"Chip!" a voice called down the hallway. Chip spun around, barely having time to register the girl streaking toward him. He reached out and deftly caught her, dipping her down for a kiss. "Melany," Chip said, somewhat breathlessly, after they parted. "Dr. Neff said you had a physician's visit. He said to remind you," Melany said, smiling despite herself. Chip nodded. "I'm on my way there," he said, scratching his head, "though I'm not sure why they've called me back so many times in the last month." Melany looked worried. She fidgeted with Chip's lab coat collar and eyed him. "You don't think you're sick?" she asked quietly. "No, I asked them the last time. They said it was 'routine' but they're doing a lot of strange tests. Still, I'd better go before I'm late! I'll catch you at dinner, Melany!" Chip called as walked away. Melany waved and then turned back to the laboratory. Chip smiled to himself as he made his way down the corridor. He'd been at the facility since he was twelve, going on five years now. Melany was ten when they met, but they'd only started dating within the last year. The laboratory facilities they were part of were the most elite in the galaxy, and Chip was proud to be part of it. Chip was originally from Earth, but it had been a long time since humans were restricted to their original planet. Terraforming had been all the rage in the late 2100's, and all the planets in the Milky Way were now inhabitable. It was now 2176, and most of the colonized planets were as well along as Earth. A centralized government, physically housed on Earth, still ran the entire human populous. Chip often marveled at how peacefully and effectively the planets were run despite being so broken up, but he guessed it was similar to the ancient days when rivers, oceans and seas provided a formidable barrier between territories and other countries. Instead of the sea, space was now their dividers, and on a much larger scale. The civilization itself was also more advanced. The community as a whole raised the children, instead of a single family. This created less social deviants, and helped to nurture children whether they had true-parents or not. Food was shared and distributed among all, though money gained through working was not shared. Basic supplies and tools for living were provided so that no one was left hungry or homeless, but anything beyond that was the person's own responsibility. Chip was lucky to know his true-parents. He assumed he'd marry and have children with Melany, but their children would be sent away since they worked in a laboratory. Still, he didn't worry about it. He'd have access to his children, if he ever had any, whenever he pleased, and he knew they'd have a good home in his absence. His own parents were sad to see him go at the age of twelve, but they were infinitely proud that he'd been hand picked by Dr. Neff as part of the newest class at the galaxy's most elite laboratory. The lab, Chip's lab, was responsible for all the newest breakthroughs and inventions in medical science. Chip's own team had created a bio-gel, often called the "miracle" gel. It was a thick clear substance that could be changed to a liquid state with low frequency vibrations that were harmless to people. The patient could then be inserted or removed from the tank the gel was held in, while the gel stayed completely in the tank. The gel itself killed all current types of bacteria and viruses known to man, and also became a sterile shield to protect against the outside environment. It could also be heated or cooled to regulate body temperature. It was used for burn victims or those with extensive external injuries. Because the gel was non-porous and permanent when in place, feeding, breathing, and waste management tubes were needed. Chip suggested a final feature which allowed the gel, in its liquid state, to form a micro-bubble around the patient. This kept the gel out of ears, mouth, nose, and other areas where it might be detrimental. However, the gel's protective and healing properties were only active when it touched the affected areas directly, and so doctors could limit the bubble to whatever areas they pleased. Chip's team had developed this within the first three years of their class being assembled, and were by far the youngest team to have created a widely known and used product in such a short time. Most teams merely experimented here or there with different options earlier on, but then spent years working toward their higher goal. The first assignment was usually the class' choice, a practice run as well as assessment of the team's abilities, and if approved they were allowed to work on it. After that, they were assigned specific projects or goals. Chip's team was currently working on nanobots, a theory that was often used in science fiction, but that had rarely had much success in the real world. The nanobots were so small that they were able to heal or change matter on a molecular level. Work was still rough on the nanobots, though there was a call for them in manufacturing industries as well. Chip was determined to make it a reality, at least for the medical side of the industry, but his frequent physician's visits were starting to stress him out. He'd decided to walk to the clinic instead of take the transportation cars. He wanted to work some things out in his head before he got there, but ended up musing on his current position instead. Sighing, he steeled himself and walked through the automated doors. "Good evening, Chip," the receptionist said, "You're in your normal examination room today." "Thank you," Chip replied, heading there almost unconsciously. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the fact that the receptionist knew him by name and that he had a "normal" room. This was his fifteenth visit within the last three and a half weeks, and each time they insisted on doing stranger tests than the last time. Chip pushed the door to the examination room open, and noticed they had changed it to more of a laboratory. Modifying laboratories was standard fare, but something about it creeped him out in this case. Perhaps it was the cold-looking metal table standing alone in the center of the room. He noticed some metal restraints on it, and shuddered slightly. "Ah, Chip," said the doctor. Though this was the doctor who had seen Chip during all the visits this month, he had never remembered his name and thought it impolite to ask now. This doctor made him nervous, and he wasn't sure why. Chip nodded at him. The doctor checked his charts and made some notes, and then put a hand on Chip's shoulder, pushing him gently but firmly toward the table. "Please strip down to your underwear and lay down on the table," he said, without lifting his eyes from the charts. Chip reluctantly took off his lab coat, shoes, socks, shirt, and pants. He climbed on the table and lay down, wincing slightly as the cold metal pushed against his bare back. The doctor looked up as he got situated and watched silently, then quickly rushed over and clamped Chip's arms and legs in place. He drew a few vials of blood and then wandered over to a drawer, pulling out a handful of cords. "What's going on?" Chip demanded, a little anger peppering his voice. "I'm sorry," the doctor said. He clearly didn't have a very good bedside manner and it annoyed Chip even more. He began applying electrodes and little bio-monitors to Chip's head, face, neck, and chest, and then plugged them in to various areas of the table. "We're trying to assess your... response. To electrical stimulation. The restraints are just to keep you on the table. Don't worry, it won't hurt, but it may cause you to jump a little bit," the doctor finished up and walked to a small shielded glass booth Chip hadn't noticed before. The doctor flipped a switch and worked some dials and buttons. Chip started to feel a slight tingling from the electrodes, and gasped as it increased. The doctor watched with muted interest and occasionally checked the readouts feeding in from the monitors. The tinglings increased and soon seemed to merge into one shooting and burning sensation up Chip‟s spine. He arched his back and fought weakly against the restraints, trying to escape the sensations. It didn't hurt, but it was becoming uncomfortable and he wanted it to stop! The sensations finally culminated at the bottom of his spine and slowly worked their way up into his brain. His body suddenly became weak and went slack. He could feel his mind becoming fuzzy, and heard the doctor in the booth saying something to him, but he couldn't make it out. He felt the tingling feelings stop, and vaguely felt the doctor removing the electrodes. He left the monitors on and tutted. Chip muttered incoherently as the doctor drew some more blood. Chip was breathing quickly and shallowly, trying to catch his breath, and his body and mind would not respond. He saw the doctor look up and say something to someone else, curse, and fumble with a syringe. He quickly injected Chip and rushed from the room. Chip dimly followed his hasty retreat, but whatever was in the syringe began to make him very sleepy. Chip awoke to a loud knocking. He quickly jumped up and looked around. Somehow he was back in his room, fully dressed. He felt his chest and face, and they were free of the monitors. The strange unpleasant tingling was gone, as well as the fuzziness in his brain, and he was able to think more clearly. He slowly sat down, only to jump up again as the knocking resumed. Staggering to the door, Chip barely had it open before a wide-eyed and teary Melany threw herself around his neck. "Oh, thank God!" she sobbed. "We haven't seen you since yesterday afternoon when you went to your physician's appointment. We didn't think anything of it, as you said they'd been doing funny tests, but when you didn't show up this morning to the lab, I just had to come check on you!" Chip put his arms around Melany and smiled. The events of the past day began to fade, and his nerves began to calm. Perhaps it was all a bad dream, after all! "Come on, Mel," Chip said, stroking her hair and then pushing her gently away. "We'd better get to work before they're worried about us both!" Melany waited as Chip quickly showered and dressed. The events of last night seemed trivial now, though he noticed in the mirror that the electrodes had left large irritated circles on his skin. They made him uneasy because he didn't know what the doctor had done to him, and he wasn't sure how to explain them to his teammates, but he was so happy to see Melany that he pushed his concerns aside. Melany and Chip walked hand in hand into their lab. It was a small space, as far as labs go, but comfortable. As most labs were, the main floor where all the experiments were done was as spotless and shiny as the day it was built, but the inner personnel areas were tacked up with posters and silly pictures and personal notes. Paper was still in use, but not for work purposes. They all had a standard sized electronic notepad and pen, and a small pocket-sized one for jotting notes and data. On the main floor, there were several small to medium tube-shaped tanks filled with the bio-gel, and different animals were suspended in some of them. The team consisted of five members, Chip being the unofficial leader. Sophie, a shy girl of fourteen, was checking on the animals in the bio-gel. She was thin and of average height, with long mousy-brown hair. She was a bit eccentric and wore glasses, even though glasses were antiquated. She excelled in both human and veterinarian anatomy. Peter, a tall kid barely fifteen was almost as shy as Sophie. He was particularly adept at actual hands on surgeries, and did all the physical work on the animals. Chip knew he had a crush on Sophie, and suspected she might have one on him, but neither of them could gather up the confidence to ask the other out. Peter had strawberry blond hair and was a little chunky. Chip chuckled to himself when he thought about them dating. Henry was a short dark haired kid who was twelve. Henry excelled in robotic, mechanical, and computer programming and applications, probably why the team had been assigned the nanobot research project. Shockingly enough he was Chip's rival out of the group. He'd grudgingly accept Chip's direction, but usually not without extensive arguments, even when he knew Chip was right. Henry was extremely mature for his age, and was deadly serious. He was added to the group when one of their members had a nervous breakdown shortly after the invention of the bio-gel. Henry resented Chip's intelligence and charisma because he didn't have many friends due to his sour nature. Chip also suspected he had a crush on Melany, who mothered him the first year he was put into their group. Everyone knew Melany was Chip's girlfriend. She was average looking in every way, from her build to her height to her brown hair and eyes, but he loved her personality. They'd been together for a year, but it already seemed an eternity. Chip couldn't imagine spending life without her! Melany, however, was as smart as the others. She was a whiz with statistical data, and worked more on the numbers and finding meanings hidden in them. She also wrote up the reports they had to submit every week, and worked closely with Chip. Chip himself was also of average height for his age, and he had dirty blond hair and dark green eyes. He was the oldest of the group, but still extremely young to be so prolific in his work. He was spunky, emotional, and quick to act, though levelheaded and calm when it came to his work. He made friends as well as enemies left and right due to his charismatic personality, and one might think he was a jock rather than a genius. Unlike the others, he didn't specialize in one field, but he was able to learn and absorb almost anything, and his memory was phenomenal. His inclinations were more toward animal and human anatomy, like Sophie, however, and he had a more thorough understanding of the different tubes, monitors, and implants that their subjects were hooked up to. While Peter was great at applying them, fixing, and even modifying them, he often questioned Chip on which ones would be the best to use, and in what areas. Chip's build was average but he had an amazing endurance to physical activities, and an above average resistance to infection of disease. He also healed at a phenomenal rate. Lately he'd been thinking that perhaps it was this fact about himself that had gotten him so much attention from the clinic. Out of his entire team he was the only one who had never taken an actual sick day, though they were allowed a certain number of days off during the year to rest and relax. He rubbed his chest subconsciously, remembering the horrible test they'd run on him the night before, and wondering what it could have been for. "Chip," Sophie said quietly, jolting Chip out of his reverie. "Oh, Sophie," Chip said, shaking himself internally. "How are the animals doing?" "Well, the nanobots were only able to repair the superficial damage in the turtle. They healed up his shell and skin, but there is still extensive damage to his internal organs." Chip nodded. That seemed to be where they were stuck with this project. They had to figure out a way to get the nanobots to recognize deeper or more internal wounds and repair the whole thing. "How are the rabbits doing? They were hurt pretty badly," Chip asked. Sophie checked her charts. "Specimen 1 is doing all right, but Specimen 2 may need to be replaced soon. Even sedated and in the bio-gel its stats are dropping quickly." Chip nodded and looked over at the rabbit, suspended in the gel. It'd been shaved, and several monitors, tubes, and wires were connected to it. He could see it breathing shallowly and fighting for consciousness, and he shuddered not the first time thinking