Original Research

This is a story I posted a couple weeks ago on another site but I feel that of all my stories this would be best suited to this forum. This story is set in New Zealand with an American protagonist and has some NZ terms that may not be familiar. Dairy=convenience store, jandals=flip-flops, lollies=candies/sweets.

Eric hated the rain. And rain was what it did in July in Auckland. And in May and June and August and September too. Sometimes Eric found himself wondering why he was in this damp, isolated little nation in the South Pacific. Of course the reason was clear, graduate school cost half as much here as it did in the US. But knowing the answer didn’t stop him from asking himself that question everytime it rained like this.

It was nearly 10PM and he was finally done at the lab. These twelve hour days were killers, but Eric had only one more semester left to finish his work. He had resolved himself to spending the winter months locked away in his lab until he made some kind of breakthrough. If only he knew what he was waiting for.

Eric stepped out of the rain-soaked street and into a corner dairy. It was a long walk back to his flat and he needed something warm in his stomach, not to mention in his chilled hands, for the journey. The dairy was bright and typically cramped, the faint aroma of peppermint tea filled the air. The Indian man behind the counter was watching some strange Indian movie on his telly, the kind where the actors danced and sang for no apparent reason. The clerk briefly glanced up at him in greeting, Eric nodded in return. After filling a paper cup with hot water he picked out a newspaper, there was only one copy left, and went to the counter. Eric always enjoyed the odd looks he got when he bought a newspaper at ten at night. But the Indian clerk said nothing and showed no interest in his odd selection.

“Four-ten,” stated the clerk in what was clearly a South African accent.

“Cheers mate,” Eric replied in his flat American accent, handing the man his money and heading back into the darkened street.

Whatever the weather Eric always tried to enjoy his walk home. It was his time of solitude and reflection. He didn’t have to think about his experiments or deal with his flatmates, it was just him, and his thoughts. Rain drops pattered in puddles and on cement as he walked enveloping him in a cacoon of white noise, perfect for such a contemplative stroll. Of course he found himself at home all too soon. Eric took the last sip of his rapidly cooling chamomile tea and headed inside.

“Well hello there! Jesus mate do you ever take a break?”

Eric smiled back at Dan, who was looking at the clock as though he were a parent shocked their child had broken curfew. “Well, work is work y’know. You don’t stop doing it because you want to, you stop when you’ve done all you can and all you need to.”

Dan shook his head, “There’s working hard and there’s being obsessive, and you my friend are treading the line.”

“Well I’m home now, and I’m too starved to have this discussion with you again, so lets talk later.”

Dan looked at Eric sternly for a moment, then broke into a smile and wrapped his big arm around Eric’s neck. “Just messing with you bro, I know you have to work, just try to have some fun too!”

Eric broke free, now smiling too. “Yeah, yeah. Hey you try doing my job. Remember I have to create original research to earn that doctorate. Original research, ha! You know what passes for original these days? Well my reasearch really is going to be original and it really will benefit a lot of people. If I ever finish it that is.”

Dan shook his head again, laughing. “Good luck with that, see you tomorrow, well if I’m up early enough,” he mocked, heading down the hall.

Eric made himself a cheap student’s dinner of noodles and leftover chicken. It was another meal spent alone. Thinking back, he couldn’t even remember the last time he ate a meal with another person. It had to have been a month at least. No girlfriend, no close mates, no family for 12,000 miles, being a grad student in a foreign country was a tough life. But it would all be worth it if his research went somewhere. Eric thought that one day he might work at the prestigious National Institutes of Health in Washington DC, the braincenter of medical research. On occassion he even found himself daydreaming about receiving a Nobel Prize. Greatness required sacrifice and he was fully prepared to put in his time.

Eric had learned to live on six hours sleep so he rolled out of bed at just after 6AM. It was still pitch dark outside, but there were birds chirping. After a breakfast that consisted mostly of tea and english muffins Eric was ready for another day of research. The morning sky was dominated by the dark grey clouds that seemed ever present in July, but it wasn’t raining, yet. The 20 year old diesel buses that Auckland still used would puff past him every couple minutes as he walked, spewing a cloud of black soot into his face. “Clean and Green,” he muttered sarcastically, recalling New Zealand’s tourism camaign. Finally he arrived on campus and headed into is lab building.

