggy shirt in this kind of heat, she thought, furrowing her brow. Crazy kids. She closed the door and inched the kitchen thermostat down another two degrees.
§ § § § §
Joey soared past the street marker, then made a sharp left turn, taking a road that led across town to the trailer park. Michael had agreed to meet him at Dr. Noble’s place, where the scientist was going to “go over a few things,” as he put it.
The sweat stung in Joey’s eyes, but he ignored it. For the first time in his life, he felt like he’d tapped into an almost unlimited source of energy. He was never tired; he felt like he could practically fly on the bike. He ratcheted the bike into a higher gear, then took it up to 40MPH. Incredible, he thought, the hot desert wind whipping past his face, the world zooming by in a brilliant blur.
Suddenly, there was a large brown shape lumbering on his right. Without even thinking, he instantly banked left and made an impossible maneuver, flipping the bike sideways into the air, rocketing to the side and missing the UPS truck by mere inches, balancing on a narrow street curb for twenty feet, then hurtling in a sharp loop and back down to the asphalt. It was the kind of stunt you’d normally see only at a BMX championship, never on a city street.
“Jesus!” hollered the driver, slamming on his brakes, sending a huge pile of packages behind him tumbling to the floor. He mopped his face, then scowled at the bicyclist as the boy pedaled away. “Better watch it, kid!”
“Sorry!” called Joey, instantly apologetic. He carefully applied the brakes and slowed down to a more-manageable 20MPH. “Gotta watch out for that,” he muttered. It’d been four days since he’d even been on the bike, three since... well, since his transformation. The seat felt different on his butt; without the extra padding of fat he used to have, the seat seamed to mold itself to his build and felt far more comfortable. He glanced down at his jeans, wondering how his powerful bare thighs and calves would look as they strained, pumping the pedals furiously. Very hot, he thought, then shifted his position and tried to get his thickening cock under control. Down, boy. There’ll be time for that later.
At last, he bore his bike on a long curve to the right and bounded up American Pacific Drive, then turned into the bumpy dirt and gravel road that led to Trailer Estates. He skidded his bike to a stop near the front door, leaning his bike next to Michael’s Haymaker.
“Dude!” called a familiar voice. It was his friend, chugging down a protein shake. “’Bout F-in’ time you got here.” He finished it off with a short burp. “Man, these are good. You want one? There’s more in the blender.”
“Just had one before I left,” Joey said, hopping up the step and into the trailer, then closed the door behind him and plopped himself down in a nearby dining room chair. He looked around. “Where’s Dr. Noble?”
“The Doc’s off on a reconnaissance mission — at least, that’s what he told me. Said he had some stuff hidden away in storage. He’ll be back in another 15 minutes.”
Joey nodded, then grabbed a large plastic mug and filled it with the remnants from the blender. “Alright. In that case, I’ll go for one.”
The air conditioner kicked in, grinding a low-frequency rumble that vibrated through the double-wide trailer, sending out a cool mist of air through the living room.
Michael leaned back, fanning himself. “Gotta be over 110 outside,” he said, pulling off his thick shirt.
“Hey,” cautioned Joey, as he wiped his mouth. “Noble said not to let anybody see our bodies for at least a couple months — at least not until we have that ‘home weightlifting’ cover story under control. Plausible deniability, right?”
Michael disregarded him, then used the shirt to mop up his sweaty chest. He tossed the damp shirt behind him, then made a pose, causing the muscles to swell and thicken. Striations sprang up like a cobweb between his pectorals, and he ran his hand across the skin. “Whoa,” he said. “Between the serum and the workouts, I’m lookin’ great,” he said. “Whaddya think?”
Joey glanced up and grinned. “Not much different than me,” he said. “Look.” He pulled off his shirt in one smooth motion, tossed it over his head, then struck a similar pose.
“You don’t know even how to stand,” his friend taunted. “I read about it on the net. Check this out.” He stood sideways, then took a deep breath, held his arms back and pulled one arm up. “This is called ‘side chest.’ Looks cool, huh?”
Joey nodded in agreement; his friend did look impressive. “Yeah,” he said, “but I’ve got better abs. Can you believe these?” He leaned forward slightly and contracted as hard as he could.
“Jesus! You weren’t kidding. That’s gotta be a six-pack.”