what a horrible existence a lab animal has. Chip moved on to Henry who was working on the microscopic nanobots. He was trying to create a working prototype and then would replicate it thousands of times. Each batch took a long time to replicate, let alone to perfect the original, so it was slow going. Henry looked up at Chip and then back to his work without saying a word. "Report?" Chip urged politely. "Working on this new nanobot. Think I got some things figured out, like their basic recognition of the whole wound, not just the superficial parts. But we'll have to see. I‟ve already started replication, so maybe by tomorrow," he said curtly. Chip forced a smile and thanked Henry. Henry didn't like Chip, but Chip wanted to be friends. They worked well enough together, all things considered. Henry, like Chip, valued their work more than petty differences, but he'd rather not have any conflict during their projects. Peter smiled as Chip came closer but he frowned slightly as he caught sight of Chip's face. Chip rubbed self-consciously at an electrode site on his cheek, and Peter quickly caught himself. Chip was silently thankful the team wasn't mentioning the events of last night. He knew they knew about his frequent visits to the clinic, and Melany would probably fill them in about last night later, but he felt better not talking about it. Peter nodded at the rabbits and some new tubes and monitors he was working on improving. Chip nodded and smiled, knowing he was doing as assigned, and then turned and headed toward his table. Melany was already there reviewing some statistics, and Chip took a seat next to her. Though they snuck the occasional kiss here or there, they were completely professional in the lab. Melany looked at Chip, and he could tell she was worried. "If it's about last night, I'm fine," he started, but she shook her head. "You have another appointment scheduled," she said, starting to tear up. She pulled up the email and stabbed at it with her finger. "It's at lunch time, and... well I just don't know why they're treating you this way!" Chip smiled reassuringly and put his hand on hers. "It's okay, Melany. I'm sure they'll figure out what they want, and I'll not have to go except at the scheduled physical times," he said, but she didn't look convinced. She smiled weakly and went back to her work, sniffling quietly. Chip pushed his chair away from Melany's workstation and shuffled through his own emails and data sheets. The others worked diligently, but there wasn't much work to be done or collected until Henry could finish his nanobots. Chip tried to push the impending appointment out of his mind. He considered not showing up, but he'd probably be written up. As it got closer to lunch time, Chip became more apprehensive. The others watched him out of the corners of their eyes, wondering what was actually going on. It was bad if the doctors took such an interest in an otherwise seemingly healthy individual. Sometimes strange biological weapons were created by teams in the lab and perhaps they thought Chip was a carrier, though that seemed unlikely since no one else was being examined and there were usually alerts and warnings. Other things could go wrong too, such as a problem with Chip himself that might not show yet, but at least he wasn't being quarantined. He realized he hadn't been written up or reprimanded on being out for the entire evening and then waking up late this morning. For safety reasons they were all fitted with a special microchip that showed where they were at all times, and if someone wasn't in the appropriate place at the appropriate time an alarm would sound in the security center. Of course, it had to be pretty serious, but Chip had known other people who'd skipped work and gotten in trouble for it. It made him uneasy, but perhaps the doctor had been ordered to sedate him and therefore they knew where he'd be. He shook himself and was about to focus on his work when Melany lightly touched him on the arm and pointed to the clock. She looked worried, so Chip put on his best carefree face and thanked her. He quietly slipped out of the lab while the others were finishing up and getting ready to go to lunch. Melany ran after him. "Chip!" she cried. Chip shuddered slightly. He just had a sense of déjà vu from the night before. “It‟ll be okay, Melany. Get back to work before you‟re caught,” he said gently. He was a bit anxious and just wanted to get this meeting over with. “Are you sure you‟re okay?” asked Melany. She could tell he was worried, and put a hand on his cheek. He gazed at her with a calm, even expression, and she eventually withdrew her hand, slowly. She tried to smile and then reluctantly turned and headed back into the lab. Chip took a deep breath and continued his walk. He arrived in the clinic with a few minutes to spare. The usual secretary was there, and was just about to open her mouth to speak when Chip nodded. “Same room,” he said, smiling, “I know!” She grinned back at him and watched him go. Then she turned and paged Doctor Rigyit. “Doctor, Chip is on his way in to the examination room,” she whispered into the microphone. “Very good, Sally, I‟ll go to meet him in a minute,” Rigyit replied. He turned back to Neff. “It has to be soon. Within tonight or tomorrow, latest. Our work is already behind schedule. “But does it have to be Chip? I‟m very fond of him, and he‟s a hard worker. I don‟t think he deserves this, and we‟ll be losing a brilliant mind! Besides, there‟s Melany. If something happens to him, we may lose her as well…” Neff sputtered. “Chip is our best bet. Without a new host soon, the alien won‟t survive. Besides, we have clearance to choose anyone we want,” Rigyit exclaimed. “You need a written waiver, and I don‟t know if I could trick Chip into it,” Neff said, his eyes stern. “Look, Neff, we‟ll treat the boy well. We have very advanced technology now, compared to when we first started, and Chip has a strong body and mind. He‟ll survive.” “It‟s not just him surviving I‟m worried about, but his quality of life!” “Well, we need him, and if you don‟t deliver we‟ll have to take him by force. You‟ll lose your position here. Neither of us can afford the consequences.” Neff sighed heavily and sat back in his chair. “Good man!” Rigyit said. He jumped up and nodded at Neff, “I have to see to Chip for his final assessment now. Make sure he signs that contract by tomorrow latest!” When Rigyit had departed, Neff sat up slowly and rifled through his drawer. He pulled out the old contract, the one he‟d duped candidates into signing before. One- hundred and thirty-six people they‟d condemned to death already. He hoped Chip wasn‟t next. Rigyit hurried into the room. Chip was sitting on the examination table. He looked a lot more at ease. The room was back to its original configuration, with the cold, hard metal table gone. Rigyit quickly examined Chip. He had Chip remove his shirt and hooked him up to some monitors. After taking readings for about fifteen minutes and then checking Chip‟s eyes and reflexes, he cleared the boy to leave. “Dr. Neff would like to see you,” he said, as the boy started for the doorway. “For what?” Chip asked curiously. “It may be the chance of a lifetime,” Rigyit replied, but wouldn‟t elaborate. Chip waited for a second, and then slipped through the doors. He had hoped to go back to the lab. He wanted to see where his team‟s progress was. Henry would almost be done with the new nanobots and they would be doing testing soon. Chip was excited to see the results, and was annoyed at so many interruptions to his routine. He found himself before Neff‟s door, blinked, and rang the doorbell. “Come in!” a voice said over the intercom. Chip walked through as the doors slid open. Neff was sitting at his desk, looking grim, but he made an effort to smile. “Chip, we have a proposition to make,” Neff said, not wasting any time. He motioned toward a chair, and Chip sat down in it. “What is it, sir?” Chip asked. He wasn‟t sure what this meeting was about, and was afraid they‟d found something in his physical testing. “Well, we have a new project opening up. It‟s dangerous, but we think you‟d be perfect for the job. The timeframe is iffy, though, and we don‟t know how long you‟d be indisposed, but your team would be taken very good care of,” Neff explained. Chip eyed the older scientist. He trusted the man, but there was something fishy here. “What is the project? Why can‟t my team work on it with me?” Chip asked. “It‟s a solo project. We‟ve been doing so many tests on you lately because we wanted to make sure you were in peak physical and mental condition. You meet those requirements, and are the only person in this facility that is best qualified for the position. It‟s a top-secret job, though, and I can‟t disclose any more information to you now. The thing is, it‟s time-sensitive material, and we need an answer now. Success depends entirely upon you,” Neff said gravely. Chip faltered. He wasn‟t sure what to think, and his loyalties were torn. “Can I have some time to think about it? I don‟t want to leave Melany alone for too long,” Chip said slowly. Neff shook his head and pushed the contract toward Chip. “We really need a response as soon as possible.” Chip looked at Neff. He was reading conflicting emotions from the man. Neff seemed to be pleading Chip to sign the paper, but at the same time he seemed depressed. Still, Neff had taken Chip under his wing when he‟d first been brought to the lab, and Chip didn‟t want to disappoint the man. Smiling, he took the paper and signed it. “A quick way to be promoted!” Chip said with false enthusiasm. At least by taking the assignment he‟d build up prestige around the lab, he thought, brightening a bit. He was still technically a rookie even with his team‟s success at the bio-gel and would enjoy a quicker boost toward seniority. He pushed his qualms about this project aside and decided to focus on the more positive side of the assignment. Neff nodded. He looked both relieved and saddened. He smiled at Chip, and then quickly turned his chair around. “Good luck, Chip,” he said quietly. “Thanks, Dr. Neff,” Chip said and exited the room, but he was perplexed by his mentor‟s reactions. Chip finished up the end of the day in a daze. He was beginning to regret signing the form. Neff hadn‟t given him any helpful information about the task, and had seemed very distant. He‟d tried to contact Neff later, but the man hadn‟t answered his calls. Chip tried to enjoy his free time with Melany after work, but she was upset by his taking the mission and cried most of the night. She finally said she was proud of him, and wished him luck. He agreed to meet her for breakfast, though in truth he didn‟t know when he‟d be notified about the project since Dr. Neff seemed so hasty. He was happy when he finally got back to his quarters where he could relax and think a bit. Chip had just gotten out of the shower and into some boxers when he heard a slight noise. Before he could turn, a man grabbed his arm and wedged it painfully behind his back. A strong hand clamped over his mouth, but Chip was able to escape the grip and throw the man. He landed with a thud, knocking over Chip‟s table and his computer console. Chip decided to cut his losses and ran for the door, but just as he got there he felt a sharp stab of pain in his back. “Ouch!” Chip exclaimed, but as he reached back to rub the spot, he felt a dart sticking out of his back. His mind fogging up, he yanked the dart out and stared at it dumbly for a few seconds, trying to make sense of it. The man was up in a flash, and quickly pinned Chip again, but this time he was too weak from the sedative to escape. Another man materialized out of the kitchen area with ropes, a gag, and a piece of strong cloth for a stretcher, and they efficiently trussed Chip and then placed him onto the stretcher and hauled him away. Chip floated in and out of consciousness for several hours as the men transported him in a top secret elevator several hundred miles under the planet‟s surface, occasionally being injected with more sedative. “Any problems getting him here?” Rigyit asked, excitement in his voice, anxiously fingering Chip. “He‟s a lot stronger than we anticipated,” the first man replied, rubbing his sore back. “The drugs worked wonders, though we had to give him the entire dose!” the second man replied, nudging Chip roughly with his toe. Chip moaned softly and struggled to stay awake. His head was throbbing and his mind was numb and begged for sleep, but Chip recognized the doctor and was aware enough that something was very wrong. The doctor ordered the two men to lift Chip onto a table, and Chip shuddered as his body touched the cold metal of the table. He had that same sense of déjà vu from the day before, but he looked around foggily and the room didn‟t seem familiar. The doctor removed Chip‟s bonds and gag, and then took off his boxers and clamped his wrists and ankles securely with the same metal restraints he had used the other day. Chip‟s body went rigid with the realization of his predicament and his mind was starting to clear a bit, the drugs finally wearing off. “What…” he muttered at the doctor. He began to struggle weakly. “Ah, you‟re awake!” the doctor said, surprised. He quickly turned to a tray with various instruments on it and picked up a syringe. Then he looked at Chip again and put it down. “Too close to your surgery,” he said, more to himself than to Chip. “No use sedating you again, it‟ll be better if the drugs aren‟t in your system anymore.” “What surgery?” Chip demanded, trying desperately to comprehend, but received no answer. The doctor began swabbing areas of Chip‟s body and applying various monitors. Chip shuddered every time the cold metal contact area touched his skin, and each one seemed to jolt him awake a little more. Finally, the doctor slipped a tube up Chip‟s left nostril and clipped it in place. Chip weakly shook his head, trying to dislodge it, but the Rigyit merely smiled and pushed a plug into his right nostril. He turned a dial and pushed a few buttons, and a greenish tinted gas began to flow from the tube into Chip‟s nose. Chip snorted, trying to dislodge the plug and the tube, but only succeeded in making himself cough. He tried to breath through his mouth, but he could smell and taste the strange gas anyway, and after a while his head began to swim and throb. His vision blurred, and then he lost consciousness. Chip awoke feeling ill. His head was throbbing and the tube and plug were still in his nose, though no foul tasting and smelling gas seemed to be active in it at the moment. He struggled a little realizing he was still bound to the table, but quickly stopped, gasping as sharp pains suddenly came into his awareness. His throat and navel hurt furiously and felt odd, as well as two spots on his lower stomach, two spots on his pelvic region, and two spots on his lower back. All up and down his spine it felt as if glass had been shoved into his back, and he breathed in short gasps, panic taking over. His right ear was plugged with something, and felt uncomfortable. Doctor Rigyit looked up at the monitors as Chip‟s heart rate and brain activities skyrocketed. He quickly approached the boy and looked him over. Chip glared at him and tried to struggle again but let out a yelp of pain. “Well, 137, you can either calm down or we can sedate you. It won‟t do for you to get all worked up,” he said. “What are you doing to me?” Chip gasped, trying to calm down. His heart was racing and he couldn‟t catch his breath. He had noticed his reflection in the polished metal of the ceiling and saw fresh cuts in the areas that hurt. They‟d been plugged up with what Chip recognized as special discs used to keep wounds open for later experiments, but to protect the open flesh so that it would not heal