‘Lab Rat’ excerpt

1

Something is wrong

Dark

Quiet

Safe

* * *

Dark

Quiet

Safe

Floating

* * *

Dark.

Not quiet.

Shaking.

Why not quiet?

Why shaking?

Now quiet.

No shaking.

Why?

Still floating.

Still dark.

Still safe?

* * *

Dark.

Noise and shaking?

Why? Want to know why.

Not dark!

What is the not dark?

Is not dark making noise?

Is not dark making everything shake?

I want to know.

Noise getting quieter again.

Shaking is less again.

Not dark is staying not dark.

Why?

* * *

Still floating.

Darkness comes and goes.

New word comes to mind for not dark. Light.

I don’t know where new word came from.

Did the light bring the new word?

Did the shaking?

I do not know.

* * *

Still floating.

Thinking often of the light.

More words help me think more clearly.

The light is not always the same.

I can shut out light, but not dark.

I do not know what causes the light.

The noise comes and goes.

I recognize different kinds of noise.

The shaking brings a flat toned noise.

I am not sure why the other kinds come when they do.

I am still not sure where my new words come from, but they seem to appear in my mind all the time.

I wonder why.

* * *

Some of the noise is words.

I recognize two different voices now.

The steady, flat voice that comes with the rhythmic shaking says things like, “subject growth rate”, “vat nutrient levels”, and other words that I recognize but don’t understand.

The other voice says words I recognize but don’t understand as well. The words are not as clear as the other voice, but occasionally, something is said I can comprehend.

“You look healthy, son.”

Somehow, I just knew the voice was talking to me. Called me son. I feel healthy.

I can never tell when Father’s voice will speak up. There is no shaking that proceeds his arrival.

Sometimes he talks with the other voice. Sometimes he speaks when the shaking has gone away. Sometimes the other voice is the only one that speaks while it is near.

I want to know everything about Father, the other voice, and more.

* * *

I’m seeing shapes in the light now. Father can tell that my eyes are developing well. I can follow movement, though I’m still having trouble focusing on shapes.

But I know colors so much better now.

And I have a name for the flat voice that shakes everything when he comes to check that everything is running well.

Golem.

Father was complaining recently about the limitations of Golem’s tactile sensors, which makes no sense at all to me. But I could tell that he was talking about the flat-voiced speaker.

Golem is mostly black and silver in color.

He checks on me regularly for Father, but doesn’t talk to me like Father does.

* * *

Golem doesn’t look like me.

He has fingers carved from a dark gray stone with glowing runes spread over the back of its hand. His arms are made of metal and some smooth black material I don’t have a word for. I can see gears at the joints.

I moved carefully, bringing my fleshy hand and furry arm into view.

My fur is white and does not have any glowing symbols, just a pattern of jagged stripes of a very dark blue.

I’m not sure, but I do not think Golem has a hairless tail like I do either. Golem is definitely not a rat like me.

In fact, as I think of the thing I call Golem, I am not sure ‘he’ is the right word to use. I do not understand why, but I feel I should use the term ‘it’ instead.

* * *

Peering out through the clear surface before my eyes, I carefully tilted my head, hoping to see something new.

Father has not come into the limited range of vision that the window of my tank allows me, so I am not sure of his appearance.

Father also does not like me to move around too much while trying to get a better view of myself or the room outside my vat. He seems concerned that I might damage myself against the side of the vat. Or maybe he is concerned instead that I’ll damage the vat. I’m not entirely sure which one he was saying was fragile, but I certainly don’t feel fragile.

* * *

Father gave me a name today.

Zack.

He said that Golem should stop referring to me as “subject”, and told it to call me Zack.

Having a name of my own is very exciting.

* * *

Something is wrong with Golem!

It is doing something to my tank.

The tank is fragile and its hands look so large and heavy and clumsy.

He has broken my vat! The liquid that had been suspending me poured out!

With the entire front of the vat open, I could no longer float.

