“Your case is certainly a fascinating one, Ms. Orchid, but I’m afraid I can’t help you.” Professor Therian said, rubbing his thick brown beard and looking rather apologetic.
“What do you mean, you can’t help me?” Claire Zhang replied, her heart clenching at his words. “You’re one of the foremost authorities in genetic modification in the world!”
Professor Therian certainly was that, she knew. The man had a pair of bear ears atop his head, and his hair was extremely thick and dark brown while his teeth were more like those of a bear than a human’s. The professor had been single-handedly responsible for allowing people to turn into catfolk, kitsune, wolfmen, and other animal-based subtypes of humanity, and even being able to have children with the same traits. Not that he’d gone about it sanely, of course.
Instead, the super had chosen to carry out his nanotech experiments on an island nation in the Atlantic, and once he was certain it was stable, he’d put the various formulae into brightly colored gummies with flavor burst crystals. He’d then put them into brightly colored bottles with names like Catgirl Cherry, Leopard Lime, and Monkey Melon. Even though the full effects had been listed on the bottles, as well as the fact it had a six-month delay before taking effect, no one had realized what he’d done. Once that had been done, he’d visited every cosplay convention possible over the next six months, selling thousands of the bottles for barely enough to cover the costs of manufacture. The resulting explosion of people with animal features had been disconcerting.
The only reason he wasn’t still in prison was that the Professor had only neglected to get approval with the FDA, and that he’d promised to market a cheap reversal nanite compound once he was out of prison. Somewhat to the authorities astonishment, not only had nearly half of those who’d transformed remained in their altered form, but thousands more people had purchased the transformation drug, and it’d turned into enough of a business that Professor Therian headed the small but powerful Therian Corp.
“I am, but what was done to you is far beyond what I’ve changed in my own work, Ms. Orchid,” the professor said apologetically. “Many of the things which were changed are in areas I very deliberately have avoided due to the chances of cascade effects that I can’t anticipate. It’s fascinating, and I think I could come up with a way of changing you back to your original form, but… it would be the work of years at a minimum, and I’m afraid that you simply can’t afford to hire me for that long. I’m afraid you’ll have to go to this other specialist you mentioned before.”
“I… I see.” Claire said, unable to fully resist the urge to let her shoulders slump.
She’d hoped that the professor could help her, rather than being left to the more uncertain technology of Shadowmind. While she was fairly confident that Circe and Lilith weren’t lying about trying to change her back, the rest of the team had argued that she should check other avenues first. Professor Therian had been the last of the people she’d consulted, and none of them could fix what had been done to her.
“I’m truly sorry I can’t help you, Ms. Orchid. If it were just a matter of a couple of months, I’d do so in a heartbeat, but this issue of yours is very thorny,” the professor apologized, looking a bit frustrated, but also intrigued. “I must say that I’m curious about this other specialist who can deal with it. I wouldn’t happen to know them, would I?”
“Thank you for looking into it, Professor. Even if you can’t help, I do appreciate it.” Claire replied, taking a deep breath as she straightened, trying to improve her own mood as well as she smiled at him and shook her head. “But I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. They’re my last resort, and are willing to help only on the condition of anonymity. My apologies.”
“Ah, well, I suppose that’s to be expected. I try to keep track of those with similar skill sets… after what happened to Doctor Ojisan with his tragic centrifuge accident, I don’t have many peers.” Professor Therian said, sighing and shaking his head sadly. “Still, I shouldn’t take any more of your time, and I have work to do. Good luck, Ms. Orchid.”
“Thank you again, and goodbye.” Claire replied, and her smile faded as the screen went black. As the hologram making it look like she was in a small, unassuming room faded, showing instead a high-tech control room, she sat back and growled. “Well, crap. So much for that.”
“Do you truly feel that hesitant about Lilith’s offer, Claire?” Circe’s voice wasn’t startling, not after a few weeks in Lilith’s hideout, but it was unexpected, so Blooming Orchid turned to look at her.
The AI still inhabited the chassis of Eve, the android assistant of the incarcerated villain Doctor Johnson, a fact which gave Claire mixed feelings. The blonde, blue-eyed look was stunning, but it didn’t change the fact that Eve had tormented her while Claire, in her identity as the heroine Blooming Orchid, had been experimented upon by the Doctor. Fortunately, the AI was planning to remodel the body soon, which should help Claire’s emotions settle down.
“It isn’t that I don’t trust you, or the other you in charge of the base systems, or even Lilith. It’s more that having to explain to the rest of the team that I have to go with her help is going to be a pain in the ass.” Claire replied, sighing heavily. “While they’re willing to give the benefit of the doubt, all the requirements of secrecy around the equipment involved have them pretty nervous. They might be worried that I’d be replaced by a clone or something.”
“That’s a completely ridiculous worry. Cloning you would be an inefficient use of materials, and the inability to replicate your mind or powers would render any attempt to do so obvious to others in short order.” Circe’s voice came from a wall speaker this time, and Claire twitched, glancing over at the wall sourly.
Circe Prime, as the base computer now fancied itself, was subtly different from the android version, and it bothered her at times. Especially since Circe Prime seem to care less about morals than her android version did.
“I don’t think that would reassure them much.” Claire replied dryly, letting out a sigh.
“I thought it didn’t much matter. You were discussing whether or not you were going to return as a member of Ocean Shield.” Circe Prime retorted, her tone pointed.
“I was discussing which I was going to choose. That doesn’t mean I’m going to leave for certain.” Claire replied, letting out a heavy sigh. “Still, I don’t have much other choice in the matter. I suppose we’d best schedule the procedure.”
“In that case I’d recommend speaking with Lilith. She and the others are in the living room.” Circe replied, and smiled slightly as she added. “She didn’t look happy about how the board game was going, so she likely will appreciate the interruption.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose I can go talk to her.” Claire replied, sighing and slowly climbing out of the chair, internally cursing at how hard it was to lift herself from the chair. What Doctor Johnson had done to her was abominable. “Why is she unhappy, anyway?”
“For all my innate skepticism about such things, I’m beginning to believe that there’s some truth to Mistress Lilith’s claim that the dice hate her.” Circe Prime replied calmly. “Her poor luck defies all statistical probability, and is a fascinating subject to track.”
“You’re certain the dice aren’t weighted?” Claire asked, a smile flitting across her face at the thought.
“Perfectly. She had me replace them with perfectly balanced dice, which I consider a waste of materials. Or rather, I considered it to be one before this.” The base AI said, a hint of humor now in her voice. “The study is oddly intriguing.”
“Truly? I wonder why she isn’t doing well, then…” Claire mused, tapping her lips speculatively.
“I’m uncertain. While the existence of something like luck offends my sensibilities, so does magic.” Circe Prime replied, pausing for a long moment. “I am not attempting to determine whether or not Mistress Lilith’s poor luck is simply inborn, or whether it truly is, as she says, that ‘heroes have all the luck.’ Based on studies of the track record of heroes, I believe that there’s a significant chance of her accusation being correct. However, the subject requires far more study before I am satisfied that the results are conclusive.”
“Such assumptions shouldn’t be considered conclusive without sufficient evidence.” Circe agreed, nodding and smiling at Claire. “Would you like any help?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I suppose I should rescue Lilith from the others, or at least serve as a distraction.” Claire replied, shaking her head. “Thank you, though.”
“As you like, Claire.” Circe replied.
As Claire left the room, the android followed her. It was slightly eerie, but despite that, Claire found she did find the woman’s presence faintly comforting.