Packing Clarissa's Genes
Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
The idea for this story came from one of my well loved readers who goes
by the name Drunken Dwarf. My thanks to him. This is the
second story idea he suggested, and which actually got written, so
he’s on a roll.
This story is written in two versions, one long and one short. This is
the long one.
I actually started this version intending it to be a short stroke
story, but, as has happened so often in my recent writing, it got
longer and longer until it just wasn't a short stroke story any more.
At least I don't think so.
So, after this one was done, I went back and tried again, using the
same general plot idea. The result is about a third the length of this
one. The short one is titled "Clarissa's Genes Get Packed."
The two versions were the result of reader input where some people said
they liked short stroke stories and other people liked longer ones,
with more character development and a slower pace.
You, the reader, are the judge. Take a look at them both and
see which one you like better... assuming you like either one of them
(grin). And please, let me know what you think.
Bob Davidson entered the conference room of Davidson Genetics. The company was one of a thousand little known research and development startups that resulted from the relaxing of strictures on the study and manipulation of stem cells. As things turned out, it wouldn't remain little known for much longer. At least not much longer in a historical context. The first hint of that was about to be delivered to the board members and major investors of the company.
"Thank you for being here. I'm not going to beat around the bush or waste your time. I'm just going to give you very good news about RD684." He pushed a button that dimmed the lights. Another button turned on a large flat screen LCD unit mounted on the wall. He gestured at the screen that now provided most of the light in the room.
"As you can see by the chart, the results of the clinical trials are good. In fact, they're so good that we're a little worried about it. You know the old saying - if it looks too good to be true, it probably IS too good to be true."
A voice spoke out in the dark.
"So you think the results are skewed somehow?"
"We can't find any problems," said Bob. "Believe me, we've looked and looked. The fact is that RD684 is producing results that are nothing short of astonishing. The doctors participating in the study are elated, and whether you know it or not, a good physician is pretty difficult to get excited. The women are reporting they never felt better and every symptom...I repeat EVERY symptom is being remediated after a treatment period of only three to four weeks."
"This is the menopause thing, right?" came the voice of a man Bob knew was an investor, but who usually had no frequent contact with the company.
"That's right," said Bob. "This project addresses the hormonal changes in a woman who has entered menopause, and the symptoms such women suffer. RD684 appears to counter the body's loss of hormones through the natural aging process. The symptoms just flat disappear. It's really quite astonishing."
"Side effects?" came a deep voice.
"None that we've been able to identify," said Bob. "The women are happy and the doctors are too."
"What's the delivery method?" asked another voice.
"We started with injections, because the taste of the drug was awful. One of our junior people came up with the idea to counter the taste with something sweet. We have one group still getting the shots, and another group that is taking it in what amounts to a piece of taffy each day."
"Taffy? You mean like candy?" The voice sounded incredulous.
Bob nodded. "One of the marketing people did a preliminary packaging design. I meant to have them here for this meeting, but I left them at home," he said. His assistant stepped up to him and whispered in his ear. Bob nodded and the man hurried out.
"Why candy?" asked one man.
Bob explained. "We tried putting it in a pill, but the results were not acceptable. Even when it's in the stomach if there's any reflux action the taste comes up, and it tastes awful. We think it's the corn syrup in the candy that deals with the taste, but haven't proven that yet. It's possible it could be put in chocolate too."
"Are you telling us that we have a product that tastes like candy, and solves the symptoms women complain about during menopause?"
"I DID say it sounds a little too good to be true," Bob said, smiling in the darkness.
"How does it work?" asked another voice, this one female. "Isn't this just another hormone replacement therapy?"
"Not at all," said Bob. "RD684 stimulates the body's normal production of stem cells," said Bob. "At the same time it encourages the naturally produced stem cells in the body to migrate to and replenish the lost function of the organs that produce the needed hormones."
He brought the lights back up and looked at the stunned faces before him.
"RD684 doesn't replace hormones. It encourages a woman's body to make new ones. And the brain then regulates that process. She gets what she needs, in this case estrogen and...as far as we can tell...nothing else."
Bob's assistant returned and handed him a small, flat square.
"We were able to locate a sample of the preliminary packaging concept that was undergoing some heat testing." He held up the object, which was wrapped in pink waxy paper. He handed it to the board member nearest him.
"Looks like that candy my kids love," said the board member holding the square by opposite corners. He handed it to the woman sitting next to him.
"Starburst," she said. "It looks like a Starburst candy." She peered at the wrapper. "Cute!" she snorted.