As I fell forward, Golem reached out and caught me, slowly lowering me to my knees where I could finally support my newly discovered weight.

I coughed up the liquid from my lungs. No longer able to replace it, I feared I would drown.

Golem has killed me! I thought, in panic.

Except that, instead of finishing me off, it patted me gently on the back to clear all the liquid from my lungs so that chilled air could replace it.

The air did not taste like the liquid. Its cold, empty feeling was not comforting. Yet the air seemed capable of sustaining me.

I shivered in the chilled air, feeling fragile and exposed for the first time ever.

In addition to the liquid, there was something else missing. Only now that it had gone silent did I realize that there had been information flowing into my brain from an outside source. I had words and understanding of my own senses of sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing, but the missing thread of ongoing data being planted in my mind had no associated word I that could come up with.

Golem pulled a towel off a nearby table and started drying my fur as I knelt on the floor beside its heavy stone legs – thick columns with glowing purple, red and yellow runes carved into the dark gray stone.

I flinched at first, not understanding why it performed this seemingly kind act after tearing me from my vat.

“Wh–” I tried to say, needing to take a deeper breath, which feels good. “Why?”

The metal and stone construct beside me responded in its monotone voice. “Zack has grown. Zack must finish training.”

“Training?” I asked, taking the wet towel from the stone hands holding it in order to wipe at the wetness on my face and ears.

“Yes, Zack,” Father’s voice came unexpectedly from behind and above me. “You have a job to do, and little time to properly prepare for it.”

2

I would have asked its assistance when getting dressed

“That is not the outfit given to you for tonight’s outing,” Father’s voice scolded, coming from the speakers in the constructed lab assistant, Golem.

I had hoped Father would be concentrating on the work that kept him from being here himself as I went out for the first time, but just like always, not being around didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention. That said, I must admit, it surprised me to see the metal, wood, and stone humanoid waiting in the front lobby. Golem seemed too bulky to fit through the doors on this floor.

“According to all of the current fashion magazines you made sure were in my library,” I said to Golem, pretending the construct was my Father, “this is good. What you laid out would have been… extremely counterproductive for what you intend me to accomplish.”

“Dragons respect a fur more when they are in a suit and tie,” Father’s cold response came. “You look like an unemployed dock worker.”

Golem’s crystalline eyes glowed a soft green just before a life sized hologram of myself appeared before the stone and metal servant. I hid my surprise that the construct had that ability. If I had known, I would have asked it’s assistance when getting dressed. The cracked mirror in the bathroom had been a poor means to double check that my attire gave the intended image.

“The suit and tie would be great if I were trying to get a job with a dragon, but that’s not my purpose,” I said looking the image of myself up and down.

I was still wearing a good portion of the old suit that Father had set out for me. It wasn’t like I had a large wardrobe to select from. All I had to use while trying to get a look that meshed with what the downloaded fashion magazines reported as current, were the dress suit and the outfit I had worn the past three days during testing.

The slacks looked fine, despite having been of a cut to wear clunky dress shoes with instead of going barefoot as I was. I might have chosen a medium gray color rather than the dark, almost black, shade of midnight blue the pants and jacket of the suit had been, but being able to see it as another would, I was no longer as concerned about how stark it appeared against the white of my fur and the wife beater I wore under the unbuttoned and untucked light blue dress shirt.

“You must look like someone important, Zack.” Father’s voice dropped the temperature of the room a degree or two, like it always did while talking about the target of my hunt tonight. “You must appeal to their love of wealth and power. They do not associate with common labor.”

“Does any part of the library you downloaded into my brain consist of useless or incorrect information?” I asked, growing tired of the criticism from someone who wasn’t actually standing in front of me himself to do it.

“Of course not, but–”

I crossed my thick arms in front of my chest, pleased with how strong, masculine, and confident the pose appeared in the hologram. “Then let me use that information to benefit the mission. As I said, the suit was a fine choice if I were looking to be hired as an accountant for a dragon. But that is not the mission.”

