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Bo's Simian Winter
Rory's assistants found me celebrating winter by getting a tan on a beach in Hawaii. They said something had gone terribly wrong and I had to return. They loaded me into a plane and flew me to the snowbound winter of Eden Valley Minnesota. Rory's laboratory is in Eden Valley, Minnesota. It's where I created a mind-computer interface using simians. Bonobos are cousins to chimpanzees if you didn't know.
Because of the simians, the Lab had the smell of jungle rot, the steamy damps, dirty feet and unwashed armpits. It always reminded me of Ashley Wilkes brachiating through the trees like an antebellum Tarzan in a brocade loincloth and the manners of Winston Churchill. But, Rory was the one who looked like Tarzan, talked like a used car salesman and made deals like Svengali.
Me? I'm just a slightly balding, skin and bones nerd. Rory and I grew up together. I was brains to his brawn and good looks, Sancho to his Panza.
Inside the facility, Rory stood hunchbacked, leaning into a hooded animal enclosure with defibrillator paddles. He shocked Gombe, one of our more successful experimental bonobo, with a defibrillator. The steady beep didn't change into a rhythm.
"He's dead. Gone," Rory said. His assistant took the paddles from his hands and began cleaning and repacking the defibrillator. Rory waved his assistant out of the room. We were alone in the lab with the dead monkey staring out from the hood.
"He was healthy when I left. What happened?" I said, saddened. "When did he get sick?" Gombe was the best at controlling things with the mind/machine interface I created. Gombe was as eager as any bonobo, the cousin of a chimpanzee. He was sturdy and playful, a real quick learner too.
"The veterinarian said he had heart disease. He was the best we had. The research is dead without him. Rory picked the file containing Gombe's test results from the desk and threw it. I watched the papers float across the room.
"I guess you want me to start training a new chimp ASAP?" I said. He turned to me with tears in his eyes.
"The review is in four days. Even you can't train a chimp to operate remote equipment in four days. All our work died with Gombe today."
"Ask for an extension."
"Not possible; there's this four-star who wants my head on a platter. I need you, Bobby. I need your brain."
"In four days, I can have a new chimp ready with the basics and a few decent tricks. Will that be good enough for a continuation?"
"They want to see the full capabilities. There's only one brain in the world that can win this contract. All you have to do is pretend."
"Pretend? How?" My brain flashed warnings to my ego. When Rory got chummy and friendly-like, I almost always regretted his ideas. Whenever he started the soft soap, the deal was never in your favor. He was not only good but the king of the "I need your schtick."
"You got the interface already built into your head."
"Don't be stupid. I can't and won't hide and do it by remote control. It's illegal and impossible."
"We both know the interface works," he said. I did have a whole passel of electrodes in my skull, and I could control half the lab without breaking a sweat. But, I couldn't tell anyone about it. We'd both go to jail for planting electrodes in my head.
"I will not dress in one of those fake ape outfits from the costume store. No one would believe shit like that." I gave Rory one of those looks reserved for the goofy street people.
"You proved the concept and went on to teach Gombe to control things with his thoughts."
Using the interface as a communication tool was Rory's last great idea. He's crazy, but he's a genius.
"And I can train another bonobo. Forget what's in my head. I knew that I'd regret letting you talk me into getting electrodes implanted like that."
Rory had plans for me, and it wasn't a vacation in Hawaii. I had this same sinking feeling the time Susie Creamcheese, one of my crazier girlfriends, took me to the Rocky Horror and I saw those big red lips painted over the lip line begin singing from the screen. I knew I was in for a crazy time, but the payoff was three days of uninhibited playtime with Susie's love-bags in a Hawaiian flower garden.
"What if we used the same treatment we used to create those silverback gorillas for the army on you?" Rory said.
"Do what?" My brain didn't process that last suggestion. Rory always had a plan that involved me making him rich. I gave him a look that is usually reserved for the instant you discover dog crap on your shoe.
"You could become Gombe for a few days. Just long enough for us to secure the funding."
"You want me to change into a Pan Paniscus?" That was the Latin designation for bonobos.
"Aw Bobby, you have a thousand gold connectors in your head that you aren't even using. Gombe had six connectors. The review is a week away. How many times have I asked you to do odd things, and it always worked out? Have I ever steered you wrong?"
"Yeah, I have skin grafts on my butt after that firecracker left burn scars. That was your idea, remember," I scratched the butt in memory of that sad event.
"We were just drunken teenagers. This is a lifetime of research headed down the porcelain. It's the last favor I'll ever ask." Rory pouted and bit his thumb. He pulled the "need you" card, and I couldn't resist.
"Of course it isn't," I said sarcastically, but I knew I would do it and Rory knew it would too. What did the Vogons say: "Resistance is Useless!"
A few minutes later we stood in one of the primate labs with me getting naked while Rory opened the safe holding our Top Secret Military Project.