"What?" asked the man next to her.
She pointed to white printing on the wrapper, a circle with a cross extending from the bottom.
"They put the symbol for female on it," said the woman. There were chuckles around the room and the candy was passed along so all could examine it.
"This is FANTASTIC!" yelped a man Bob knew had provided more than half of the money for the research. "Have these gone to focus groups yet?" Bob also knew he was chafing to see some return on his investment. He held up a hand.
"It is fantastic," he said carefully. "But the trials aren't over yet, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. We need restraint and patience. There are three more months in the trials. Then the FDA will take a look at it. If all goes well...well...a year from now then we can think about marketing, and about making you all very rich people."
He was greeted with multiple groans from the assembled group.
Fifteen miles from Davidson Genetics, Clarissa Davidson entered a modest three bedroom house that was home. She'd never thought of it as anything but home, but it wasn't her original one. She and her little brother, Matt, had come to this house when they were six and five, respectively. They couldn't remember that and, to her dismay, it was getting harder and harder to remember the people who held the names "mom" and "dad" in her memory. Uncle Bob had been her "parent" for almost as long as she could remember, after her parents were killed in a car crash.
She entered the house as she had hundreds of times before, tossing her book bag on the couch and turning for the kitchen to make herself a snack. An observer might have thought she looked like she was floating as she moved. That observer might, under the right lighting conditions, have thought she was a ghost too. That was because she was very tall, very thin, and very pale. Everything about her was pale, from her limp dull blond hair, to her almost sallow complexion. She was thin to the point that people thought she was underfed, which wasn't true at all. She ate like Matt, who ate like a horse.
Had Matt been there, the observer could easily have imagined that a PAIR of ghosts was floating from room to room, perhaps some pair of star-crossed lovers who had died in some horrible way while they were in love. Matt's form was strikingly similar to hers, except that his hair was a dull brown, instead of blond.
It was their physical appearance, in fact, that helped them retain the memory of their parents. They had inherited most of their physical characteristics from those parents. When she looked in the mirror, Clarissa saw her mother, and when she looked at Matt, she saw her father ... sometimes, at least.
It sounds as if she might have appeared sad, but that was not the case. While she looked thin and wan, Clarissa was mostly a happy teenager, going through life much like her friends. She didn't consider herself to be deprived, or anything like that.
Which is not to say she was completely happy with things. She knew she was a beanpole and that was an unhappy thing, sometimes. At home there was no problem. Uncle Bob was both fun and satisfying to be around. He was a very smart man and he recognized and appreciated intelligence in those around him. Recognizing and appreciating it in his fosterlings was no exception.
She wasn't surprised that Matt wasn't home yet. The robotics club was meeting after school today and he was a founding member. She grabbed a stick of string cheese, stuffed a more than mouth-sized piece of chocolate cake in her mouth, and went off to participate in one of her favorite hobbies - snooping on her brother.
Not that she thought there would be anything really interesting to find. She and Matt, having undergone terrible trauma together, had grown up with a relationship that was much better than many siblings have. There was no competition between them for much of anything at home. Uncle Bob loved them both and provided for them both. He had enough money that they didn't want for anything, though there were times he said "No," when they pestered him to buy this or that thing. There was some minor competition between them when it came to using brain power, but that was friendly competition.
Still, sometimes Matt surprised her, like when she had found a Playboy magazine under his mattress. That had been a year ago and it had astonished her. Not that she didn't know boys were interested in naked women. But this was Matt! He wasn't like other boys!
She'd kept track of that magazine, carefully peeking to see if it stayed in one position, or if there were signs it was being removed and replaced. Those signs were obvious and that led her to think about what that meant. Obviously, Matt was looking at the magazine each night. She was pretty sure what that meant too, and THAT made her wonder about Uncle Bob. He was a man too. But he didn't go on dates, and he was usually home most nights. As far as Clarissa could tell, there were no women in his life.
That's when she started snooping in HIS room too, looking under his mattress, and in his closets, and even in the chest of drawers in his room. It was puzzling, because she never found anything that suggested he had a sexual life and yet...she was sure he must. All adults did...didn't they?
The magazine under Matt's bed disappeared one day. Just like that, it was gone. No new one appeared. She didn't say anything to Matt, of course. They were close, and she was pretty sure he'd tell her the truth if she actually asked him, but she was also sure he'd be mad that she'd snooped, and she didn't want that. If they knew she snooped, they'd stop her. And snooping was about the only fun she had any more.