“Eight-pack,” Joey corrected, feeling the horizontal ridges across his flat, smooth stomach. It was a far cry from the thick inner tube he’d carried around his gut for the past few years.
“You look totally hot,” Michael said in a low, throaty growl. “I could totally eat you up.”
Joey laughed. “You didn’t get enough yesterday? I thought my mom was gonna hear us for sure.”
The other boy’s face reddened at the memory. He initially hadn’t liked the idea of being on the receiving end, but a deal was a deal. And much as he hated to admit it, Joey had beaten him in the dick department — but only by an inch.
“Be glad she didn’t,” he muttered. “I’m just glad I’m self-healing. If you’d shoved that thing of yours inside anybody else, it would’ve required major surgery.”
“True.” Joey turned sideways. His pants were bulging out comically, his erection tenting out from his crotch like something out of a satirical cartoon. “But I think you still liked it.”
Michael grinned. “Yeah. By the way, I discovered something last night.”
Joey stared at him expectantly.
“I can come without touching myself,” Michael said with a confident smile.
“Way. Pull your pants down. Check this out.”
Joey kicked off his sneakers, then slipped his pants and underwear off in one smooth motion, leaving the clothes in a pile on the floor. Both boys stood together, their muscular torsos glistening with sweat, their erections throbbing and pulsing upwards. Joey reached out to caress his friend’s penis, but Michael slapped his hand away.
“I told you, no touching,” Michael warned. “Just think of the sexiest thing you can imagine. Then concentrate on your body. Every inch of it.”
Joey looked down. His cock was straining upwards, casting a dark shadow on the carpeted floor. His muscular chest heaved and his nipples flared. He felt a sweet shudder of pleasure begin. He reached out to rub his chest.
“No,” whispered Michael. “I told you — no hands. Just stand there. Look at me if you want.”
The two boys stood about four feet from each other. They were as rigid as statues, though their erections bobbed with a life of their own. The young teens began to pant slightly, their beefy young chests heaving.
Joey felt a trickle of sweat work its way down the deep groove between his pectoral muscles, then down to his powerful stomach and into the thin boyish tufts that sprouted a few inches below his smooth belly-button.
Jesus, he thought, staring at his friend. We’re so much alike now — like a Greek mural featuring the gods of Mount Olympus.
Michael stared back, his mouth slightly open. He licked his lips and Joey felt another shiver of impending pleasure.
He let out an involuntary moan.
“Yeah,” the other boy whispered. “You’re definitely feelin’ it. Now, tense up your body. Flex your muscles. Show me what you got.”
Automatically, Joey curled his arms slightly beside him. His biceps leapt up, roughly the size and shape of baseballs, and thick creases of definition criss-crossed his chest and stomach. His meaty torso was in an exaggerated V-shape, as narrow as a boy’s around his hips, but radically winding outwards to his extraordinarily-wide man-sized shoulders, closely resembling that of a world-class gymnast. His chest muscles began to ripple and inflate, arching upwards slightly, and the veins in his arms became slightly engorged, revealing a thin web of visible purple lines that throbbed at the surface. His cock gave a brief lurch and his balls begin to tighten.
Both boys raised their arms in the classic double-biceps pose, each a mirror image of the other. Their bodies shook slightly, straining with the effort, every tendon and sinew visible in the afternoon light. Their pulses quickened.
The air in the trailer seemed to inch up several degrees. Their bodies glimmered with a thin sheen of sweat, exaggerating their masculinity.
“God,” Joey said. He began to gasp, feeling momentarily lightheaded, then curled his toes in anticipation of the waves of pleasure that were beginning to rumble in his groin.
“Hold back if you can,” Michael said through gritted teeth. “Just a little while longer.”
“Can’t,” he said. “Oh, FUCK!”
Joey cried out as his cock spasmed and shot out a thick white stream that arced over the floor, splattering near his friend’s foot. His hips bucked uncontrollably as he shot again, and again.
Almost immediately, Michael grabbed his own erection and gave it a few quick strokes with both hands, then let out a loud groan. Their twin orgasms shot through the air, intermingling like strands of rope, the electric pleasure rocketing through them like a thunderbolt, over and over again in sharp waves that finally begin to subside.
A final splat grazed Joey’s right side, leaving a warm trail that trickled down his chest and abs. He dizzily fell down to his knees, then leaned over and held his body up on one muscular arm, catching his breath. “Jesus,” he said with a wheeze. “I never had one that good before. And I didn’t even touch it.” He looked up at his friend and grinned. “You cheated.”
