American Chimera – 3.5

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“So you knew, from the first day, that she was a female spider?” the interrogator asked.

Dr. Worthington sleepily answered, “Were you not certain? I mean, I knew the government could be lax, but I didn’t-”

“Just answer me yes or no.” The interrogator tapped her pen a single time on the table next to her, the loud crash moving the orchid sitting on it. “Was she female on the day she was born?”

Dr. Worthington lifted a brow. “Yes…but I don’t understand why that’s important. You should know what she is based off my story – she’s some kind of experiment, a chimera if I’m right. I would think the fact that she’s a genetic monstrosity would be more concerning to you.”

The interrogator’s eyes narrowed, pointed at the old woman. “When did you decide to believe that Dani Huffman was a genetic monstrosity?”

“You know when,” Dr. Worthingtown scowled. “June 18th, 2081. She was eight at the time, and if it weren’t for the war and the Accords, I would have just seen what Janie saw – a little girl.”

“A little girl? You saw a giant spider as a little girl?” The interrogator stood. “Either way, you failed to report what you knew to be a chimera.”

“And what would have happened to me, to her, had I done so? Dani is an intelligent girl, and she’d become a fine young woman if allowed.” Dr. Worthington shook her head. “I’ll cooperate now. There’s no reason not to, especially when I might give information that may bring her comfort. However, I am glad that I gave her a few more years of freedom. I just hope that you realize what you’ve done by capturing her and us is wrong.” She stood from her chair, wobbly as she held onto the arms. “Now…get me my walker. I’ll be needing it to get back to my cell.”

The interrogator nodded and grabbed the neoprene sleeve over the walker’s bar. “Yes. Of course.” She scooted the walker over to the elderly woman and escorted her out.

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American Chimera – 3.4

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I gripped my hand into a fist and gritted my teeth. “I don’t know what she is. She’s bigger than the biggest spider ever recorded, and there’s no telling how big she will get or how long she will live. If you decide to keep her, it will be your responsibility to care for her, and I genuinely don’t believe you will.”

Janie nodded enthusiastically. “I will, Doc, I will!”

“My God,” I said, “What is wrong with you? Worse – what is wrong with me?! You have a truck full of starving dogs, and you expect me to believe that you’ve got the ability to care for an exotic animal? A spider will never love you, and something this big might one day turn around and kill you. You can’t possibly care for this thing.”

Janie picked the poor thing up. “You say she’s a lil’ girl, Doc?”

“Yes, but that’s not the-”

“Then I’ll call her Daenerys Charlotte, because I thought she she was gonna be a dragon but she turned out to be a baby…a little baby girl.” She wiped her eyes and reached for her wallet, taking out a debit card that I was certain she’d not owned the last time I’d seen her. “I’ll care for her. I’ll do it.”

I held my breath and my fists for a few seconds and considered my husband at home, how I’d planned on working five more years before I’d join him in true decrepity. “Alright,” I said. “I’m taking your dogs, and you better bring her in every month with her visits paid. She’s too dangerous to toy around with, and I will have her seized as soon as things even start to look bad. Understood?”

“Yes, Doc! Oh, thank you so much!”

I groaned and turned around to my computer. The fecal sample was coming through, giving a nice analysis of the protein shake’s suitability as food on the screen. I looked at the analysis, saw what she had eaten and what she hadn’t. “I can’t tell if your Daenerys is going to be healthy or not – whatever she is, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. I don’t even know which Phylum she should be classified into. If you want my advice on what to feed her, though, get down to the store and buy her some baby formula. If she seems sickly or doesn’t eat it, come back and I’ll take another look. For now,” I bent over the baby spider clinging to its mother’s shoulder, “Nothing is obviously wrong. Make an appointment at the front desk for two weeks from now and pay up.”

Janie nodded and wrapped the towel back around her baby. “Thank you, Doc. Thank you so much.”

I stepped out of the room after her and watched as she and Brett actually paid for the visit. I instructed the vet techs to collect the horde of dogs, and eventually they left.