Nobody asked a beanpole out on dates. She didn't even own a bra, because her chest was only thirty-two inches around. She didn't have breasts, in her own opinion. She had swells of flesh, with darkened tips that had a slightly different texture, but that was about it. Her hips were also underdeveloped. Hip huggers, on Clarissa, simply slid down her thighs, unless she cinched them on with a belt.
Today she did the normal snooping in Matt's room. She was mildly miffed when nothing of interest was found.
Returning to the dining room she debated whether to get some of her homework out of the way, or start supper. As she glanced at the dining room table her gaze happened to fall on four plain gray cardboard boxes, sitting on one corner.
She picked up one box and opened it to find neatly arranged rows of squares, wrapped in pink waxy paper. Like the people in the board room, miles away, she thought of Starburst candy immediately. But it didn't have the Starburst wrapper. There was an image on each one. She also recognized the symbol for woman.
Picking one up, she examined it. Sniffing it also suggested it was candy of some kind. She opened the other boxes. All contained the same thing, except they were wrapped in different colors of paper: yellow; lavender and pale green.
Clarissa was a smart girl. But even smart girls can have a lapse of judgment now and then. She didn't think about the fact that her uncle was in the genetics business, or that these apparent candies might have something to do with his work. She couldn't know that he'd brought them home in his briefcase to examine them, and had forgotten to take them back to work.
When her stomach growled, she simply picked a pink candy, thinking it might be cherry flavored, unwrapped it...and popped it in her mouth.
It tasted like candy, though there was no cherry flavor to it. She tried a lavender one next and, as far as she could tell, it tasted exactly the same. Trying a yellow one convinced her that they were all the same. Still, they were tasty.
That reminded her that she'd better get supper started. It was her chore this week, and while she didn't mind doing it, she didn't want to get her stint extended by slacking off.
With a sigh of resignation, she went back to the kitchen to get things ready for what she knew would be two hungry men, when they got home.
Twenty minutes later she went to set the table. She picked up the boxes of candy. They didn't belong there. She took them back to the kitchen and put them in the cupboard on the snack shelf, next to a bag of cookies and a bag of potato chips. She tried a green one, but it tasted the same.
Then she started setting the table.
Bob's mind always ran a mile a minute, and the drive home that night made no difference. He managed to think about the day and the traffic around him at the same time, which was fortunate.
He was thinking about how, in the R&D business, you were lucky if five percent of your projects actually worked out. If you were VERY lucky, a project like RD684 came along. Davidson Genetics had several good ideas in the works, but none of them looked as promising as RD684. He knew he was lucky that his team had developed it. Now all he had to do was make sure it really WAS as good as it looked. That was going to take all the leadership skills he possessed, if only to slow things down when others wanted to rush ahead.
As he got out of the car a body on a skateboard sailed past him and fingers plucked at the collar of his shirt. He jumped and heard the receding laughter of his nephew.
"GOTCHA!" yelled Matt over his shoulder. Then he did some kind of minor magic, jumping off the board and kicking it somehow, to make it spring up into the air where the boy caught it effortlessly and tucked it under his arm.
"And you think driving like that is going to get you behind the wheel of the car anytime in the next decade?" Bob shot back.
"Awww, come on, Uncle Bob!" complained the teen. "I can get my learner's permit in six months. And you already PROMISED me you'd teach me to drive."
"Why do I pay my taxes and then watch them suspend Driver's Ed?" Bob did some complaining of his own. "The only reason I pay my taxes at all is so I won't have to get in the car with a rookie teenage driver!"
"Rissa didn't kill you when you taught her to drive," said Matt, grinning.
"No, but I had to go on four medications to control my blood pressure," snorted Bob.
"Does she know that?" asked the boy, grinning even wider.
"No, and if you ever hope to feel the wheel of my car in your hands, she'd better not find out I said that," warned the boy's uncle.
"I promise," said Matt, looking suddenly grave. "And we both know you always taught us to honor our promises." He grinned again. "Which is why, six months from now, I know you'll honor yours!"
"I thought I told you to wear pads and a helmet when you ride that thing," said Bob, changing the subject.
"I only weigh a hundred and five pounds," said Matt. "I could probably jump off the roof, land flat on my back, and not dent the grass."
"Wear the protection!" snapped Bob.
"Got it," said Matt, who turned and loped into the house.
Bob was pretty sure the next time he saw Matt on the skateboard...he'd still be pad-less and helmet-less.
