tagMind ControlMind Contagion Ch. 01

Mind Contagion Ch. 01

byJasonahutchinson©

Chapter One - Making Observations

Jeremy loved a good disease. From an early age, he was fascinated by how diseases were transmitted, even 'volunteering' himself through exposure to catch everything from the common cold in grade school to Malaria while he was on a study-abroad trip in Central America while in college. To most people, that made him rather an odd-duck, but in reality, he just had an insatiable passion for pathogens.

That very passion had led him to a ten year stint at the CDC, studying virulent diseases from H1N1 to Ebola, as well as a reputation for being what his colleagues called 'The Bug Whisperer'. Ground-breaking research and development had also brought him accolades in the field and he eventually left government after being recruited into a job he just couldn't refuse at a private think tank located in a very non-descript industrial park in flyover country. Describing it that way didn't really do it justice. Located next door to an insurance office, the casual visitor or delivery driver would see nothing but a reception desk with one office door behind, perhaps a sole-proprietor and his secretary.

"Good morning Sarah." Jeremy said, walking in through the unmarked door and greeting the brunette at the table.

"Would be if I'd got some sleep last night." Sarah replied, rolling her eyes.

"Cory again?" Jeremy grimaced, trying to keep up the small talk.

He wasn't a very skilled conversationalist. Too many hours spent studying and reading through school and not enough time spent partying or dating, he realized.

"I ended up having to bail him out of jail again last night. We didn't get out of there until about three in the morning."

"That sucks. I know how that goes. I spent most of the night going over notes on the vector possibilities for our new project."

Sarah stared at him blankly.

"I'll buzz you through." She said.

Shit, there I go again, Jeremy thought as he walked through the office door. Why can't I talk to women?

The office wasn't really an office. The back wall was an impressive-looking stainless steel elevator with a biometric hand scanner. He placed his palm on the platform.

UNRECOGNIZED.

A small beep preceded the words. Two more attempts finally resulted in a green light and a different message.

CONFIRMED - Please wait.

Jeremy spent the wait considering alternative paths his conversation with Sarah could have taken. Anything but disease vectors, he thought. The slide of the doors broke him out of his reverie and he stepped inside and waited for the doors to close. There were no buttons. For the first few years, this had deeply disturbed him, but the rationale was that the elevator only had two destinations, lab and office, no selection needed. As the doors whispered shut, he felt the all-too familiar sinking feeling as the stainless steel box plunged who knows how far into the ground.

There were about ten other employees with access to the lab areas, but none of them were to be seen as he walked to his personal office and workspace. The rest were pretty much versions of himself, buried in computer screens and lab equipment. He felt a little humorous pity for Sarah if they were all as bad at talking to a woman as he was.

PROJECT CP12

It didn't really mean anything, as far as he knew, but it was his project. In a nutshell, he was trying to develop a virus that would suppress or amplify production of certain pre-defined chemicals in the brain. If serotonin was low, it could increase it and vice-versa. Ideally, many mental illnesses could be regulated if certain chemicals could be balance. He could have gone on for hours and hours about his theories, but they were all trade secrets and even others in the lab were mostly in the dark, just as he was in the dark about their projects.

He was ready for a new trial and was anxious to get started. He didn't like using lab animals, but he mitigated the guilt in his mind by doubling-down on the research to make things right. Success wasn't yet at hand, but he lost a minimal amount of subjects.

Oddly enough, even with the excitement of the test, he found himself somewhat distracted. A few weeks back, during reviews, he had been introduced to a new scientist at the lab, the first in his time there. Lauren was blonde and beautiful, and above all else sharp and articulate. Something seemed to sparkle in her eyes when she spoke and he found himself looking forward to the few words they shared over the course of a day. Unlike Sarah, she showed a true interest in what he had to say, and the reverse was true as well. Anyway, he realized it was time to put distractions aside.

The morning was spent in tedious review of the figures and the analysis of the samples. He had been replicating and altering the virus for years, going down uncounted dead-ends and tangents, and today's was just another in a long line of tests. Maybe I'll see her at lunch, he thought, distracted again.