Michael shrugged, then wiped off the residue on his hand. “Sorry. I was only a few seconds away, and I couldn’t let you finish by yourself, could I?”
“That was... that was really, really great.”
His friend nodded. “Yeah. And it was all 100% mental, too. I got the idea two nights ago when me and mom were eating dinner in the kitchen.”
“While your mother was there? Sicko.”
“Shut up! She didn’t even notice. She was busy readin’ the paper and the TV was on. I looked up at the screen and saw some hot chick... before I knew it, I was hard as a rock, then a minute later I was shooting down my pants leg. I never even took my hands off the dinner table. Total stealth mode.”
Suddenly, Joey froze and cocked his ear, turning slightly towards the window. “Shit. Noble’s coming up the drive. I can hear his car — it’s less than a block away.”
“Quick,” Michael said, peeling off a long roll of paper towels from the kitchen cabinet. “Gotta get rid of the evidence.”
“How do you get me in these messes?” Joey retorted, frantically mopping up several thick white globs near their feet. “Next time, let’s spread out some newspapers, OK?”
A minute later, Noble entered the room, carrying a cardboard box. The two boys sat at the table, fully clothed, casually clicking buttons on their PSP’s.
Joey’s device blared a trumpet fanfare. “Ha! I won that one.” He turned to the old man. “Hi, Dr. Noble. Sorry I’m a little late. You... you said you had something important to tell us?”
“Yes,” the man said, closing the door behind him and setting down the box on the kitchen table. He reached in and pulled out some thin black plastic squares about 5” on each edge, then blew off some sand from one side. “I was able to retrieve a few of the floppy disks from the backup facility.”
Michael gave him a concerned stare. “I hope you avoided those Rambo guys with the helicopter.”
“I knew of another entrance, an access tunnel used only for maintenance personnel. There were no alarms there, and I’m certain I wasn’t followed. We're under the radar for now.”
Noble walked across the room to a modern laptop on the desk, reached in a drawer, then pulled out an ancient-looking gray metal box attached to a long USB cable. “I’m going to try to retrieve some information on this disk — if we can get it to read. After more than 20 years, I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try.” As the machine clicked and whirred, Noble narrowed his eyes and sniffed the living room’s dusty air. “Do you boys smell something?”
“Smell what?” Joey kept his voice steady, but momentarily gulped. He felt a thin patch of residual wetness trickle down his thigh and prayed it wouldn’t soak through to his sweatpants.
“Nothing. Ah — yes, here’s the file. It’s a very old Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, but I believe I can convert it.” After a couple of clicks, he nodded. “Yes. This utility will convert it to Excel.” He leaned back as the computer screen flashed a few times, then rows of boxes and numbers spilled down across the display. “Incredible, isn’t it?” he marveled. “The data of over two decades ago lives on.”
“What are these?” Michael said, taking one of the loose disks out of its paper sleeve and examining it curiously.
“Those were 5-1/4” floppy disks,” Noble replied, gently prying it from the boy’s hands. “State of the art for 1988, but somewhat delicate.”
“What — no thumb drives or DVD-Rs?”
The man harrumphed. “Hardly. We were fortunate to store 360 kilobytes on one of these — a fraction of a megabyte. But more than enough for these files.” He pointed to the screen. “More than two dozen scientists died in order to create this research.”
Just then, Michael’s stomach let out a growl.
Noble raised an eyebrow. “I hope the two of you have rigidly followed the diet I assigned you. I can’t overemphasize the importance of the need for you to eat. The alternatives could be catastrophic.”
Joey shuddered. He’d been awake during most of his transformation on Tuesday night, and it had been sheer agony. The last thing I want is to go through that ever again, he thought.
“I had to knock off three Big Macs just on my way over,” he confessed. “I almost inhaled them in, like, two minutes.”
The doctor snorted. “Next time, go for the double Quarter Pounder with cheese. That has twice the protein of a Big Mac. There’s more fat, of course, but your body will automatically expel that through normal body functions. Though you’d be better off consuming foods higher in protein, like beef, eggs, beans, milk and tuna fish.”
“Whoa — I could totally dig a Subway tuna right now,” Michael said.
“But the fat—” began Joey.
