Golden Applesby Jeremy Zimmerman
This story was originally published in the December 2008 edition of Crossed Genres.
© 2010 Jeremy Zimmerman, all rights reserved.
The man that entered their home was in a dark suit so trim and crisp he was a parody of a businessman. Through the augmented reality filters they could see a data tag hanging next to him which identified him as R. Smith, Customer Service Manager, Hesperides Corporation. A hyperlink in the data tag offered to tell readers more about Hesperides and the gene therapy services they provided.
"Thank you for allowing me to visit you in person, Mr. and Mrs. Chavez," R. Smith said in greeting. "My name's Bob Smith, but please call me Bob."
He shook each of their hands. Mr. Chavez gave a well-worn self-effacing smile and said with hollow humor, "Mr. Chavez is my father. Please call me David."
"Stacy," David's wife offered as she shook Bob's hand.
The Chavezes led Bob deeper into their home as they talked. "The email you sent us has had us very worried," said David. "Especially since you weren't very clear what the problem was."
"And the need to see us in person," Stacy added. "It's made us assume the worst about David's father."
Their three-person parade had reached the dining room and, after some polite non-verbal gestures to offer seats and accept, each of them sat at the table. "Let me be the first to assure you that Mr. Chavez's - I mean David's - father is alive and well," Bob said, head tilted at a slight angle and lips pressed together when he wasn't speaking. He punctuated his sentences with conciliatory gestures in their direction. "We at the Hesperides Corporation simply prefer to communicate situations like this face to face. We value you too much for just a telepresence meeting. I am here because there have been complications regarding the full spectrum wellness therapy David's father underwent. The therapy is a constantly evolving process and there are occasional kinks that come up in a minute percentage of patients."
David frowned; his tone grew increasingly cautious and uncertain as he asked, "So... so what does this mean about my father?"
"We need to keep your father at our facility for a few days of observation while we apply some supplemental treatments to stabilize the process," Bob said with the smooth and practiced air of someone who has said this same line many times before.
"Stabilize the process?" Mrs. Chavez asked, her eyebrows arching suspiciously.
"It's nothing to be concerned about," Bob assured them, hands again raised in a gesture of comfort. "While there are the rare sensitivities to our procedures, we have enough experience with them to make their risk negligible."
Taking a deep breath, Mrs. Chavez prepared to push Bob harder. But David raised his hand abruptly and asked in a trembling voice, "Can we see him?"
"I'm afraid that isn't really possible right now," Bob said, frowning slightly. "While your father is certainly safe, he needs to remain in a carefully maintained environment during his supplemental treatment."
"We don't get paid enough for this," Peter said.
Simon shrugged as he peered through the viewing slot in the door and said, "They're helpless by the time we go in there. You think we need a SWAT team to deal with half conscious old people?"
"It just seems iffy." Peter double-checked the syringes laid out on top of his medcart. "I mean, all we have is some egghead who says that these people are helpless after the moon goes down."
"Look, I've been here for years and haven't heard of anything going bad on this floor," Simon countered as he moved to the side of the door and allowed the biometric scanner to read his retina and hand print. "We're fine. Besides, would you rather be downstairs with the longevity mishaps? They haven't figured out how to reverse that one. Poor bastards declared legally dead, hidden from the sun and fed blood. I hear that floor's got a lot of turnover, and I ain't talkin' about people putting in two weeks' notice. This? This is nothing. Easy money."
The bolts retracted with an audible kachunk before the door slid upwards into the wall. Peter opened his mouth a few times as the door rumbled away, but did not manage to say anything before the door stopped its movement.
The room beyond was lined with metal, scored in numerous places by slashing lines. The walls and floor were covered in small scraps of raw meat. In the center of the room, next to the remains of a side of beef, was an old man. He was naked, lying on his side in a pool of regurgitated food.
"Good morning, Mr. Chavez," Simon called out, walking towards the old man. Peter rolled in the medcart behind him, pushing the door to swing it almost-closed, and grabbed a couple of the syringes.