As Eric switched on the flickering flourecent lights little white mice in cages on the wall squeaked and skittered about in a flurry of activity. “Hello little ones, how was your night? Better than mine I’m sure.” Eric chuckled to himself, “Oh well it is good to see you all again too after so many, cough, hours apart.”

Eric smiled as he prepared his work. He was studying the effects of degenerative diseases of the brain like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. Unlike most reasearch being done on how to prevent the diseases Eric was actually focussed on how to cause them. Eric believed that if he was able to figure out how to cause them, he could then learn how to prevent them. It was tolling work. He had to watch as his many serums failed and the mice he injected died twitching deaths or became blind and erratic. Finally though he was making progress, major progress. Eric had discovered that while he could not yet see a way to cure the diseases he did develop a way to trigger what seemed to be an entirely different kind if degeneration in one mouse. In fact degeneration wasn’t even the right word for it. The mouse’s brain wasn’t damaged as in Alzheimers and it suffered no physical or sensory symptoms like the other diseases caused. It rather seemed that its brain had been cleaned, erased, but not permanently destroyed. The mouse was able to relearn tasks at the same rate as a baby mouse, it just started over, like rebooting a computer after the hard drive crashed. All the memory was lost but it still functioned.

It was an exciting developent but the problem was he was unable to replicate it in the other mice. For a week he had failed but yesterday he had discovered the solution. The serum had to be tailored to the specific mouse it was to be used on. The implications were amazing, he might be able to cure other degenerative diseases by rebooting part of the brain, clearing out the damaged portion. At the moment the serum was useless as it would totally wipe a patient’s brain back to infancy. But if h could create a more selective form of the serum to use for a partial reboot he would have a real breakthrough!

He dared not inform anyone of the kind of research he was doing but he had suspisions that other students were aware. He was quite concerned about somebody stealing his work. It wasn’t pattented and intellectual theft was all too common. The other problem of course was that all his work was on mice and when it came to testing experimental drugs on human brains the restrictions were severe. Even if he did have a breakthrough it might not go anywhere if human testing was never allowed.

About noon there was a knock on his door, “Hello, hello!” The door swung opened and Dr. Tyler, his advisor strode in looking cheery and well rested as always. Eric was never sure how she stayed so fresh looking when she worked such long hours. She was, like Eric, married to the job. The only difference was that Dr. Tyler was being paid quite well for her research, Eric worked for free. “Ah there you are Eric, how is the work coming along?” she asked brightly.

“Well I am making a good deal of progress now doctor,” Eric closed the door to ensure the conversation stayed private, “I found a way to definitely replicate the results we discussed the other day. It involves using their own blood as a catalyst, and apparently injection doesn’t work it has to be absorbed through the skin.”

Dr. Tyler nodded in agreement, “Yes that sounds excellent, good on you. You just keep working at replication and e-mail the notes tonight. I want to be kept up to speed, I know someone in the government who may be able to speed this along to the next step. I have to tell you Eric this is the most advanced work that any of are students are creating.”

Eric basked in the glow of her praise, excited by the prospect of further research opportunity. He bid Dr. Tyler a good afternoon and skipped lunch himself, too excited to eat.

Over the next few weeks Eric worked feverishly in his little lab. Dr. Tyler stopped by regularly for updates and he sent her e-mails of his notes. In late August he was required to have another medical work-up for renewing his student visa. He hated having to take a day off, especially with Dr. Tyler dropping hints that the ministry was considering a human rearch trial. It was almost unbeleivable to him. In the US they would require years of work on animals before even thinking of using humans, but Eric wasn’t very familiar with the New Zealand system and apparently it had fewer safeguards. Oh well, the better for his research. Of course he had to break the barrier to creating selective brain degeneration, there was no way he could test the current serum, which could cause total regression, on an acual person.

It was a week after he had his medical that Eric recieved an e-mail from the New Zealand Immigration Service telling him he was now also required to have a dental check-up. Well that was really too much. But he couldn’t very well refuse. So Eric made a note in his schedule for the next day at two and returned to his work.

He took a small white mouse, one he had named Neville, because it looked kind of British to him for some reason, and prepared to shave a small area on its belly. For most of his research Eric had been careful not to name the mice because he couldn’t name something he was planning to infect with a terrible fatal disease. They went by their numbers only. Now, though, he gave them all names because his current serum didn’t really hurt them, it just gave them a fresh start and it wasn’t like a mouse would miss their memories, they were only mice after all.

