What if you had the means to give people superpowers? Who would you deem worthy of them? The highest bidders? The kind-hearted? The brave? The commited? The helpless?
It was a simple thing, really. Tweak some nerves, add some computer chips, stem cells, fungi, radiation, viruses, and hormones and... presto! you could create all sorts of seemingly supernatural abilities. Scientists like Crystal had been working on theories and prototypes for years. And now, a real breakthrough! Fame, prestige, esteem - they were all hers! She had devoted years of her life to science projects, and the idea that she might actually be acknowledged for it gave her goosebumps.
Crystal glanced back at the twitching brown rats in the cage beside her. They had no idea what she had done to them, but they didn't seem to like it. She gave a bit of food to Number 7 - the one she had nicknamed Flyer - who nibbled it cautiously, then more aggressively. She took out another vitamin-rich pellet and held it just above his reach. He stood on his hind legs to gobble it up. She held the next one from the top of the cage. Flyer hesitated, still on two feet, twitching his little nose. Slowly - she almost didn't notice - his two feet lifted off the newspaper. He floated close enough to grab the pellet, then fell back down and ate, grouchy as he always was when made to do tricks.
Crystal smiled and rubbed her arm, thoughtful. No matter how many times she saw it, she could never fully believe it was happening. A rat that could fly - not just fly, but hover, floating on air - like Peter Pan! She had done that. The implications where phenomenal! Giddy with excitement, she removed her lab coat and smoothed out her new green top. She was going out for lunch with Brenda, her colleague and best friend, to celebrate her promotion and whatever awards she might possilby receive!
When they got back from lunch, Crystal and Brenda were still laughing. One look from their boss, Bob Vanden, silenced them. His arms were crossed, a frown locked on his mouth. "May I have a word?" he asked, only a hint of politeness in his tone.
"Um, yes, of course." Crystal tried to hide her confusion. And the small twinge of disappointment. So much for the promotion.
Mr. Vanden led Crystal and Brenda into his office, briskly shutting the door behind him. Though Crystal had visted his office countless times, she didn't recognize the two large men who stood by the door. Something was wrong.
Mr. Vanden cracked an ugly smile. Something was very wrong. "I hope the two of you enjoyed your lunch?" It was a rhetorical question, but Brenda nodded and smiled. Their boss ignored her and continued. "I would like to acknowledge you, Crystal, on your breakthrough with the lab rats. Quite a discovery." Crystal recognized Flyer in a cramped cage on Mr. Vanden's desk.
Crystal was getting a very bad feeling. "Thank you. Was that all?" she asked, shifting towards the door. The big men were blocking her exit.
"I'm afraid not," came the reply. "You see, this may be one of the most important discoveries our lab has ever made. I need to ask if you told anybody else about your project or findings. Anyone."
Crystal shook her head. "Nope. I don't really have any friends; not ones that will listen to me talk about science anwyay..." she laughed nervously.
"Oh good." He chuckled, sounding remarkably like the bad guys in low-budget movies. He made eye contact with the brutes who had been quiet until now. They smiled and moved towards Crystal and Brenda. "I haven't decided yet," continued Vanden, "whether I will use these abilities myself, apply them to someone who can use them for me, or sell them on the black market, but for next time, Crystal, you should know: real discoveries like this don't make it to the public. Can you imagine what would happen to airports if people could fly on their own? And these... superpowers, you've created. Sure, they could be used for good. But, unfortunately, most likely they will fall into the wrong hands and become weapons instead. And for that, I thank you."
Crystal wiped sweat from her forehead and backed into a corner. Both men closed in on her. Vanden already had a gun to Brenda's temple. "I need all your files, all your notes, passwords, and any other projects you ever worked on," he was shouting now. Crystal was thinking fast now, her calculator of a brain working full speed. "And I need you to sign a contract that all you have ever created or ever will create belongs to me." Vanden jabbed the barrel at Brenda's skull for emphasis.
Without warning Crystal shot up to the ceiling, twirled in a graceful somersault over the brutes and dropped to the floor by the desk to release Flyer. "There's something you seem to have forgotten about my projects." Crystal said calmly as Flyer rose slowly into the air. She seemed to whisper into his little ear. Suddenly the rat sped straight towards Vanden and knocked the gun out of his hand. Everyone froze in surprise. Flyer flew to the door and turned the handle. Within seconds of his escape, a torrent of rats - at least fifty - raced into the office. Brenda screamed, and one of the big men did too, jumping onto the desk. They were everywhere - some flying, some moving impossibly fast, some lifting the bookshelf and knocking it over.
Crystal stood and watched with a smug smile as the room descended into rat-infested chaos. "You forgot that I intended them for good."