Middle Management: Part Three
A Tale of Scientific Experimentation
by James F. Gaines
The Boss was shaking his bushy white hair as he stepped in the door. At first he appeared not to notice the assistants, turning away from them. But then they heard his sonorous voice say, “I’m glad you’re all here. We need to make some changes.”
Mike stepped forward and blurted out, “Sir, there’s something you need to know. Something dangerous is going on. Nick – ”
“You look worried, son. Calm down. You don’t need to protect me from any truth. I’m a big boy, too, you know.”
Gabi interjected, “But sir, Mike’s right. The entire program could be ruined, all the projects will go down the drain if – ”
“Sometimes we have to let go of some things to save others, my dear young lady, that’s how the system works.”
“Why don’t you pipe down and see what our leader has to say?” Nick smirked.
“Thank you, Nick. Always to the point as usual. Well, I’ve been down to the mammalian compound and I don’t like what I find. They seem to have degenerated even worse than last time and I believe serious action is in order.”
Izzy perked up. “Do you mean cancellation, sir? In that case, could I suggest that the protein – ”
“No, Izzy, I know what you’re going to ask, but I’m not going to let you feed those subjects to your frogs, especially not alive! I have my rules about how things will be done here. Besides, I am not shutting down the whole project.”
Nick gave the others an I-told-you-so look.
The Boss went on. “I know that a lot of them will have to be destroyed and I have decided to eliminate those that will not continue. Better to let them perish than to pass on something to subjects in another project. After all, what is wrong with them might prove, in some manner, to be contagious.”
“But it doesn’t sound bacteriological,” objected Mike.
“Doesn’t have to be,” whispered Gabi. “Could be viral, or even prionic.” She glanced up at Nick. “We can’t imagine what has gotten into those subjects or how.”
“In any case, I have given the lot a good look over,” said the Boss. “I’ve culled out a number that might serve for a new control group. Not many, mind you, but more than I thought at first. We’ll have to go right back to the drawing board with them and work on the most basic adaptations to the environment. With a sharpening of the selective eugenics and some behavioral conditioning, all might not be lost. I’m planning to take a hand myself from now on. Directly back into the handiwork. I’ve always missed that anyway.”
Nick chimed in. “I’m glad you’re thinking of a little shakeup, sir. I have a few suggestions of my own I’d like to discuss with you. It seems to me that we could realize some interesting economies by consolidation. I could certainly take on a lot more – ”
“Yes, Nick, I believe you can.”
Izzy would not give up his quest for protein, though. “Sir, in the most strenuous terms, I must object to the waste of good biological resources when there is so much to be gained from the batracian experiment.” He glanced at Nick. “I realize some people feel that I haven’t brought them far enough, and I am completely ready to step aside, provided that the work go on. Just listen to their music, sir, and think what the right nutrients might – ”
“I know they may not make the kind of cognitive progress you want without that metabolism, Izzy, but I want you to look at some other survival factors first.”
“Sir,” answered the desperate amphibiologist, “We have here a breakthrough from biology into culture of unprecedented importance. You cannot let the chance slip though your fingers.”
“There are many chances, Izzy. But I won’t let your subjects starve, don’t worry.” He scrawled out a note and handed it to the bespectacled young colleague. “Take this down to entomology and draw whatever you need from their stores.”
“Oh, no, bugs and mealworms!” Izzy whined. “Their music, sir, it will just become so degraded. I can’t stand by – ”
The Boss drew a breath and his voice assumed a quieter but at the same time immensely more powerful tone as he slowly stated, “Izrafel, that is not a suggestion, but a direct order. Off with thee to entomology! And you, my dear Gabrielle, and you, too, Michael, can accompany him and help him bring up the stores.”
“Right away, sir,” acknowledged Michael, and he took Gabi by the arm as they followed a dejected Izzy toward the far doorway.
When they had filed out, Nick turned to the Boss and said, “Very clever, sir. And merciful, too, to spare them a good reaming. By way of consolidation, I would like to suggest – ”
“Oh, I intend to talk about consolidation in just a bit, Nick. You’d better sit down.” The Boss’s tone had changed again and when Nick turned to him to scrutinize his face for the reason, he saw a look he had not seen for a long time, one that sent chills down his spine. Anger was concentrated in those eyes like a beam from a blazing fire.
The Boss reached for something in the pocket of his tweed jacket and tossed it on the table in front of Nick. Aghast, the assistant’s jaw dropped, as he realized, too late, what was on the Boss’s mind. The object was a skull with two enormous fangs.
“Now, Nick,” said the Boss, “First we’re going to have a little discussion about snakes.”
Nick folded his dark wings closer to his body and hung his head, fearing, correctly, the absolute worst.