Eric shaved away a bit of Neville’s hair and held him tight as the little mouse squirmed. Then Eric dipped the fingers of his double latex gloved hand into a small dish of white ointment and massaged it onto the bald spot. The mouse stayed still as he did so. Then Eric replaced the mouse in his cage and watched as the serum worked. It was hard to tell with a mouse how much had changed until he put it in the maze. It had run this maze dozens of times and currently it took it 55 seconds to reach the end. But five minutes after massaging the drug in, Eric put Neville in the maze and hit the start button on his watch. The mouse was totally lost. It took over 5 minutes to find the cheese and then only by accident. After several other tests it was clear the mouse had regressed, but otherwise had no ill side effects, no twitiching or agitation, nothing. Eric took down his notes and forwarded them to Dr. Tyler then left for the night.

Eric was surprised to find the dentist’s office was empty when he arrived the next day. Usually this place would be filled with angry and anxious students but now the waiting room was empty, the magazines lay neatly in a stack on the table and there was no receptionist. Eric wa about to leave, figuring he got the time wrong or the office wrong when an Asian woman popped her head out from behind the reception desk area. “Oh hello, you here for check-up?”

“Oh, um, yes I am.”

She nodded, “Yes you can come right back, the doctor is out today, no patients, but the assistant will help you.”

Eric nodded and followed the woman back to a dentist chair. She got him seated and then assured him the assistant would be right in. Eric always felt uncomfortable at the dentist’s, the room was so empty and uninviting and there were so many sharp tools, he could understsnd how a mouse in his lab must feel.

A short blonde woman in pink scrubs walked in behind him carrying a clipboard, she wore a spit visor over her face. “Hello Mr. Daniels, we just need to check your teeth and make sure everything is all normal and we’ll do a little cleaning first so we can see it well. Then we’ll do some x-rays and you’ll be all set.”

Eric nodded, “That’s fine.”

She sat on a stool to his right and readied some tools. “I’m Christie by the way, sorry the doctor wasn’t able to be here to do this but no worries I’ll take good care of you. I promise to be gentle.”

Eric felt a bit at ease at her friendly demeanor. Christie took the electric brush and coated it in some white toothpaste. “Open wide.”

Eric opened his mouth and Christie began massaging his gums and his tongue with the paste. It tasted very sweet. She didn’t press too hard but it did make his gums tingle a lot. Actually it was a pleasant kind of tingling. For two minutes he lay there while she brushed and Eric noticed she never really got to his teeth, she just kept getting more white paste and masaging his gums and cheeks with it. And then he felt the odd tingling moving up to his temples and right at the center of his forehead. It was an odd sensation indeed.

“I feel kind of funny. Is that normal?” he asked.

Christie smiled at him, “Don’t worry about a thing we’ll be done very soon.”

“Okay,” Eric agreed, but he did hope this was done soon he was feeling kind of light-headed on airy.

“There we go, all done, now lets get you ready for x-rays. I have a gown for you to wear so lets get your clothes off.”

Eric was confused as to why he needed his clothes off, but Christie was already pulling his sneakers off for him and his head felt so cloudy right now. Maybe she had used some kind of anesthetic he wasn’t aware of. Yes that had to be it. Feeling so muddled Eric let Christie help undress him, feeling a bit embarassed at both his inability to undress hmself and at his agreement to get undressed in front of her. Finally, dressed in nothing but a gown Eric lay back in the seat, tingling filling his cloudy head, while Christie went out to prepare the x-ray machine.

Laying back Eric noticed for the first time that their was a mobile hanging from the ceiling, slowly circling. Colorful plastic stars and animals hung from strings spiraling over his head. What on earth was that doing there in a dental office? Eric heard footsteps on the tiled floor as someone in women’s shoes entered the room. But hadn’t Christie had sneakers on. To his shock it was not Christie, but Dr. Tyler standing over him in a short skirt and her white lab-coat, her hair tied in a tight bun. She smiled down at him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I have great news for you Eric. We’re starting the human research trial. Your research will move forward, isn’t that great?”