At the time, I didn’t actually expect them to come back, and I wasn’t very concerned over the life of the spider.

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American Chimera – 3.3

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I screamed and nearly had a stroke when the black legs and fangs stuck out from the white blanket, the spider screaming like a small child. I even jumped back when it flailed helplessly, and I had thought I’d seen everything already, being a vet for thirty-some odd years. I pointed at the creature in Janie’s hands. “What are you doing with that?”

“It came from an egg I found in the holler,” Janie answered. She handed the screaming pile of towels over to me, hands gentle. “At first I thought it was a dragon, but didn’t turn out that way. It’s cryin,’ though, and I can’t make it stop. It won’t eat bugs, and it poops everywhere. Help me out, doc, and I’ll give you the next paycheck – no, next two paychecks – I get. Please.”

I nodded and reached out my hands to take the child with all the gentleness Janie seemed to be insisting. The spider continued to scream for reasons unknown, the sounds it made breaking my heart despite the terrifying appearance. “Do you have a fecal sample?” I asked.

Brett nodded and held up a canvas grocery bag. “The thing won’t stop poopin,’ Doc. We got you covered.”

“Then you go give that to the technician. Tell her to run a metabolite scan and bring me the results.” I nodded to Janie next, ushering her to the wooden door covered in bite and claw marks from the years of business I’d had in this building. She followed into the exam room, her face paling as I placed the spider in its towel on the steel exam table. It didn’t seem to like the cold table either, but at the time I didn’t realize exactly what I had my hands on.

Instead I unwrapped the thing and, while I gloved my hands in nitrile, looked briefly over its body, finding that it had no distinguishing marks that would let me know what species it was. It lacked the bulbous pedipalps, so I suspected instantly the creature was female. Even though I’d seen tarantulas and camel spiders before, I’d never heard of a spider this size. “When did you say you hatched this thing?” I asked, hoping it was close to dying.

“This mornin,’ real early,” she said. A hand reached up to her face to wipe some mucous from her nose. “I fed it bugs, but it didn’t eat ’em. All I got down it was a vanilla protein shake.”

“Good lord,” I muttered, or perhaps something equally as disdainful. I put my gloved hand up to its body and turned it on its back, and at that moment I felt something I shouldn’t have. I readjusted my hand despite the frighteningly big fang on its mouth, then took a better hold of its abdomen. There was a heartbeat, distinctive as if it had valves, within. With one hand I held the spider down, and with the other I removed my stethoscope and placed it in my ears.

Sure enough, there it was. A four-valve heartbeat. I noticed now that the creature was generating heat, that it was breathing with lungs, that it wasn’t an ordinary spider at all. I eyed Janie while she shivered on the other side of the exam table, and after a few moments listening and confirming that I wasn’t finally going insane, I took the stethescope out of my ears. “What is this?” I asked. “This isn’t a spider, and you haven’t been forthcoming-”

Janie burst into tears. “I found the egg in the holler back in June, and I kept it warm and cozy since then. I listened to it wigglin’ at night, and I…this is mine, Dr. Worthington, and you cain’t take it away. Is it gonna live?”

I huffed. “I’ve never seen anything like this. She’s…she’s not a true spider, not as far as I can tell.” I brushed my gloved hand against the creature’s stomach, and it began to settle down from the crying.

Bare-handed, Janie reached out and stroked one of its legs. I saw the lack of fear in her eyes, the love she had for this poor, pitiful monstrosity. She cooed at the baby girl and slowly picked her up.

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American Chimera – 3.2

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The Huffmans were the type of people I prayed would bring their dogs in for shots or neutering. They were backwoods folks – deep, deep backwoods – and that often meant their dogs ran around half feral, spurting out litters. Half the pups would die of parvo and most of the rest be drowned in a gunny sack to hide them from the government. At the same time, even if the Huffmans or those of their ilk lugged their pets in to see me, they rarely brought any money. Sometimes the government would subsidize the sterilizations, sometimes they wouldn’t. Most work done on those animals was gratis, performed with the hopes that I’d at least prevent something worse from happening down the line.