_____

Lauren was in the lunch-room when he arrived. He picked up a meal (usually prepackaged catering) and went to sit down. There was only one table, so he pulled up across from her and sat down.

"Jeremy." She said formally.

"Lauren." He responded, trying to sound like anything other than what he felt.

"You're running a test today, right?" She asked, putting down her e-reader to direct her blue eyes at him. He felt like he was going to fall into them.

"Uh, yeah." He said, stumbling on the words. "I'll probably administer the pathogens to the set late this afternoon."

There wasn't a great deal they could exchange beyond generalities, since the work was so secretive, but at least it was conversation.

"Not getting anywhere myself." Lauren said glumly. "I think I just hit a dead-end and will have to backtrack somewhat."

"Well, the next few days will tell me if I'm in the same boat." Jeremy confided. "I'll probably stay late and start some preliminary behavioral tests."

"You should stop in sometime." She said, smiling at him. "We seem to be the only ones in the office most nights, especially after seven or so."

A less socially awkward man might have picked up on this, or numerous other signals over the past few weeks. Jeremy was not that man.

"I'll see about authorization." He responded.

Following another ten minutes of mostly technical discussion, Lauren packed up her items and headed out the door, followed by Jeremy's eyes. Even with her conservative clothes and professional demeanor, you could see the body. Tall, athletic and curvy. Something Jeremy had always considered way out of his league.

The test vials were ready and it was already getting late when he started the trial. Each of three cages held five mice, two males and three females. One by one he administered the correct dose, documenting the order, as each animal was marked for quick identification. For the next two hours, he monitored them, checking for any immediate adverse reactions before finally calling it a night.

Passing Lauren's lab, he saw the light on and almost rang the buzzer. Almost.

_____

"Outbreak modeling."

That was the phrase the next morning that got him buzzed into the office by Sarah. Why couldn't he avoid that? He had even taken up watching sports, having seen a team logo on her computer wallpaper at one point. Unfortunately, he ended up getting tied up in player statistics, which also got him buzzed through.

Like a kid on Christmas, Jeremy resisted the temptation to fast-walk to the lab to start his observations. He would directly observe and at some point would review the overnight camera footage to see how the experiment was progressing.

The first cage was uninteresting. One male was in the corner sleeping, while the other male was copulating with one of the females. The other females were asleep in the far corner, huddled together. The second cage was similar, though one male seemed to be moving between all three females, which was somewhat odd. The last cage was the kicker. One male and the three females were asleep in the corner and the second mail was laid out, obviously dead.

Jeremy reached in through the protective glove built into the side of the cage and inspected the mouse. It was definitely dead and stiff. He followed the protocols to remove the body for autopsy and sat back down at his desk to document his results in the computer system. Overall, good. Just one fatality from fifteen subjects, and not enough data yet to determine if that death was caused by the pathogen he had introduced into its system.

Time flew as he worked on the behavioral tests, designed to determine if the subjects' brain chemistries had been altered. He could test through dissection, but he tried to avoid that at all possible. First he wanted to see if their behaviors had changed. Though normally he didn't observe quite so much copulation, he wasn't overly interested. Mice will be mice, right?

The buzzer to his lab almost dropped him out of his chair. He locked the computer screen and went to the door to find Lauren, two boxes of food in hand.

"I figured you'd be buried in trials, so I brought lunch." She said, smiling.

"Thanks." Jared stuttered, stunned by her good looks, and her very presence in his office. "Come in and uh...sit down?"

He realized he had never really thought about the fact that he had only one chair.

"Just like my office." Lauren said, setting the food down on the desk and hopping up, landing her backside on the desk. "I'll just plop down right here."

"I really appreciate this. I lose track of time sometimes." He said, tearing into the food.

"I understand. Sometimes you just want to put your nose down and plow ahead." She said, taking a dainty bite.

Jeremy pushed aside some impure thoughts about 'plowing ahead' and tried to hold up his end of the conversation for the next thirty minutes.

"Well, I'd better get going. I have work of my own to do." Lauren said, sliding off the desk and tossing the waste into the basket.

"Again, thanks. I need to check on the subjects again anyway. It's been a pleasure." Jeremy responded, already thinking about the mice.