Eric was dumbfounded at first, but the shock seemed to suddenly clear his mind. “But I haven’t worked out partial regression yet, when will we be starting?”

“Right now sweetie, we already have our first subject.”

“We do?”

“Yes dear, you.”

Eric was sure he had misheard her. “Me! What are you talking about!”

“Calm down now. After all the work you put into this I knew that it would all be a waste if we couldn’t move to human trials and the government would take years to approve those, if ever. But you are in the perfect position to be the example. You have no close ties, no one will miss you and you’ve already provided what would probably be your best contribution to the scientific world.” Dr. Tyler spoke with real passion, it was as though Eric was not a person to her, but just another mouse awaiting her experimentation. Well Eric was not going to let her do that.

“No. I won’t do it. Don’t you understand that it would cause total, irreversible regression to infancy. I’d spend the next year laying in a pool of my own spittle and pee! I can’t do that.”

“Now, now, Eric aren’t you always talking about sacrifice, about greatness. You have the chance to give the medical world a huge breakthough and all it requires is you sacrifice one thing, your mind.”

Eric fought back another spell of lightheadedness, fighting to remain focused even as his mind wanted to wander. “Look this is unethical, we can’t do it. I’m sorry but my answer is no.”

Dr. Tyler chuckled to herself. “Your answer? Honey when did I ever ask you to volunteer? Tell me how do you feel right now, this is very important,” she said, taking out her notepad and pen, going into scientist mode, detatched from the situation.

Eric felt his pulse quicken, goosebumps raise on his arms. “Why, what do you mean?”

Impatiently Dr. Tyler asked, “How do you feel now? How is your head feeling?”

Eric blinked, fogginess was returning, the alertness the shock of her appearance had brought was disappearing. “I feel very strange. My head tingles a lot and I’m, um, sort of… I… I don’t remember, what did you ask?” Eric felt lost, he had been talking about something very important just a moment ago and now he had no idea what. “What’s happening?” he pleaded, feeling increasing anxiety.

“Don’t worry about thing Eric you’re going to get to do things all over again dear. Soon you won’t have a care in the world. After all the work you’ve put in you certainly deserve a rest, a nice long holiday for your brain. It won’t be so bad, i have a nice lady who just can’t wait to be your mummy.” Dr. Tyler gestured to the door and Christie walked back into Eric’s field of vision.

“Hi honey, guess what, you’re gonna be mummy’s precious little baby boy soon. I’m gonna take real good care of you sweetums, I promise. We’ll go on the park and get you a little splash pool to play in, it will be nice. I’ve always wanted a little baby all my own.” Christie gushed.

Eric was feeling overwhelmed, he knew he had seen that woman before but he couldn’t quite place where. But as Christie and the woman in the white coat made silly faces at him he felt his apprehension start to ebb. Slowly all the tension and anxiety left him and he began to feel quite nice. Eric wasn’t sure why he was here and who the big people were, but they seemed very nice and he was the centre of attention. There was a very pretty spinning thing on the ceiling and Eric watched it with awe. There were such bright, pretty colours. Eric thought he could almost reach out and touch them but they always seemed just out of his reach. Then the big person with yellow hair leaned in close and covered her eyes. She was gone! Eric wondered how she did that, like magic! Then just like that there se was again! “Peek-a-boo!” she yelled. That was great, Eric giggled and clapped his hands, or at least he tried. He couldn’t quite get them to coordinate now. That would have bothered him but suddenly the big lady blew on his tummy and it tickled so much! The other lady had these bright jignly things and she dangled them and shook them and Eric wondered what they were. He thought he should know. He wanted to touch them, surely then he’d know what they were. He wanted her to give them. “Bababagaaadooo!” he babbled at her. Had he said the right thing? He wasn’t sure. What had he said? He couldn’t think of any words. They were there he was sure, but just out of reach, like the pretty spinny things above him. He reached out his hands and squealed more. It worked! She gave him the bright jingly things. Now what were they. Eric decided to put them in his mouth. They tasted funny, he chewed at them but got no further in figuring out what they were. But then he forgot about why he had wanted them, it felt nice to chew on them so he focused on that.