So when I heard that the Huffmans were coming in with a truckload, I sighed with relief at the same time that the muscles just next to my wallet clenched. I heard the baying of their hound mutts long before I saw Janie Huffman through the front window as she got out of the truck, something swaddled in a white towel in her arms. Brett Huffman hopped down from their old truck soon after, his face white as a sheet and his steps uncertain.

I gulped. They didn’t pay any attention to the dogs howling in the back – not when they scrabbled at the sides of the truck, not when the biggest dogs jumped out and ran wild, and certainly not when the littlest dogs cried to escape. Whatever was in the blanket, I thought, had to be deathly ill and concerning the Huffmans deeply.

The bell on the door dinged as they rushed in and ignored the lady manning the front desk. They looked through to the back, finding me easily while Janie held tight the bundle in her arms. “Dr. Worthington!” Janie shouted. Tears ran down her face, and Brett wrung his hands a few feet behind her. “Dr. Worthington, you’ve gotta help us. Please, please help.”

This was only fifteen years ago, mind. I was already old, my husband already retired, fiddling in his woodshop and coasting out on our nest egg. I put my hands in my pockets and resolved not to give out something for free that I would regret later. I tried to keep my feet planted where they were, but I’m afraid my voice may have betrayed my resolve by handing out tones of concern. “What’s wrong, Janie?”

Her lips quivered. “My baby,” she said, “My baby – I don’t know what to feed it. I hatched it from an egg, Dr. Worthington, but I didn’t plan it out at all. You gotta help me.”

I raised a brow, curious what she had brought in that was the size of a loaf of bread but had hatched from an egg. I was foolish enough to reach forward to the blanket and take a corner. “May I see? Is it a girl or a boy? Dog? Cat?”

Janie shook her head, tears flowing down. “I don’t know what to do. I’m scared I’m gonna kill it, Doc.”

The moment I tugged on the corner of the blanket, I heard a screech like that of an infant. I let go of the blanket immediately and took a step back. “Is that a human baby in there!?”

Brett reached forward, taking my forearm in his meaty hands. “It’s not what you think,” he assured. His hands twirled around at the blanket, a finger pointing. “Show ’er, Janie.”

Janie clutched the swaddled creature even closer and gave me a desperate frown. “You won’t take it away, will you?” she asked. “I ’member what you did to Roy, takin’ him away when he got sick.”

I sighed. “If you pay for services rendered, I won’t have to hold it as collateral. If you care for this creature more, I won’t have to get it seized from you.”

“I’ll care for it,” Janie said. “I’ll give you all the rest of my dogs if I can keep just this lil’ one. I’ll keep my job, stop smokin’ weed, whatever it takes.” She put her hand on top of the bundle.

I settled myself down and nodded. I’d take these people’s dogs – that wasn’t a hard offer to argue – but I had a sinking feeling down deep in the pit of my stomach that they’d stolen someone else’s child. There’s no way these two had passed parental tests, no way they hadn’t been sterilized a decade ago. I put my hand back on the corner of the blanket and tugged it with more vigor this time. “I’ll help the baby out. Here, let me look-”

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American Chimera – 3.1

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“Dr. Worthington,” the interrogator read from her tablet, “I see here that you have been the Huffmans’ veterinarian for…twenty years?”

The doctor nodded. “Give or take.” She moved the thick glasses back up her wrinkled face and smoothed what remained of her gray-blue hair back. “What do you want from me? I wasn’t given any warning before your goons grabbed me from my sleep.”

The interrogator breathed easily and relaxed in her chair. “You seem an intelligent person. I’m certain you’ve expected your role as Dani Huffman’s physician would end this way.”

Dr. Worthington let out the briefest chuckle and looked down her nose at the interrogator. “I did, yes, but I had been beginning to think I’d die before you found me. Took you long enough to figure out you’d lost her.” She leaned forward weakly, elderly hands not constrained by the chains as Janie Huffman’s had been. “I’m getting old, and I don’t want to die here, kid. Now what exactly do you want from me?”