I let out a big sigh and looked at our six remaining chimps. They all were bonobos in scientific terms. The world called them chimps. I had trained them and lived with them after each got the electrodes implanted in their skulls. None of them were as good as Gombe. None ready for the big test. They rattled around the familiar cage, hooting, and grunting, wanting to play games.
They were my friends just like Rory. Friends help friends.
I understood what this would do to my body. I'd seen men changed into simian beasts before. I never thought through the process; I was only there to see if the results still had their wits about them; Watching them changed kind of excited me. Their wiry muscles made them strong, and the oversized testicles made them perversely attractive. However, those subjects were guys with serious military missions or prisoners with psycho-pathologies. I never thought about how it felt to change like that until now. This was too sudden, too abrupt.
I couldn't refuse. Rory shot me up with a dozen hypodermics. I mean hypos the size of quarter banks. My arms, hips, and thighs and hips ached.
"What was in those shots?" I asked, shivering from the chemicals raging through my body.
"The new regimen, more vitamins, a few anti-oxidants, and lots of the good stuff like growth hormones, steroids."
"Does the change hurt?" I asked Rory.
"You more than me. This new procedure has a retroviral DNA we formulated from Gombe's DNA. I harvested it when he showed signs of congestive heart failure. Gombe was my friend like you."
What's one more lie between friends? I thought.
"No Gombe wasn't like that. He was bright, cognitively curious and easily motivated. He paid attention when the others didn't, and his success came about because I let him hump me when no one was around. When I started giving him hand jobs in the showers was when he had that breakthrough. It's called positive reinforcement."
"Seriously? You did that for me?" Rory asked, astonished. He was rarely taken aback.
"Isn't that what you asked me to do? Keep those chimps clean and happy and find a way to make them learn? Each time Gombe learned something significant, I rewarded him. No one knew because soap and water washes away monkey splooge and monkey crap." The truth was, Gombe and the other simians were better friends than most humans I knew. Rory included. And speaking of Rory, he scratched his head and gave me his "I have an idea" look.
"Maybe you can motivate the other chimps while you're with them. This might be a breakthrough."
"I think the military calls it mission creep. Maybe we just get through the review first," I said. I didn't need or want more added to this supposed mission.
"You'll breeze through the review. Take the time alone with these chimps teaching them."
"I guess I can do that."
"Great! But remember, to the Generals, you'll be Gombe, so answer to Gombe and not Bobby. I'll have to stay with the chimps."
"I know the drill, look like the bonobo, be the bonobo, act the bonobo, become the bonobo."
Rory opened a case with two more hypodermics. My eyes opened wide.
"Two more shots? Where?"
"One each to the testicles, it guarantees a quick transformation. Think about 60, maybe 90 minutes compared to 48 hours." Rory waited until I positioned my body and he delivered the hypo's right into the center of each testicle. I screamed, and the chimps in the room joined me. They knew that pain. What guy doesn't? My head spun around as the chemicals activated. I passed out.
I regained consciousness in the ordinary chimpanzee cage on a pile of hay. The transformation started in my muscles. I never stood more than five feet tall or weigh more than 100 pounds. Bigger muscles stood out on my arms and legs. I tried to move my arms and hands, but they spasmed and jerked. I sat upright and looked oddly huge feet with finger-like toes. Reaching down to touch my toes, my hands reached beyond my feet.
Gombe used to cop a feel of my butt and balls all the time and no one ever noticed. With his short, stocky legs and thick, longer arms, he had the reach. I tried to stand but wobbled on wider and altered hips. I pulled my legs from underneath me and sat of new fatty butt pads. Bigger hands rubbed across a rounded chest. I used to be flat chested with broad shoulders but no longer. My spine crackled and twisted, hunching my shoulders. It hurt. The changes hurt. My waist narrowed, and my hips splay outward.
Patches of my skin turned dark and leathery. My body itched as thick furry hair sprouted. My neck and into my shoulders, growing thick and short.
I felt my jaw thicken and new teeth filled it. My face pulled forward to form a broad mouth and flat nose. Colors changed. Smells changed. I heard noises in the lab that I never heard. When I try to curse at the pain, words wouldn't form in my mouth. Instead, whoops, howls and hoots came out of an unfamiliar throat. As a thick orbital ridge formed over my eyes and I felt skull changing, and inside it, my brain reconfiguring to fill the space.
I expected the physical changes, a new body. I didn't anticipate alterations in my brain. The retroviral that changed my body began changing my consciousness in beastly ways that I didn't bargain for. I had no way to stop or resist. I could only let myself become Gombe and hope the mental changes wouldn't be permanent.
In the past few years, we changed some soldiers into gorillas. Each soldier stayed a few weeks after the initial transformation to learn gorilla behavior. Those men all knew sign language, and although I signed with them, I never asked about what went on in their minds after their bodies changed. They wanted the assignments, sought the assignments. Now that I was changing, I regretted not asking. I realized that I didn't know if they ever returned from their missions or returned to being human. What if they were sent into the jungle, did their spying and remained in the jungle? A sudden fear rose in me that Rory couldn't return me to human.
