Genevieve sat aghast in front of her company laptop. Her mouth hung open like a trout caught on a fisherman's line. Her emotions dangled with equal effect. She did her best to manage the shock that radiated through herself within her workspace.
"No fucking way," she stammered out. "How is this even possible?"
The LED screen displayed the usual garbage pile of personal email subject lines. This lone email subject caused her skin to crawl. She had been reassured repeatedly that everything would work out fine, nothing could go wrong.
"Hey, let's get some coffee." Her coworker offered from around her desolate gray cubicle wall.
Genevieve jumped in place, bumping her red and white water bottle. The BPA Free container spun on its bottom before landing triumphantly in place.
"Dude, are you alright?" Bradley offered, concern cemented across his face.
"Um, coffee. I, um, yeah. It's not a good day to go for coffee. I need to…" Genevieve openly divided her attention between her worried work husband and the front of the screen that gently illuminated her face.
"Gen, when have you ever, I mean, ever, turned down a large cup of Jittery Joe's on a Monday morning? Especially a dreary morning like this one." He studied her face for clues that she wasn't providing. She continued to look at the screen as if he had ended their conversation years ago.
"Gen?!" He barked with compassionate anxiety.
"What?!" She looked at him lost in a world of thought he had not been given an admission ticket to enter. Her deep blue eyes focused back on him.
"Coffee, oh yeah, not right now. I have to…" She trailed off again, pulled back to the digital distraction.
Bradley furrowed his forehead at the mystery. He slowly edged around her unorganized paper piled desk. Genevieve caught notice of movement and immediately realized that his eyes were moments from reading the subject line blaring at her. She slammed her laptop shut, securing her arms across the horizontal logo with immediate intention. Bradley jumped back, never expecting such a reaction. He looked down at her in surprise. She met his gaze as if he had tried to read her teenage diary to the other twenty coworkers in the finance office. Genevieve reached into her verbal bag of 'get out of embarrassment free' cards. He noticed her hands shake.
"Coffee. Yes, coffee from Jittery Joe's. We should go now." Genevieve popped out of her seat into a tall stance, trying her best to project urgency to leave the moment. She grabbed her work purse, encouraging to have him to follow. Bradley watched with sustained confusion at the oddest encounter of their eleven years as friends.
The dark cottony sky held its secrets about when their rain baptism would let loose. The two of them walked in unusual silence through the other morning automatons, bypassing their customary weekend debriefings and catty comments that made Mondays before lunch bearable. The silence grew its discomfort around Bradley. He decided against asking her what bothered her a third time since they entered the elevator ten minutes ago. Her responses of oh, nothing and that's interesting continued to inflame his worry.
The scent of coffee pirouetted throughout the cramped room of Jittery Joe's. They stood in the usual line of phone-focused patrons, waiting to place their order under the smile-painted sign overhead that read ORDER. Genevieve stared through thoughts that evolved her facial expressions from eyebrow squinting concern to misty-eyed frowning. Bradley communicated their orders to the red smock wearing cashier. He had been a part of this ritual enough to know her ordering nuances. He took back his card from the young woman while Genavive navigated her emotional jungle.
"Oh, fuck. I'm sorry." She began to frantically fuss through the collection in her purse for the leather wallet with her own cards.
"Gen, I already paid. Let's move over to the side, so people connected to the day can have their turn."
She took her distraction alongside him as the baristas hurried behind impulse buy-lined walls. Bradley watched her mouth inaudible conversation to herself through his periphery. Her face responded in kind to the discussion.
"Bradley, your order's up." A thin, spectacle-wearing man sang out with more enthusiasm than anyone in line needed at 8:47 am.
"Thank you." The heat from within the paper cups warmed his hands. Genevieve continued to struggle within the sticky web of her thoughts. Bradley passed her the caramel-infused double espresso mocha hoping that the heat or the caffeine would break the increasingly frustrating spell of her ongoing distraction.
She accepted the coffee with an absentminded thank you.
They followed the same concrete path back to the lakeside office front doors. Bradley could see the numbers of his increasing frustration level in his head. Genevieve had bad days before, especially the months after she broke up with Hank several summers ago. She wore the fashion of running mascara for weeks following that, but at least those days came with scattered conversation and an invitation for him to help one of his best friends. Today, he felt like a tug boat pulling at an ocean liner who floated aimlessly near port, its captain mesmerized by the mermaid's siren song. He inferred that maybe Genavive needed to go home if she would be this distracted as they returned to their office floor. A deep flash of realization passed through her fog to central command.
"Home?! No, no, no, I, I can't go home." She blurted out, eyes wide. She looked at him with cooling coffee in hand. Bradley pulled her to an unused office, littered with storage that no one ever had the time to sort. He roughly grabbed her by the outsides of her shoulders and forced her attention to his face. He normally preferred to avoid this level of confrontation. Bradley desperately needed for her to avoid the attention of JL Silverton who happened to be in office this day.
