Disclaimer: see part 2.
Part 1 – Protogenesis
"And you are currently enrolled in Todai, correct?"
Shinobu shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with the Orwellian interrogation, but knowing it was the only course open to her. Wetting her lips, she looked around the sparsely furnished room, blinking in the harsh light of the overhead fluorescent bar as the two men on the other side of the desk waited with barely contained impatience.
"Yes," she said finally, "I'm a second year, and-"
"Your application says you live in an all-girls dorm."
"Do you have any known health problems?"
"Are you sexually active?"
"Are you sexually active?"
Blushing faintly at the question, and the cold, no-nonsense way it was asked, Shinobu shook her head. "No, sir, I've never even had a boyf-"
The bigger of the two men leaned forward, staring dispassionately down at the nervous girl as his smaller associate made notes on a clipboard. "The Weismann Institute is not a charity," he said, his tone indicating that he was reciting a rote, memorized speech that – at one time – had some type of meaning to him but, through repetition, had become nothing more than ceremony.
"By participating in this study, you must be willing to provided uncolored feedback on our latest research – uncolored, Miss Maehara, meaning that you must be willing to note any changes in mood, attitude, or appetite, as well as taking experimental medications at designated times without fail, and without question. If you are willing to do this for us, we will be willing to compensate you by covering your tuition for the next four years. If you are not, please feel free to leave at this time."
Shinobu fidgeted. "What… what kind of medica-"
"Without question, Miss Maehara," the man cut in, holding his hand over his shoulder and taking the clipboard from his companion. "Our interview is at an end. Please sign here, or see yourself out."
Feeling a bit sick, Shinobu looked down at the paper on the clipboard, her eyes picking up words like, 'nondisclosure,' and, 'compensation,' and, most disturbingly, a line about releasing Weismann Institute from any legal obligation that may result from the subject's incapacitation.
But I really need the money…
Slowly, she took the pen the man held out to her and signed her name on the dotted line, feeling vaguely uneasy about the entire interview. There had only been a handful of others in the waiting room, and she had seen almost every one of them walk out looking embarrassed or angry, but – as she had reminded herself – the money was why she was there.
She had not told anyone at the Hinata Sou yet, but her parents were no longer able to pay for her tuition and boarding fees, and this research study was the fastest, surest way to ensure that she did not have to give up on her dreams.
As soon as she had returned the clipboard, the man snapped his fingers, and the small white door Shinobu had noticed when she had first come into the room swung open and a tall, redheaded woman in a laboratory coat stepped out, glancing at her watch as she muttered, "Only one? Five oh five and you only have one for me?"
Sighing, she strode up to Shinobu and handed her a small, spiral bound notebook.
"This is your journal," she said smoothly. "You are to write any changes in mood, appetite, attitude… everything these gentlemen went over with you. You are to use the provided pen, write neatly, and exclude nothing during the course of the test period – including any changes to your monthly cycle. Is that understood?"
Shinobu nodded timidly, then slowly raised her hand.
"Yes, what is it?" the woman asked, glancing again at her watch as if irritated that she was being forced to work after five o'clock.
"How… how long is the test period, ma'am," Shinobu asked uncertainly. "They… no one's told me."
"Ah, yes," the woman nodded. "It is a thirty day experiment. Now," she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small packet. "The controllers will note that the test materials were sealed when given to you," the men behind the table nodded and wrote this information on their clipboards as the woman tore the packet open. "You will take one pill by mouth, twice per day – when you wake, and right before bed – with the first dose to be administered immediately."
"R-right now?" Shinobu squeaked.
Ignoring the girl's stammered inquiry, the woman pulled a row of blister packed pills from the packet and popped one out, holding it out to Shinobu between her thumb and forefinger. Shinobu had not noticed until that very moment, but the hand the woman used to handle the pill was firmly encased in not one, but two latex gloves.
She also noticed that the pills themselves were a sickly, putrescent green.
"There will be a more appealing coating on it before mass production," the woman said, noticing the line of Shinobu's sight. "Here," she snapped her fingers and one of the men reached under the desk, producing – of all things – a bottle of Coca-Cola with a twist-off cap, "Something to wash it down."
Feeling suddenly uneasy, Shinobu took the pill and – before she could change her mind – popped it into her mouth and swallowed it, grabbing the Coke bottle and twisting the cap off to take a long pull.
"Excellent," the woman said approvingly, and Shinobu was disturbed to find that she could sense a hint of hunger in the woman's otherwise cool voice.
"What… can I ask what these pills do…?" Shinobu asked meekly, promising herself that this would be the only time she broke the rule about asking questions.
The woman smiled, but it never quite made it to her eyes.
"It's an experimental drug to prevent the common cold."
"Oh," Shinobu said. "But what if I don't get a cold in the next month?"
The woman's smile grew until Shinobu could see all of her teeth. "Then you'll know it's working."
Shinobu shrank back in her seat as the man who had been questioning her rose to his feet. The reason for her sudden fear was that the man, who had been hunched over and seated behind a desk for the entire interview, was well over six feet tall and looked about as wide, towering over her as he gathered his papers with one hand and pointed to the door with the other.
"Have a nice afternoon, Miss Maehara," he said, sounding as if he did not care if she had a good day or got hit by a semi-truck. "Don't forget your journal."
Somehow, Shinobu felt that this was more a threat than a friendly reminder.
Taking the packet of medicine from the woman's hand, Shinobu looked around for a garbage can to throw the bottle of Coke away. Seeing nothing, she offered the bottle to the woman in the lab coat, but the woman shied away, politely holding up her hand (the gloved one) and taking a small step back.
"Keep it," she said smoothly, once again smiling that cool, mirthless smile. "And have a nice day."
Shinobu shrugged and walked out into the warm afternoon sunlight. In spite of her misgivings about the Weismann Institute, she was finally taking steps to ensure a brighter future for herself. Taking another sip of her Coke, she smiled, letting the warm sun wash over her face.
Everything was going to work out just fine…
Hawker-748 pre-read this whole story and convinced me that holding the first chapter until the end would be a good way to keep from giving everything away and change this from a straightforward 'character goes nuts' story to more of a mystery/suspense. Big time thanks going out to him for making this story not suck. Or at least, not suck as much as it would have without his help.