“Won’t matter,” interrupted Noble. “All that will be eliminated by your heightened metabolism. Speaking of which, let me measure your bodies.”
He opened a nearby black doctor’s bag, which was filled with calipers and measuring tapes. After a few minutes, he checked a few figures, then entered them into a database on his laptop. “Excellent,” he said. “Michael, your overall body fat is still barely 6%. And you, Joey, are at 8%. Still well under average.”
The blond boy held out his arm and gave it a twist. “I can see all the veins down my forearm,” he said. “It looks kinda freaky.”
“Not all that unusual for an athlete your size,” the doctor said, checking the measurement a second time. “Nearly sixteen inches for your biceps. That’s exceptional for your age. You are continuing on a workout program?”
“Yes,” Michael said. “I memorized one book, then we got some more advanced routines from the web.”
Noble nodded in agreement. “Good. I would suggest the classic ‘push/pull’ routine. Biceps and back twice a week; then chest, triceps, and shoulders the other two days. At least one day for legs. I would avoid training for more than about one hour per session. Your bodies will recover very quickly, unlike those of normal humans.”
“What about sit-ups?”
“Those you can do every day,” the old man explained. “Your stomach muscles are already responding well to the exercise. I can already see some definition that wasn’t there four days ago. And you should run at least one or two miles every day, rain or shine.”
Joey shook his head. “Won’t all these workouts make us too big?”
“No. Normally, workouts stimulate the muscles, causing muscular hypertrophy.”
“Exactly. But with the Cerulean formula already taking care of that, your workouts are actually helping control the muscles from growing too rapidly. Without this stimulation, the muscle cells would tend to grow out of control. The exercises are mainly for burning off your excess energy and providing a logical excuse for your relatively-massive size.”
Michael flexed once or twice, pleased to see the extra ridge in his bicep. “And I think the workouts give us better shape, too, I think,” he said, tracing his finger along a thick vein that led all the way up to his shoulder. “I don’t think this was here a few days ago.”
“All the better reason to keep your clothes on at all times,” the doctor said, pulling the shirt onto the boy’s back. “We’re still not ready to have your families glimpse your current muscular state, lest they become alarmed by your appearance.” He turned to Joey. “Speaking of which, did my idea work for your braces?”
The black-haired boy nodded, then reached into his mouth and unclasped a piece of twisted metal, then withdrew it and held it up. “I was able to super-glue enough pieces together to at least cover the front part of my mouth,” he said. “I only snap it in place when I’m outside my bedroom. My next orthodontist adjustment isn’t for another six weeks.”
Noble nodded approvingly. “Yes. By then, I think you can just walk in and show the dentist the pieces of braces and say you don’t want them anymore.”
Joey’s eyebrows shot up. “He’ll never buy that.”
“Tell him you did it yourself. Once he sees the results of your teeth, he won’t question it. I’m more concerned about your lack of occlusal caries and cavities. Let me take a look.”
He peered into the boy’s mouth, then sighed. “Absolutely perfect,” he said, frowning. “Any cavities you may have previously have had have self-repaired. That will definitely cause some suspicion. I’ll make a note to have your dental records replaced.”
The man shrugged. “I was in government service long enough to know a few people who can handle dirty tricks. Substituting dental records with modified copies is trivial, especially in this computer age. Email me the name and address of your dentist, and I’ll have it taken care of well before your appointment.”
Michael held up his hand. “Alright, we got the dental hygiene lesson for the day, Doc. What was this other life-and-death stuff you needed to tell us?”
Noble typed in some more keystrokes into his computer, then spun his chair around to face him. “We haven’t gone over all the risks yet. The changes in your genetic structure... they’re quite profound. Your muscularity is only part of it.”
“I know,” Joey said. “I’ve been reading the net non-stop for the last four days. I’ve got like instant replay in my brain. Half of Wikipedia is right up here,” he said, tapping his forehead. “Give me another week, I think I’ll have memorized the Encyclopedia Britannica, Roget’s Thesaurus, IMDB, and a few more.”
“You must be cautious about displaying your knowledge to others,” cautioned the doctor. “If they’re aware of your intelligence — your ability to memorize vast amounts of facts and data, your expanded IQs — this will make you much too visible a target.”
“A target? So what if my grades improve at school.”
Noble leaned forward. “Not if you wind up knowing more than your teachers,” he said.