"Gen, get your crap together and snap the fuck out of whatever's going on. Big Ball Swinger's in today and he looks clear out of nose candy. You're going to make it easy for his petty ass to end your days here and I can't do this job without you."
Genevieve looked at him as her mental puzzle began to reform. He shook her one more time. She blinked in rapid succession.
"Big Ball is here today?" She asked as if the office hadn't been gossiping about his eight-week return for several days already.
"He is. If you don't fly right, that fucking slime ball is going to cancel your career like NBC cancels all of my favorite shows. Too soon and with no regard for anything but the bottom line." He held his look at her confused face.
The stupidity of his analogy landed her final puzzle piece. She smiled cleared of the fog. He smiled in return.
"I have to go back to my computer, don't I?" She inquired, pushing back her haze.
"If you want to make partner at any point, that would be a good idea. Rumor has it that he's only going to be in for half a day. Maybe his cocaine shipment is coming in later, who knows? Get through lunch and I can cover for you through the end of the day. If he stays, there's not much anyone can do."
She nodded and smiled.
"Thank you." Her eyes twinkled with platonic affection.
"Look, whatever is going on, check that stuff until Ball-Z slithers out the front door. Do whatever you can to stay focused. His secretary has been confiding in me that he's looking to cut a few of you to make room for a third Caddie in his garage. I'm doing what I can to make sure Frances in accounting gets chopped. That pretentious twerp is better off somewhere competence and hygiene isn't a priority."
Bradley tilted his coffee cup for her clink as if they were champagne glasses. She bumped his cup in turn, their plastic coffee cup tops meeting in one spot with a dull plop.
"Clink." They quipped simultaneously.
"I need a minute," Genevieve suggested.
"You have less than that." Bradley peered around the doorway before exiting.
How do I go back to my email? she thought. The idea of dealing with that subject line began to rush water at her mental steadiness quickly unseating the stability that Bradley had helped her onto. She felt alone, knowing that he wouldn't be available until much later, especially with the ass-chewing that he would undertake for any additional attention her way.
Genevieve took full advantage of the minute alone before making a slow path back to her desk. She fought through an avalanche of anxiety towards her economy office chair. No, I have to deal with what's ahead of me, she told herself. Genevieve allowed her laptop to remain closed as she busied herself with the monotony of filing and organizing her side desk. She nursed the coffee past the halfway point, promising herself to open her email when the bottom of the cup became unoccupied. Its stiff caffeine mixture began to meet her body's need for the morning addiction simultaneously pushing her anxiety upward.
JL Silverton with slick backed, oil-laden hair made his rounds through what he called "the bullpen" as she kept busy through paper shuffling.
"Are we planning on doing any real work today, or had you come into my office to file papers like a temp?" He leered at her with the intent of overt intimidation.
"No, no, sir. I wanted to get the filing done so I could focus clearer on my computer work." Genevieve offered with genuine intent.
He thought about her words while inspecting her workspace from the carpeted walkway.
"Get your fucking computer open in the next five seconds or you will be filing other people's papers for the rest of your career in the mailroom." His smile oozed with disdain.
"Ye, yes sir." She jammed her focus to the thin laptop on her main desk. She opened the computer and processed through the password prompt.
Content with her compliance and his control, JL Silverton announced to the office with booming satisfaction, "If you aren't making me money, you aren't needed in this world." He strode away holding his customary red cup with the words Big Ball Swinger in all capital, ivory letters.
Genevieve gulped the rest of her gently cooling coffee and rolled the empty cup into the trashcan under the desk. Her teeth chattered from the unplanned encounter and the forced attention to the email before her. She read over the digital line that continued to cause so much emotional indigestion. From: Curie Genetics Subject: Mutation Danger!!, DO NOT DRIN. She couldn't make out the rest of the subject line from the cutoff. Her hand shook as she held the tiny finger icon over the prompt.
JL Silverton toured through "the bullpen" like a shark searching for vulnerable fish among the gray, work partition coral reefs of his office. Genevieve told herself that looking at a personal email during his patrol became too much of a risk for her chance of partner. An offense that would likely land her as a faceless foot soldier in the trenches of career monotony. The idea of finding a new hellion to work for sounded less appealing.
She followed his movements all while staging the illusion that her computer efforts were for the company's benefit. Big Ball Swinger moved outside of her line of sight, forcing her to open an online financial page that he couldn't offer critique about. Genevieve didn't want to open the email. She didn't want to know about what dangers a mutation could bring.