He sighed and went in the house to be a leader of a different kind.
"So how was the day of my two favorite geeks?" asked Bob. The meatloaf was delicious. It always was when Clarissa made it.
"Normal," said Clarissa.
"Me too," said Matt.
Both were eating like they always did. It astonished Bob how much they could consume and still stay rail thin. If he ate like they did, he'd weigh four hundred pounds in no time. He thought back to growing up with Danny, his brother. Danny had eaten the same way and had the same physique. He'd married a marathon runner named Judy, who also didn't have a spare ounce on her trim, athletic body.
He probed. Kids never told you anything unless you dragged it out of them, and Clarissa and Matt were no different. He found out about the mobility experiments the robotics club was working on from Matt. Clarissa mentioned Prom was coming up.
"You going?" asked Bob.
"Yeah, right," she snorted. Her snort made Prom sound like it was the lamest thing on earth.
"What's wrong with Prom?" he asked.
"Historically," said Clarissa, going into her lecture voice, "over the past several decades it has, for some strange reason, become required that you attend such cultural mating rituals with a member of the opposite sex." She grimaced. "Unless you're gay, or bi or whatever. A lot of those subcultures just hang around in herds."
"So, get a date," said Bob.
"Yeah, right," she snorted again.
This was old news. Clarissa didn't date. Bob had urged her to do so a number of times. They'd been over the reasons she didn't many times, primarily that she knew she wasn't attractive, and that no boy was going to be interested in what she called "a titless wonder." He'd yelled at her, the first time she'd used the term.
"First off, they aren't tits. They're breasts. And it doesn't matter how big or small they are. They all serve the same intended purpose. women with small breasts can feed a baby just as well as women with big ones."
"I don't have ANY breasts!" she'd complained. "And we're not talking about feeding babies. Boys like breasts, and they don't go for girls who don't have them!"
"Secondly," Bob had said, ignoring her complaint. "I think you're beautiful."
"Awww," she'd returned, with a substantial lack of genuine emotion in her voice. "Are you asking me for a date?"
"Of course not," he'd said, flustered.
"Neither is anybody else!" she'd snapped.
They'd had the same conversation more than once since then, and he had never won the argument. This time Bob took a new tack.
"You know, these days, it's perfectly acceptable for the girl to ask the boy out," he pointed out.
Clarissa put her fork down and stared at Bob.
"Want to know what Brad Peterson said to me today?"
Brad Peterson was the star fullback on the football team. Bob was pretty sure that whatever he'd said wasn't going to advance his argument that she could ask a boy out. She didn't wait for him to answer her question.
"He said I was a pirate's dream!" She grinned widely, and then the grin vanished like smoke in the wind, "because I have a sunken chest."
Bob almost groaned. That one was so old that HE even remembered using it on some poor, unfortunate girl, back when he was in grade school.
"Do you really think I want to ask boys out who tell such lame and cruel jokes like that? I'd rather spend the evening learning to do self acupuncture."
"Not all boys are like that," said Bob.
Clarissa would have been astonished at what was taking place inside her body as she spoke of a cruel joke said by a thoughtless young man. She had taken a quadruple dose of RD684, and it was already at work in her young body.
The way RD684 worked was to take what the body already produced - stem cells - and encourage them to become involved in producing what the body lacked...and needed. It was what stem cells already did, really, but the RD684 simply aimed them in a particular direction by making certain parts of the body claim more share in what wealth there was.
In Clarissa's case, like that of the cases in the menopausal women in the clinical trials, what she lacked was estrogen. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands and fatty tissues. Clarissa's body produced enough to enable her to menstruate, but just barely. Though she didn't know it, it was the underdevelopment of her adrenal glands that was responsible for the fact that her secondary female characteristics - breasts, hips and some other features - had stunted in their development.
While she sat and complained that she had no breasts, the RD684 in her system was practically overwhelming her adrenal glands and ovaries with stem cells that were driven by nature, and the drug, to help her organs become more healthy.
And, if that continued to happen, those organs would then start producing more estrogen.
Over the next month and a half, as Clarissa opened the snack cabinet, and saw the candy, her reaction was quite normal. Sometimes she took only one. Sometimes she ate several. It was fortunate that there were other snacks in the cabinet too, or she might have taken a handful.
And, as for Bob, he had other things on his mind and just plain forgot about the boxes of "prototype delivery devices" he'd brought home.
By the time he remembered them...well...it was just too late.
Next Chapter >>