“Fat chance that’ll happen with me,” Michael retorted, leaning back and putting his large feet on the living room table. “I’m lucky to make straight C’s — B-minuses at best.”
“And you should stay that way. Every time you take a test — make sure you miss a few, deliberately. Don’t make it look too easy.”
“Check. Keep up the dumb jock act. What else?”
Dr. Noble cleared his throat, then looked a little nervous. “Then there’s the issue of sex.”
The boys both winced.
The man waved his hands. “I could care less what the two of you do with each other. But be very careful of sex with others. Your sexual drives are very powerful, but you need to learn to control your impulses.”
“I’ve had to take care of myself about five times a day,” Joey admitted, looking away with some embarrassment. “Basically once every four or five hours.”
“Got ya beat there,” Michael retorted. “No pun intended.”
“That’s fine,” the doctor continued, getting up from his chair and pacing back and forth. “But you scrupulously need to avoid having any sexual contact with others.”
“Why?” Joey asked, concerned. “Are we carrying some disease? Some kind of super-AIDS?”
Noble shook his head. “No. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Your immune system is better than perfect. The problem are your pheromones: they’ll act as a sexual magnet to anyone with whom you get... involved. It’s particularly strong with your perspiration.”
Michael sniffed his underarm. “Seems OK to me.”
“But not to a regular human. The control serum I’ve given you will reduce its effects by 90%. But if, say, your sweat gets on someone else — particularly someone of your age or older — they’ll want to rip your clothes off and make love to you on the spot.”
The blond teen chortled. “Whoa — so I’m gonna be more popular than ever!”
Noble put his hand on his shoulder. “Listen to me, Michael. I’ve seen nurses and trained soldiers suddenly become nearly psychotic with jealous rage, practically killing one another just to get to an Ultra for sexual purposes. Having girls — or boys, for that matter — compete for your attention is one thing. But this will potentially get into a very difficult area. This was one of the main reasons our test subjects had to be segregated from the population.”
Joey nodded. “OK. So we’ll lay off in the sex area until you can get this under control. Anything else?”
“Yes. Whatever you do, don’t have sex with a woman.”
Michael snorted. “Fat chance for Joey. I think he’s only into guys.”
The black-haired boy glared at him. “Shut up. Am not!”
Noble held up his hand. “At least, not for now. Number one, conventional condoms won’t stop your ejaculations. They’re simply not strong enough.”
“Or large enough,” Joey said, matter-of-factly.
Noble raised an eyebrow. “And,” he continued, “your emissions are an order of magnitude more fertile than those of a normal human.”
The scientist turned, then hit a few keys on his laptop and showed them the screen. “Look at this chart. Normally, the chances of a mature adult having sex with a woman resulting in a pregnancy are somewhere around 22%, assuming the woman is having the right menstrual cycle. Now, look at this.” He hit a few more keystrokes. The chart suddenly turned blood red, with several bars peaking all the way to the top. “By our calculations, your sperm could conceivably fertilize every available egg in the female’s fallopian tubes.”
Michael’s jaw dropped open. “So this would be like Octo-Mom, times three.”
“Or worse. At the very least, it would subject her to significant health risks. Having to give some poor teenaged girl an abortion to kill two dozen fetuses...” — he shook his head and made a vague gesture — “...would be extremely traumatic. Plus it would attract far too much attention from the medical community.”
“Alright,” Joey said. “Eat more. Act stupid. Keep our clothes on. Avoid knocking anybody up.” He glared at the doctor. “Anything else?”
Noble switched off the screen and looked away, then hesitated.
“What?” asked Michael. “You said we’d be alright, as long as you gave us that shot once a week, right?”
The man nodded, but didn’t respond. An uncomfortable silence followed.
“Look, we’re not going crazy, like the previous volunteers,” Joey said, trying to focus on the details of the final report. “I’ve actually felt fine — well, except for having to avoid letting my folks figure out I don't sleep anymore. I spend a lot of time on the net.”
“That’s part of it,” Noble said finally. “It’s time. Time itself is your enemy.”
Realization finally dawned on the two boys.
“We’re going to die,” said Michael, in a low voice. “The Cerulean formula will kill us. How... how much longer do we have?”
Noble looked away. “I’m not certain. We never had test subjects who were under 18 before, let alone adolescents. I haven’t yet had time to run the simulations on this computer. It will take me several weeks to import the old files to new computer-modeling software, which I’m still in the processing of designing. Once I’ve done that, though, the calculations should take only a few hours.”
