Kill the Problem
Someone should probably have seen this coming. But they didn’t.
Sometimes, people are weird. About weird things.
Turkeys are birds. There are wild turkeys, which are big and smart and people hunt them. And there are domesticated turkeys raised for food, which are bigger, dumb, and wouldn’t be much of a challenge to catch because they don’t run so well – they’re too big, they’ve been overbred and inbred all the way to being a caricature of an actual turkey. Most people do think this is sad, because the wild turkey they descended from is so smart that Ben Franklin thought it would have been more fitting as our national bird than the bald eagle. Yes, really. Although Old Ben was kind of a snarky bastard on a good day, apparently, so maybe that wasn’t really as much of an endorsement as people seem to think it was.
Turkey is also an American tradition when it comes to holiday food. Your parents buy a turkey, spend days thawing it out, and then get up stupidly early on Thanksgiving morning to start roasting it. Or your dad goes out in the garage a few hours before dinner and deep fries it using dangerously unstable equipment in a highly unsafe manner, because that is the closest he’s getting to living dangerously for the entire year. Then you grow up and do the same thing. It’s a tradition, and no matter how hard vegetarians plug tofurkey and other abominations of nature as acceptable substitutes to Save the Turkeys…well, turkey is turkey and turkey is a tradition and most people are not even going to consider giving up their generations-long family food tradition just because you tell them they should feel sorry for that poor caricature of a turkey which is slated to become their dinner. Omnivores are just carnivores that are too lazy to hunt all the time, after all.
But anyway, some people are weird about turkey. We’ve had more than a few people ask us about possibly doing something with a turkey, and those have always been weird requests by people who want to make the turkeys either inedible or gigantic so we’ve always turned them down. We did make a turkey/quail hybrid for someone once, but they’d mainly been after a bigger, tougher bird for their private estate because predators were killing all the quail; we offered them turkey-modded quail and goose-modded quail and they picked the turkey version because those were prettier and not quite so aggressive. We ended up selling the goose-modded version to a celebrity who was having problems with paparazzi sneaking onto the grounds of his fancy mansion, and he stopped showing up in candid photographs after the first week. Coincidentally, a lot of paparazzi were showing up other places the second week looking like they’d gone a few rounds with a weed-whacker and lost. Did I mention we’d topped his mod off with a little bit of rooster? It was really pretty when we got done with it – had nice spurs, too.
It was around the end of July when a local turkey farmer called us – or rather, her lawyer called us, and then her lawyer talked to our lawyer and finally the farmer just called us herself. The first words out of her mouth were an apology. “I’m sorry, Dr. Darling,” she said. I could almost hear the hand-wringing. “I asked the family lawyer to look into it, what happened to our turkeys. I don’t know why he tried to sue you.”
Rick had already told us why: The guy was a bad lawyer, and just smart enough to have remembered us from some news story or other and thought he smelled a delicious lawsuit. I wasn’t going to repeat that, though. “It’s okay, Mrs. Flores, sometimes that happens,” I assured her. “Mr. Rikard – he’s our lawyer, by the way – showed us the pictures of your turkeys that he got from your lawyer, and I really don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never seen anything like that before, it’s horrible. There isn’t anything we can do to fix it, but did you want us to come take a look, see if we can figure out what was done to them?”
“Would you? I mean, there’s no way we can salvage this year, and we have insurance, but I’m afraid it might happen again. Is this thing you do…is it contagious?”
“No, it isn’t.” She actually sighed in relief. “When do you want us to come?”
“Can you come now?”
I checked the clock. “No, we wouldn’t get there until after dark, and that wouldn’t do us any good. How about tomorrow morning?”
“The insurance people are coming in the morning.”
“Even better,” I told her. “We can get there before they do, and we can explain to them that what happened wasn’t something you did.”
She was okay with that, and after she’d disconnected I leaned back in my chair. “Okay, who wants to go visit the turkey farm bright and early tomorrow? I have to be here to sign for that specimen delivery, so I’m out. You’ll get to play with insurance people and everything.”
