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Kathy's eyes were glued to the monitor. "These estrogen numbers are sky high, and your cholinergic neurons are going crazy from the nicotine." She bit her lip, scrolling through the unwieldy matrix of data as she waited for the chromosome analysis program to boot. "It's the most natural geometry for Huey--the craving for calcium, your cramps and wild mood swings. I can't believe I didn't think of it before."
"Kathy, you've gotta tell me what you're babbling about."
She pecked at the keyboard, reloading his DNA files. "I've worked with the same twists for so long, I never even gave a second thought to the fact that you're a guy." The chromosome graphics popped up on the display. "Bingo."
Kathy propped her chin in her hand. "Your DNA?" She tapped the screen. "It's female."
Zane snickered. "Let me get this straight. You mean I'm turning into a girl?"
The silence was deafening.
He ran his fingers though his hair. "No, it can't be."
She placed her hand atop his shoulder and switched off the computer. "You're not turning into a girl, Zane." She could instantly feel the muscles in his neck relax. "You already are one. Technically speaking, your body is just making a few corrections to match your altered genetic profile."
"Dandy, just fucking dandy."
The room rumbled like thunder as he pounded his fist on the table. "Do you always have to be so goddamn clinical?"
Zane tossed his hands in the air and stormed towards the doorway. "That's it. I don't give a shit about the money. I'm through."
A familiar voice echoed from the intercom. "What's the matter, sweetie, don't ya wanna be a girl?" One hand perched on her hip,the lanky blonde giggled, waving her fingers as she stood behind the glass observation window at the far end of the lab.
"Elise, what are you doing here?"
"That bitch wife of yours is in on this!" Kathy shrieked.
"Shut up, you nerd slut," Elise snipped. "He's always been pretty dickless, so it ain't really gonna make all that much difference, now is it?" She folded her arms and chuckled. "I don't know what I ever saw in him, but from last night's late show, it sure looks like he plugs your socket!"
"Ladies, ladies," Chorde's voice interrupted. "This catfight is utterly unbecoming for the both of you." A man stepped up behind Elise and put his arms around her waist. "The test shall continue."
Zane's finger quivered as he pointed at the window. "That, that's me!"
"Surely, you must be beside yourself, my dear. Have you had no occasion of late to see yourself in a mirror?" A shallow grin spread across Chorde's face. "I must admit, the boy-cut clothing and trendy punk hairstyle make quite the fashion statement. Might I suggest nipple rings and a few well chosen tattoos?"
Zane pawed at the window. "Chorde, what the hell is going on?"
"The name is Tollison, Zane Tollison." Chorde glared out of the window. "With a few subtle improvements, of course."
Ignoring Zane's presence, Chorde walked to and fro. "It occurred to me rather serendipitously that several objectives could be achieved during the course of a single study. Not only could we demonstrate the ability to add the Hydrolyzed Unilateral Esquilax responsible for nicotine addiction to a male subject, we could put to rest the messy debate over whether genetics or socialization is root cause of women's low tolerance for the stuff."
He put his cigarette to his lips and inhaled. "As dear Kathy can confirm, it was a decidedly simpler process to develop a phantom to add this new gene through a shot gun approach, altering the entire genetic structure than to wade through the tedious process of designing a recombinant to add a single gene to a foreign DNA geometry. Of course, we would have to perform our test on a subject who not only lacked the gene, but who was also not a woman."
Chorde paused, his hands following the curve of Elise's shoulders. "At least for the beginning of the study. And so, you will be relating for us first hand the experience of your artificially induced nicotine addiction--"
His lips formed a twisted a grin. "From a most feminine perspective. A vantage point that if every study ever done on women and smoking is any indication, would even now be, shall we say, quite difficult and in a few short days, impossible to reverse."
Chorde crushed out his cigarette. "Which brings us to the question, what then shall become of Zane Tollison and his lovely wife?"
He turned to Elise, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand. "Twould be nothing short of sinful for such a sweet young beauty to fritter away the years alone, the love of her life, just a memory in another woman's mind."
Cocking his head as if he were in deep thought, he continued, "Ah, but perhaps, just perhaps, the same technology that could save an entire industry from financial ruin, could restore the waxing memories of youth to a tired old man as the lost husband of the young woman he loves."
Chorde looked deep into Elise's eyes. "Two star-crossed sole mates, rich beyond their wildest dreams."
Elise batted her eyes and giggled. "I just love the way you say things, Zane." She removed a tube of lipstick from her handbag, impetuously touching up her already perfect lips.
"And the mystery woman who dares challenge me so brazenly?" Chorde leaned forward, hands pressed against the window. "She and her pathetic memories of Zane Tollison will be strewn aside like a paid wench."
Elise pursed her lips and snapped the clasp on her handbag. "Did ya get that, sweetie? Zane said you're screwed."
Zane stormed towards the doorway. "I don't give a fuck about you or your money. I'm getting out of here."
Chorde put his cigarette to his lips. "As you please."
Zane grabbed Kathy's hand. They raced out of the lab and headed for the elevator. He held his bracelet to the microphone of keyless entry system.
The computer voice replied, "Access denied."
