The Bullpen Ch. 01byWonderstorm©
"So this is the boob job project, right?" asked the heavyset man as he descended the staircase into the bowels of Connecticut Pharmaceuticals. As the Executive Vice President for Research and Development at one of the nation's premier biomedical research laboratories, Bill Forrester was usually a bit more diplomatic with his words. But, in the privacy of the stairwell, accompanied only by one of his more trusted employees, Forrester didn't need to bite his tongue.
"Yes, sir," Jake Rinaldi replied, a step behind and a stair up from his boss. The younger man had wanted to take the elevator, but Forrester had been adamant about taking the stairs, intent upon getting himself in better shape. As they were going down the stairs, however, Jake wasn't quite sure whom Forrester was trying to fool. The real test, Jake thought to himself, would be whether the older man would take the stairs back UP to the executive offices.
"I may not know the exact science," Forrester huffed, "but I know that we're sitting on a potential cash cow if we can stimulate natural breast enhancement."
"Well, it's not exactly natural," Jake interjected. "I mean, we're still working with a synthetic compound that we manufactured in the lab."
"I mean no knives," the heavier man growled. "No surgery, no silicon, no implants, no knives."
"A targeted second puberty, sir."
Deuterotone. The Deuce. Synthetic human hormone. Forrester didn't care whether it was swallowed, injected, or rubbed on - he just knew that Connecticut Pharmaceuticals would profit heavily upon a non-surgical alternative to breast augmentation. He, through Jake and the head of the Human Hormone Lab at ConnPharm, Dr. Natalie Hart, had been pushing research into deuterotone for nearly twelve years at that point. The patent had already been submitted and approved, and now the clock on ConnPharm's financial return was ticking. It would take another four years before they had finished the various phases of clinical trials, and another two or three before they finally put it out on the market. From there, they'd have just thirteen years to squeeze all the profit out of their decade and a half of research before their twenty-year FDA patent ran out and clones began to spring up.
And now there was a snag that would slow the process down.
"The girl, the guinea pig, she quit?" Forrester asked the younger man.
"Not exactly," Jake replied. "I don't know if she did it intentionally, or just honestly forgot about all the restrictions, but she fouled up her eligibility for Category F research by getting a tattoo."
Forrester stopped on the stairs, turned slowly, and stared angrily at Jake. "She got a tattoo? And screwed up six months worth of physicals, approvals, and paperwork?"
Since the deaths of seventeen people in a Beta Technologies drug test in Maryland two years earlier, the FDA had stepped up its requirements for human research to draconian levels. And it wasn't just the drug companies that had to meet significantly higher standards, but the research subjects themselves were forced to meet higher standards. Physical exams, medical histories, family backgrounds, pre-testing - the process for getting a volunteer through the FDA's hoops typically lasted longer than the course of the experiments themselves. And depending on which category the FDA placed that particular experiment, the conditions for being approved as an eligible candidate could add weeks to the process.
ConnPharm's deuterotone experiments had been labeled as "Category F," which Forrester understood to be something along the lines of "extraneous and risky" or "superfluous and unpredictable." Jake had lobbied heavily for the FDA to grant them "Category E" status, at the very least, but had been unsuccessful.
Thus, for twenty-two-year-old Emily DiStasio to become eligible for the deuterotone experiment, ConnPharm had been prepping her for nearly six months.
Apparently, she'd thrown an entire half-year away, simply by inking her skin up with a butterfly, or a rainbow, or whatever the hell else twenty-two-year-old girls were putting on their bodies nowadays, Forrester thought to himself.
"Intentionally?" Forrester asked, as he stared, annoyed, into Jake's eyes. That girl, and her butterfly, had probably just cost his company millions of dollars.
"Well, we don't know," Jake shrugged. "She said she hadn't fully considered the fact that a tattooing needle was still a subcutaneous needle. But, personally, I think that as the date got closer, she soured on the idea of spending a month of her life in Bullpen."
Forrester shuddered a little bit. He certainly couldn't blame anyone for wanting out of the Bullpen.
But this girl had known, from the very beginning, what she was getting herself into. She should have "soured upon the idea" six months earlier, and saved ConnPharm six months of their time. Not to mention whatever the cost was of getting someone approved for "Category F" research.