“Are those the mutant lizard turkeys?” I nodded, and Joey shook his head. “Nope, it’s Dave’s turn again.”
Dave also shook his head. “Oh hell no. Let Pete go, he never goes anywhere.”
“That’s because Pete is the computer guy,” came from Pete, who didn’t look up from what he was doing. “Pete doesn’t have to go anywhere, Pete’s part of this is right here in this nice climate-controlled lab.”
“Sounds like Pete is spoiled,” Dave observed. “And this isn’t even a dangerous one…” I held up one of the photos. “Okay, I take that back, but I don’t want to go anywhere near that fucking thing. It looks like what would happen if a turkey and a dinosaur had a baby. It has to be a fifty-fifty, it just has to.”
A fifty-fifty, of course, is what happens when you take one thing and mod it to fifty percent something else, which almost always results in something awful. “Looks like it to me too.” I considered the problem, then texted Hana and a minute later she came bouncing out of her room with a pawful of raffia strands. “Three straws, three of you – the two short straws go play with the mutant dino-turkeys.”
She carried it down the line and made each of the guys draw one; she handed Joey his and gave him a hug to go with it, because it was short. “Thank you, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ll try to come back alive. Who’s…” Pete held up a short straw. “Well, I will try to come back alive, but no guarantees.”
“Cute,” Pete told him. He got a hug too, which made him happy again. “I won’t kill Joey, I promise. Make sure Danny doesn’t sit in here in his underwear watching porn, okay? He’s never gotten to stay behind before, I’m not sure he knows how to handle himself.”
“If I was watching porn, I’d know how to handle myself just fine,” I informed him. “But I wouldn’t do that to Dave; if he walked in on me he might turn and then Melissa would kill me.”
Melissa is Dave’s girlfriend, and has been for a while, but he doesn’t bring her around – she’s not interested in what we do or doesn’t approve of it or something like that, and she’s always bugging him about getting another job. “Melissa thinks you’re sleeping with Joey,” Dave shot back. “I’ve pointed out more than a few times that he’s had girlfriends ever since I’ve known him, but she swears it’s just an act.”
“He deserves an Oscar, then,” Pete observed. “Of course, if Danny would go find a boyfriend these rumors would stop.”
“Sure, I’ll ask one of our adoring reporters if they want to go out with me, since they watch my ass all the time anyway,” was my response. “I’ll make a sign and then go outside and take a selfie with it, that way they’ll all be sure to see it.” Yes, someone is still getting into my phone – just mine, as near as we can tell – and I finally gave up on thinking we could stop them. Pete was able to fix it for a little while, and inside the lab he has things set up so my phone routes everything through a sort of firewall setup on the lab’s router, but we’re back to the place where every time I leave the lab anything I do with the phone has a chance of showing up in a news story somewhere later. It sucks, really. Hana gave me a hug, and I hugged her back. “Thanks, sweetheart. After they leave tomorrow, come out and I’ll show you where Pete hides all the good games on his computer.”
Pete snorted. “Just stay out of the online games, I don’t want you to blow my streak in any of them. Anything that’s resident on the computer, though, have at it.”
Joey and Pete blew in early the next morning, grabbed some things and then left again, and Dave texted to say he’d be in after lunch. Hana had to go back to maintaining her social media empire after just a few games the next morning, but I was still playing when my delivery showed up – mostly because I didn’t want to start working on something I might have to stop working on suddenly if the mutant dino-turkey situation ended up being more than we’d bargained for. The minute I opened the door, though, I knew there might be a problem. The delivery guy I’d seen via the security camera was gone, and a guy in a fed suit was holding my package. “I signed for you,” he said, stepping inside. He handed over the package, and some paperwork with it “Dr. Darling, I’m here to take charge of your test subject. It’s been decided that the mutated rabbit you have caged in here is a dangerous animal and shouldn’t remain in your care.”
