A World Full of Monsters

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Chapter 12
Manny

It was only a matter of time before someone had another mod accident.


It was only a matter of time before someone had another modding accident, of course. And of course, the results were…well, bad. So bad the guy running the lab, which was thankfully an actual legitimate lab this time, called us and begged us to come help them fix it. I assured him we couldn’t – reversal still wasn’t an option, nobody had been able to crack it – but they paid for the plane ticket so I grabbed Joey and out we went. And I managed to get out of the more handsy pat down being on a list gets you by winking at the agent before he got started. He knew who I was, of course, since my face had been plastered all over the news pretty regularly for the past few years, but just the hint of me flirting with him helped him decide not to be as touchy-feely as he might have gotten otherwise. Joey was pissed all the way to our gate. “Did you just use being gay and infamous to circumvent security, Danny?”

“Jealous?”

“Hell yes. You can buy me Starbucks to make it up to me, too.”

I bought him Starbucks, noticing that they’d had another price hike while I’d been buried in the lab drinking homebrew – eight bucks a cup now, and ten cents extra if you wanted whipped cream thanks to the dairy shortage. Which was sadly not something we could use genomodding to fix. They were dressing the baristas in cutesy outfits now to make up for it, though, and I complimented the one who handed me my cup on his suspenders. He was cute and he winked at me, so I was happy all the way to the plane.

No, not that kind of happy. Get your mind out of the gutter.

 

It was muggy and awful in Florida when we got off the plane, and our host was so nervous I was amazed some scared airport security person hadn’t pulled him aside for questioning just on general principles. Oh yeah, this one must be really bad. I waited until we were in his car, and until Joey had used Pete’s newest little security gizmo to see if we were bugged – honestly, we’re gonna be paranoid for the rest of our lives, I’m not even ashamed of it anymore. After all, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Anyway, I waited until I was sure it was just the three of us, and then I asked him. “So, Tim, you tried to mod what kind of animal with human?”

He choked. “I…how did you know?”

“Dude, you were too freaked for it to be anything else,” Joey told him, sounding bored; he wasn’t, of course, but us acting jaded calms people down because they think we really have seen it all. “And we checked before we agreed to come down here, your lab is legitimate and your university vouched for you – no way were you modding humans. So you were trying to make what?”

Tim made a face. “A minotaur.”

My spine straightened. “A what?!”

“A minotaur. You know, from Greek mythology…”

“Jesus fucking Christ.” I clapped a hand over my eyes. “Just drive, dude – and tell me you’ve got him caged up really good and he hasn’t already eaten someone.”

I could feel Joey get concerned in a hurry from the back seat. “Danny?”

I turned halfway around to look at him. “I ran that sim for someone a while back, another movie spec project. A bull can be as aggressive and territorial as a grizzly bear – and even if you use a castrated bull, his DNA still says he’s fully male so the modding process is going to put all his equipment back regardless. Mix that with male human mod…hell, if this thing gets loose it would probably end up being a man-eating rapist, Joey.”

He raised an eyebrow at our now cringing host in the rear-view mirror. “And you didn’t just put this thing down when you realized you fucked up why? Because dude, if you’re gonna play this game you have to have the balls to take care of it if you make a mistake.”

The guy cringed even more. “Well, we…we would have, it’s just…” He swallowed really hard. “Um, it’s sentient. And we sort of taught it to talk.”

I sank back down in my seat and put my hand over my eyes again. “Oh, that’s just fucking great.”

 

They did have the minotaur in a good cage, which was a really good thing since he was fucking huge – I mean, he was nearly seven feet tall and had arms and legs as big around as my head. He had a massive thick neck to support his huge horned head, and his shoulders seemed to be hunched just a bit from trying to hold it all up. I could see his tufted tail swinging behind him. He was really, really obviously completely male on the lower end; they had, as my sim had predicted, grown back courtesy of the mod. And he was looking at me with two mostly human eyes that were rheumy and tiny in that huge snouted face, and the look in them was just unbearably sad.

They’d created a creature just smart enough to know what he was, but not smart enough to know what to do about it. I wanted to strangle Tim with my bare hands and feed him to the goddamned thing he’d created…but that probably would have just made it even more miserable. So instead I nodded to the minotaur. “Hi. You’re Manny, right?”

Tim had said that was what he’d called his creation, and that it knew its name. Sure enough, it nodded. “Man-ny,” it said in a guttural voice, pointing at itself for good measure. “Man-ny.”