Still scowling, Forrester turned and continued his descent. "We're looking into it, right?"
"Yes, sir. It's not really a job for the researchers, though. Or really for me, for that matter. But I handed it over to Legal, and it's still on my scope."
"Good," the older man snarled. Intentional or not, Emily DiStasio had wasted ConnPharm's time and money. "And we have no one else, no volunteers, available for Category F?"
Jake gulped. "No, sir. This happened at a bad time. Dr. Cho's adult acne experiment reached Phase One three months ago, and Dr. Slattery's stimulated metabolism program is in the process of bringing in its volunteers now."
"We can't just pull one of Slattery's volunteers?"
"Ninety-nine subjects aren't enough to finish out the FDA's Phase One. So if we give someone to Rivers, Forsythe, and Hart, we end up damaging Dr. Slattery's experiment. Which we could do, I guess, but that nullifies the results of the ninety-nine other Category F volunteers in that one."
Boob jobs and diet pills, Forrester shook his head. That's what Connecticut Pharmaceuticals had become.
"Damn it," he swore. "And there's nothing coming down the pipes?"
"We began the Category F process three weeks ago, so that we'll have the volunteers for Phase One of the deuterotone project when we finish with the early analysis. We could probably get the FDA to bend on the early analysis, at least, and let us just move right to Phase One." It would be a tough sell, Jake thought to himself. But the initial testing process, on one volunteer rather than a hundred, wasn't codified anywhere or part of the FDA's legalese. It just tended to be a good practice. Should something unpredictable pop up, it was less tragic to deal with one volunteer, rather than seventeen.
Forrester, gruff and mercenary though he may have been, seemed to have some misgivings about skipping the early analysis. "No, no. We need it. Even leaving aside the moral and humanitarian concerns, we have to worry about liability and public relations."
"Damn it," Forrester swore again.
They continued down the steps towards the Human Hormone Lab in silence for a few moments.
"Forsythe?" Forrester asked. "That's the one with the legs, right?"
Jake smiled at the older man's sexist comment. "Dr. Noah Forsythe does indeed have legs, sir. But I think you mean Rivers. Erica Rivers."
"Rivers," the vice president repeated, letting the name swirl around in his mouth like a fine wine. He didn't know much about her, other than that she had Ph.D. in something or another, she had black hair, and she had fantastic legs.
"The deuterotone project - that's hers?"
"Yes, sir. It had been Dr. Hart's, but when we pulled her up to take over the Human Hormone Lab, Dr. Rivers was made principal investigator." Jake paused. "She looks young, but between CalTech, Hopkins, and MIT, she's more than qualified."
"Hmm," was all Forrester had in reply, content upon letting the dirtier thoughts circulate through his head.
As they stepped out of the stairwell and into the Human Hormone Lab, Forrester's eyes were treated to what his memory was fixated upon.
She was tall, perhaps 5'7" or even 5'8". She had dark black hair, meticulously tied back in a bun on the back of her head, away from her face. She had thin lips, a sharp jaw line, and two of the most alluring green eyes hidden behind her geek-chic rimmed glasses. Beneath the white lab coat, Forrester imagined that she had dressed herself in something sensible and conservative, yet fashionable at the same time. Even through the coat, the heavy-set old man could see that her figure was striking - slender and inviting. Her chest was neither big nor small, but it seemed to be the perfect fit on a perfect female specimen. And unlike most of the other female eggheads and lab geeks, she seemed meticulously put-together and flawlessly made up.
This was Erica Rivers.
And she had solved their problem.
"I'm doing it," she said announced as the two businessmen joined the researchers in the lab. "I'm volunteering myself."
Throughout childhood, girls and boys are essentially the same creature. Yes, there are different parts and different societal pressures and expectations. But from a chemical standpoint, natural steroids and hormones within girls and boys are nearly identical.
This changes, of course, with the onset of puberty. Boy or girl, the body's hypothalamus eventually senses that it is time for change, and begins to secrete gonadatrophin releasing hormone, or GnRH, into the bloodstream. This sets off a chain reaction elsewhere in the body, with the pituitary gland releasing Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which, in turn, kick starts hormone production in the testicles and ovaries. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone soon flood the blood stream, allowing the miracle of puberty to begin.