I sighed. “Again?” They’d tried this once before, early on, wanting us to turn Hana over to them on the grounds that she was dangerous and no longer human, but that time Rick had produced paperwork of his own and sent them packing – Hana is his client, after all, she pays him to handle stupidity like that on her behalf. I glanced over the paperwork this guy had handed me, and it looked pretty much identical. Meaning he obviously didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, nor was he good-looking enough that I would have considered offering to show him the difference. I waved the papers at him. “You guys already tried this, remember? Miss Kim has papers of her own, and a lawyer to back them up.”
He shook his head. “These are orders from the federal government, Dr. Darling.”
“Yeah, so were those.” I handed them back, hoping Hana had heard and was already texting Rick. I raised my voice just in case she hadn’t. “They aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, and you should know it. Not to mention, if you tried to take her anywhere, you’d need to be prepared for a huge public outcry – she’s got a few million followers on Twitter, ditto for Facebook and YouTube, and they get upset if she doesn’t feed them regularly. And I seriously doubt whatever cage you want to lock her in has wifi.”
He rolled his eyes. “These things are like animals, Dr. Darling. I’d heard you were unprofessional, but it disappoints me to hear you talk about ‘her’ like she’s human. It’s an animal, and it’s dangerous. It apparently assaulted several children when you took it to New York for the holidays.” He pushed the papers back at me. “You shouldn’t skim, you miss things. We have three notarized statements, and a court order signed by a federal judge authorizing me to take custody of the mutated rabbit and deliver it to a place where it can be appropriately contained. In the interest of public safety, of course. After all, it did kill someone.”
Oh shit. I backed away from him a couple of steps, putting myself between him and cage. Please, Hana, please have heard this and locked that door and called for help. Please, please, please. “And how exactly are you planning to take her if she doesn’t want to go? I’m sure as hell not helping you. And she may be cute, but she can also be a vicious little bunny when she’s pissed.”
And damned if he didn’t pull out a tranq gun. “That won’t be a problem.”
Double shit. Still, I made a show of rolling my eyes. “No, because you’ll have an even bigger one if you shoot her with that. She only weighs like eighty pounds, the dart you’ve got is for something about the size of a lion.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Or maybe a wolverine?”
“How did you…!”
“We all know. And said only the government would have made a decision that stupid, because you’d have to be an idiot to mix a vicious, territorial, thrill-killing animal with something that attacks bears for fun. Seriously, real science and comic books don’t mix, that was dumb.”
And that was when he aimed his dart gun at me. “I’m not the one who got killed by his own pet monster, Dr. Darling – you should have read those notarized statements, they’re verifying that you were alone with your unstable subject in the lab today when it killed you. They’re signed by your coworkers, of course. And you’re nowhere near the size of a lion either, you know.”
You know, those darts hurt like a sonofabitch going in – especially since he was only a few feet away and it was a long-distance gun, the damn thing sank in all the way to the base of the needle and maybe a little farther that that. I started feeling it almost immediately, too, staggered backwards into the side of the cage and slid down to the ground. Hana appeared on the other side of the bars, chittering in distress, and a little handpaw reached through the bars and yanked out the dart, which damn near made me scream. Everything was slowing down, especially the sound of my heart beating, and I felt like I was breathing through cotton balls. “Hana, call…call your friends,” I gasped out. “If he…takes you…they’ll say you…killed me. And then…they’ll kill you.”
“True, but not your problem anymore,” the agent told me. And turned away to reload his tranq gun, because apparently killing someone and watching them die aren’t the same thing and he was just a total wuss when it came to that part of his job.
And a total fuckup at other parts, because if he hadn’t been he’d have known that the cage wasn’t locked – it never has been, unless Hana’s in heat. The little handpaw patted my cheek, and then she was out of the cage and on him before he could even turn around. The squeak of surprise he made when she hit him was so funny I had to laugh and there went the rest of my air.
I came to laying on the couch and people were talking and I could hear Hana chittering – she does that when she’s upset about something. Everybody was back in the lab, from the sound of things. I felt like I was waking up after the world’s biggest bender, and trying to sit up made my head feel like it was going to explode. I was queasy as hell, and my lower chest hurt where the tranq dart had gone in. There was a bandage over the spot, a fat square of gauze neatly stuck down with tape instead of one of the Looney-Tunes bandaids we keep next to the first aid kit, and the gauze had a brown spot on top of it. I had a suspicion and took a look at my shirt…and wouldn’t you know there was just blood all over it and I promptly got so sick that I almost passed out again just from throwing up.