over or become infected. Tubes and implants were often screwed into the holes, but they were sealed off when not in use. He assumed that‟s what had also happened on his back, but was not comforted by it. The doctor glanced at Chip and felt for a pulse on his neck, checking it with the readouts on the screen near the examination table. Chip flinched at his touch, mentally reminding himself not to do that anymore, as any movement resulted in a sharp pain from the fresh wounds. “You‟ve signed on for a very special project, 137,” Rigyit replied. “You are to become the host for an alien. We‟ve been trying this particular experiment for several decades now, but we think you‟ll be the first successful host for it.” Chip glared at the doctor, and despite the pain he felt from his wounds, began to thrash. Scientists in the facility always referred to each subject by “Specimen” and then whatever number they happened to be. Chip was enraged and appalled to realize he was nothing more than a specimen to this man. “Nobody asked me!” Chip shouted, wincing as the pain in his throat increased. The doctor seemed to ignore Chip‟s exclamation and removed the plugs from Chip‟s throat and navel. He quickly slipped a breathing tube into Chip‟s neck and a feeding tube into Chip‟s belly button, twisting them until they locked into place. “You signed off on the papers last night,” Rigyit said suddenly, jabbing Chip with a needle full of sedative. “You…” Chip muttered, though the breathing tube made it difficult to talk. The sedative took effect quickly, but did not completely knock Chip out. He babbled angrily but incoherently at Rigyit, unable to do much more. “Interesting,” Rigyit said, but worry crossed his face. “The boy‟s body seems somewhat resistant to sedatives as well.” “I feel bad for him,” a young female doctor remarked from behind Rigyit. She had a tray of implants and a small clear vat with a lid on it. The vat held pieces of the alien, flat, dark reddish brown, the underside covered with sharp looking tentacles. The tentacles functioned like roots, burrowing into their host and connecting into blood vessels and nerves. The girl was twenty-two and looked nervously at the alien. “Good, Abigail, put them over there” Rigyit replied, waving his hand at some spare room on one of the surgery trays. He looked at Chip who was still ranting and raving incoherently. Sighing, he inserted smaller tubes into Chip‟s lower stomach and pelvic regions, and then tilted the table and opened a trap door, slipping two into his back. Chip froze as Rigyit suddenly seized his genitals and began swabbing the entire area gently but thoroughly. He‟d been so caught up in everything else he hadn‟t realized he was naked. Rigyit pushed special plugs into Chip, as the tubes would carry away any waste, and natural functions could cause mess and infection. He then carefully arranged Chip‟s genitals into a cold metal cup, connecting the four tubes to it and pushing it close to his body. He did the same in the back, connected the smaller tubes to a larger one that ran out of the bottom and would carry away all the waste, and then secured both back and front pieces around the larger tube. The doctor secured the completed metal cup to Chip‟s body using small metal sutures. They were square with two pins, and designed to sink into the skin until they sat flush in it. They were removable, but only with a special device. The cup had several areas with grooves and holes molded into it for the sutures. As the doctor applied the sutures, the pain lanced through Chip‟s groggy mind and he squirmed and screamed out as they quickly sunk in, pulling the cup flush and securing it firmly to his body. Rigyit closed the lower trapdoor and opened one higher. The doctor exposed Chip‟s back and the four large implants that had been imbedded in his spine along his neck and back. A metal ring was implanted around them, with two long arms that curved around Chip‟s body, securing them into his flesh, and the doctor began to plug different sized needles into various jacks built into the implants. Chip began to tremble uncontrollably, and closed his eyes, fighting to stay conscious despite his discomfort. Then the doctor carefully took a sample of blood and worked it through a diagnostic machine. Interpreting the information, he set the dial of the anesthetic regulator and pumped some more of the foul green gas into Chip‟s nose. The boy struggled to stay awake, but quickly dropped off into a deep but troubled sleep. Rigyit quickly went to work, monitoring Chip‟s brain activity to different physical stimuli and then drilling precise holes into certain areas of his skull. He slipped several clear, long, thin tubes into the holes, stopping just as they rested on the brain, and then soldered them to the boy‟s skull. The tubes were craftily designed to retract if the brain swelled or moved, so that they would not puncture it, but still kept a snug fit. He then slipped small metal monitors, with inch-long needles covering the underside, on rigid wire through the tubes until they needles were imbedded in Chip‟s brain, and sealed the top of the tubes. Abigail sighed as she caught sight of Chip‟s head, the tubes sticking up a few inches from his skull. The doctor was plugging them into a console near the table, and began to push buttons, sending weak electrical pulses through the wires. Chip whimpered but remained unconscious. “What are you doing to him?” Abigail whispered. She looked worried. “Don‟t worry, Abigail,” Rigyit replied. He was recording data after pushing each button. Chip whimpered every time a pulse was sent to his brain, and Abigail gasped, wondering if it hurt him. “I‟m testing the reaction from 137‟s brain to his body. I‟ve implanted the electrodes in certain key areas of his brain. By stimulating those areas, I can affect his body, sometimes directly, sometimes not. Later on I will be able to thread more electrode wires in through the tubes, so that a single tube will actually branch out and affect hundreds of areas in his brain. This will be crucial to linking the alien consciousness to the specimen‟s. Right now though he‟ll have to recover just from these, and so we‟ll have to wait to completely wire his brain to our machine. I am pleased with how well they seem to be working though! Now, I am trying to figure out the best place to implant the first alien graft. I think over his heart would be best. Good strong food source, and a big enough surface area to work with,” the doctor explained. He put aside his work on Chip‟s brain, reluctantly, and moved a few of the monitors on Chip‟s chest. After swabbing a large area in the middle of his chest, the doctor made a long, deliberate incision, carefully pulling back the layers of skin and flesh and securing them open. Abigail watched in horror, though it was not the first time she‟d seen this part of the surgery. The doctor nudged her gently and she quickly handed him a pair of protective gloves. Slipping them on, he carefully opened the alien‟s vat. The alien reared up and stabbed at the gloved hands with sharp barbed tentacles, but the doctor was protected and quickly grabbed the largest piece in the vat, holding it as far away from himself as possible. Positioning it over Chip‟s opened chest, the alien sent out questing tentacles that quickly sucked up the pooling blood, and then imbedded themselves into the wound. Abigail gave a sharp gasp and closed her eyes, but the doctor watched with detached interest as the alien slowly worked all its tentacles into Chip‟s flesh and then settled into his chest. Chip shuddered as the alien sent its tentacles deeper into his body, but otherwise seemed unaffected, his blood pressure and heart at a surprisingly normal rate. Rigyit smiled, knowing he made the right choice. He quickly cut away most of the extra skin and flesh, leaving just enough of a lip to overlap the alien by an inch or two. Abigail handed him the metal sutures. The doctor quickly pushed them into Chip‟s flesh and half into the exposed alien. The alien squirmed as it was sutured into Chip‟s body, but they had starved it for so long that it was reluctant to leave. Finally the wound was closed. Abigail started to clean up, but the doctor nudged her again and pointed to the tray with the remainder of the implants on it. Chip‟s heart rate was dropping now that the alien was feeding, so they quickly implanted the rest of the devices and tubes. “How are the feeding and breathing tubes holding up?” Rigyit asked. “They‟re doing well, though the incisions for the larger tubes are ripping open a bit,” Abigail replied. Rigyit nodded and quickly pushed sutures into Chip‟s neck and navel. Chip began shivering and Abigail watched the monitors closely. “He‟s going into shock,” she said, worry clouding her voice. “We should move him into the tank soon, and get more blood into his system.” The doctor nodded and checked on Chip‟s implants and the sutures around the alien. Chip winced and moaned in his sleep as the alien jumped a little at the touch. Rigyit pried open Chip‟s mouth and slipped in a half-circle made of a rubber-like material. Once it touched the inside of Chip‟s mouth, it quickly adhered to the sides of his mouth and teeth, pinning his tongue to the bottom of his mouth and forming a tight seal, closing off his throat. Satisfied, the doctor let go of Chip‟s jaw and monitored his breathing tube to make sure it was functional. He quickly unplugged all of Chip‟s monitors and tubes, unlocked the restraints and programming a large metal crane to lift the boy into a tank of bio-gel that stood nearby. Chip gasped regaining slight consciousness, and tensed up, working his mouth against the seal as smaller mechanized arms quickly plugged his wires and tubes into some ports on the raised roof of the tube and some on the bottom of the tank. His sedative and breathing tubes intact again, Chip settled back into an unconscious state, and was lowered into the waiting bio-gel. The crane dropped him in and receded, and Abigail timed his fall perfectly so that the gel solidified just as Chip hit the middle of the tank. The top of the tank fell with him and settled into place, sealing him off from the outside world. Doctor Rigyit sighed with relief as he glanced over Chip‟s vital signs. Everything was within reason, considering what the boy had just been through. He programmed the computer to allow the gel to touch Chip‟s body except around his eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, and then gazed at Chip for a long time. Excited beyond belief, the doctor finally roused himself and decided to test Chip out some. The sedative he‟d used on the boy during surgery was replaced with a lighter one that would allow him to gain partial consciousness, but not enough for him to be fully awake or aware. Although Abigail was still against their experiments, the team was not totally inhumane, and even now Chip was being fed a mixture of painkillers as well as the sedatives to make him less aware of his condition in the tank. Rigyit resisted the urge to play with Chip‟s brain some more – he needed time to recover! But his eyes rested on the large silver half-circle that was implanted over Chip‟s right ear. It had been molded to fit comfortably, and a thin tube ran the length of his ear canal, connecting to a small microphone that had been implanted in his eardrum. A small wire ran from the implant to the top of the tank, and with it they could communicate with Chip even when he was in the bio-gel tank or a similar holding cell for observation or experiments. “Specimen 137, can you hear me?” Rigyit intoned quietly into the microphone. Chip screwed up his face, his eyelids fluttering and finally opening. His eyes were dull and flat from the painkillers and sedatives. He worked his mouth, trying to dislodge the seal again, and then closed his eyes, exhausted. Rigyit let his impatience get the better of him and he carefully activated one of the tubes in Chip‟s brain. The boy shuddered and opened his eyes half way. Rigyit plugged a headset into the microphone and fiddled with some frequencies. “137, can you hear me?” he asked again, adjusting some more. “Don‟t try to talk, but just think your reply to me.” “Why‟s that?” Abigail asked, coming to check in with the doctor after cleaning up after the surgery. “One of those tubes runs wires into the specimen‟s thought, language, and speech areas of the brain. We haven‟t really tried it with humans before, but one of the research teams came up with a way to translate thought or intent to speak into text on a computer screen. It was mainly for people who can‟t talk, but it will work well in our project since communicating with the specimen could be crucial at all phases of the experiment.” Rigyit explained. “I miss Melany. I hurt all over. I‟m so confused,” the computer screen wrote. Rigyit jumped up, cheering. “It worked!” he cried. He gazed at the boy floating limply in the tank. “Can you hear me?” Chip looked startled, but then the dull flat look returned to his face. “Smothered…” he thought, and closed his eyes again. Rigyit looked a bit confused, and then he sighed. “He can hear me, but his mind isn‟t clear enough to process the speech,” he said slowly, working it out. “What we seem to be getting is more random thoughts than replies. But I wonder if lowering the sedation might help a bit.” The doctor turned the dosage down a notch, and waited. Before long, Chip stirred in the tank and opened his eyes again. They weren‟t so dull and he looked a little more alert and bewildered. “Trapped!” he thought, his eyes frantically darting around the lab. The gel held his body in place, though he was able to move ever so slightly. He struggled as best he could. “137, calm down,” Rigyit said firmly through the headset, “you‟re in a tank of the bio-gel that you yourself created. We had to put you in there following your surgery.” Chip looked over at the booth where Rigyit and Abigail sat. He had stopped struggling but had a hurt look on his face. “It hurts! You did it to me?” he thought. Rigyit sighed. “He‟s still groggy from the sedatives. He‟s not really remembering much from the last few days. He‟s just focusing on the present.” “Well, maybe you should leave him alone! He‟s been through hell for the last two days and you‟re insisting on bothering him still! Let him get some rest, your experiments will wait until he‟s healthier again!” Abigail snapped. She quickly covered her mouth. “I – Dr. Rigyit, I‟m sorry, it‟s just….” Rigyit smiled at her and put a hand on her shoulder. “No, you‟re right, Abigail,” he said. He turned off the microphone and the tube in Chip‟s head, and returned the sedation to its original setting. Chip relaxed and let himself drift off into a light sleep. Rigyit watched him and then turned to Abigail. “He does need his sleep. He‟s very weak and disoriented. We‟ll wait a while before I try to communicate some more,” he said, and went back to monitoring Chip‟s vital signs. Chip remained in the tank for several weeks. He ran a high fever for a while, his body rejecting the alien graft, but eventually the alien worked its way into his system and his vital signs began to stabilize. His heart rate was higher than it used to be, but this was normal. The alien worked its way into Chip‟s circulatory system and thus his heart had to pump more to get blood through to the alien as well as the rest of Chip‟s body. Dr. Rigyit‟s team consisted of three other people, Abigail included. The other two scientists were better with data and computers, and worked in an office away from the main floor. They rarely saw Chip, and preferred it that way. Abigail was a gentle girl who was about half the age of Rigyit and the rest of the team. She‟d been added three years ago before when one of Rigyit‟s original team members was killed by an