Zane pressed Kathy towards the speaker. "You try--"
Kathy stepped up to the microphone. "Kathy Davis, ground floor."
The light flickered. "Access denied."
"Oh, Zane," she shrieked. "It's not working!"
Kathy cleared her throat and repeated, "Kathy Davis, ground floor." She sheepishly peered over her shoulder. "Please?"
The speaker crackled. "Voice recognition pattern unknown. Access denied."
Chorde's laughter echoed on the walls. "Your efforts are futile. This facility is as impossible to escape as it is to penetrate."
Zane sprinted up and down the hall. He tossed his hands in the air. "Where's the goddamn stairwell?"
Kathy bit the tip of her finger. "The elevator's the only way out."
He dashed into the suite and picked up the receiver. "Get me 911."
Zane slammed the handset in the cradle. "Damn it hell! He's blocked me out. You try--"
Kathy fingers trembled as she put the telephone to her ear.
The automated operator greeted her, "What number please?"
"Get me 911." Kathy's voice wavered. "This is an emergency!"
"I'm sorry," the automated voice replied, "but your voice recognition pattern is not in my file. Please press the star button and try again."
She ran her fingers through her hair. "It won't let me through. What are we going to do!"
Zane turned towards the bedroom. "My cell phone--"
Kathy reached for his arm. "It's no use. They won't pick up inside the building."
He flung open the vertical blinds. The window looked out at a cement block wall illuminated by a fluorescent light. "There's got to be a way out of here!"
His eyes darted around the room. The ventilation return duct was so small a hamster could barely crawl inside. "I'll cut my way out of here if I have to!"
Zane rustled through the kitchen drawers for a knife. He gouged at the plaster and pulled back the insulation to find a cement block wall. He climbed up on the dining room table and pushed back a ceiling tile. The roof was solid cement. He sliced through the carpet, clawing at the padding only to find the poured concrete floor.
"Jeezuz." He jabbed the knife deep into the mahogany tabletop. "Out of aces and trapped like a fucking rat."
He shook his fist, leering at the intercom. "You can keep me here, Chorde, but you can't make me play your game."
Chorde cleared his throat. "Oh, really? Perhaps if you begged, and used my proper name, I might reconsider."
"Beg?" he sneered. Zane fell to his knees. "What the...?"
He clenched his hands as the words flowed from his lips. "Please Mr. T ... Tollison, oh please, let us out of here!"
A mocking clap resounded from the intercom. "A touching exhibition, my dear, but alas, the answer is still no." The speaker fell silent.
Hands on her hips, Kathy stared in amazement. "Zane, are you crazy?"
"I, I couldn't help myself." He pointed towards the speaker. "Did you see him? He's using a goddamn recombinant to turn himself into me."
Zane raced back into the lab. Elise and Chorde were gone. He beat his hands against the window pane. "You son of a bitch, give me back my body!"
Chorde's laughter rang through the room. "Temper, temper, my dear. Why don't you just sit down? Relax, enjoy a cigarette. A few more days, and this will all be over."
Her mouth opened as Zane sat on the floor and took a cigarette out of his shirt pocket. "What do you think you're doing?"
A hypnotic serene spread across Zane's face as he put the cigarette to his lips. "There's nothing to get excited about. I might as well relax. A couple more days and this will all be over."
Kathy shook his shoulders. "Zane, that's exactly what Chorde just told you to do!"
"Jeezuz. It felt so natural, like I had made the decision myself." He tossed his hands in the air. "How the hell is Chorde doing this to me?"
Tears streamed down her cheeks. "I don't know. I don't know! It must be some weird cellular level response."
Zane crushed out the cigarette, bursting into laughter as he reached for her hand.
She sniffled. "What in the world do you think is so funny?"
"You don't get it because the joke's on me. The bastard is stealing my body and my money, and there's not a goddamn thing I can do except sit back and watch. He's going to take the twelve million I'm getting for this job and hang me out to dry."
Zane reached in his pocket for a cigarette. "Chorde's not brilliant, he's a fucking genius."
"Twelve million dollars." She mouthed his words. "They're paying you twelve million dollars?"
"Yup. Worth a little inconvenience, maybe even a little risk to your health, huh, Kath?"
Smoke rolled out of his nose as he exhaled. "I can't quit now if I could quit now. If the gene doesn't get me, the nicotine will. But if I don't follow through on this deal, I owe Chorde the twelve million."
Kathy shook her head and fumbled in her purse. "No, it can't be. There's got to be some other way."
"Looks like I've just been screwed." Zane offered her the packet in his shirt pocket. "How about an after sex cigarette?"
"We need to get to cracking. CAT scan, MRI, electro cardiogram, I need to run a whole battery of tests on you. Now that I know where this thing is going, I can start to figure out how I'm gonna fix it."
"Yeah, right." He inhaled and crushed his cigarette on the side of his shoe.
"Zane Tollison, you snap out of this right this instant!" Her eyes welled with tears. "I'm the best damn geneticist in the world. If some wannabe DNA hacker could throw together a recom to do this to you, I can design a deposing recom to reverse the process."
The weight of the world half as heavy resting on two sets of shoulders, he reached for her hands. "Then let's get going."