“Oh, very intelligent,” the interrogator added. “What we need from you, for now, is simple. Tell us what you did when the Huffmans first brought Dani in to your practice. What did you find? What did you prescribe?”

“I likely didn’t see anything your scientists can’t find out on their own, not on the first day alone. But I’ll play – I’ll tell you what happened.”

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American Chimera – 2.4

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The interrogator took the last bite of her granola bar and savored it before returning to the interrogation room. She turned on the light, illuminating a bloody and distraught Janie Huffman still in her chair. “Did you have time to reconsider what you’ve done?”

Janie growled.

The interrogator walked deeper into the room and leaned on the back of her chair. The single lightbulb overhead lit her face dimly. “I was just speaking with the head of science at this facility. He’s in charge of specimen 803 – the thing you call your ’daughter.”’

“Then he can go to hell.”

The interrogator leaned forward, her weight placed more heavily on the chair. “What I was trying to get across was that I know what’s going to happen to your spider. If you talk to me, I will help her.”

Janie jerked against her chains, reopening a wound and causing a few trails of blood to drip a little faster. “I’ll kill you all if you lay a single hand on her!”

“I’m not doing anything. But Mrs. Huffman, you can help. The scientists just want to know how you were able to obtain a female chimera – something they themselves can’t do. If you tell me what I need to know, I can limit any pain she may feel. They can’t help her without better information.”

“You ain’t helpin’ her either way.” Janie grimaced. “She was fine at home. Ever’thing was goin’ well till you’ns showed up.”

“They’re going to force her to reproduce if you don’t talk. There’s no extent at which they’ll stop, either. If you don’t tell me how they got a female, they’re just going to keep impregnating her over and over until they figure it out themselves.”

“Go straight to hell!”

“Fine.” The interrogator let go of the chair. “I’ve tried being nice, and I still want to help you, Mrs. Huffman, but you’re obviously being non-cooperative. I’ll bring you pictures of your ’grandkids’ when they come along – we’ve got the time, and it’s not like you’re ever going to be released from this prison.” The interrogator used her tablet to call for guards to take Janie away.

“You’ll pay for this!” Janie shouted. “If I have to wait ’til I die, I’ll see you suffer! I’ll see your entrails pulled out and boiled in hell!”

A couple guards, dressed in mechanical strength enhancers, entered the room. They marched to the chair, clutched Janie by the wrists, and unlatched her from the chair. Though Janie kicked, screamed, and bit at them, the metal officers remained unharmed beneath their protective clothing.

When Janie was finally removed, the interrogator returned to her seat. She called for a cleaning crew and the next prisoner.

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American Chimera – 2.3

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The interrogator lifted a brow. “Forgive me for sounding stupid, but shouldn’t that be an easy fix? Shouldn’t you already know which of your chromosomes are X and which are Y?”

Dallin chuckled and shook his head paternalistically. “I suppose a lay person would think that. But no! Sex determination isn’t always so straightforward as chromosomes. Alligators, for instance, have their biological sex determined by the temperature of their nest. Birds have an entirely different chromosomal system from us mammals.”

“Really?” the interrogator asked. She backed away from the desk. “I’ve never heard of this.”

Dallin smiled. “It took me a while to absorb, too. Not something my parents had me learn at Temple, that’s for sure!”

“Even assuming what you say is true, you designed these creatures. How do you not know how they work? Can’t you just do a genetic analysis or something? Surely you’re approved to do that.”

He nodded. “Oh, we know already know everything about her little genome. We have her entire sequence down to the very last LEU element, transcriptional patterns, methylation, and average histone organization. We know exactly how her body is working. The problem is that the trigger is non-natural, and we don’t know what it is.”

“This doesn’t sound believable. How did you create something you don’t understand?”