alien- controlled host. The specimen had died shortly after, and Rigyit had to quickly remove the alien in order to keep it alive. Chip was the next host, three years later, so the alien had been a long time without a host. The alien project was started thirty years earlier when Rigyit and his team were around Chip and Abigail‟s ages. They‟d gone through one hundred and thirty-six human specimens before Chip. Most of the technology was not as advanced as it was now, and many of the earlier specimens died from infection or the alien eating their bodies to death. Some of them had been willing, others had been duped like Chip. At first the team was reluctant to work on humans, willing or not, but the government demanded that time not be wasted on animal specimens. The team soon learned to think of the humans as just another specimen. Rigyit‟s other two members, however, fooled themselves into thinking themselves innocent because they rarely ever saw the specimens and merely worked on data related to them. Abigail had worked a little on the last host, but he had died quickly, so much of the alien covering his body that it had literally eaten him alive. After the death of one of their own colleagues and so many deaths of specimens weighing them down, Rigyit refused to do further work until they could revamp the lab and find a truly suitable specimen. They began screening thereafter, and worked diligently on getting the latest equipment and technology into the lab. Chip had caught Rigyit‟s eye almost immediately. He‟d first seen Dr. Rigyit at a physical screening when he was fourteen. Rigyit had begun to make rounds as a physician to screen potential specimens. His lab was far from being finished at that point, but he decided to gear all the equipment toward one individual. Chip was called back later that month and Rigyit knew then that he was the one! He took down Chip‟s stats and monitored him from afar for three years, but now that his lab was complete, he only needed a few extra pieces of information before he could make it completely compatible with Chip. He pressured Neff into allowing him to take Chip, though he did feel bad about that since Neff and Chip were particularly close. Still, three years was a lot of time and money and effort to waste! Neff, however, had come through, and Chip was proving himself to be as excellent a specimen as Rigyit had hoped! Dr. Rigyit managed to restrain himself from trying to talk to Chip or working on him anymore until his wounds were healed and his readings were back to normal. They kept him on the heavy painkillers and sedatives, but now Rigyit turned off the sedation completely. He wanted to assess Chip‟s mind and if any real damaged had occurred during the surgery. Chip remained inactive for a while, but suddenly shuddered and opened his eyes. Everything looked strange as if underwater from inside the tank. He tried to move but could not. His vision was clearing, but it didn‟t help much between the thick glass of the tank and the slight distortion from the gel. He tried to draw in a deep breath and found he couldn‟t. Panic setting in, he began to fight with the breathing tube to draw in a breath from his mouth, and that caused him to choke. Rigyit looked up and quickly grabbed the microphone. Chip‟s eyes were watering and he was making a loud whining noise, the only thing he could manage with the seal cutting off his throat. “Stop fighting it, 137!” Rigyit shouted. Chip froze as he heard the voice in his ear, and then he winced and tried to thrash as he felt Rigyit open the connection to the tube in his head. “Let me go!” Chip thought. He continued struggling though it didn‟t do much good. “Stay calm, you‟ll probably be taken out of the tank soon. We just want to make sure everything is okay before we do,” Rigyit said. A look of horror suddenly flooded across Chip‟s face. “What are you doing to me? How long have I been here? I have to get back to Melany!” he thought, and began to tremble. His blood pressure dropped and he suddenly lost a lot of color. “Calm down, calm down! You‟re in the middle of an experiment, we can‟t let you leave right now. Melany is fine. She knows that you‟re part of a top secret project and that you might be gone for a while. We‟re grafting an alien into your body, remember? You‟re the best candidate for it, and without you, our entire project would fail,” Rigyit explained. Chip looked shocked, and then his memories came back. He looked angry, and then depressed. His vital signs slowly returned to normal but he wouldn‟t look at Rigyit anymore and closed his eyes and mind to the doctor. Rigyit tried to get more out of him, but Chip didn‟t respond to Rigyit‟s questions or anything he said. “137,” Rigyit tried again, an hour or two later. “My name is CHIP!” Chip thought at him. Rigyit shook his head. “Well, we‟re taking you out soon, but you‟re not going to be happy,” the doctor informed Chip, but he‟d gone back to ignoring him. Rigyit shook his head and began to oversee the change over. The monitors and tubes were unhooked, and Chip was carefully lifted out of the tank as the gel liquefied. He hung limply, the gel sliding cleanly from his body. He began to shiver as the open air hit his body, and looked around the lab reluctantly. Rigyit typed in the commands to the crane, and it slowly moved across the ceiling, depositing Chip onto the waiting examination table. Rigyit secured Chip to the table, and then carefully removed the rubber seal in Chip‟s mouth and his breathing tube, plugging up the hole again. Chip glared at him throughout the proceedings, and breathed in short, panting gasps once the seal and breathing tubes were removed. “How do you feel?” Rigyit asked him, ordering the crane to release Chip‟s arms, as he hooked Chip up to everything again. “How do you think?” Chip croaked, trying to catch his breath. His teeth chattered and he was trembling. The air outside the tank was much colder than the climate controlled gel, and between his naked body and the cold metal of the table, his body was having trouble regulating its temperature. The doctor smiled grimly at him and probed his body, checking the alien and making sure the monitors and tubes were all intact and functioning properly. Chip followed his progress as best he could, glaring at him the entire time. “Abigail, would you mind cleaning him up a bit?” Rigyit asked. He walked away without waiting for an answer, clucking to himself and marking some things onto his electronic notepad. Abigail approached Chip shyly. She avoided eye contact, but slipped him glances when she thought he wasn‟t looking. Chip‟s face softened a little as he watched her work. He still felt weak and his body felt as if it‟d been thrown from a transport vehicle now that some of the painkillers were wearing off. Chip thought of Melany as he felt Abigail‟s gentle administrations. She carefully cleaned up each implant site, replacing them with new tubes. Chip froze as she removed the cup and worked on cleaning around his genitals. He still wasn‟t used to people fondling him or groping around his “private” areas, especially since he and Melany had never gotten that far, and he blushed deeply, getting a little angry again despite himself. Abigail was blushing herself, and quickly removed the plugs, cleaned the areas, and inserted fresh ones, as well as all the tubes. She replaced the metal cup, sighing in relief after the embarrassing task. Chip winced slightly as the sutures clamped the cup securely to his body again, and Abigail smiled shyly at him. “It might not be very much consolation, but the sutures are designed to create calloused patches of skin and flesh where they‟re inserted. It helps them stay in, as well as avoiding unnecessary discomfort for areas where they are frequently removed and replaced. They‟re not always used strictly for closing wounds, but sometimes, as in this case,” Abigail said, lightly touching the metal cup, and the suture holding the sedative tube to his face, “for keeping things on the body. You‟ll notice it doesn‟t hurt as much as it did when they were first applied, and soon you‟ll barely feel them at all.” Chip eyed her. He still regarded her with distrust, but her bedside manner was much better than Rigyit‟s. She also seemed to act as if he was a human being and not just another experiment. He looked at the reflecting in the ceiling and blinked back tears as he saw the large patch of alien showing under the skin on his chest. The area was still red and irritated, and the alien was rippling and moving. He was surprised he couldn‟t feel it, but then realized it was probably some pain medication he was being fed. He struggled to take a deep breath and then closed his eyes. Abigail was still working on him, adding a few more monitors and checking on existing ones. The table was starting to warm up, but he was still shivering from the cold, and his entire body still ached. His head was tingling, and a strange sensation was running up and down his spine. Chip was amazed at how quickly the sedative had worn off, however. He vaguely remembered being suspended in the tank, but at the time he couldn‟t think of much else. Now he could think clearly, and it was taking all his remaining strength to keep from panicking. He was having a hard time getting used to breathing from his mouth, and the implants and plugs still felt odd and invasive. He sighed, trying to get some real, non- drug-induced sleep and ignored the bustle of the lab. Rigyit, however, had other things on his mind. Chip was awake now, and healthy enough to be out of the tank. He planned on giving the boy his own cell for in between surgeries and procedures, carefully monitored of course, but for now he wanted to work on Chip‟s brain and spinal implants before they went much further with more grafting operations. Rigyit approached the table, the boy already entering a light, fitful sleep. He whimpered and shuddered as the alien moved in his chest, sensing Rigyit‟s presence. Gently, he opened Chip‟s mouth and inserted the seal. Chip‟s eyes flew open and he gasped for breath, looking around wildly. Rigyit sighed, and quickly attached the breathing tube. Chip settled down somewhat, but glared at the doctor. His eyes had bags under them and were bloodshot, but his gaze remained unfaltering. Rigyit was somewhat shaken by this, but quickly turned on the anesthetic and called up the necessary equipment. Chip fought as well as he could against the restraints as the anesthetic began to flow into his nose, but he was soon sedated despite his best efforts. The doctor patted him on the shoulder and smiled weakly. “It‟ll all be over soon, and you‟ll be able to relax for a while,” he said. He felt bad for the boy, despite what Abigail might think, but work was work, regardless. He sighed heavily. Chip followed his actions with bleary dull eyes. The doctor had wanted him awake during the procedure, but excess struggling and fighting might be dangerous to the specimen. He flipped off the pain medication, however, as he needed Chip‟s body as receptive as possible. The doctor turned toward a new panel that had risen from the floor. There were several new monitors and equipment now, and the doctor switched them all on. Carefully, he tilted up the table to lie at more of an angle and folded down the panel Chip‟s head lay on. Attaching a special headrest and restraint, he carefully secured Chip‟s head, making sure that the glass tubes were clear. He unplugged the tubes‟ electrodes from the normal monitor console and into one of the new ones that had appeared nearby. Chip‟s eyes were half-closed and he‟d almost given up to the breathing tube, though he‟d occasionally fight it, trying to draw a breath from his mouth. He didn‟t seem to notice or mind the head restraints, and was almost asleep when the doctor activated the electrodes in Chip‟s head and the spinal implants. Chip‟s eyes snapped open and rolled around wildly as he struggled to lift or shake his head, trying to dislodge the tubes. He whined around the mouth seal and struggled weakly. The doctor watched grimly, waiting for twenty minutes until Chip finally exhausted himself. Carefully wiping the tears from Chip‟s eyes, he firmly pressed two fingers against his neck and checked his pulse to the read-outs. Everything seemed fine, and the doctor patted the boy‟s shoulder sympathetically. Chip watched the doctor groggily, occasionally wincing or shuddering with pain. The electrodes were sending medium to high shocks into Chip‟s brain and spine at controlled intervals, and monitoring his reactions, both on a physical level and also through his brainwaves. Rigyit was both pleased and surprised to find that Chip‟s body barely seemed to register the medium strength shocks anymore. His brainwaves still spiked, and occasionally a certain part of his body would twitch, depending on what area the shock was sent, but he didn‟t seem to notice. The higher shocks, however, still caused him pain, no matter where they were administered. After about and hour, Chip started to lull into a sleepy state again, becoming accustomed to the higher shocks. The doctor carefully turned up the voltage until the lower shocks caused a physical reaction again. Chip squeezed his eyes shut and fought against the breathing tube again. Clenching his teeth, he began to struggle, but he was so weak and drugged that he could barely move. The shocks lanced through his body, and his eyes teared up in pain. He arched his back as far as the connecting wires would allow as a higher shock shot through his spine, and made his whiney noise at the doctor, begging him to stop. Rigyit glanced up and saw the pain and fear in Chip‟s eyes and sighed heavily. “Just a little bit more,” he said, apologetically, and turned away quickly, not wanting to see the look on Chip‟s face. Chip whined louder and struggled with his last remaining strength as another shock shot through his brain and caused his whole left side to feel like it was on fire. Then he went slack and lay weakly against the table. He was sweating profusely though he was shivering from the cool air of the lab, and his head was swimming. Although he still felt horrible stabbing pains every time a shock went through him, he no longer had the strength to struggle anymore. His body twitched and convulsed involuntarily, and he‟d let out a small whine of pain at the higher shocks, but other than that he was still. The doctor noticed Chip‟s change in body temperature, and quickly sent a short message over the intercom into the inner lab area. Abigail came out and gently wiped Chip‟s body down with a warm towel, and then covered him with a heavy blanket. She averted her eyes several times as Chip‟s body tensed up involuntarily or he made a noise as another shock was administered, and finished her work as quickly as possible, disappearing when she was done. Chip had his eyes closed, and tried hard not to throw up or pass out. His body and mind wanted nothing more than to shut down until this horrible activity was over, but the shocks lanced through even his subconscious, jolting him into painful awareness. After another hour, the doctor finally seemed satisfied with his results. He slowly lowered the voltage until the machine was off, and then hooked the electrodes to the normal machine. He switched off the anesthetic and turned to look at the boy. Chip‟s eyes had rolled up into his head and his entire body was trembling violently. The doctor touched Chip on the cheek, and sighed. Chip was burning up, and seemed barely conscious. He laboriously focused on the doctor, the touch having jolted him. His eyes were dull with fear and pain, and the doctor sighed again. “You did well, 137,” he said quietly. “I‟m sorry we have to do this, but you did well. You‟ll be allowed to rest for a while.” Chip tried to stay focused on the doctor. He