“What’s your best guess?” Joey asked, fighting back tears. He was almost in a state of shock. For the past four days, he’d thought having this body was like a gift. He was counting down the weeks before school started in September — imagining the faces of the other students who used to taunt him for being a little piss-ant geek, seeing their jaws drop once they glimpsed his new muscular body. The injection was going to change his life, make him popular, make the best-looking kids in school accept him as one of them. But now...
“Please, Dr. Noble — when are we going to die?” he repeated, staring deep into the man’s tired eyes.
The scientist shook his head. “My guess is, in your current state: five years — seven at the most. If we had allowed the Cerulean formula to transform your bodies to a pure Ultra state... no more than a year.”
Michael began to sob. “But that’s impossible!” he wailed. “There was nothing about that in the report.”
“That was Major-General Cartwright’s doing,” the older man insisted. “‘Putting a positive spin’ on the experiment, as he put it. We kept the test subjects’ limited lifespan quiet, avoided even touching on it in the report.”
Joey felt slightly numb. “What about that part in section D about the Revision 11 formula: ‘Side-effects have been almost completely eliminated to acceptable levels.’” The boy paused and wiped his eyes, then stared at the scientist. “I wouldn’t exactly call death ‘acceptable,’ Dr. Noble.”
“Neither would I. But the volunteer subjects knew the risks. They were willing to die for their country.”
“But we’re only thirteen!”
Noble clicked his laptop screen shut. “Listen to me. I have several leads on a possible cure. There’s been two decades of additional genetic discoveries since the Cerulean project ended. I think I can get access to those results and possibly unlock the key that will avoid acute myocyte failure.”
The scientist's face was drawn. “Every cell in your entire body will eventually break down, rapidly aging within a day... 48 hours at the most. You’ll have the appearance of someone hundreds of years old. It’s very painful... like a house of cards, collapsing from the inside out.”
“Vampires,” Michael said almost in a whisper. “Like vampires crumbling to dust in the sun.”
Noble thought for a moment. “Yes. That’s a very apt metaphor.”
Both boys were trembling. Joey sniffled slightly and wiped his nose with his sleeve.
Noble stood up. “I wanted to be honest with both of you, just so you knew the terrible risks with your condition. But I believe this will be ultimately solvable. Until then, I want you to live every day to the fullest. This cellular collapse is only a theory — and in your case, I’m certain it’s still years away. It won’t happen gradually, but there will be some clues. I’ll continue to monitor your health every week. We’ll know immediately if any of the warning signs are there.”
He clapped Michael on the back. “And in the meantime, you’ll both be as healthy as a horse.”
“Hung like one, too,” Joey muttered. “Not that we’ll get a chance to use it.”
The doctor shrugged. “I can probably synthesize the anti-pheromone agent in the next few weeks,” he said. “If you find someone with whom you need to make love — someone safe — I can probably at least eliminate the psychotic attraction factor, and reduce the risk of pregnancy to a normal state.”
“Sex and death,” Joey mused, momentarily lost in thought. Those are the two biggest problems we have to worry about.
“Exactly,” Noble said. He paused, then gave the boy a curious look. “Sex and death. You know, Joey, you’ve given me an idea: it’s possible the two are related. I’m going to make a note to see if there might be a way to solve both genetic problems simultaneously. I believe they’re related in some way. The samples I took today may give me those clues.”
The boys sat in silence. This was not the news they expected to hear. They slowly got up to their feet.
“Listen to me,” the scientist said, walking them both to the door. “You’re still alive and well — for the moment. I’ll do everything I can to keep you that way. But you have to trust me for now. Go home. Don’t worry about any of this.”
“Easy for you to say,” muttered Michael.
The man whirled on him. “You think I don’t know how you feel?” he snapped. “I told you before: the blood of more than 230 men and women are on these hands. I’ve had to live with this for more than two decades.”
“Two more will hardly matter,” Joey said in a small voice.
“But you do!” bellowed the man.
Both boys shrank back, momentarily startled by the doctor’s flash of temper.
“You do matter — in some ways, more than any life on the planet at this moment!” The doctor stopped himself, then made a dismissive gesture. “I’m sorry. I’ve... I’ve slept very little since Tuesday night. I’m not going to rest until I can find a way to save you.”