“It’s much easier to do that than you think.” He pulled down a holographic screen and moved around some of the complicated letters and numbers. “See this? We know these are the genes controlling sex because the promotors have the Whitefield signature.” A couple gene sequences lit up. “He wasn’t supposed to put in a non-transcriptional sequence so dumb, you know. You see it, right? See how it encodes tryptophan, histidine, isoleucine, threonine -”

The interrogator pointed to the genes. “So why can’t you just figure it out from there?”

Dallin leaned on the table. “We don’t know what the transcribed proteins mean. These genes haven’t been phenotypically characterized. They’re not familiar and don’t line up clearly with any sex triggers on any of the genomic databases. No species has these sequences save for the chimeras, so the trigger was entirely fabricated from scratch by Dr. Whitefield.”

“Then ask Dr. Whitefield about it. Force him to talk.”

“Dr. Whitefield was fired in ’68. He’s since went to find spirituality in the Colorado mountains and hasn’t been heard from since ’76 – assumed dead, I’m afraid to say. Until the Convention in ’81, it didn’t matter whether or not we could make females. Males could serve as super soldiers just fine, and we didn’t need to have them reproduce sexually.” He moved to his own tablet, sitting on his desk, and then brought up new information on the hologram. “His notes are unhelpful, as well. Dr. Whitefield was a brilliant scientist, but his notebooks were just shopping lists, coffee stains, and strings of numbers that no one – including him, in all likelihood – understands.”

“This is ridiculous. Don’t you have people check your work?”

“We do now. At the time, this research was mostly an academic endeavor, and the restrictions were more…lax. Sadly, we know more about Dr. Whitefield’s work from old requisition records and communications than from what he’s written about it himself. His last notebook entry was from two months before he got fired, and it reads,” Dallin brought up a holo-copy record that appeared to be written in red crayon, “Ran out of funding.”

The interrogator ate a bite of the scone and chewed thoughtfully. “Alright. What I’m gathering here is that something awful happened to your records, and you don’t know how to produce a female chimera. These rednecks found one, and-”

“Or made one,” Dallin interrupted.

“Or made one, and you need me to do…what?”

“I need you to figure out how they did it.” Dallin pointed a finger to his mahogany desk. “I’m thrilled that we have one female specimen, but if we don’t know how they got a female in the first place, it’s useless. We’re already working to fertilize Specimen 803 to create the next generation of chimeras, but without more knowledge, she cannot be the genetic Eve for an entirely human-fabricated species. It’d be great if we could just get the info out of the prisoners and not have to waste so many Gen 3 specimens trying to figure it out.”

The interrogator turned her tablet so that Dallin could see it. “I’ve already talked with a Mr. Brett Huffman, the male that worked to keep specimen 803 in his home. He’s useless – beyond useless – because he’s just a big, fat, racist idiot who doesn’t understand what he’s done. The man is a total loon. The female is in the interrogation room right now, and she’s refusing to talk. I don’t think either of them are going to give you specific information about temperature or chromosomes or what have you.”

“I just need all the information they have about her. What did they do to the egg? Was she female at birth, or was the change enacted later? We have no idea how this works.”

The interrogator stood. “I’ll send you copies of any conversations I have that might be relevant. I’m talking to their veterinarian soon, so maybe you’ll get your answers from that.”

“Sounds perfect. I would love to see her medical records, if you have them.”

“We took everything from the vet’s house and former offices. I should be able to retrieve them for you.”

“Excellent.” He reached into his lunch bag and took out another wrapped baked good. “Popped amaranth granola with just a touch of pecan. For the road.”

Her eyes widened. “This is precious, I shouldn’t-”

“Don’t you dare worry! I’m old, and I’ve had plenty of pecans in my life. Now you take that with you and enjoy it.”

The interrogator gave a salute. “Yes, Dr. Smith.”

He lifted a finger and, with a smile, corrected, “Dallin!”

“Yes, Dallin.”

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American Chimera – 2.2

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The interrogator sat down in the comfortable, faux-leather chair. Across a mahogany desk, in an even more comfortable looking faux-leather chair, sat a cheerful old man whose hair still glinted blonde in places between all the gray.