was having trouble comprehending, but at the word “rest” his body relaxed and his eyes rolled back into his head. Rigyit realized that Chip had been braced for more torture. His mind was whirling, but it quickly gave way to exhaustion, and soon Chip was in a deep sleep. Rigyit placed a cool cloth on Chip‟s forehead and then returned to his monitoring station. Chip‟s vital signs were all very low, and his temperature was still unusually high. Chip still shuddered from time to time, as if the shocks were still being given, and the doctor watched him for a while before turning to the data. Everything was average or above, and despite his heavy heart at what he‟d just done to Chip, Rigyit smiled. As soon as Chip‟s body had recovered from the procedure, Rigyit would be able to implant more electrodes into the boy‟s brain. He had lasted longer in a single session than all his other specimens combined, and Rigyit had managed to gather a complete mapping of his entire brain and nervous system. The doctor wished he could tell Chip they were done with that part of the experiment, but there would be a few more sessions before they were in the clear, and then a more extensive procedure later. He watched the boy as he shuddered again, making a faint whining noise, and wondered vaguely how long it would be until the phantom shocks were gone. Chip did not wake until his fever broke, three days later. The phantom shocks also disappeared, and the boy looked tired but none the worse for wear. He eyed Rigyit with apprehension every time he moved to a new station, and flinched when the doctor touched him, but otherwise remained outwardly defiant toward him. Rigyit tested him extensively over the next few days, and found Chip‟s mind and body were in perfect health, other than a little exhaustion. This amazed everyone, and several of the higher- ups came into the lab to see Chip. Chip was given the shock procedure several more times before Rigyit was cleared to implant new electrodes into his brain, and each time more doctors came to witness the spectacle. At one point, one of the visiting doctors turned the voltage up too high, and Chip had somehow summoned amazing strength in response to this new pain. He struggled so hard he somehow knocked his feeding tube loose and yanked out several of the wires attached to his spine. Chip‟s body convulsed for hours even after the shocks were turned off, the boy screaming in agony, until he blissfully fell into a deep coma. No one thought he‟d come out of it, let alone live through it, but the boy once again amazed everyone by waking up, weak, but intact. Rigyit was angered by his specimen being turned into such a spectacle, but after the incident they were left alone again. Chip‟s body was weak from the excessively high shocks, and when he relaxed too much, like when sleeping, his body would shudder from time to time with the phantom shocks. He was moved off the table for a while and into a small cell in the far corner of the main laboratory area for extensive recovery before the procedure moved to stage two. It was a fair sized cell, housing a large, comfortable bed, a low desk and chair, a computer console with basic games and programs mounted on the desk, and a small table and chair for meals or other activities. The room was glass on three sides, the fourth side being the wall of the lab itself. Chip cautiously threw himself on the bed, burying his head in the pillows. “I can stay here?” he asked Rigyit, guardedly. “For now. There is still a lot more work to do on you, but for now you need rest and exercise,” Rigyit replied. Chip looked appalled at first, but quickly changed his demeanor. True to his nature, he decided to look on the bright side of things and worry about the painful operations and experiments when they came. Rigyit put a hand on Chip‟s side and gently rolled him over. “What are you doing?” Chip demanded, though he stayed where the doctor positioned him. “I thought you said no experiments for now!” “We‟re not, but we still need you hooked up so that we can monitor you,” Rigyit said. He pulled back the blankets and revealed a long row of retractable wires and tubes running down the middle of the bed. He quickly attached Chip‟s spinal implants and the smaller ones in his back, and then gently flipped the boy around, attaching all the ones on his front, including the waste tube. He didn‟t attach Chip‟s feeding or breathing tubes and removed the sedative tube in Chip‟s nose along with the plug in his right nostril. After finishing his work, he stepped back. Chip looked a little angry, but held his tongue. “Don‟t worry, that‟s only for at night, when you‟re sleeping. They‟re retractable, so that you don‟t get tangled in them. Unfortunately it‟s a bit cumbersome, but hopefully not nearly as bad as your operation table,” Rigyit said. Chip sighed, bitterly, “No, this should be all right.” “You have a set schedule, and while there will be no major procedures done on you for a while, you will still need to be hooked up to the machines for maintenance and monitoring a few times out of the day. Other than that, you‟ll be able to enjoy some time in your cell. We‟ll have an hour or two of exercise set up for you as well, though, so that you don‟t lose your muscle-tone while strapped to the operating table,” Rigyit explained, not bothering to sugar coat the proceedings. Chip sighed again and nodded. “Oh, Abigail will be in to clean your implants and replace your tubes, as always. Please don‟t give her a hard time. She‟s also in charge of your waste tubes. When you aren‟t in bed they won‟t be hooked up, but as you might have already noticed, you‟re plugged up and won‟t be able to relieve yourself without the tubes. Tomorrow you‟ll have a small surgery to implant a few monitor links into your body. All your normal monitors will be plugged into that when you are free to move around. Other than those points, I think you shall just be able to enjoy yourself!” Rigyit said, trying to think if he‟d forgotten anything. “The feeding tube… why isn‟t it hooked up?” Chip asked, fingering the plug in his navel. He didn‟t really like it, but the thought of going hungry didn‟t appeal to him much either. “Oh, for the time being you‟ll be getting normal meals. You can order them through the Meal Service, just like anywhere else in the facility. It‟s hidden next to the table,” Rigyit explained, pressing a button. A panel slid away, revealing a smooth metal recess in the wall. The top of the recess opened into a long tube where the food would be set down and dirty dishes back up. A portion of the recess was beveled to create a control panel where a keyboard and small screen were housed. Chip smiled for the first time in a while. Occupants of the laboratory facility were allowed to order whatever they liked. It was prepared in the kitchens and then materialized to the Meal Service where it was ordered. They had not yet perfected a way to transfer humans through materialization, or how to create meals instantly, from scratch, but this system worked fairly well. Food preservation had come a long way, allowing any type of organic food to be stored for indefinite periods of time, and robots were created that could cook any meal imaginable, as well as learn any new meal a diner could think up. Chip sighed contentedly as the doctor left, closing him in the glass room. Abigail entered a few minutes later carrying a tray with the cleaning implements and replacement tubes. She asked Chip to sit up, and began to clean him up. Propping up some pillows, she asked him to lay back and removed the metal cup over his crotch. Chip watched her for a while, not having been able to see the proceedings before, but then suddenly became self-conscious and embarrassed. He blushed deeply and turned toward the wall, still not used to this procedure. Her touch was gentle, and under normal circumstances would be pleasurable, but right now it was humiliating and she wasn‟t the one he wanted to be touching him in that way. Abigail was also blushing again, and after reattaching the front piece of the cup she instructed him to lie on his stomach. She quickly finished up the back and connected the two sides. She was surprised Chip was so acquiescing, as she‟d heard of specimens who‟d had to be restrained even while they were being cleaned up. She decided to ask Chip. “Well, if I don‟t do what you guys want, you‟ll just sedate me and force me to do it, wouldn‟t you?” he asked bitterly. He eyed the doctor, who he could see across the lab, angrily, and then sighed deeply and looked down at the bed. “I suppose so,” Abigail said quietly, and brushed the hair out of his eyes. Chip looked at her in surprise and she blushed and quickly started to gather the dirty tubes and sponges. “I… the operation tomorrow. It‟ll probably be early, so you‟d better get your rest.” Chip nodded at her, and watched her go, curiously. He laid his head back against the pillow, sheepishly fingering the shortened glass tubes in his head. The doctor had unscrewed the portions that stuck up and resealed them, allowing Chip to move about without worrying about knocking into the longer tubes. Wires still ran to the monitors, but they were much less cumbersome now that the tubes were shorter. He had a lot to think about, but his exhaustion quickly took over, and he fell into a light sleep. His body still convulsed involuntarily with phantom shocks when he relaxed too much, waking him up, so he wasn‟t able to get a good night‟s sleep. Abigail came in as he woke himself up with more convulsions and began unplugging his monitors. He lay silently as she worked, shuddering a little from the after effects of the phantom shock, and then sat up slowly as she moved toward the door. “Come on, time for your surgery,” she said grimly. She led him slowly across the floor, waiting patiently as he limped and shuffled behind her. His legs felt like rubber and his chest hurt where the alien was lodged. He sat down on the floor several times to catch his breath, though the lab was not very large, and Abigail finally helped him up and threw one of his arms over her shoulder. “Ah, 137,” Rigyit said. Chip‟s eyes flashed with anger for a second and then receded into deep resentment, but he said nothing. Abigail helped Chip to the table where he collapsed on his side. He expected the doctor to flip him over and restrain him, but was surprised to feel a gentle swabbing on his side, a few inches under and to the side of his right armpit, and then a quick, stabbing pain. Abigail rubbed his arm reassuringly and then lifted it gently above is head. He felt pressure as the doctor made a five-inch incision and implanted the small, contoured monitoring plate. It was quickly sutured into his body like the alien was, the front face of it exposed and sitting slightly above his body. The doctor repeated the process on Chip‟s right thigh, and when he was done, he hooked Chip‟s monitors to the monitor plates to check that they worked. Satisfied, he patted Chip on the arm. “All done! That wasn‟t so bad, was it?” he asked. Chip felt his side and sighed. The implant plates and wire attachments felt foreign, but then again it was better than being strapped to a table. He sat up and stared at his feet as the doctor and Abigail cleaned up. “You can take him back, now,” the doctor said to Abigail. She gently took Chip‟s arm and led him back to his cell. His new implants had begun to sting and throb, so Abigail injected him with some painkillers. The bed had been made, and there were three robes hanging along the wall, of various thicknesses. “You can wear a robe if you‟d feel better about it or are cold,” she said, motioning to them. “They‟re of varying warmth, so that you aren‟t too cold or hot. You can also adjust the temperature if it gets too warm in here for you, but other than that and the food, you can‟t affect too much. The call button is here, by the bed, in case you need to relieve yourself or your implants start to cause you pain again. I‟ll be in from time to time to check on you, but other than that you‟re free during the day to do whatever you want until bedtime, except for an hour in the evening when we‟ll set you up on the exercise equipment.” Chip smiled tiredly at her and watched her collect her notepad and leave. He knew they were watching him closely, but he felt more at ease, pretending he was completely alone. He tapped on the computer monitor and scrolled through the games. Switching it off, he remembered the robes and selected a medium one made of a thick, soft, white cotton. Putting it on, he tied the belt closed and sighed happily. He was starting to feel like a human being again, rather than a lab rat. He tried not to think about future procedures and lay down on the bed to take a nap. Chip woke up several hours later in mild pain. He lay still for a moment until his memories came back to him and he remembered he wasn‟t strapped to the operation table anymore. Slowly opening his eyes, he pushed the call button. Abigail appeared almost instantly. He sat up and blinked at her, the lights coming on fully at her entry. “Sorry, 137,” she said. Then she looked awkward. “Er, Chip, is it?” Chip nodded and smiled sleepily at her. She cast a look at the monitoring booth where Rigyit was working. “I never liked calling people by their specimen numbers,” she said quietly, jabbing Chip expertly with the needle full of painkillers. “Anyway, I meant to come in here earlier, but got sidetracked setting up the exercise equipment. Comparing your readouts, we‟ve decided to start you slow and see what you can work up to. Do you want to go now?” Chip yawned and looked at her in a new light. She didn‟t seem as confident or blasé about Chip as Rigyit did, and this elevated her in his esteem. He cast about the room, and then shrugged. “Sure, not like I have anything else to do,” he replied. He would have liked to eat, but thought it best not to exercise right after a meal. “Then follow me!” Abigail said, and cleared him for exit from the cell. Chip hobbled after her, his right thigh still throbbing from the new implant. The painkillers seemed to be kicking in, though, and the thought of a workout appealed to him. His body felt stiff and antsy from being tied down so much. Abigail set Chip up on a treadmill in a section of the lab that was made up to be a small gym. She removed his robe and placed a few extra heart monitors on his chest and back, and then started the treadmill as a slow walk. Chip did well, and the treadmill automatically sped up, based on his heart rate. He only lasted about twenty minutes before the treadmill stopped and he collapsed onto it, panting. Abigail ran to him, worried, but he looked up and smiled. “That was… great,” he panted. Abigail smiled, unhooked the monitors and wiped him down with a cool towel. “That should be good for today,” she said. “I‟m surprised you were able to work up to that speed already!