Somewhere in Nepal a Sasquatch was laughing his ass of, I just knew he was.
Luckily for the lab floor and the couch, someone smart had left a mop bucket nearby and it not only contained the mess, it also kept the smell down thanks to all the bleach in the water. Not that that was too much of an issue anyway, because I just kept throwing up until nothing else would come out. For a dizzy five or ten minutes all I did was try to catch my breath, heaving nothing again every time I thought I had it and starting the cycle all over again, but then finally, it stopped. Someone put something in my mouth that tasted blue and told me to rinse and spit so I did, twice, and then someone took the bucket away and took the bleached-vomit smell with it and that was better. My narrowed awareness started to widen back out. I was sitting on the floor, and it was cold. Someone was sitting with me, behind me with a strong arm around my waist, and my head was laying back on their shoulder. Someone else was wiping off my face with a damp cloth, very gently, and another hand was keeping my head still so they could do it. I was panting and trembling like I’d just finished running a marathon, I could feel my chest heaving and my heart racing. Voices were talking, worried but familiar voices all around me, and then someone was pulling at my shirt – pulling it down off my shoulders and down my arms, that was it, they were taking it off. I shivered, and whoever was behind me tightened up their hold and said something about being cold. Which made something soft appear and wrap around my shoulders, tiny handpaws patting my skin as they adjusted it.
I opened my eyes and found myself looking up at Joey, who blinked back at me. “Better?”
“Yeah.” I swallowed, feeling the blue burn the top of my throat. “My…my chest hurts.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it does,” he told me. He wasn’t smiling. “We need to get you up off the floor, Danny, it’s too cold down here. Did you hurt yourself when you fell off the couch?” I must have looked as confused by that idea as I felt, because he nodded. “Yeah, you were trying to get to the bucket, you hit the floor pretty hard. Pete and I are going to help you up now, but if anything hurts you need to tell us.”
“My chest hurts.”
“We already know about that, tell us if anything else hurts,” came from Pete, who had just sort of materialized beside Joey and I. And then he put his arm around me from the other side. “Ready, Joey?”
“Okay, go slow just in case.”
I meant to just stand up on my own, but my legs weren’t cooperating very well and if they both hadn’t had me I’m pretty sure I’d have hit the floor again. And I wouldn’t have cared, since being pulled up made the room do a one-eighty around me and I’d have been happy to be back on the floor, cold or not, just because it wasn’t moving. The couch moved briefly and then settled down and I sighed in relief. I wasn’t laying flat anymore, either, I was sitting up and it felt like there were pillows now, as in more than one pillow piled up behind me. I risked opening one eye, making sure the room wasn’t moving, and then opened the other and blinked. Hana was putting the blanket back in place, and I lifted one hand to hang on to it, catching a handpaw at the same time. “What just happened?”
I even sounded scared to my own ears, and Joey came back into my field of vision. “You got tranq’d,” he reminded me. “With a dart that held enough juice to take down a full-grown lion, and about two-thirds of the dose did actually get into you before Hana pulled the dart out. Luckily Barry knew that Arthur keeps the antidote around, and they were close enough to get here before you went too far down…but even still, you’re not going to be feeling too hot for a while. Tranq and antidote duking it out inside of you aside, those darts are barbed so it made an unholy mess coming out. And we can’t take you to the hospital to have them make sure you’re really okay, because right now we’re not sure we’d get you back from it.” That didn’t make sense, and I opened my mouth; he put his hand over it, much to my surprise. “Danny, they flat-out tried to murder you, and they have badges and ID to back them up…they can walk right into the hospital and nobody will stop them.