The old man unwrapped a scone. “Oh, it’s so good you could join me this morning. Would you like a scone? My wife made them. Whole wheat.” His voice was sweet, the accent a comforting, nearly standard American. He reached in his canvas lunch sack and withdrew another package in waxed brown paper.

The interrogator took it, peeling off the corner and smelling the rich pats of butter that had gone into making this treat. “This is too much. I couldn’t-”

“Oh, Mara loves making these things. Now that we got grandkids visiting us, it’s just around the clock for her with baking. Stop by when we get cheese rations – her funeral potatoes are…to die for.” He snickered at his pun, pushed his glasses up his nose, and chewed another piece.

The interrogator looked to a photo frame on the old man’s desk. It was a picture of him and his wife, four (four!) children, and a smattering of six grandchildren. “Your kids were obviously born before the Family Planning Acts were in place.”

He nodded and smiled. “Oh, yes. Couldn’t have got away with four otherwise.” He patted the top of the picture and began to say something, then resisted the urge to brag about his enormous family. “Anyway, it’s so very good of you to come visit. It’s not your job to answer to me, after all.”

“But we still have to work in close quarters, Dr. Smith, and we do so with the same goal: protect the country.”

He smiled. “Of course.” He coughed and opened a drawer on his desk before rummaging through for a tablet. “You don’t have to call me Dr. Smith – we don’t believe in a true heirarchy here, and ‘Dr. Smith’ makes me feel like I have too much power. Call me Dallin.”

“Yes, Dallin.” The interrogator cleared her throat and opened up her tablet. “You said you were interested in some information from our prisoners. As you know, it’s my job to determine which – if any – of the captives pose a threat to national security. I conduct exit interviews and collect sworn affidavits stating that they will never speak about the specimen again.”

He smiled and opened a thermos full of cold water. “Yes, good work you’re doing. It’s such a shame we had to imprison all those unfortunate souls. Yes siree, you’re doing God’s work here. Water?”

She shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m going to drink this coffee as long as I’m on the base and can wallow in the luxury.” Dallin frowned as she sipped the hot brew. “But that’s enough about me, Dr. Smi – uh, Dallin. You’re the head scientist here, of course, but I’m curious as to what you do. Chimera research is highly illegal.”

He smiled. “That’s sweet of you. ‘Highly illegal’ isn’t usually the term I hear for it!” He chewed through a bit more scone. “I know, I’ve thought about all that ‘crime against humanity’ mess, but it came down to the fact that I needed to keep my job and feed my family. Being head scientist, at this point in my life, is mostly just due to me being the oldest. None of us really see me as being in charge, except for me having these nice chairs and fancy desk.”

“So what do you do?”

“Well, before the Fifth Geneva Convention and the end of the Chimera Wars, I researched growth cues and embryonic patterning. I started my work back in the 40’s at the Rocky Mountain Labs, figuring out how to make creatures grow limbs or features in a controlled manner. At first I did it on ordinary orb weaver spiders, and that was just so delightful and fun. Some of the poor things didn’t turn out too happy, but it was good science. I’d kill them humanely even though spiders usually don’t require such careful disposal. In the late fifties, the NIH revealed some of the other pieces of the project and I realized my work was at the middle of all of it. Then they transferred me here, revealed my grants were actually with the CIA, and…well, the rest is history! Without my research on the orb weavers, none of the other pieces could have been placed into the same organism.”

The interrogator swallowed. “Your work was the key that allowed all the other genetic research come together.”

Dallin poured himself a cup. “Yup. That was my job in all this beautiful mess. Now that we’re all settled, I suppose we should get down to a little bit of business.” He dabbed a cloth napkin to his chin and corners of his lips. “As you know, this facility is the last one to contain the American chimeras, and we’re currently very limited in scope. We are only allowed to work with the specimens we’ve already created, and we’ve technically been barred from producing any additional creatures. In a cruel twist of fate, if I want to secure more funding for the project, I’m almost required to produce more specimens.”

The interrogator palmed her thermos of coffee and turned the lid. “Based on my briefing, there are hundreds of chimeras in the basement cells. Why do you need more subjects?”

