The office was lined with overflowing bookshelves and infested with piles of papers. It was slightly run-down and decorated in dark, cool colors, but it bore a foreboding aura of bureaucracy. In the corner stood Gretchen Duncalf, proprietress of the building in which the office was located. She was feeding what looked like an enormous Venus flytrap, which had a "mouth" that was almost big enough to swallow a person. Once this observation has been made, it brought into question the nature of the bloody, indistinguishable chunks of meat Gretchen was feeding it with.

She pulled the last one out of the medical cooler and sniffed it experimentally. Hesitantly, curiously, she slowly brought it to her lips, but was interrupted by the loud sound of an old-fashioned door buzzer. Almost absentmindedly, she tossed the last chunk of meat into the appreciative mouth of the plant, wiped the blood off her fingers, and went to answer it.

She swung the heavy wooden door open to reveal a smallish young man, looking up at her inquiringly. "I'm Steve Brodie," he said, "I'm here for the uh... 'assistant' job?"

"Oh. Yes!" Gretchen's face molded into a polite expression of professional insincerity. "Congratulations on getting the job. Many others applied, but you were by *far* the most qualified." She motioned for him to enter, but he seemed reluctant.

"Thank you. But there's a few things that were on the application I've been trying to ask about... For example, it asked me if I've ever been in a psychiatric institute."

"You've never seen an application with that question before? I imagine it appears frequently."

"It does, it does. But usually answering 'yes' to that question doesn't *help* you get the job."

Gretchen smiled icily. "I think you'll find that institutionalization is the next best thing to working here." As she spoke, she casually ushered him in, despite his nervousness.

"Well, that's another thing, ma'am, exactly what kind of work will I be doing? Every time I try to find out I get circular or evasive answers."

"That's probably because you'll have a lot of different jobs here." Gretchen navigated Steve into her office as she spoke. "The work won't be too heavy, but it will be extremely varied. Of course, you'll have to do a few basic, menial tasks; some cleaning and a little secretarial work. But there will also be a lot of unusual jobs that will require more skill. Sign this please." She slid a piece of paper across the desk at him.

Steve tried to read it carefully, but the plant in the corner was more than a little distracting. At first he had thought it was plastic, a novelty decoration. But when it tried to read the contract over his shoulder, that theory was pretty much shot to hell. He gave it the best read-through he could, then signed. Too late, Gretchen noticed his distress. "Audrey! Be more polite!" she scolded. The plant drew back and settled. Steve tried not to think about what he might be getting himself into.

"Welcome to Project Box." She smiled. "Let me show you around." Using an almost uncanny cocktail of gestures and body positioning, she was able to move Steve along with the control of an expert salesman. Her tone and posture were completely businesslike, which surprisingly, put Steven at ease amidst his strange surroundings. She guided him through the run down, gothic building as she spoke. "This is the multi-purpose room. You'll probably see it get a lot of use in your time here. But *this* place will probably need more attention..."

She opened a nondescript door, and at once the dark, foreboding atmosphere was redone in the gleaming, efficient whiteness of a laboratory. Truth be told, this room was about as run down as the rest of the house. What was worse, it was littered with burn marks and chemical spills. But at least it was well lit and reasonably busy looking.

Two young men in labcoats busied themselves with unknown projects. One was mixing several nasty looking chemicals with care and precision. He had a blandly good-looking face and light, swept back hair. The other was a little more hawkish, with a large round nose and dark hair that fell over his forehead. He was bent over something about six feet long, covered with a thick sheet of canvas. It probably could have been anything, but a few telltale bumps and ridges suggested quite loudly that it was a human body.

Both men looked up as Steve and Gretchen entered. Gretchen instantly reverted to tour guide mode. "These are our two scientists, Doctor Henry and Doctor Harry." Each one smiled and nodded politely. "I refer to them by their first names, you'll notice." She continued, "Their last names are a bit, hmm, infamous to use in casual conversation, but I assure you they're both men of considerable brilliance." Steve was more than surprised at her apparent lack of tact. He glanced at the two doctors, expecting them to be embarrassed. However, they had both returned to their work and became so quickly engrossed that they were dead to the world.

Gretchen folded her hands behind her back and continued. "Here, they can continue their individual research away from the prying and judgmental eyes of the world. In return, they donate much-needed expertise in the field of science to The Project." She was already manipulating him out the door, but Steve wanted to linger a little.

"What exactly is The Project, anyway? That was never really made clear to me."

"Oh-" Gretchen was caught, but recovered quickly. "Project Box is the forefront of the new millennium. Utilizing the potential of..." Gretchen continued talking, but Steve listened no more. He had heard that speech a thousand times, from a thousand representatives. All it ever told him was how great The Project was and that donations were welcomed. He lingered on the threshold of the door, gazing into the laboratory. A third man had just entered.

This new arrival was the first and only hunchback Steve had ever seen in his life. He had been under the impression that whatever gene or disease caused that condition had been cured or eradicated. Perhaps this individual had been in an accident. He approached the scientist who had been working with the object covered in canvas. They were on the other side of the lab, and between Gretchen's babbling and the other doctor's muttering, Steve couldn't make out a thing they were saying.

He watched as the two of them moved like ants around the table, moving something here, adding something there. At once they both stopped. Excited, the scientist grabbed the hunchback's shoulders and said something that seemed to make them both happy. He moved to what Steve couldn't help but consider the head of the object, and began to peel back the canvas...

"...And using proactive new paradigms to move The Project forward, not backward. Hey!" Gretchen, having finished her robot-esque recitation grabbed Steve's arm and pulled him onward. "Come on, we don't want to bother them." Reluctantly, Steve moved out of the threshold and closed the door. The two of them continued to walk.

"Who was that guy?" Steve asked after a beat.

"What guy?"

"The one with the back."

"Oh. That's Fritz, Doctor Henry's assistant."

"Another name too infamous to use?"

"Yes and no. I wouldn't worry too much about it, none of the others do. It's a very nice arrangement, really." She was clearly recovering her conversational strength. "You know, there was another scientist we'd hoped to employ under similar terms, but no one was able to find him." She gave a throaty chuckle.

"I'm sorry, did you say something funny?" Steve asked.

"No, no, it was just a little joke, though I suppose you weren't meant to get it. Have you ever heard of Doctor Jack Griffin?"


She nodded. "He's more commonly known as the Invisible Man. Watch your step on this carpet."