Sentient and self-aware. I could work with that. “Danny,” I said, pointing to my own chest, and then at Joey. “And he’s Joey. We came here to see if we could help you, Manny.”

Manny cocked his huge head, squinting at us. “Help Man-ny?”

“We’re going to try,” I told him. I pulled Tim forward. “Hey Manny, what do you think of Tim?”

If I hadn’t been ready for it, that roar would have made me pee my pants. A huge hand swatted at Tim through the bars, which shook but held. I shoved Tim to Joey, who was more than happy to put him in a choke hold even if he was white as a ghost himself. “Thank you, Manny, that’s what I thought. And it’s okay, we don’t like him either. We can’t let you have him, though, because you’d get in trouble for that.”

“Tru-bul?”

“People would get mad at you,” I simplified. “We don’t want that to happen.”

“It’s not like that!” Tim insisted, wiggling some but not really fighting to get loose. “I didn’t do anything to him, he’s mad at me because of Ada.” That provoked another roar and swat. “Manny, stop that! It’s not my fault she doesn’t like you!” That made the minotaur sulk, which was just pitiful. Joey let Tim go, and he straightened his collar with a sigh. “She’s my partner, she helped make him! But he has this reaction to her and…well, it offends her and she either screams at him or avoids him. He thinks it’s because she’s…well, he’s a bull, they’re competitive when it comes to mating.”

“So are humans,” Joey reminded him, making him turn red. “Again, this is why we don’t do human mod on animals, Timmy-boy. Are you doing her?”

“Of course not!” He’d deflated a little, though. “Even if I had been…interested, she’d never have gone for that and I do mean never. Manny and I have that much in common.” That got Manny’s attention. “No, she doesn’t like me either, Manny. But we both own this business, so we have to work together. Really, I have a girlfriend and it isn’t Ada.”

“Gurl-frend?”

“A female he’s mating with, Manny.” I raised an eyebrow at Tim. “I don’t suppose Ada is here right now, is she?”

“Oh yes, she’s here – she wears earplugs so she can’t hear him, but she’s here.” He pulled out his phone and texted. “Okay, I told her you guys were here and asked her to come out to talk about Manny with you.”

Ada came out a couple of minutes later, and it became really, really obvious what the problem was: She was pretty. And under her lab coat she was dressed to make people appreciate that fact, which is all fine and dandy unless you’re in a situation like this one. Sure enough, Manny started to rumble deep in his throat, shooting baleful looks at Tim and Joey. Crap. I held out my hand. “Ada?”

She refused to take it. “That’s Dr. Jones,” was the frosty reply.

I matched the look, withdrew my hand. “And if I’d known you preferred that, I would have called you that,” I snapped back, which seemed to surprise her. “We’ve been using first names with your partner Tim, which is how we do it in our lab too. Now, you guys wanted us to come, so we’re here. What, exactly, were you hoping we could do for you?”

She glanced over at the cage and flushed red to the roots of her hair – which were dark, although the rest of it was strawberry blonde. I glanced over myself, saw what I expected to see, and shrugged. “He’s a bull, Dr. Jones, he reacts to what he smells.” Cue the outraged shriek, and I rolled my eyes. “Pheromones? Come on, do you guys actually do science here or what?”

Tim was sulking now. “I tried to tell her, but she insists it’s because we used male human mod.”

“No, it’s because he’s a bull with human male genitalia.” I glanced again. “So what have you been doing about that reaction? Have you taught him how to handle it?” Dr. Jones sniffed, and Tim went bright red. So they could teach their creation to talk, but not to jack off? Maybe Dr. Jones wasn’t the only one with a problem. “I guess that’s a no. Joey, pull up some porn, would you?”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“My phone is still tapped, remember? If I watch porn, it’s gonna be on the news by tonight.”

“Point.” He got to work and found something, handed the phone over. I looked and nodded. “That will probably do the trick. You stay back, he can smell it on you too.”

And then I walked right up to the cage. I heard Dr. Jones gasp, and I’m pretty sure Joey caught Tim’s arm to stop himself from stopping me, but all my attention was on Manny. Who was really confused now. “That’s right, Manny,” I told him. “You can’t smell it on me, because I don’t want to mate with her. It’s okay, it’s natural for you to feel this way. And there’s something you can do about it, I’m going to show you.” I pushed play and turned Joey’s phone around. “Like that, Manny. Do what that guy is doing and you’ll feel better, I promise.”