“Because all of ours are male,” Dallin answered sweetly. “Our chimeras were designed to be a self-sufficient, reproducing species. They’re not even close to the same thing as those pitiful creatures the War was fought over. The problem is that we’ve never successfully produced a female. I need to know how those silly rednecks managed to get something we’ve never been able to produce ourselves…”

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American Chimera – 2.1

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A woman with a long, blonde braid yanked at the chains that held her to the chair. She spat at the interrogator, falling short only by a couple inches. “Let me outta this chair, you cow’rd!”

The interrogator remained calm and wrote something on her tablet. “It’s not my intention for you to get hurt, Mrs. Huffman, but fighting against those cuffs can’t be good for your wrists.”

She tugged once again, scraping against her already raw wounds. “You let my daughter go, you piece of garbage! You don’t wanna know the words I got for people like you!”

The interrogator’s gaze snapped away from her tablet and up towards Janie instead. She remained quiet for a moment. “I just want to have a nice chat with you. Brett Huffman already cooperated with us, and he’s enjoying the benefits.”

Janie spat a second ball that made its way to the interrogator’s leg. “Eat shit and die.”

After removing a handkerchief from her breast pocket, the interrogator wiped the saliva from her pants. She turned her wrist to check the time. “I’m going to leave you alone with your thoughts here for a little while. I’ve got all the time in the world to get you to talk.”

“Say that in thirty years, you old coot,” Janie prodded.

The interrogator stood from her chair, closed her tablet, and walked away. As she got closer to the door, Janie screeched louder and fought harder against her bonds.

She turned off the lights.

The door shut.

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American Chimera – 1.5

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“And what then?” the interrogator asked. “What did the vet say?”

Brett pointed ot the ground. “Chaw first. You get my chips and Pepsi out here, or I will shut my mouth tighter than a snappin’ turtle in a lightnin’ storm.”

The interrogator stood from her chair. “Your chips and Pepsi are on their way. Tell me what the vet said, Mr. Huffman.”

He turned up his nose at the interrogator and swiveled his head to watch the door. In the middle of the door was a slot that could be opened from the outside, a small table hanging from the door just underneath. An exit sign glowed a faint red in the dim room and reflected faintly off the metal walls. Lights hung from the ceiling, most of them off during the interrogation.

The interrogator cleared her throat and put a hand to Brett’s shoulder. “How did Mrs. Huffman decide to keep the spider so quickly? How did you decide what to do with it next?”

The slot on the door opened, and a hand placed an open glass bottle with a bag of chips next to it. Brett looked up to the interrogator, who let go of his shoulder and nodded to the gift with knowing eyes.

He stood from the chair, exaggerating the pain with which he stood, then hobbled over to the door. The interrogator noticed the thick skin on his fingers, the layers of sunburn that had built up the scabs and markings on the back of his neck. The man reached a shaking hand down to the chips and ripped open the top.

“Mr. Huffman, are you going to talk?”

He took a swig and coughed. “Oh hell no. Ain’t givin’ you nothin.”’ He took another sip and chewed some of the peanuts that came out with the drink. “I asked for Pepsi, and sure ’nuff you got me a Coke. Good faith my ass.” He sat down next to the door. “Take me back to my cell. ’Less I get what I ask for, you ain’t gettin’ nothin’ else outta me.”

The interrogator let her shoulders drop. “You’ve done well today, I suppose, and I’ll have plenty of time to talk with you later.” She tapped a few buttons on her tablet. “I’ll grant your request. You’ll have to learn to trust me better, Mr. Huffman.”

He laughed openly and tossed the empty bottle to the side. “Trust you? A colored Yank woman from the gov’ment who’s got me in jail for no reason at all?” He giggled and stood, offering his bonds as a means of control. “Sorry, ma’am, but there’s no way I’ll ever trust you.”

She put her hands behind her back as the door opened, a couple large guards taking hold of Mr. Huffman’s shoulders and dragged him out of the room.

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