‟ Chip‟s breathing was already returning to normal and he wiped his face again with the towel. “I feel better,” he said, getting up slowly. “Let‟s get you cleaned up,” Abigail said, and led him to a shower built into the wall. Chip reveled in the warm water and then the gusts of wind from the air-dryer after Abigail switched the water off. She handed him his robe and he put it on as they walked back to the cell. He was already starting to walk a bit easier, and his spirits were lifted considerably. When they got back to the cell, Abigail cleaned up Chip‟s implants again. Chip was still embarrassed when she worked on his crotch area, but they both seemed more at ease than they had originally. Abigail motioned toward the Meal Service panel. “Are you hungry yet?” she asked. “You bet!” Chip said, and quickly typed in a meal. Then he turned to her with a quizzical look on his face. “What‟s wrong?” Abigail asked. “Well… have you eaten yet?” Chip said, slowly. “Not yet,” she replied. “Would you like to eat with me?” Chip asked. He was hopeful despite himself, but he found he enjoyed her company, and couldn‟t stay mad at her even if she was helping Rigyit do horrible experiments on him. “Uh,” Abigail said, and quickly looked over at Rigyit‟s booth. “Oh, well, if you don‟t want to…” Chip said quietly. “No, it‟s not that, but I have to ask Dr. Rigyit,” Abigail said and quickly ran from the room before Chip had a chance to answer. He waited for his food, figuring Abigail had just wanted an out, but she came back within a few minutes, out of breath and beaming. “He said it‟s all right,” she panted, and plopped down in the desk chair. Chip smiled and took her order. Then they both sat in an uncomfortable silence, Abigail wondering if it was such a good idea after all. “Why‟d he let you stay with me?” Chip asked after a bit. “I think he feels bad for you,” Abigail said, biting her lip. “You think he‟s a horrible heartless man, but he‟s only doing what he was ordered… as am I. I guess we‟re weak.” She shook her head sadly. “No, I guess I can‟t really blame you. I feel bad about the animals we work on,” Chip said slowly. “Well, anyway, Rigyit doesn‟t like to get too attached to the specimens… the people he works on. But he usually let me, because I feel bad enough to want to,” Abigail sighed. “So I‟m just a pity case?” Chip asked. “Oh, no, no! I didn‟t mean like that!” Abigail exclaimed, jumping up. She blushed and sat back down. “I mean, I really like you Chip. I don‟t know how you take all this. I think I would have gone mad!” Chip smiled sadly, and his eyes teared up a bit, “I can‟t really do much else except go along with it as best I can and hope it‟s over someday.” Abigail bit her lip again and looked like she was about to cry, but then a bell rang sharply on the Meal Service console and two trays appeared. Chip served the freshly- made hot meals and they ate in silence, Chip on the bed and Abigail at the desk. After dinner Abigail collected the trays and inserted them into the Meal Service, and then closed the panel. She turned to Chip. “That was nice,” she told him. “What do you plan on doing with the rest of the night?” Chip smiled at her and then looked thoughtful. Finally he yawned, “I think I‟ll catch up on some sleep, I‟m really tired!” “I‟ll have to uh... to the bed,” Abigail said awkwardly. “I know,” Chip said. He removed his robe and hung it neatly on the wall. Then he lay down on the bed, on his left side, and waited for Abigail. She quickly unhooked his monitors from his implanted plates, and then plugged his spinal implants and the monitors on his back into the bed and gently rolled him over. She finished hooking up his front and then threw the blankets over. He smiled gratefully at her and yawned again. “Thanks,” he said, as he rolled over, facing the darker wall side of the room. “Good night, Chip,” Abigail said, and programmed the lights to dim as she walked out, beaming. “You two really hit it off,” Rigyit said as he watched Abigail walk into the booth. She was grinning to herself but quickly blushed furiously as she remembered Rigyit. “Oh, well…” she said sheepishly. “It‟s all right,” Rigyit said, “That boy needs a friend, and he already sees me as an enemy. I guess I‟m too cold, but I just… well, I hope he enjoys his free time, and I hope you provide some comfort to him.” Abigail was at a loss for words, and busied herself, getting Chip‟s new tubes ready for tomorrow and compiling some reports for the team. Rigyit glanced at her and smiled to himself. He felt bad for Chip, but maybe Abigail might make his life in the lab a bit more bearable. Chip stayed in the recovery cell for three weeks before Rigyit deemed him healthy for another procedure. Abigail visited him from frequently, often taking meals with him and staying to talk or just keep him company until he fell asleep. Chip was grim when Abigail finally told him his respite period was ending. He left the cell and his robe behind grimly and steeled himself. Abigail was worried about him, and he acted distant. She slowly led him to the operating table again, and asked him to lie down. Chip moved slowly, though deliberately, and refused to look Abigail or Rigyit in the eyes. Noticing how hard it was for Abigail, Rigyit sighed. “You can leave, for now,” he told her, and she went to mope in the booth. “I‟m sorry about this, 137, but you‟ll have to be awake again,” Rigyit said, turning toward the boy and clamping his wrists and ankles to the table. He also snapped some extra restraints across Chip‟s chest and lower stomach, and one across each thigh and upper arm. He didn‟t want to take chances again of Chip pulling out his spinal implants, especially during this operation. Chip was trembling, but Rigyit wasn‟t sure whether it was the cooler temperature of the lab or fear. Chip‟s expression, however, was stony and impossible to read, and he stared at his reflection straight above in the ceiling, refusing to speak or even look at the doctor. Rigyit worked methodically, tilting the table up and hooking Chip into the usual control panels imbedded in the table. Then he secured Chip‟s head and neck in the restraints and screwed in the longer glass tubes, inserting new electrode monitors and plugging them into the shock machine. These electrodes had bunches of almost-microscopic pins he was able to push deeper into Chip‟s brain once he found the correct areas. He replaced the sedative tube, clipped it in place, and then plugged up Chip‟s right nostril and turned on a weak anesthetic. Chip shuddered as the foul smelling and tasting gas flooded into his nose, and the mouth seal was quickly back in place. The doctor checked Chip‟s readings as the boy fell into a light daze, looking around through dull, half-closed eyed. “Good, 137,” Rigyit said. The breathing tube forced long, regular, deep breaths into Chip‟s lungs and despite himself, he was being lulled into a light sleep. The doctor watched him a bit longer before moving to the control console and switching on the brain and spinal shocks. Chip‟s body tensed up and then began to shudder and convulse. He looked around wildly, and his face was contorted, half fear and pain, half anger. The doctor had set the shocks to a very fast pace, some even overlapping, with a wide variety of intensities and voltages. Feedback was generated on a large array of monitors extending from the ceiling that had been hung in front of Chip so that the doctor could watch them while he stood at a special console behind his specimen‟s head. Chip screwed his eyes shut, tears of pain squeezing through his closed lids. The sedative was making him weak, but his mind was jolted to painful awareness by the shocks. Chip‟s body trembled and shook from the shocks, the boy occasionally struggling against the restraints, but his head was firmly anchored to the headrest, and no matter what he did he couldn‟t move it at all. He whined and moaned loudly every time a particularly high voltage shock ripped through his body. Chip‟s mind was a haze, and all he could think about was the shocks, praying that they‟d stop soon. The doctor glanced at the monitor array and then quickly began to insert the pins, consulting the monitors after every few. The pins were pliable, and were directed by commands typed into the console behind Chip‟s head. Using it, he could move them in any direction to hit any adjacent spot in Chip‟s brain. Unlike the flat metal contact areas of the electrodes on Chip‟s brain, the pins were insulated with only the very tip able to deliver a shock. This was to be used later in the project when specific areas of Chip‟s brain had to be stimulated, and was not as generalized or painful as this particular procedure. The doctor was glad that the pins didn‟t hurt Chip, as the shock procedure was probably more than enough for him. He was using the shocks to illuminate different areas of the specimen‟s brain and nervous system, to make sure the pins were imbedded in the right spots. Even though he had a complete map of Chip‟s neural system, one could never be too careful. A misplaced pin could cause permanent brain damage, or even death in extreme cases! A few times during the operation Chip‟s body became too accustomed to the shocks and the doctor had to raise the voltages. Several hours later, near the end of the surgery, Chip‟s mouth hung open and his eyes were rolled back in his head. He was barely holding on to consciousness, and it was probably the pain more than anything else keeping him awake at all. Abigail was brought out to wipe the tears constantly streaming down his face, lest they get into the implants and short something out. She also kept a careful watch on his heart rate and blood pressure, as too extreme a drop could cause another coma or skew the readings. Chip would occasionally flutter open his eyes and focus weakly on Abigail before snapping them shut again and whimpering or moaning. Abigail gasped every time Chip‟s body twitched or convulsed, and Rigyit could tell she was holding back tears. The doctor quickly finished up before Chip was too weak or overcome, not wanting him to suffer through another session. He placed the last few pins and checking the monitors one last time. Everything seemed in order, and the damage to Chip‟s nervous system seemed minimal, all things considered. He quickly turned off the sedative and slowly lowered the voltage until it was completely shut down. Chip‟s body was still tensed, and was convulsing constantly now that the shocks were no longer regulating it. Abigail let out a sob and covered her face, wiping her tears on her sleeves. “It‟s all right, Abigail,” Rigyit said, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “What if he dies?” Abigail sniffed, shooting the doctor a dirty, tearful look. “He‟s strong. He‟ll recover like he did the last time. This is normal, though it looks ugly, and with a little rest he‟ll be good as new. It may take longer for him to recover this time though, so you‟ll have a longer time to spend with him,” the doctor said. Abigail looked up hopefully. She‟d felt guilty about it but she really enjoyed the past few weeks with Chip. The doctor smiled. “He‟s going to be very weak and in a bad way for a while though, so you‟ll have to help nurse him back to health. I think you‟re perfect for it, however, and he trusts you. Hopefully he‟ll recover quickly,” he said. Abigail remained silent, staring at Chip‟s twitching form. His eyes fluttered and he seemed to be trapped between consciousness and a fitful sleep. The doctor carefully shortened the glass tubes in Chip‟s head and then unhooked him from the table, calling some attendants over. Unlocking the restraints, they gently moved him onto a stretcher and strapped him to it so that he wouldn‟t hurt himself. Chip sighed and fretted now that the breathing tube was removed, his breath coming in short, panting gasps, but he didn‟t seem fully conscious yet. “Please take him back to his cell. You may stay with him for a while, and see that he‟s comfortable and tended to, Abigail, but I‟ll need a blood sample before you get too settled,” the doctor said to girl, and nodded toward the two large attendants who‟d come to help. Abigail walked next to Chip as the two attendants wheeled the stretcher toward the cell. He was letting out sobbing gasps and kept clenching and unclenching his fists. His body was still convulsing, and his face was screwed up in pain. Abigail sighed and pressed a firm hand on his chest. She could feel his strong heartbeat, and it seemed the doctor was right. Despite the shocks, Chip‟s body was still fairly healthy. It would just take time for his nervous system to heal. Then she sobbed a little herself, worrying what would happen if it didn‟t. He might be a vegetable forever! “What should we do with him, Doctor?” one of the attendants asked. They‟d been standing by the cell for a minute or two now, and she‟d not even realized it! She shook herself mentally and looked at Chip, realizing that what was to happen would happen, but that she had faith he‟d pull through. He was too stubborn to die or go brain dead on them. “Can you lift him onto the bed? I need you to hold him on his side so I can hook him up,” Abigail said. The attendant nodded and he and the other man unlocked the straps holding Chip to the stretcher and carefully transferred him to the bed. They held Chip firmly on his side as Abigail hooked him up to the bed, and then gently rolled him onto his back, the wires and tubes retracting smoothly under him. She finished up attaching his head and chest monitors to the headboard console of the bed, and quickly drew some blood, handing the vials to the attendants. Chip let out a whiney sob and shuddered violently, and then his body settled into its regular twitching and convulsions again. Abigail waited a minute to see if he‟d wake up, but he still seemed to be in his in-between state, so she continued working. Nodding at the attendants, she pulled restraints from under the bed as they left silently. She carefully secured Chip‟s ankles and wrists, frowning at the bruises already there from his struggles on the operating table. Then she pulled a strap across his forehead, one over the middle of his chest, and one over his knees. Satisfied that he couldn‟t hurt himself, she wiped his clammy body down with a warm towel and covered him with a heavy blanket. Then she settled down into the comfortable desk chair, watching the monitors. Chip‟s convulsions slowed as the time wore on, and his breathing also became more regular. His face and body relaxed, and his vital signs had gone completely back to normal, except for his temperature. He seemed to be running a high fever again, but it had happened the last time he had an overdose of the shock procedure so Abigail wasn‟t too surprised. She stayed with him for several days, refusing to leave his side except to run to the ladies‟ room. Rigyit tried to pry her away from Chip‟s cell, but eventually let her be. Chip muttered in his sleep from time to time, calling for Melany. Abigail wasn‟t sure who Melany was, but from the way he was calling her name she guessed it was his girlfriend. She sighed to herself, wondering whether this Melany was worried or had given up on Chip. It depressed her and she quickly pushed it from her mind. The days wore on, but Abigail stayed by Chip regardless. She was just drifting off in the dimly lit cell, lulled by the quiet pinging and beeping of the monitors, when she awoke to an alarm sounding off. She glanced up and saw Chip trying to sit up. His brainwaves and heart rate had gone up significantly. He looked bewildered and his eyes were darting about wildly. She could see his body struggling under the blanket. From time to time Chip went limp and his body twitched and shuddered on its own still, but he seemed to have gained most of his control back. She shook herself and stood up quickly. Chip paused in his struggles and stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. Abigail went over to him and laid a hand on his chest, pushing him gently but firmly back to the bed. Chip‟s eyes flashed recognition and he allowed himself to be calmed by the girl. She laid a cool rag on his feverish forehead and held a glass of cool water to his lips. He drank greedily and then sighed and sank into the bed. “Chip?” she asked. “A-Abigail?” he stammered hoarsely. “Yes, it‟s me. Thank goodness, I thought we‟d lost you for a while there!” she exclaimed. Her knees went weak with relief and she sank beside his bed. Chip struggled to raise his head to look at her but then relaxed, a confused look on his face. “Why am I strapped down?” he asked, a little distrust peppering his voice. “Isn‟t this my recovery cell?” “Oh, I‟m sorry Chip, it‟s just that…” Abigail started, but then Chip‟s body went slack and convulsed for a minute or two. “It‟s just that. We didn‟t want you to go into a seizure and hurt yourself.” “Oh,” Chip sighed, and closed his eyes. Abigail slowly pulled off the blanket and began unlocking the restraints. “I think it‟s okay if you don‟t have these on anymore,” she told him, “but you‟ll have to stay in bed, or else I‟ll have to strap you down again!” Chip smiled weakly at her. “I don‟t think I‟m going anywhere for a while,” he muttered. Although he managed to struggle fiercely when he was scared and disoriented, now that he‟d had time to think about it, his body ached all over and felt weak and numb. “The seizures should go away after a time,” Abigail said. “They did last time, if you remember, but you pulled through everything else, eventually they should fade. We call them „phantom shocks.