What if I stopped thinking of myself as human? What if this new body couldn't revert? I would be Gombe, the hairy, virile young bonobo for the rest of my life. I used to be Bobby Winslow, a friend of Rory Rothington. But now, I'm not. I don't even feel human. I am Pan Paniscus. I'm Gombe, and I'm special. I can controls machines with my thoughts. I made monkey noises to convey my feelings to the chimps around me.
The other chimps sensed my fear and held me as if to reassure me that all would be OK. They stroked and groomed me. It was familiar because I trained them. They celebrated each change. The pain and fear vanished as the transformation stopped.
I opened my eyes and looked at the chimps sitting with me. We begin to touch and groom. This is simian getting to know you, getting to know all about you. It's all so dead-on easy to let go.
I searched my memories. They remained mostly intact and pushed back like vivid dreams. I remembered the details. I remember the past as the old way. I experienced a new way. I touched, felt, smelled and tasted life as Gombe would. My world was in these cages. There were only handlers outside the cages. They are what I used to be before. I might have been them once, but they are no longer the same as me.
The chimps pointed at my manhood. It's had grown uncharacteristically long, over a foot and it lost the head and corona. My testicles were huge, like throbbing mangoes. I felt hot and horny because of the hormones in the shots. There wasn't any reason to prevent me from satiating myself with these simians. I relaxed and laid back, arms spread, legs spread, and let them use my new body in that funky chimp way. We slept.
Sun poured through the windows when we woke.
Rory led new handlers, soldiers in neat uniforms, into the laboratory and turned on the equipment. I hung back, trying to follow Rory's lecture about the importance of various tasks and controls and equipment to the soldiers. I understood words, but words weren't as important anymore. Today was all that was on my mind. Words and before were too much to remember. Now was for me. Now was today.
They called, and I shuffled over. The new soldiers hugged me, and I hugged them back.
"It's your time, big boy. Do me proud," he said. I chattered at him and wrapped my arms and legs around his leg, shaking my head up and down, agreeing and puckering my lips at his face. Rory hated being touched by chimps and pushed me away.
A few hours passed, and the soldiers moved us to an exercise yard.
During that time, I relearned all the things humans took for granted -- the fresh bedding, sleeping together, grooming, sharing. I was bigger than the other chimps and dominated. They followed. I liked that. Dominance enabled my teaching them how to learn and not merely mimic. Teaching was on my mind not only because Rory wanted it but because the chimps needed it. The bonobos had thoughts and did not want to be pets or puppets. We wore the fancy helmets and ran the robot arms and little cars. The tasks became more complex.
I didn't count days passing. Eventually, men in military outfits with lots of shiny medals arrived and stared at us. I didn't pay attention to their conversation. They spoke too fast. I was with the chimps and didn't need to understand. We executed without mistakes. Being heavily wired, I did spectacularly well. The handlers gave us fruit and candies. Everyone smiled and patted each other on the back. Happy all around. The two soldiers stayed behind to provide us with rewards. I showed them shower etiquette. They enjoyed it and we and groomed each other's bodies.
One night, Rory woke me, pulled me out of the cage and walked me to his office. I had to concentrate hard to understand human words.
"I don't know how you did it but all the chimps passed with flying colors. Mission accomplished. The Generals want me to expand, and funding is assured for ten years," he said. I happy chattered and gave him a kiss and did a somersault. I whooped and barked with happiness. He smiled. Then I walked over to the computer and typed with two fingers.
"Good, change me back," I typed, grunting and eeping. Rory stopped smiling. I knew that look from my memories. That's the look he used to give Bobby when he wanted Bobby to take the blame. That look meant that Bobby and Gombe would remain as we were.
"You and the other chimps are going to a military base in some jungle on the equator to learn on some secret equipment. They won't tell me more, but they want you. So you see, if you don't go, I can't continue my research. You have to remain a Pan Paniscus. You have to be Gombe. I know that it's a big betrayal, but if I change you back, we all lose. Besides, you seem happy being Gombe. This is a good deal for both of us."
I understood. His words didn't bother me as much as they annoyed Bobby who was still in my memories. Bobby would have cursed and thrown a conniption. Gombe mellow. Gombe will stay with bonobos. As long as the handlers feed me and don't hurt me, I mellow. I pressed my face to Rory's face and licked him. He hated that, but it satisfied Bobby. I let Rory go and turned to the keyboard.
"Bobby says you a rat bastard." I typed. Rory patted my back and didn't laugh. I chattered into the air and tapped the keyboard. "Gombe don't care; you not friend anymore." I waved goodbye to him with one finger.
He pretended to look sad as the soldiers took me and the other chimps to a helicopter. I wanted to fly away from the winter of Bobby's discontent, from the winter of Rory's friendship and his never-ending lies. I finally learned that there were two sides to friendship. My new simian brothers and my new military handlers treat me better than Rory. I was born for the jungle.
3150 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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