"If you would wait just a moment, gentlemen, Dr. Sanders will be right with you."
Richards backed out of the office as he spoke, leaving me with the pair he had addressed. Both were easy to identify as government men, even without seeing their badges, most likely high-ranking - or the "big guns", as the scientists called them; only those on the upper rungs of the government ladder ventured out here - and they stared steadily ahead as we waited. It was quite impressive, actually; though we had only had a few visitors to the laboratory, all had been at least slightly interested in me as an experiment. To these men, however, I seemed to be no more exotic than the average lab assistant. I might as well have not been there, for all the attention they paid me.
Eventually, Dr. Sanders did arrive, but only after keeping her guests waiting for nearly half an hour. Whereas most accepted this and assumed she was busy with other projects, it would be an unfortunate thing if anyone ever discovered that, more often than not, she was actually right down the hall; enjoying coffee and a lengthy conversation with whomever else might be around. The guests - and even the other scientists - might not be too receptive to the logic of this method, but I found that I understood quite perfectly: as the head of the laboratory, Sanders needed to prove her dominance. In short, just because others wished to see her at a specific time did not necessarily mean she had to bow to their wishes.
As she stepped past the section of wall I was crouching against, her hand lowered and she flicked a finger covertly at one of my ears. Oddly enough, I was able for once to twitch out of the way with enough speed to avoid being struck, and then resisted the urge to bat back at her; I wouldn't disgrace myself in front of company. It was one of the few games we played together that I preferred to participate in - some part of me almost seemed to enjoy the little surprise attacks we launched against each other.
The moment she was out of arm's reach, however, we went back to our original roles of indifferent scientist and humble creation. It was not..."professional", to use Sander's word for it, to be anything else in the eyes of others.
After taking her time to make herself comfortable behind her desk, she finally settled her gaze on our guests. Her expression was almost as vacant as theirs, though underneath it all was the typical impatience to be through with these two. Our head scientist was not one for intrusions.
"Welcome to Carrington Labs. I was notified that you'd be coming, Messrs..."
"Todd Harper, ma'am. And this is Phillip Johnson. We're here about the...Messiah Project." The man on the right finally looked at me as he spoke those last two words, glancing in my direction before just as quickly looking away again. Yes, they were most definitely agents; only the government seemed to be interested in my project.
Sander's mouth attempted to crook upward at that, though she managed to stifle the motion. This man might have believed he was being subtle, but everyone in the room knew what he was about. It would have been more efficient of him to have simply stated that he had come to ensure that our government funding was being put to acceptable use. Of course, that would have been much too blunt for their liking, and, as a result, we were forced to suffer through their trivialities.
The silence stretched on, one minute, two, until Sanders at last took pity on our guests. "Ah, that. Mr. Harper, how much were you told before you came here?"
"Not much, ma'am." That was expected; it had been necessary to run through the basics of the project with every new visitor in our labs. I released a fraction of the tension in my leg muscles, easing my weight against the wall. This explanation was one I had heard on several occasions before, and my scientist had the tendency to grow long-winded at times.
"Well, it's best that we get right into it. I imagine you both know about that breakthrough - almost ten years ago now, I believe - in the field of genetics; gene splicing and all that? Yes. Suddenly, with a test tube and a little bit of human and animal DNA, you could create an organism with traits from several different species: a dog with gills, like a fish; a man with the exoskeleton of an insect; and many, many others. The only limitations were your imagination, and the compatibility and stability of the combined genetic codes. The discovery was sensational.
"However, it was soon acknowledged that, while gene splicing in the embryonic stage left a larger window and greater capacity for the fetus' customization, the time and monetary costs required to bring the fetus to term were nearly astronomical. Naturally, some chose to look for a simpler method.
"That's where this lab comes in: we were the first to attempt the altering of natural-born humans and animals. It was six years ago that we brought our first viable subject to awareness, and on that day Project Messiah was christened - thus named because we were, effectively, playing God with our experiments' DNA. Since then, we've been taking the brain dead, the terminally ill and mortally wounded, the recently deceased, and giving them a new lease on life.