Manny squinted at the phone, and then one huge hand reached down to tentatively touch his erection. I didn’t figure it was going to take him very long, so I sidestepped about three strokes in and he exploded with a roar on the fourth and managed to hit Dr. Jones’s leg. She shrieked again and gave me a dirty look, and I shrugged. “Hey, like I said, it’s a natural reaction. Manny, next time aim into the place where you go to the bathroom, okay? Semen is sticky, you don’t want it to go all over the place.”

The minotaur was looking completely blissed out, but he nodded and trundled back to the low platform I assumed was his bed; he curled up on it and appeared to be going to sleep. Tim very cautiously moved closer, looking at the ropy white trail across the floor. Then he looked at me. “So he’d been getting increasingly more aggressive…because he was frustrated?”

“Pretty much, I think.” Manny was snoring now. “Did you make him for somebody by request, or were you hoping Greece would want him?”

Dr. Jones sniffed again, and Tim sighed. “We were hoping either a Greek zoo or maybe a history museum, but he wasn’t…well, we didn’t expect him to be sentient.” He made a face. “Or horny, for that matter.”

“Dude, he’s an animal,” Joey reminded him again. “Animals don’t get horny, they just respond to stimuli – and before you say it, Science Barbie,” he warned Dr. Jones when she started to open her mouth, “pheromone reactions aren’t something humans can consciously control, it’s a genetic holdover from the days when we had to mate to survive like all the other animals do. Oh, and those heels are way outside of OSHA regulations, just so you know; you shouldn’t be wearing them in here, it’s a safety hazard any inspector would embarrass the shit out of you for while writing you up.”

“We’ve been inspected so many times, our whole team knows the regs by heart,” I explained. “So what are your plans for Manny now, Tim?”

“I…don’t know.” He waved a hand at the cage. “That will keep working?”

“Does it keep working for any man?” He went beet red again; so did she. “Well, there’s your answer. Make him a girlfriend, Tim.”

“We can’t make another one!” Dr. Jones exploded. “My god, look at that mon…”

Her eyes went as wide as saucers when I got right up in her face. “Don’t you dare call him that,” I told her in what the guys call my ‘ass-kicker voice’. “You made him; he didn’t ask you to, and now he has to live with your fuckup. So the very least you can do is make him another member of his species for company – or hand over your fucking notes and I’ll do it. Now why don’t you go clean up and get on one of those options, and Tim’s going to find a really pretty cow to turn while Joey and I go find Manny and his future girlfriend a nice safe home where he won’t have to deal with you ever again. Are. We. Clear?”

She stared at me for a second, then took off for the bathroom, slipping on Manny’s spunk. “See,” Joey told Tim, pointing. “OSHA violation, I told you.”

 

In the end, I went to Disney and explained Tim and Ada’s fuckup to them and asked if they could please please pretty please find a place in their huge animal park for a pair of minotaurs, at least one of whom was sentient and could talk. Luckily they were kind of excited about that, which was what I’d been hoping for. I explained exactly what sort of problems they might have with Manny, and was relieved when Jack, their head zookeeper, shrugged it off as nothing he hadn’t seen before. He came back to the lab with me to see Manny for himself, in fact, and tore Tim a new one for having him in such a small enclosure; Dr. Jones had, of course, gone back to sulking in her lab. “The only reason I’m not reporting you is because you called in Dr. Darling once you realized you were in over your head,” he warned. “And because you listened to him when he told you what you needed to do. How long before his mate is ready?”

“About a week,” Joey told him; he and I had ended up doing most of the work for that. “We found a few different cow options, we thought we’d let him pick one he liked.”

“Good idea. Can we call you guys if we need anything? Management has been talking about how nice it would be to have a real Goofy running around the park, or maybe a real Donald and Daisy.”

“We aren’t doing modded humans until we can guarantee that the process is reversible,” I told him, and was relieved when he nodded, accepting that without argument. “There are other people you can get that from, there is an underground mod circuit, but your PR people might not be willing to shoulder the possible risk to the park’s reputation because of the ethical gray-area involved. We can do animal mods, though; we’ve done quite a few legendary creatures.”

“I’ve seen the Jersey Devil; he’s too cute for words.” He considered. “How hard would Pegasus be?”

“Impossible, if you wanted a full-size one,” I told him. “We can go the mini-horse route, though, just like we did with the Jersey Devil. I think I remember you had little winged ponies in one of the movies, didn’t you? We could probably get pretty close to that.”