Dr. Mary Tyler finished making notes in her book and looked back down at Eric. The thin 24 year old, the most brilliant student in the department, creator of advanced research, was sucking on a toy keys set, saliva covering his chin and running in a rivulet down his cheek, his thin pale legs waving about aimlessly, his eyes vacant and crossed, focused on the toy he was chewing on. The drug had taken far too long to work in her opinion. It should be used in higher doses for effectiveness. At least Christie and Eric seemed happy. And now the research was all hers. As far as anyone would know Eric had dropped out of school and left the country for points unknown. As an extra precaution Christie decided to rename him baby Mikie and tell her family he was her boyfriend who had been in a motorcycle accident. Eric certainly wouldn’t mind the name change, he’d be far too busy putting all his new toys in his mouth.

A month later Mary headed out to Western Springs Park to meet Christie and baby Mikie. It had been a very disappointing month for her. She had made no progress on the research even after peforming countless tests on Mikie. She would lay differently shaped blocks in front of him and see if he could fit them into the right holes. He couldn’t. Usually he would simply stick the colourful blocks in his mouth and gaze innocently up at her while drool dripped from his suckling mouth to the floor. She judged his mental capacity at 6 months. She thought he might progress faster than a real baby back to normal, or regain his mind suddenly, neither happened. A month later she judged his mental age to be 7 months. It was a very warm day for September and lots of families were out playing in the park, kids feeding the swans and parents having picnics. It wasn’t hard to spot Christie and Mikie. The twenty-something was sitting in a big stroller adorned with elmo decals, wearing a Big Bird T-shirt and a big nappy, sucking away at a dummy while he swung his long bare legs and feet out into the air and slapped them against the foot rest. His eyes were gazing with excitement at all the people around the park. He felt no embarassment of course he was just curious.

“Hi Mary!” Christie exclaimed, then grabbing Mikie’s hand said, “Can you say hi baby, say hi to auntie mary.” She waved his limp hand for him but Mikie was craning around the other direction to gawk at a swan, spitting out the dummy and babbling, “Ahahahabaaaa…mama,” at the animals.

“Hello dear, how is everything going?”

“Oh its just wonderful, he really is just adorable, though it can be a handful. I just can’t believe he was once a big university student, he’s such a happy baby.”

“That’s good to hear. Now here’s the thing, I haven’t had much luck making progress on the research, so what we need to do is get more subjects. So I need you to talk to all your friends from the fertility clinic and get the names of other women who have had trouble conceiving, especially single ones.”

Christie nodded, “No worries, I’ll get right to it, it would be wonderful to have a little playgroup, I think Mikie is quite lonely sometimes.”

“Yes exactly. I have very high hopes that with enough subject we can make progress.”

Back home again Christie cut up and mashed the food that Mikie would have for dinner. It was hard work but she enjoyed it thoroughly. It was very exciting to think that soon there would be other oversized babies like her ‘little’ one. Every day was an adventure for Mikie, she really envied him. He was perfectly happy and didn’t understand or care that he had lost something. Right now he was sitting in a baby bouncer, his toes just brushing the floor, bouncing up and down with glea, screaching his success, a smile that could light a city on his face.

Mikie loved his bouncy seat, it was so fun to go up and down up and down over and over, how could this ever get old. He was glad mummy took his shirt off, it was scratchy and he liked feeling the air on his tummy. The carpet was nice and soft on his toes too. Then mummy came and took him out of the bouncy seat and he sat on his bum-bum on the carpet. He sat up all by himself, he was very proud of that. Mummy sat down with him and sung a silly song. He didn’t know what she said but he liked her voice. He smiled. She wiggled his toes as she sang. He liked that even more. Mikie stuck his fingers in his mouth and sucked, that felt really nice. He couldn’t imagine being happier.

Mary sat at home in front of her computer sipping tea. The work with Christie had gone well and several women were interested, including one of her other students, Melanie. Since most of the women were single of course that just left the problem of where to find suitable candidates. But always a resourceful woman, she soon had a solution.

Mary logged on to another AB/DL site and typed in the personal section: Looking fro a break from the real world, want to enjoy the tender care of a mummy again. Come spend the week at Nanny Mary’s Nursery in Mt. Eden. Its an experience that can’t be missed.

Mary had several responses by that evening. She smiled with success as she deleted their names and numbered the e-mails instead. The names were irrelevant, they wouldn’t be needing them anymore. She would have all the test subjects she needed. It was a small price to pay, after all original research always requires sacrifice.