"We have our first four subjects under observation here, all of them varied mixes of human and animal, and there are two more still in development. The one you see here," all three turned to study me as one at this, and I straightened slightly at the attention, "is the third in our series of experiments. She is mostly human, though there is a fair amount of feline DNA in her makeup as well; caracal, to be exact. The caracal is a certain type of savannah cat – some go so far as to call it a super cat. In addition, because of damage taken prior to her arrival here, we had to plant a computer chip in her cerebral cortex so that she could function consciously. Unfortunately, I believe that her cerebellum sustained further damage, which has led to her inability to effectively coordinate her movements. On the other hand, though, the payoff is that her mental capacity increased exponentially as a result. Abby? Stand up for the gentlemen, will you?"
I had no choice but to comply, straightening to my full height and taking a half-hearted step toward the agents. By the startled looks on their faces at my odd, ungainly movements, they were just as reluctant to have me any closer. Maybe we had all been hoping I would be allowed to stay in my place and be forgotten.
There was a moment of strained silence, and then the other man, the one who had kept silent until now, spoke. "Abby? You gave this…girl a name?" That seemed to be more of an affront to him than my presence, as if it were fine for a creature like me to exist, so long as it was never treated as more than that – a creature. An oddity, something to be studied, learned from, but never related to on a personal level. That did not truly affect my judgment of the man, of course; I had met others like him previously, and had since learned that their reasons for disliking me had nothing to do with me personally. The fact that I was most likely a soulless abomination in the spiritual sense was simply upsetting to some individuals.
"Actually, sir, she's an adult, most likely in her early to mid-twenties." Sanders apparently did not mind the sneer, or the intended insult, in the slightest. She was much too preoccupied with her lecture. "The splicing caused some unforeseen skeletal shrinking, which resulted in her diminished stature. That was actually to her benefit, though, as a smaller, leaner physique aids her acrobatically. The caracal genes have given her greater hearing, increased speed and agility, and incredibly enhanced leg muscles. To assist and augment these abilities, we performed quite a few surgeries on her ears and the extremities of her limbs, her feet in particular. As you can see, her ears are elongated and capable of independent movement – this was implemented so that she could take advantage of the fullest extent of her auditory senses. Short, retractable claws were embedded in her fingers and toes for better grip and traction as she moves; the bones and muscles of her feet have been reconstructed to allow for greater speed. The result of all this, as you can see, is that Abeni is the closest we have gotten so far to developing a feasible super human."
"Abeni?" This was Harper again, who seemed to have become more than a little lost in the explanations, and was obviously now more than a little bewildered by the whole matter.
"Yes, Abeni. That's her full name. I was looking to acquire the perfect subject, and, lo and behold, a girl meeting all my criteria arrived the next day. Her name, roughly translated, means, 'we asked for her, and behold, we got her.' Quite fitting, don't you think?"
The second agent, Johnson, cut in once again at this. "Dr. Sanders, I think we've heard enough. While we might be content to simply stand by and continue to let you do as you wish, the people we work for would like some concrete assurance that their money is being used well."
"Sir, I... What?" It seemed that our routine visit had derailed quite suddenly, then. Rarely before had anyone mentioned the higher ups, except as muttered derogatory names by the scientists when their paychecks were delivered, or as "my boss's boss's bosses", as Sanders had once referred to them. It was beyond me as to why that would change now – and it seemed to be much the same with the doctor. Quite obviously baffled, her mouth hung open a fraction as she tried to recover from this unexpected development.
"Yes. They would like some proof, in the flesh, that your experiments are progressing on schedule and as planned. At one o'clock tomorrow, transportation will be arriving to ensure that they get that proof. You will make sure that every viable experiment is on that transport – including this one – or you can kiss your funding good-bye. Is this clear?"
Though she was confused by the flood of information – as was I, by this point – Sanders was quick to give the affirmative. The men apparently took this as a signal of dismissal, and both filed out without another word, leaving my scientist and me to stare at their retreating backs until they had vanished from sight down the hall.
Sometime later, I returned my gaze to Sanders. "Perhaps today would have been a good day to be punctual with your appointments."
Her expression was absent, troubled, as she rose from her desk and led the way out of the office. "You know, Abby, I was just thinking the same thing."