Unfortunately, many factors have been linked to incomplete breast development, from an improper diet to stress to over-exercising. Far too many teenage girls accidentally and unknowingly stunt the full growth of their own breasts. But many, many women, even after reaching their fullest potential breast size, remain unhappy with the size of their breasts. Miracle bras, herbal treatments, growth creams, breast pumps, and even surgery are all available, with various levels of success, labor, and emotional turmoil.
But Connecticut Pharmaceuticals had discovered a means of "natural" breast enhancement, allowing a synthetic human hormone to re-start the process of puberty, and specifically target mammary growth. This discovery had been an unintentional side effect of earlier research, but the synthetic hormone "deuterotone" had proved wildly successful at that one particular phase of pubescent development in females. Or, at least, female mice. And rats. And rabbits. And chimps.
Whether or not it would be successful in women, however, remained to be seen. All that was standing in the way was an unthinking twenty-two-year-old girl's spontaneous decision to get a tattoo. But now, even that no longer seemed to be an obstacle.
"I'm volunteering myself," Erica repeated to the two men who had just joined them in the lab.
Jake glanced around at the others in the room. Dr. Noah Forsythe sat behind a desk to his right - a tall, awkward researcher who served as Erica's partner on the deuterotone project. Dr. Hannah Cho, who had her own projects and her own lab down the hall, was on a lab bench to his left, idly swinging her feet. Dr. Natalie Hart, who had initiated the deuterotone project years earlier, stood with her arms crossed and back against the far wall. Scattered randomly around the room, wherever there had been an open seat, were Rivers's and Forsythe's three lab assistant - Mike Takahashi, Vijay Patel, and Aaron Abrahams.
And, standing resolutely before him, was Dr. Erica Rivers.
Before Jake could ask the first and most obvious question, Erica offered, "I'm already approved for Category F research. I volunteered myself for Dr. Cho's project earlier this year."
Forrester stood silent for a moment, mulled this over, and then asked, "Wouldn't that make you ineligible for this project? If you were apart of Cho's thing, doesn't that mean you were taking pills that cured adult acne, or caused adult acne, or whatever it was that was going on?"
"She was part of the control group," Hannah Cho replied for her friend, slightly put off by the fact that ConnPharm's executive vice president didn't know a thing about her project. "Sugar pills. She spent six weeks taking sugar pills."
"Certainly you need to be on this end of the needle, though, for this experiment to go right," Jake scoffed at Erica. Turning to Hannah, he asked, "What about the rest of the control group? I mean, there has to be someone else, other than Erica, who we can talk into coming in for a few thousand more dollars. Someone else still has to be Category F approved."
Hannah shook her head. "There were twenty people in my control group. Eleven men, nine women."
"And none of the other women....?" Jake asked.
Obviously, they'd all already pitched in to find an alternative.
"Flu," Aaron replied for the first of the nine women.
"Pregnant," Vijay continued for the second. "As of last week."
"Belly-button piercing," Noah offered for the third.
"Uninterested, doesn't like needles, and uncooperative for my experiment," Hannah cycled through the next three of the group.
"Angry about the fact that she still has acne," Mike said, excusing the seventh.
"Claustrophobic," Natalie excused the eighth. "Not an issue for Dr. Cho's experiment, but a liability if we're using the Bullpen."
"Which leaves me," Erica finished. "It's me, or we wait six months."
Forrester raised an eyebrow. "You don't sound terribly thrilled by either of those alternatives."
"Should I be happy about subjecting myself to my own experiment? Should I be happy about the concept of radically altering my own body? Should I be happy about spending four weeks cooped up in - of all places - the Bullpen?"
All eight people in the room glanced around at each other gloomily.
"But I do get Emily's $2500, don't I?" Erica made an attempt to lighten the mood. "That's a plus, at least."
Jake cracked a smile, still going over Erica's suggestion to use herself. He had been wracking his brain for an alternative to the DiStasio problem all afternoon, but had gotten nowhere. He simply wasn't going to come up with an alternative to their newest volunteer.
But he did foresee a problem. "I don't know how to put this," Jake began delicately, "but Emily was particularly well-suited for this project due to her...um...bust size." Emily was nearly flat-chested. Erica was not. "Is this still going to work?"