"Oh, you're using live subjects?"

Jeremy wasn't used to people being interested in his work, so he jumped.

"You want to see them? I guess it's not a breach to show them to you, I just can't tell you what I'm trying to accomplish, right?"

"Works for me." Lauren said, following him into the lab room.

"Fifteen, three female and one male per cage. Just lost one male in cage three overnight, though I'm not convinced it was the test dose."

"Looks like you've a male in the other cages as well." Lauren said, poking her cute nose down to one of the cages. Bending over slightly caused her pants to tighten, accentuating her upper thighs and ass, distracting Jeremy.

"Sorry, what?" Jeremy coughed, tearing his eyes from her body just as she looked back at him.

"One male each in cage one and two as well." She said, pointing to the glass of cage two.

Jeremy looked at both cages.

"Hopefully it's not something that just affects males." He said, already making calculations and hypotheses in his head.

"I guess we'll see by tomorrow." She said. "Well you, unless you mind me paying a visit again."

Lauren was already heading out of the office, followed by Jeremy, who pulled his mind off work as best as he could.

"Yeah, that would be great. Same time tomorrow?" He asked.

"See you then." Lauren said, pushing through the office door. "Lunch is on you tomorrow."

"Roger." Jeremy said to the clicking door.

Did that really happen? He didn't spend much time thinking about it, since there were things to do. It did pop up occasionally though.

He removed the other two mice and made extensive notes in the system and set up the behavioral test. He put all of the females in the center cage and the three remaining males in separate cages, hoping to see some level of interest in where their companions had gone in the case of the males and how the mixed group of females would respond to each other. Three autopsies later, he couldn't make a conclusion as to the cause of death. It troubled him.

_____

"Maybe something in the Y chromosomes."

That was the 'buzz' word the next day and he headed down to the office. He had spent a restless night wondering about the cause of the male deaths and the fact that Lauren had come to his office for lunch. Fuck Sarah. She was hot but Lauren was cute and probably a genius to boot. Something to be said about the attractiveness of a good brain, he thought.

The mice were odd. The three males were going about their business in their cages; eating, sleeping, drinking. The females were pressed against the glass in odd clumps. When he realized the pattern, he thought he might have made a breakthrough. Each clump was as close as possible to the cage of one of the male mice and was composed of the females that were originally in his cage. The food and water in the cage appeared to be untouched.

He watched the footage from the previous night and it was as expected, though odd behavior. Once they realized where their male mouse had gone, they had tried to get as close as possible to him. They hardly moved after that. He noted that they didn't eat or drink, and it appeared by their postures that they didn't sleep as well.

He typed out about five pages of notes and observations, trying to knock them all out before the time he wanted to go pick up lunch before Lauren arrived.

_____

"So, any more fatalities?" Lauren asked as he let her in the office door.

"No, just odd behavior." He replied, this time offering her his seat. He was trying to keep conscious of how to treat a woman.

"Odd how?" She asked.

"Well, mooning." He smiled, then explained his observations and his review of the footage.

"Mousey love." Lauren laughed. "That's cute. Makes me think of that old 'Love Potion #9' song."

"Ha. That one always bugged me. I was always too scientific to ignore the problems with that."

"Like how you could probably influence attraction, but not just to a specific person?" Lauren said after a moment's reflection.

"Exactly!" Jeremy exclaimed, then caught himself. Wow, this girl was definitely one for him. That's when he remembered something his mother had been bugging him about for as long as he could remember. How he was oblivious to signs that a girl liked him. Did Lauren really like him?

"Kind of far-fetched, but I always liked the idea."

"So that's what you're developing over there in your lab." Jeremy said with a chuckle. "Love Potion #10!"

Lauren laughed hard and touched his arm as they talked. It definitely threw him off guard. A sign?

'Yes, you idiot.' He heard his mother say in his head.

He spent the rest of lunch trying to get up the courage to ask her out to dinner, but it never materialized.

"Can I see them again?" Lauren said as they wrapped up lunch.

"Sure." Jeremy replied. "They haven't moved all day, though. The males are fine, but the females are definitely acting odd."