“In spite of this being all over the news,” Pete said. “Hana set the Internet on fire, her followers have been screaming bloody murder all over social media – she made copies of the papers the bastard had with him and shared them online, along with a rundown of what he told you he’d come here to do. And the news people cracked, they had to admit they’ve known all along we weren’t the ones responsible for the modded humans. They’re claiming that the government ordered them to lie, which got a bunch of other people mad. Including Doc, who apparently cut ties with his black-ops handlers more than a month ago.” He snorted a laugh that didn’t have much humor in it. “He contacted his favorite news outlet to tell them that, and gave them a bunch of information that just happened to include the names of all the soldiers who were liquidated by Project Chaney – they’d all been listed as MIA. Oh, and he also passed along a warning to his former buddies that anyone who tries to come after him is spending the rest of their life as a star nosed mole-person. I looked up a picture, and that means Doc is a mean motherfucker and we should probably send him a nice fruit basket and maybe a hooker for his birthday every year just to hedge our bets.”
I ran over what he’d said a couple of times, and frowned. It sounded like a lot of things had happened. “I was out how long?”
“A few hours,” Joey answered, a little too quickly. “The police have already been here and left again, and they took the agent with them – Hana bashed his head into the floor to knock him out and then tied him up with yarn. She typed out a statement for them, and Rick was here by then to give them her paperwork and a copy of the security cam footage. He also made them take a picture of the sign we have up that says everything in the lab is recorded so nobody could get cute about illegal recordings later on.”
That confused me. “But if everyone knows…”
“Just because everyone knows doesn’t mean they all believe it, or that more of those guys aren’t still out there,” he said. “In fact, they’re probably pretty pissed right now. So you’re staying right where you’re at, and Arthur’s going to be back later to check on you. Rick says that nobody we don’t know personally is allowed in the building without him present – he told the cops that, too. Pete and I are going to crash here tonight, maybe even for a couple of nights until things start to settle down and we’re sure the cops aren’t going to backslide…and Dave’s moving in with you upstairs.”
This time the pain in my chest was higher up and didn’t have anything to do with a dart. “Aw no, she didn’t…”
“No, I did.” Dave was back; he sat down on a chair beside the couch, which prompted me to realize that everyone apparently had a chair by the couch. “She said this had gotten too dangerous and it was stupid to buck the government and she wanted me to go work for Big Pharma and stop ‘wasting my degree and my life’ hanging around with my college buddies chasing pipe dreams. She had quite a bit to say about her opinion of you and Joey and how the two of you are holding Pete and I back…and I listened to what she had to say, and then I told her I was sorry she felt that way and I didn’t agree with her, and Barry went over to the apartment with me to grab my stuff.” He shrugged tightly. “She’s always been kind of a nag about my job – her mom and her friends kept telling her about how much money I could make in a different job and how that would mean we could get married and start a family…but I like the job I have, and I already make a shit-ton of money, and if I’d wanted to start a family right now she’d have been the first to know it.” I raised an eyebrow – I knew there was more – and he shook his head. “It…it was bad, Danny. Bad enough I knew right then that I wasn’t spending even one more night with her. I mean, my phone starts going crazy with everyone trying to call and text me to tell me what was happening, and she didn’t want me to come. And then she insisted on coming with me, and once we got here…well, if I hadn’t been scared shitless I would have been fucking embarrassed. The cops were here and you looked like you were halfway to dead with blood all over you and barely fucking breathing and everyone else was just freaking out…and Melissa wanted me to pay attention to her and no one else, and all she wanted to do was bitch, and I…” He looked at his hands. “Danny, I…that’s the first time I’ve ever really wanted to hit someone, I mean just haul off and knock the shit out of someone. And I don’t ever want to feel that way again…so I don’t ever want to see her again. Ever.”
I sat back up out of the pillows, ignored the room’s new one-eighty, pulled him onto the couch beside me and held on. And he cried, right there on my shoulder, just cried like a baby and Joey and Pete and Hana and I let him. He’d been with her for going on three years now, that was worth a breakdown. I held back all the names I wanted to call her, all the profanity I wanted to use, and just told him everything was going to be okay. And I hoped to god I wasn’t lying about that.