‟ They aren‟t real seizures, but your body kind of reacting to the shocks out of habit, even though they aren‟t there anymore. They‟re a bit worse this time, so you‟ll probably notice them more.” Chip rolled over on his side once the restraints were gone and watched Abigail for a while through sleepy eyes. He drifted off again, shivering from the fever, but seemed none the worse for wear. Abigail smiled and replaced his blanket, gently pushing some stray hair that had plastered to his forehead with sweat, out of the way. The girl watched Chip for a while, sighing with relief. Rigyit walked in beaming. “I told you he‟d pull through!” he boomed. Chip rolled over, barely waking up, and pulled the blanket over his head. “Shhh! You‟ll wake him, Dr. Rigyit!” Abigail whispered. She pushed the older doctor out of the cell and closed the door behind them. “He‟s doing okay then?” Rigyit asked, though he already knew the answer. “Yes,” Abigail said impatiently, wanting to get back to Chip‟s side. “He‟s still having bad episodes from the phantom shocks, but his memory is good and he‟s not paralyzed or anything. I think he‟s still very weak, and he went to sleep almost immediately after he woke up.” Rigyit nodded at her report. “He‟s still recovering almost twice as fast as the previous specimens, and his overall health is amazing! You‟d never even know he had a piece of alien grafted to his body.” Abigail glanced into the cell, Chip‟s form under the blanket rising and falling with his breathing, occasionally twitching from the phantom shocks. She sighed and turned back to Rigyit. “Do we have to graft more of the alien into his body?” she asked, but already knew the answer. Rigyit frowned and nodded, “If we don‟t, all that he‟s suffered through already will be a waste.” Abigail shook her head. “If we let him go now, let him go back to his Melany, he won‟t care about all this. He‟ll be happy just to get away!” Rigyit watched the boy for a while and then turned away without saying anything more. Abigail sighed and walked back into the cell. She sat with Chip for the rest of the night until she herself fell asleep. Abigail woke the next morning to Rigyit‟s voice. He was paging her through the cell‟s intercom system. Hurriedly she sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and then looked at the clock visible from the cell. It was quite late, and she glanced over at Chip. He was still curled up under the blanket and seemed to be sleeping as soundly as he had the night before. Walking out of the cell, she approached Rigyit in the monitoring booth. “What‟s wrong?” she asked sleepily. Rigyit frowned at her. “Is 137 up yet?” “No… he‟s still sleeping,” Abigail said. “Doesn‟t that strike you odd?” Rigyit prompted, gently. Abigail seemed at a loss. “I guess a little, but…” Abigail said, not sure what answer she was supposed to give. Rigyit sighed and took a long sip of his coffee. He pointed to the monitor for the alien. Abigail looked at it and gasped. “Oh, no…” she said, and hurried from the room. Rigyit watched her go, and shook his head. “That‟s what happens when one‟s too worried about the specimen, rather than the project,” he remarked to no one in particular, and went back to examining Chip‟s readings from the night before. Abigail rushed into Chip‟s cell and gently shook him. He was flushed and very hot and clammy, and she quickly flung the blanket onto a chair and flipped him onto his back. Chip moaned in his sleep and tried to curl up again, shivering violently, but he seemed far from waking. Abigail pulled out the restraints again and secured his wrists so he couldn‟t roll over or curl up. Chip fidgeted a little but then was still, other than the shivering. Abigail touched the alien in Chip‟s chest. It jumped slightly, and Chip whined a little. She checked the monitors again and sighed. Quickly securing Chip‟s feeding tube again, she set a measured amount and watched as the nutrients flowed through into his stomach. She quickly covered him with the blanket, and sank heavily into the chair. She‟d forgotten all about the alien, she was so worried about Chip‟s well-being. Once Chip had regained consciousness, Abigail had unhooked the feeding tube, but Chip was too weak to eat regularly and the alien had quickly leeched off any available nutrients. It was a wonder Chip hadn‟t died yet! She checked the monitors and ascertained that he wasn‟t even comatose, though he‟d been so weak he couldn‟t even wake up. She cursed herself silently, resting her face in her hands, and then began to sob. Rigyit watched Abigail from the booth, but sighed and got up as he saw her break down. He strode silently into the cell, and startled her when he laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “I should have been more careful,” she said, sniffing. “You should have, but I was watching him. I guess I was conducting a small side experiment to see how quickly the alien could weaken him without a strong outside nutrient source,” Rigyit said, somewhat guiltily. “That‟s horrible!” Abigail exclaimed, looking in horror at the older doctor. “A lesson for both of us, perhaps,” Rigyit said heavily, walking over to Chip and pulling the blanket down to his waist. He placed a hand directly on the alien, feeling its response. Blinking, he moved his hand firmly on Chip‟s stomach, his fingers positioned around the feeding tube, and pressed down. Chip drew in a sharp breath at the pressure and Abigail stood up, wondering if Rigyit was pressing too hard. “It‟s all right,” Rigyit said, and then went silent for a minute. Chip fidgeting while Rigyit‟s hand was over his stomach, but relaxed again once it was removed. Rigyit pulled the blanket up to Chip‟s neck again and idly fingered the plug there before turning toward Abigail. “I was checking the rate that 137‟s body was absorbing the nutrients. You have it set high, but even at that the alien is forcing an almost instantaneous absorption. Luckily the nutrients we feed the specimen are designed to do just that, otherwise his stomach would probably be ripped to shreds in no time. Still, his body isn‟t getting anything, the alien is sucking it up so quickly. You always need to remember to set the nutrients level to at least ten-percent over what the alien is absorbing. In this case I‟d give the specimen at least fifty-percent to make up for what he‟s lost. You may also want to change his implants and tubes,” Rigyit explained, and then turned to leave. “You are doing a fair job, Abigail, but you need to remember to check on all aspects of the project, rather than just on the boy‟s emotions and body. The alien is part of him now, too, and though you might not like it, you need to tend to it as much as the host!” Abigail nodded and watched the doctor go. Then she turned toward the console and turned up the nutrients. Sighing, and went to the booth and picked up her cleaning and replacement supplies. Rigyit smiled at her. “Don‟t worry,” he said, somewhat apologetically. “I know I‟m tough on you, but the host body of an alien is put through an awful lot, and lies on a very thin line between life and death. You‟re doing an excellent job in keeping the boy happy, considering his position. If I didn‟t know better, I‟d think you had a crush on him!” Abigail stopped dead and blushed. “Well… no. I mean… he has a girlfriend already…” “Ah, so you know about Melany then?” “Uh… yes, a little,” Abigail sighed. She was right, after all, but the knowledge depressed her more than she thought it would. She actually hadn‟t thought about it, but now that Rigyit had brought it up, she realized she did indeed have feelings for Chip. “Well, from what I heard, they‟re deeply in love,” Rigyit said. “Yeh, he was calling her name in his sleep,” Abigail said quietly. “I feel bad for them, but Chip is more important to this project than anyone knows!” Rigyit said, getting angry to cover up his guilt. Abigail blinked at Rigyit. He‟d called the boy by his name, rather than his assigned specimen number. She decided not to bring it up, wanting to end the awkward conversation before it got too embarrassing. “I need to go do this,” she said and turned toward Chip before Rigyit could reply. The doctor watched her and shook his head. Chip was in his room, sleeping, when Melany entered, but it was very dark and he could barely see her. She laughed playfully, and he smiled at her, but when he tried to hug her he found he couldn‟t move. “I stuck you with a paralytic serum,” she whispered in his ear, and kissed him on the neck. “Melany, what are you doing?” Chip asked. He felt the blankets being pulled off his body, and realized with a jolt that he only had underwear on. He tried to move, but his arms felt like they were tied down. “I told you, Chip, you‟re paralyzed! Don‟t try to fight it, you‟ll thank me for this later,” Melany said, winking at him. Chip felt Melany work her way from his neck down to his stomach, and her touch was firm yet gentle. He shuddered under her touch, his body acting on its own. He wanted to give in to her, but they‟d never gone this far before. In fact, they‟d never done more than kiss, and hadn‟t even seen each other naked! “No, Melany,” Chip whispered, trying to get his traitorous body to move, but then he felt her at his crotch. She slipped off his underwear and caressed his genitals. His entire body froze, but she worked on, unfazed. “No, no, no!” Chip muttered, feeling more uncomfortable as his body relaxed against her administrations again, against his will. Then he felt her slip something into him and he screamed. Abigail was just changing Chip‟s plugs when he suddenly woke up, kicking and screaming. He had been muttering about Melany, but she ignored it, figuring it was his normal sleep-talking. Startled, she gaped at Chip, one plug in her hand, the other only half in him, her work interrupted when he started to thrash. Chip was panting and his heart rate was extremely high. He looked around, disoriented. Abigail noticed he was blushing fiercely. “Wheres‟s Melany?” he panted. “Chip, what‟s the matter? Melany? What are you talking about? She‟s not here!” Abigail stammered. Chip didn‟t seem to recognize her, and she was fearful that he had some sort of brain damage. “Melany was… she was… down there,” Chip said frantically, “and she did something… weird to me!” Abigail took a deep breath, finally starting to understand his confusion. She walked around the bed and held out a plug. Chip focused on it, still not comprehending. “Chip, it‟s me, Abigail! I was cleaning and replacing your tubes. You were just having a bad dream. That was me down there,” Abigail said, blushing, but she forced herself to continue. “I was cleaning your cup and replacing your plugs. That‟s all you were feeling!” Chip stared at Abigail for a minute, and then relaxed. He lay back on the pillow and sighed with relief. “Do you mind if I finish?” Abigail asked, cautiously. “Sorry, no,” Chip said, but he closed his eyes, trying to forget his nightmare as she finished up her work. After everything was in place, she pulled a chair up to the side of his bed, and worked his restraints off. He smiled at her gratefully and sat up, stretching. “Are you okay now?” Abigail asked. “Yes. Sorry to have scared you, Abigail,” he said. “I had a dream Melany was trying to seduce me against my will. We love each other deeply, but we had promised not to get too physically involved until we‟re both a bit older. So it really scared me that she was acting so crazy. I‟m glad it was just a dream.” Abigail nodded. “Me too. If I had known you were going to wake up, I would have waited,” she said, guiltily. “It‟s okay,” Chip said, looking about the room. He was still trying to get oriented. The dream had seemed so real. Despite the scary and fleeting nature of the dream, he‟d somehow gotten used to the fact that he was living his old life again, and it was taking him some time to readjust. His heart ached for Melany more than it had since he‟d been brought here, and he daydreamed about her, vaguely hearing Abigail in the background. “Chip! Chip?” she asked, suddenly stopping and shaking him. She still wasn‟t sure if he was completely well, and was worried that he seemed so distant. She was surprised he‟d shared so easily about his dream. He had never talked about Melany, except in his sleep, and she never asked him about it, but he‟d just shared some very intimate information with her, and now Abigail wasn‟t sure what to make of it. “Oh, sorry,” Chip sighed, and focused his attention on Abigail again. “What‟s up?” “I was asking you if you wanted to eat. I haven‟t had anything yet, and might as well order for both of us if you want anything,” Abigail said. Chip nodded. “I‟m famished,” he said. Abigail smiled and took his order, then walked over to the Meal Service panel. She typed in the orders and sat down to wait for them. Chip and Abigail talked a bit, Chip filling her in on some of his and Melany‟s background. She seemed interested, and he felt better talking about her, even if it did make him lonely for her. As Abigail was talking a bit about herself, Chip‟s head felt fuzzy. He put a hand to his temple and shook his head, trying to clear it without alerting Abigail. He unconsciously put a hand to his chest, right where the alien was. It rippled a little, and then both the alien‟s fidgeting and the fuzziness dissipated. “You all right, Chip?” Abigail asked. “Yeh, my head felt a little funny just then,” Chip said. He lay back on the bed as a headache started up. “Well, don‟t go back to sleep yet, you‟ve got a full meal on its way!” Abigail said, cheerfully, but she watched Chip carefully. “Of course,” Chip said, smiling, but she could see the pain in his eyes. He reached up to rub his head. “Are you okay?” Abigail asked, dropping her pretense. “I‟m fine, I just got this splitting headache all of a sudden. I think it‟s all the stress over that nightmare,” he said, just as the Meal Service panel dinged. “Are you still hungry?” Abigail asked. “Sure,” Chip said, and he did indeed devour his meal as if it were his last. His headache, however, had grown in intensity, and the fuzziness had returned. He grabbed his head, rubbing furiously at his temples. “Chip, let me get you some painkillers,” Abigail said, worriedly pulling on one of his arms. “No, it‟s okay. Just stress. I just need to get some more sleep, I think,” Chip said, wincing as his head started to throb. “Well, all right. I‟ll stay here with you. If you need any medicine, wake me up,” she said. She felt his forehead, relieved that his fever had almost completely dropped, and grabbed a blanket from a hidden closet on the far side of the cell. Dropping heavily into her chair, she watched Chip cuddle under the blankets and realized how tired she was as well. She lowered the lights to the cell and drifted off to sleep watching Chip‟s silhouette. Chip clutched his head under the blanket. He kept his breathing even so as not to alert Abigail and resisted crying out, though his head was throbbing. He didn‟t