An office door shut with authority on the other side of the office. Genevieve popped her head up like a meerkat from its den, hoping to confirm her boss had retreated to the ivory tower of his office. She took in a breath and switched to her personal email somehow hoping the subject would be gone or another subject line reading Disregard Last Email magically appeared to negate the other. Genevieve clicked on her fate. The words poured into her eyes with the comfort of molten metal.
Don't drink any coffee or anything containing caffeine under any circumstances. The data is showing a 96.33% chance of irreversible, rapid mutation within two hours of consumption. We tried to call your phone at 212-555-0983 several times last night. Call us at the number below when you get this email.
Margaret Onasis, MD
Research Lead - Advanced Amphibious Research Division (AARD)
Curie Genetics, LLC
Genevieve became enveloped into a shell of dumbfounded numb confusion. Her phone number with the group had been recorded one number off at 0982, probably by that geriatric dinosaur behind the reception desk. Nothing could have prepared her for this development. They told her that the risks would be minimal. They promised a chance at her dream of being superhuman.
The remorseless bricks of reality piled around her head as time began to become meaningless. Her stomach began to quake as if a drunk monkey began wrestling a restless puppy under her blouse. The words oh no trickled from her lips. Genevieve desperately searched for Bradley from her seat. An impossible feat without standing. Her toes began to pain as she fought not to double over. The thought of her boss coming back during her moment of weakness would likely prompt one of his many "time of the month" quips. A searing pain simultaneously ripped across both sides of her neck. Her hands remained on her stomach.
Bradley, she muttered to herself, praying for a burst of ESP to force his assistance. Her breathing became insatiably easier for a reason she couldn't imagine. Her neck pain subsided, being replaced with a gaping sensation. Genevieve securely covered her mouth to stall the growing need to vomit. Her ability to breathe continued unabated. Confusion grew to staggering levels. She hesitantly touched the right side of her neck. Several skin flaps opened and closed in time with her breaths. Her eyes widened at the one word she had never associated with her imperfect body. Gills. The pain from her feet continued to increase, jockeying to receive proper attention. Genevieve became locked in petrified fear about slipping off her low pumps.
The fluorescent-lit room began to spin on a turntable before her watering eyes. Genevieve called out for Bradley, finding that her tongue had since tripled in size silencing words that wouldn't reach anyone's ears. She doubled over her chair vomiting red-orange slush all over her smile decorated coffee cup. Genevieve sat up. Her tongue began to pass between her lips to gain space for itself.
Pain erupted in her hands causing bringing them flush against her tossing stomach. Her shoe fell off, causing her eyes to grow large at the sight of a left foot that looked as if its toes melted together into a human flipper. Three powder blue painted toenails littered the industrial, gray carpet. Panic took full hold. She attempted to stand. Her legs refused to comply. Genevieve struggled to make sense of herself. Mutation. Coffee. Bradley. Midas. The words began to lose their meaning in her internal dictionary. She looked down to her lap as her back tensed into a series of muscle knots. Genevieve became complicit in watching her fingernails pop off into her crimson skirt. She groaned to herself. Her eyes rolled. She could intimately feel her four-finger skin merging to one another as her thumbs began to double in length.
A primal need to find solace overtook her brain. Genevieve stood up against the objection of her twitching back muscles. She took flight to the stairwell, working towards the one goal of escape from the ever-blinding light. Her long, brown hair trailed behind in segmented clumps, careening to the carpet. She breached the stairwell door, leaving her other shoe just beyond its entrance.
Genevieve's world became painted in hues of obscene fuchsia. Her breathing remained steady as she burst through the lobby-level door. She swung her head around, thinking more like a loose animal than a rational human. Her eyes took bead of the lake just off of the building grounds, ignoring the few people talking outside. Her feet plopped along the tiles as if their bottoms were lined with suckers. Genevieve bore through the double doors into the daylight. The smokers outside jumped backward at the bald womanesque creature whose eyes appeared to radiate an obscene magenta over a wide gill-lined neck.
She began tearing away at her clothing as the water became closer. Her hand claws ripped open the blouse at its center, splitting the top into one flapping fabric. Genevieve had enough humanity left to know that her skirt and panties needed to be pulled down to be free of their constraint. People watched with expressed horror as the woman tore her purple bra off into the grass. A distressed witness later recalled that a naked woman, accessorized in what looked like monster make-up dove into the cold waters of Lake Polamalu. No one reported seeing her resurface.
Water rescue units searched the immediate vicinity for several hours before giving up on finding the woman. Local police concluded that the incident had been orchestrated as either a prank or personal cry for attention. No one from the office could offer anything additional to help clear the mystery. Bradley explained to formal investigators that Genavive had acted abnormally, though, upon their exit, she appeared to have calmed down as he knew her to be. The moment detectives left, JL Silverton refocused his office back to their tasks after threatening to "shitcan" anyone deciding to "flake out like that broad."