"What...?" Mr. Chavez whispered feebly. "What's going on...?"
"Just a little bit of after care, sir," Simon said in a conversational tone as he crouched down and rolled the man onto his belly. "We need to give you some shots. You might feel a pinch."
Peter raised the syringe and made eye contact with Simon. Simon gripped Mr. Chavez's shoulders to keep him in place. As Peter stabbed the syringe into the old man's buttock, something seemed to shift and move under the skin on Chavez's back. The few curly hairs on the old man's back suddenly multiplied and became bristly.
"Aw, shit," Simon said as the old man lunged upwards.
Ian walked down the hallway, a dozen new hires for the research division listed on the edge of his augmented reality screen. Stationed in research facilities around the globe, they watched remotely as he walked them through the central facility.
"For those who haven't quite absorbed the last section of the tour: Yes, the creatures we so euphemistically call 'paranatural entities', or 'PNEs' or 'pennies' or a host of other cute names, are the bogeymen of legend: werewolves, vampires, fairies, ghouls, unicorns, nature spirits, whatever. Hesperides spends the bulk of our R&D budget on tracking down and capturing subjects for study, then refining down their essential elements to enhance medical treatment. This should help clarify for you the extensive non-disclosure agreements we had you sign, as well as the cortex bombs you agreed to have installed.
"This floor and the four beneath it are used to house the rare, unfortunate mishaps that occasionally result from of our services for later study and treatment. In our commercially available treatments, we've managed to remove most of the negative side effects. For example, our longevity serum has had the classic weaknesses of vampirism removed. But, this doesn't mean we don't get surprises once in a while. Some of our patients have recessive genes that still respond negatively to the treatments they receive. And so we"
His monologue was cut off by a warning klaxon. He'd done plenty of drills, but was still a bit panicked as he glanced about to make sure he wouldn't get crushed under a falling door. Several seconds later, heavy metal doors dropped into place both in front of and behind him in the hallway.
He took a few deep breaths, hoping his heart would stop pounding. He was sure he'd seen something large moving down the hallway in his direction, charging him like an enraged bear before the door had dropped into place. "As you can see, the Hesperides Corporation has established extensive security measures to en"
The metal door in front of him rang like a gong, as though something hard had hit it. There was a slight dent where the metal had buckled.
He cleared his throat and said, "I'm sorry, as I was saying, there are extensive security measures in place to ensure that there is no biohazard leak into the environment. Doors like these drop into place on the rare occasion we have a security breach. The rooms, once contained, will be flooded with chemical agents appropriate to the threat.
"This floor houses those who suffer negative side effects from our full spectrum health program. We have re-purposed the classic curse of the werewolf to address a broad range of health problems. The werewolf's resistance to injury from items not made of silver results in faster healing, resistance to disease, even some degree of regeneration. By emphasizing those traits and suppressing the change into a monster..." Ian paused as he heard something hard and sharp scrabbling on the other side of the metal door. He continued, "we are able to promote better health in our patients. Fortunately, lycanthropy is relatively easy to cure and it is almost unheard of that we have anyone stuck with this condition. As you will see on the lower levels, not all ailments are curable. In situations where there is no further recourse, we have the patient declared legally dead so we can examine them further at our leisure."
Bob Smith paused in his conversation with the Chavezes, eyes flicking back and forth as new information appeared on his augmented reality display. His body language shifted: with hands clasped in front of him, he lowered his head and was silent as he seemed to collect his thoughts. David's eyes widened in panic, his wife instinctively sought out his hand with her own.
"I'm sorry to inform you," Bob said with carefully cultivated empathy in his voice, "that I've just received word from the office. Your father's situation has suddenly and unexpectedly worsened. These situations, though rare, do occasionally happen. Grief counselors have been dispatched to this location and will arrive shortly. The Hesperides Corporation will do its utmost to ensure the grieving process is a smooth one and we hope that you will take the time to mourn your loss properly before examining financial options."