Nothing had changed and the food still appeared untouched. They observed for a few minutes before Lauren thanked him again and confirmed for the next day, this time at her office.

_____

Several more days passed. Jeremy found himself no closer to understanding the behavior change than he was to asking Lauren out on a date. Deciding that a change was needed, he reorganized the animals, putting three females back in with each male. He put the original cage one male with the cage three females and vice versa, leaving the cage two females with the remaining original cage two male.

They immediately took note of their surroundings. The cage two animals almost immediately started copulating, the females almost fighting over the male. The other cages were a different story. The females lined up against the glass closest to their original males, ignoring their cage mate.

'Like how you could probably influence attraction, but not just to a specific person?' floated through his head in Lauren's voice.

On a whim, and not very scientific, he thought, Jeremy placed a new female in cage three. Within a few minutes, she was ignoring the cage three male and was lined up at the glass facing cage one.

"Why is she mooning over a male she's never even met?" Jeremy said aloud. He added another female to cage two and after a minute of scoping out the cage, she too was being mounted by the male.

The rest of the day was spent making additional notes.

_____

Sarah just buzzed him through in the morning without any conversation after just a glance up from the game she was playing on her phone. Bitch, he thought. It didn't bother him though. Today was the day he was going to ask Lauren out.

The animals hadn't changed, so he isolated them and setup a new set of cages to see if he could recreate his observations. He decided to administer the test after lunch so he could rehearse what he was going to say to Lauren.

"Hi Jeremy." Lauren said as she opened the door to his office. "Now you get to see my neck of the woods, huh?"

"Would you like to go to dinner with me sometime?" Jared blurted out. His heart sank. That wasn't what he had planned. Shit.

Lauren looked surprised, but then relieved. "I thought you'd never ask."

Jared pushed back his mother's 'told ya so.'

"Great, does tonight work for you?"

"It's a date. Pick me up here around 6?"

"Ok, I'll stop by right after I inject the new specimens."

"Actually, I'd love to be there to watch. I'll pick you up."

Lunch was more smiles than usual and Jeremy found it easier to talk, now that the stress was off his shoulders. Dinner with Lauren! What a great day.

_____

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Jared said frantically, wiping at Lauren's sleeve with a towel. "Did I get you?"

Jeremy had been about to administer the test when he tripped over Lauren's massive bag, carrying the hypodermics. He had bumped into her, but he didn't think he had pricked her.

"No, I didn't feel anything." She said, gingerly taking off her shirt to Jeremy's astonishment. "I think there was some fluid on the needle, because there's a little wet spot on my shirt."

The protocols in Jeremy's lab weren't very strict, as he wasn't dealing with anything virulent, but it was a slip-up. He couldn't take his eyes off Lauren, though. She was wearing a black sports bra, compressing an as yet unknown volume of breast. She was definitely in good shape, he thought.

"I'll get you a coat." Jeremy said, fumbling towards the closet, tripping on the bag again.

"It's OK, I wear this to the gym. It's fine. We'll just stop by my place to get a top before we go to dinner. Is that OK with you, sailor?"

"Yeah, OK." Jeremy said, looking into her eyes. Don't look down, don't look down was his mantra.

_____

"Have a good night, Sarah." Lauren said as they exited the upstairs office.

"Hot down there?" Sarah said, eyeing Lauren's bra, then looking over at Jeremy with a quizzical look.

"Oh, just spilled something on myself."

"I have a tee-shirt if you want it." Sarah said, pulling open her drawer.

"Thanks Sarah." Lauren said, reaching for it.

"That's what friends do." Sarah said as Lauren pulled it over her head. Sarah helped her straighten it, brushing some loose string off the back of Lauren's neck.

Jeremy had never known that they were friends. Great, my date's best friend thinks I'm a geek and a loser.

"Jeremy's taking me to dinner." Lauren said, finishing adjusting herself.

"Oh, so he's the one you've been talking about."

Jeremy felt a warm rush cover his body.

"Yep." Lauren said, smiling. "Well, we're off! Thanks again."

_____

Jeremy was good at his job because he was very observant, other than being oblivious to signals, his mother would say.

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