The raven-haired girl swallowed hard. "The model that we've been working on, and the experiments we've done on other mammals, suggests that we were probably going to see an increase of about two cup sizes. I may not be an A-cup," Erica smiled weakly, "but there's always room to grow."
She looked at the two men standing across the room. "B to D," she offered after a few seconds pause, answering the question that they were asking themselves internally.
Distracted for a moment by such an intimate revelation, Jake had to shake the mental image from his head before moving on. "So in order to reinstate you as a Category F human research subject?"
"Well, I'm still cleared," Erica corrected him. "I don't need to be 'reinstated.' I do need to submit an updated physical..."
"Which I can give her this evening," Hannah offered.
"..and I am going to need to fill out about an hour's worth of paperwork, from release forms to informed consent documentation..."
"Which I've already begun to put together," Noah interjected. "If Erica wants, I can stay late tonight and go through it with her after she's done with Hannah."
Erica nodded, and then turned back to Jake and Forrester. "Factor in a two-week turnaround time from the FDA, and we're right on schedule, albeit with a different test subject."
"And the project? The science?" Gesturing to Noah and the three lab assistants, Forrester asked, "Do you trust these monkeys to run the lab side of equation while you're sequestered down in the Bullpen?"
The girl smiled. "I'm still running the show, just from a different vantage point. And while I may not be the one staring into the microscope, I can still go over the paperwork and analysis side of the project. If anything, this'll give me firsthand knowledge of my research, without having to rely on complaints or comments from someone else."
The girl clearly didn't want to do this. She was putting on a brave face. She was selling the idea to her company's higher-ups. She was putting herself out there to stay in the good graces of ConnPharm itself, to protect her project and the expected profit margin of the company she worked for. Five months of waiting for the next available subject would be unbearable.
"You've been awfully quiet," Forrester commented, looking in Natalie's direction. The older woman was still standing on the far side of the lab, her arms crossed in front of her. "After all, this was your project, once upon a time."
"Once upon a time," the blonde biologist repeated. "And I still believe it, I still believe in the promise that deuterotone has to offer. But this is Erica's project, and Erica seems to believe in it just as much as I do. If I already had Category F clearance, I'd submit myself as a subject in two seconds flat."
"Well, it's my Bullpen," Forrester began. "And it's Dr. Rivers's project. But it's your lab, Dr. Hart. And if you see no alternative to using one of your own people, then you have my approval."
The blonde nodded, and the black-haired girl forced a smile. Erica had been the one who briefed Emily on exactly what her role would be as an early analysis test subject in the deuterotone project. But even still, Erica had no idea what she was getting herself into.
The Bullpen may have been one of the most state-of-the-art innovations at the ConnPharm compound in rural Connecticut, but human test subjects, unless they were natural exhibitionists, dreaded their time in the room.
It had been built four years earlier with primate testing in mind, and only at the last minute did a few researchers speak up and suggest that it might be useful to build human accommodations, as well. But, while some facilities and creature comforts had been incorporated to support human inhabitation, the Bullpen was still primarily used to run experiments on chimps, orangutans, and their brethren. Erica herself had run some of her initial deuterotone experiments on chimps in the Bullpen. In fact, over four years since first being constructed, the Bullpen had only been used for human experimentation six times, all men, and none for more than a few days at a time.
What appealed to researchers about the Bullpen, though, were the cutting-edge sensors embedded within the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room. The whole room, and its few furnishings, had been designed around innovative "tactile waves," calculating for how such waves moved and bounced and returned to their source. It was as if the Bullpen itself were a giant CAT scanner, feeding multiple layers of data and readings into the mainframe in the Outer Room. The scientists who used the room as a tool to further their research simply referred to the tactile wave technology as "TW emitters."
The state-of-the-art sensor technology allowed researchers to monitor and record just about anything they were interested in, all at the same time - body temperature, heartbeat, stress, pupil dilation, body odor, and so on and so on. It could take readings similar to x-rays, and others similar to actual CAT and MRI scans. Normal or abnormal, the emitters could read it all. Five minutes would give most researchers all the information than they could possibly ever need, and five days would provide more than they'd be able to sift through in a lifetime. Erica would be in the Bullpen for five weeks.