My pink hairless tail swayed behind me as I spread my arms wide to show the full effect of my more casual attire. “The intent is to get close enough to a dragon who is out looking for companionship. They are looking to have a good time, not a business dinner with an employee. So casual is good. The whole business suit to go out for drinks at the bar is not how folks do things these days.”

I didn’t continue with wondering if such an attire was ever in fashion for that purpose. My knowledge held neither how old Father was, nor data on fashions more than a year old, so could not make any good assumptions on why the suit had been selected.

“If you trust the information you gave me, if you trust my ability to use the information you have given me, then you need to trust that this outfit is better than the full suit. Otherwise, you shouldn’t send me out at all, because it means you don’t think I can do this mission.”

As the silence began to fill the air after my last statement, I began to worry that I had pushed too hard. If Father decided he did not trust me to do tonight’s mission, I had no idea what that would mean for me. Since I had been created specifically to do this mission, I had no idea what my fate would be if Father decided I couldn’t succeed at it.

Golem’s mechanical voice is what finally broke the building silence. “Taurus Cabs has just been called. Their representative states that your ride will arrive out front within twenty minutes, Zack.”

Father must have commanded the lab assistant to call for a cab. He believed in my ability. With a light sigh, I let out the breath I had been unknowingly holding as the silence had built.

“Thank you, Golem. I will do you proud tonight, Father,” I said, unsure if he was still listening. Since its first words to me, Golem usually only spoke to me when Father had lost interest or become distracted so was no longer focused on me, but I had already been surprised once by his level of attention on this momentous afternoon. “I’ll get what you need tonight and be back quickly.”

I brought a paw up to where my credit crystal hung under the wife beater. I was not used to wearing the necklace with the thumb sized gem, but it was easy to forget it was there fairly quickly. A quick pat of the back pocket reassured me that I still had the wallet with my identification and a little physical currency in case it was needed. The watch was on my left wrist. There really wasn’t anything else I had to take with me.

I wondered if my quick check for items I knew I had on me because I had put them on not ten minutes ago was some sort of delaying tactic. I was about to leave the laboratory for the first time. Was I nervous to face the rest of the world?

There was no reason to be. I felt confident that Father had prepared me completely. He had supplied a library of information I could call upon as needed. I had passed every test Father Golem had thrown at me over the last three days with ease. I was at peak physical condition.

There was no reason to begin doubting myself in the lobby on the way out.

With a short nod to myself, I went to the lobby door and entered the code to open the locks. The electronic pad beeped with every number I hit and there was a series of solid clunks after the enter key was pressed, signaling the door could be opened.

As I walked through the door and into the secured entry room, I saw all of the cameras and turrets in the ceiling and walls follow my every move. Pulling the door shut, I waited for the heavy locks to slam back into place and the electronic pad by this side of the door to give the green “secured” message before crossing the fifteen feet to the door.

It was eerie how silent all of the barrels and lenses were accurately tracking me. I was safe, to my understanding. I’d entered the correct code, my finger prints being scanned as I touched each key. Scans were being made to guarantee that my genetic make-up matched my identity. Yet they were still ready, should I suddenly prove to not be myself somehow, to turn me into so much burnt red mist.

The level of security Father had put in place had been explained to me on my first day out of the vat. But seeing how much stronger it was here at the last step to the outside world brought home just how much he didn’t trust everyone else. I was created to go out into this world and get something for him because he neither wanted to let someone from the outside in, nor did he want to leave here himself.

As I entered the code to unlock and open the exit door, I wondered if I should be proud that he thought I was up to doing this for him, when he felt the risk so great, or worried about what made Father this way. As the locks began to disengage with slow, rhythmic thunks, I realized it was not my job to worry about why. I had a job to do that I needed to concentrate on. Everything else was just a distraction.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed the heavy metal door open before me and stepped outside for the first time.

1 Comment

One thought on “‘Lab Rat’ excerpt

  1. Vern Maddux

    CongRATS! on getting published!

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