“I’ll talk to management and give you a call,” he agreed. “They already like you for coming to us about Manny here – and for not lying about the problems we might expect to have. Oh, and I have something for you.” He fished two plastic cards out of his pocket and handed them to me. “Since you said you’re going to be here a week, come visit the parks – these are special VIP passes, they’ll get the two of you in anywhere you want to go. And if you see anything you think we might like to talk about, let me know. Like I said, management is interested in the idea right now, and you’re right about them not wanting to take any ethical risks.”

I assured him we’d stay in touch, and he left humming a song I recognized from one of their jungle movies. Manny started humming it too not long afterward, and when I sent Jack video of that he responded by sending over a cast member – a male cast member – to see if they could teach Manny to sing the song. Manny liked that so much he started to hop around in the cage like he was dancing, so the cast member showed him that too and it was a really fun afternoon.

Bessie came out semi-sentient, just like Manny, and she seemed to like him. He did his song and dance number for her, which got her doing it, so I knew Jack and his bosses were going to be really, really happy with their new acquisitions. And then Manny figured out what else he could do with Bessie and she liked that too, and Dr. Jones is probably never going to look at a bull again as long as she lives. Once we were sure all the arrangements were made Joey took Tim aside to have a talk with him before we left, and while he was doing that I steeled myself and went in to have a talk with the mortally embarrassed and offended Dr. Jones. Perks of being the guy who’s name is first on the business cards, you get to do all the hard shit – thank God we had passes for Disney, I was going to deserve a mini-vacation after this.

I tore my thoughts away from wondering if any of the much-neglected Disney princes might want to switch teams and walked into their lab without knocking. She’d avoided speaking to Joey and I as much as she could for the entire week, but this time I wasn’t giving her a choice. “Ada, we need to have a talk.”

I might as well have poked her with a shock stick, for the reaction that got. “I told you…”

“I don’t give a shit – you want me to respect you, give me a reason to,” I snapped. “You aren’t acting like a scientist, Ada, you’re acting like a college kid who wants to be a scientist in a movie.” I walked over to stare her down, ended up staring her up instead when she used the OSHA-violating heels to stand up and try to turn it around on me, and won anyway because I was right and I knew it – and so did she. “Consider this project your one and only penalty-free fuckup in this field, Ada – and before you say it, Tim is getting this exact same talk from Joey right now, only Joey is probably capping it with the advice that he should kick you to the curb and find a real scientist to work with.”

She sneered. “Oh, you mean a man, right?”

“No, I mean a fucking grownup,” I said, and saw that hit home. Someone must have gotten there before me, she just hadn’t listened to them. “When we got here, you were pissing off on your responsibilities as Manny’s co-creator because his natural animal behavior ‘offended’ you. Your partner had to call you on his fucking phone just to get you to come out of the lab to talk to us – from the next room – and you were disrespecting him from the minute you stalked out on those ridiculous heels. In front of two complete strangers, no less, because you just had to make sure everyone knew that you were a Woman with a capital W and you were demanding all the respect you’d already decided we didn’t intend to give you.” I smiled a hard smile at her. “We get shit for the gender composition of our lab a lot from the press, yes. But the reason I work with the people I do is because we’ve all been friends since college, we came up with the idea to do this thing together in grad school; I don’t have to apologize to anyone for working with my three best friends and not needing anyone else. You don’t have that excuse, Ada.”

She sulked. “Men don’t respect women in our field. We have to fight for our rights!”

“Some men don’t respect anyone, because they’re caught up in a perpetual dick-shaking contest,” I countered. “You think I don’t get shit from those kind of guys too? Or even from women? I do, and I have to decide whether it’s worth it to throw it back at them or not – sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But you really obviously haven’t learned to make that distinction yet, and this going through life ready to flip your bitch-switch at a moment’s notice is not you putting yourself out there as a strong woman, it’s you making yourself look fucking stupid and immature. People are not going to respect someone who acts that way. So if you want to be a real adult who does science for a living instead of being Science Barbie, pull your fucking head out, blow your nose to get the shit-smell out of it, and get your mind back in the game you spent eight years in college to learn how to play, got it?”

And she sat back down. I turned and walked back out of the lab calmly and with my shit together, like a grownup. Because god dammit, someone had to set an example for her, and today that person was me.

 

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2 thoughts on “A World Full of Monsters

  1. Toby

    Good on you Danny. People need to grow up about their jobs and such parts of their lives. (If they want to children in their downtime that’s their choice…). Thanks for sharing
    I don’t take the time to say how much I like your stories.

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