“Hey. It’s OK. We understand, doc,” Michael said in a low voice. “I know you’re... you’re doing everything you can.”
The man nodded. “I am. I truly am.” He opened the door. “Go back to your families. Keep your bodies hidden as much as you can, as we discussed. I’ll call you in a couple of days. Starting on Monday, I’ll be giving you weekly injections with the control serum. It’s possible that over a period of time, I can reverse the deleterious effects of the Cerulean formula to the point where we can extend your lives another five years... perhaps ten.”
Joey hesitated. “Could we ever have a normal life?”
Noble considered the question. “In most respects? No. In terms of lifespan... it’s theoretically possible, but I don’t want to get your hopes up. But I’m going to try another approach, using the latest available research. That may put us on the road for a cure.”
“I wouldn’t take it if I had to give up this body,” Michael said, momentarily flexing his bicep, then quickly rolling down the sleeve.
The man grabbed him gently but firmly by the back of the neck and pulled him closer. “Not even if it cut fifty years off your lifespan?”
Michael and Joey gulped. Joey had always wanted to avoid getting pushed around, and fantasized for years of having the body of an athlete. Michael had been among the most athletic kids in school, but dreamed of being a champion. They glanced guiltily at each other.
The doctor rolled his eyes. “I’m beginning to think the insanity has already taken hold of you.”
“No, no,” protested Joey. “Maybe you can come up with a compromise. Maybe the cellular destruction—”
“Acute myocyte failure,” interrupted Michael.
The scientist and teen both stared at him, momentarily taken aback.
“What?” he said. “Can’t the dumb jock catch on to this scientific bullshit a little bit?
Noble raised an eyebrow.
“—maybe we don’t have to be doomed,” Joey continued. “What if the cells self-repaired at that point... replenished themselves. Maybe it’s like cancer and all you have to do is stabilize the cells and slow down the reaction. Like you did with us, using the ice in the bathtub.”
The man looked around the trailer parking lot, which had several cars parked next to his own. A couple across the way was barbecuing some hot dogs, and some children nearby were jumping rope.
“Now’s not the time,” he said in a low voice. “Let me worry about it. Come back Monday night for your injection — not a minute later than 8PM.”
“What, we’ll turn into pumpkins?” said Michael with a smirk.
Joey and Noble gave him a withering stare.
“Okay, okay, professor,” he said, raising his hands in mock surrender as he sat on his bike. “Matter of life and death, muscular hyperplasia, cellular collapse, yada-yada... I get it.” He turned to his friend. “C’mon, douche — I’ll race ya home.”
Noble watched the two as they raced down the dirt road that led back to American Pacific Drive. Joey briefly glimpsed over his shoulder and the doctor gave him a slight nod.
I just hope you both aren’t truly doomed, the man thought, for all of our sake. He sadly shook his head and closed the trailer door behind him.
On the way home, the boys took care to keep their speed well under 15MPH. Any faster might attract too much attention; Joey felt a pang of guilt when he remembered the close call with the UPS truck earlier in the day. Gotta keep the muscles on the down-low, he reminded himself. Just like the doctor ordered.
As they wove down the circuitous path back to the Hartford residence, about two miles away, a team of workmen had just finished erecting a new ten-foot tall chain-link fence around the Black Mountain scrub brush. Three formidable rows of jagged concertina wire topped the fence, along with a yellow block wall and a new sign that warned “Danger: Hazardous Waste Area. Keep Out!” In the distance, workers with hazmat suits welded shut the underground hatch’s steel door, while a truck filled with debris and a rusted file cabinet lumbered down the dirt path and met gravel at the edge of the road. The driver waved to a uniformed soldier as he opened the gate, then shut it as the truck disappeared down Horizon Ridge Parkway.
The man wore a khaki uniform; a small embossed badge identified him as “Lt. K. Johnson,” of the “Joint Special Operations Command,” but without any specific military branch. He raised a walkie-talkie to his ear.
“Perimeter secured,” he said crisply. “Did we get confirmation from Noble?”
“Yes. We’re awaiting further information. When will the truck arrive at Nellis?”
“Good. Oh, and Lieutenant?”
The man flinched. “Yes, sir?”
“Shoot the next person who gets anywhere near the Black Mountain facility.”
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New chapters will be posted first to Awesomedude, and then to other sites, including Nifty and others.