want any more medicine, and was getting sick of being used as a human pincushion, but the pain was almost unbearable, and he was close to waking Abigail for some of the painkillers. Curiously, his head seemed to throb and pound every time the alien in his chest was active. It quickly settled down when he touched it, though even the lower intensity headache was getting to be too much. He curled up into a tight ball, keeping his knees pressed firmly against the alien in his chest, and pressed down hard on his temples. He thought he must be delirious, as the fuzzy noise in his head was starting to resemble words. He spent a while in this position, praying that he didn‟t pass out or throw up, until the headache stopped as suddenly as it had started. Chip stayed curled up for a good while after the headache was gone, for fear it would return if he moved, but it didn‟t. He sighed with relief and relaxed his stiff, aching body. He quickly dropped off into a deep sleep shortly after. Abigail woke early the next morning, sneaking into the booth where Rigyit was already up and typing away at his computer. He stopped as she fixed a cup of coffee and waited. Once she had a few sips and looked awake, he stopped her before she could walk back out again. “Well?” he asked excitedly. “Well what?” Abigail said, sleepily. She thought she must have missed something. “Didn‟t 137 say anything to you last night?” Rigyit demanded. “I‟m not sure what you‟re talking about, Dr. Rigyit!” Abigail said. She was still half asleep and getting a bit cranky. “These,” he said, jabbing a finger at a section of Chip‟s readings. Abigail noticed the time stamp was from the night before. “They‟re….” She said, sipping the coffee slowly. “They‟re the specimen‟s brain waves, from last night. See the unusual activity? It‟s highlighted. Didn‟t he mention anything… strange?” Rigyit said, hardly able to control his enthusiasm. “No. He had a headache right before we went to sleep, but he said he didn‟t need any pain medication for it,” Abigail said, wondering to herself what this was all about. “Abigail, he stayed awake approximately four hours after you dropped off. I checked his other readings. He kept his breathing normal, but his brain waves and heart rate were off the chart, and his body was extremely tense. He didn‟t mention voices or anything?” “No! Why would he…” Abigail started, but then her mouth dropped open with the realization that the alien might be trying to communicate with Chip. She suddenly looked worried. “It isn‟t, I mean, you don‟t think…” “Not yet. We haven‟t conditioned his brain yet, let alone his mind, and there isn‟t enough alien. But the fact that it tried this early and got a response – well, isn‟t it terrific!” Rigyit exclaimed. “No,” Abigail muttered, and looked crestfallen. “I don‟t want the alien taking him over!” She remembered the incident three years ago that had opened up her position in the project. They had succeeded in keeping the last specimen alive, but the alien had crept into his mind, and without proper coaching or aid they‟d both gone temporarily insane, trying to cancel each other out. The alien took control of its host long enough to kill the doctor charged with caring for the specimen before the host dropped into a deep coma. They managed to resuscitate the host, but the alien had badly shocked his nervous system and he died a few weeks after. Abigail was brought in a few days after the previous doctor‟s death, and had nightmares about the dying man for several months after. Rigyit had given her some time off, and she‟d been sent to counseling. She wasn‟t sure she could do that job again, especially given how attached to Chip she‟d become! The alien, of course, survived with little wear on its own body, and was allowed to feed off the body until it was unusable. They removed it shortly after where it waited for three years until receiving its next host. Rigyit shook his head. “We aren‟t going to let 137 die. We have better equipment and knowledge, and are better prepared for this. That‟s what his last operation was for, to implant electrodes in the proper parts of his brain. It‟ll take a long, long time, but we‟ll be able to turn off the parts of his brain that will inhibit the alien, and turn on the parts of his brain that will help it. That way there will be little resistance and both the alien and the boy will be able to survive without going insane, and we hope eventually commingle in the same body. There is some concern that he‟ll be able to resist the alien, even with the proper shock treatment, but hopefully we‟ll be able to wear him down enough so that he‟ll succumb to the alien. We need to start him immediately, though, now that the alien is acting on its own, otherwise it might be a repeat of last time!” Abigail sighed. She was beginning to wonder how she‟d ever gotten into this mess, and looked over at Chip‟s sleeping form. He was probably exhausted from his headache. She‟d let him sleep a bit longer before waking him for breakfast. “How can you do that to him, and talk so casually of breaking him down and torturing him with the shocks again? He‟s not even started to recover yet” she asked Rigyit levelly. “I feel almost as bad as you, but we must progress in this project. We‟ve spent way too long on it already, even if it is a very difficult task. We‟re doing everything in our power to make him comfortable, but it‟s impossible to do it all the time,” Rigyit replied heavily. It upset him when Abigail accused him of being sadistic and uncaring, though he could see her point. He put a gentle hand on his shoulder and pointed to the monitors. “Oh, he‟s waking up!” Abigail exclaimed, turning to the cell. Rigyit nodded, “Please prep him for the procedure. It must be done immediately!” Chip woke slowly. His head no longer hurt, but he was drained, despite having a nice deep sleep. He didn‟t have any more nightmares, and the bed was comfortable. He didn‟t want to leave it. He stretched a little, and then settled down again, pulling the blanket over his face, but he heard the door open and couldn‟t get back to sleep. He opened his eyes. The cell was still dim, despite the outside lights of the lab always being on fully. The glass was treated so that the inner surface could be mirrored, blocking the outside light from entering into the cell. The mirroring was one-way, however. Chip couldn‟t see out, but the doctors could see in. Abigail reached over and gently shook Chip‟s shoulder. He was facing away from her, so she couldn‟t see his face. “You awake, Chip?” she asked quietly. Chip turned and looked at her, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “Oh, good. Dr. Rigyit wants me to prepare you for another experiment,” she said, looking away from him. She pulled off his blanket and started to clean and replace his implants and tubes, leaving them unhooked for the transfer. “Already?” Chip cried, suddenly jolting wide awake. “I thought I was to have some time to myself between operations!” “It has to be done, Chip. That alien in your chest, it was trying to get into your mind last night. That‟s what those headaches were. If we don‟t do something now, you might die!” Abigail said quietly. She turned her head away and sniffed. “I won‟t go!” Chip exclaimed. Abigail finished and stepped quickly aside as Chip jumped up. He ran toward the door, but when it didn‟t open for him he stalked weakly to the far wall and wedged himself between the bed and the table. “Don‟t do this, Chip,” Abigail begged, starting to tear up some more. “I won‟t go, the doctor promised!” Chip shouted, trembling with anger. He was still weak and in pain from the last operation, though the phantom shocks had gone away. The thought of another hideous procedure so soon scared him. He wasn‟t sure he could take any more right now. “Oh, Chip, I‟m so sorry!” Abigail moaned as she ran out of the door. Chip sighed and tried to think of some way to escape. The two attendants appeared in the cell followed by a depressed Abigail. Chip jumped up as quickly as his tired body would let him, and tried to rush them, slipping past them as he took them by surprise, but they were too experienced and his body too slow and weak. They grabbed him deftly and forced him back onto the bed. Chip struggled as best he could but inhaled suddenly and went slack as he felt the sharp twinge of a needle being roughly jabbed into his shoulder. The drugs slowly coursed through his veins, but he gave up before they took affect, knowing that it was futile to fight when he‟d soon be in no condition to escape anyway. Rigyit appeared as they were strapping Chip to a stretcher. He shook his head at the boy and looked apologetic. “You promised,” Chip whispered, his head swimming with the sedatives. “It‟s for your own good. Things are getting out of hand, but in a little while you‟ll be allowed to rest uninterrupted,” Rigyit replied. He patted Chip‟s arm as the boy slipped into unconsciousness, and directed his placement on the operation table. This time, Rigyit and Abigail restrained Chip and hooked him up to the various monitors and tubes, but then sealed themselves into the booth. Robotic scalpels and tweezers emerged from the table and quickly went to work on Chip‟s unconscious body. They implanted several more pieces of the alien, and then quickly and efficiently sutured them in. Before long, Chip‟s body was held suspended in the stiff bio-gel, and he doctor watched his brainwaves carefully. Chip was on light sedatives, as before. He was conscious, but not particularly aware of his surroundings. He stared out of dull eyes at the doctor and Abigail, who were watching him breathlessly. Time seemed to fly by, though Chip was kept in the tube for a week and a half, the boy falling in and out of dreamless sleep, and eventually the doctor ordered his removal from the tube. “Are you sure you need to do this?” Abigail asked, nervously. “After all, he had no episodes in the tank.” “There‟s more of the alien now, so we have to do this before the alien decides to do it on its own,” Rigyit replied. The crane had removed Chip from the tank, but instead of depositing him on the operating table, or in his cell, the crane held on to his upper arms firmly and fitted itself into a small alcove in the lab wall. The boy hung uncomfortably from the crane, his feet just missing the ground by an inch or two. The alcove was big enough for the specimen and two or three other people, and had a shallow work table running along both sides. An unbreakable glass door securely quarantined the small room, and it could be sterilized in a matter of seconds if need be. Rigyit carefully hooked up Chip‟s spinal implants to wires that fit into special array built into the wall, and screwed the long glass tubes into his head again. Chip struggled to wake up but then relaxed again. The doctor watched him for a minute and then hooked the rest of Chip‟s tubes and monitors into the wall. He expertly felt Chip‟s stomach as the nutrients began to feed in, and increased the flow. Then he turned the sedative to a minimal level and quickly clamped Chip‟s wrists and ankles into metal cuffs that were chained to the wall. “Do you really have to restrain him?” Abigail asked, getting angry at the procedure and Rigyit despite herself. “It‟s for everyone‟s good,” Rigyit said. Chip sighed and his eyelids fluttered and then opened. He lifted his head and looked about weakly, and then let it drop to his chest again. Rigyit placed a firm hand on the alien pieces and Chip threw his head back, wincing, as they moved in his flesh. Nodding to himself, the doctor applied several electrodes and monitors to the alien sections of Chip‟s body, and then pulled Abigail out of the alcove and sealed it with the glass door. He went to a large console panel array and began to work dials and check readings. Abigail asked him what he was doing, but Rigyit worked quickly and silently, ignoring the girl. Chip was working his mouth against the seal when his body suddenly tensed up. He flailed, his arms and legs snapping back as they reached the limit of the chains. His eyes looked dull, but he didn‟t seem to be in pain. Rigyit smiled as a computer monitor began to type up Chip‟s thoughts. “What are you doing to me?” he demanded. “I‟ve only just turned on your communication devices. Please, bear with us, 137. You might feel a strange tingling sensation in your body or spine. It might even hurt a little, but the pain should be bearable,” Rigit spoke into the microphone. Chip flinched as he heard the voice in his ear, and then let his head drop again. Rigyit watched the monitors and turned a few dials. Chip shuddered a little as the alien began to jump and ripple in his body. “Stop it!” Chip thought. “Can you feel the shocks,” Rigyit asked Chip. “Yes, and they’re moving. It hurts!” Rigyit turned down the voltage a little, and the alien pieces calmed down somewhat. “Can you feel the shocks now?” the doctor asked into the microphone. Chip looked up at the booth. “No,” he thought, but he watched Rigyit suspiciously. Rigyit continued to watch the monitors. After a while, Chip relaxed. The aliens were still rippling in his skin, but he‟d learned to ignore the sensation. He was almost completely relaxed when a horrible headache and the fuzzing in his head returned. He shook his head, trying to reach it with his hands, and glared at the doctor. “That‟s the alien,” Rigyit said helpfully, and began to turn on Chip‟s brain and spinal implants. Chip‟s body shuddered violently as the initial shock ran through him, but it quickly subsided. “I thought you said no more shocks!” he wailed through his thoughts. “That was just the electrodes booting up, 137,” the doctor said, and began flipping switches and programming the machines. Chip felt the fuzziness in his head increase, throbbing and pounding, and it was making him go crazy. He hung helplessly and felt his mind slipping away into a red haze, when it suddenly cleared. He blinked, and then felt another force on his mind. This one didn‟t feel any better than the previous one, but his headache had subsided somewhat. Chip felt sick as various shocks worked their way all over his brain, popping in one area and then disappearing, only to pop up in a different area. The headache was almost completely gone, but Chip was beginning to feel an odd drowsiness overtake his mind. His vision blacked over, and he wasn‟t sure if he was unconscious or awake anymore. “Don‟t fight it, 137,” Rigyit said loudly and clearly into the microphone. Chip jumped a little at the voice, but the doctor couldn‟t tell what the boy was thinking, or if he really understood it. He was hanging limply with a sleepy, vacant stare, and didn‟t seem to be very aware of anything. “What are you doing to him?” Abigail demanded suddenly. Chip looked so hopeless and helpless in the booth that it frightened her. “Conditioning his mind,” Rigyit said. “I‟m shocking the alien to speed up its processes, and then forcing the alien‟s mind out of his, so that 137 can allow it in on his own terms and time. The problem, however, is getting the specimen to allow the alien in at all. He‟s fighting, internally, for control. That‟s why his body and expression is so vacant. Right now he‟s actually fighting against the shocks. If he gives in to us completely, the alien will be able to enter his mind and brain, but we‟ll be able to oversee both of them, and separate them if we need to. It‟s essential to do it this way. If the alien gains control unchecked, the host will be so overcome by it that he‟ll go insane, just like the last time. The thing is, it‟s like a reflex. 137 may never succumb to our conditioning, which would be bad and make him unusable. Unless we can regulate both the alien and the specimen‟s minds, they‟ll both be stuck at a standstill until one of them finally dies.” “That‟s horrible!” Abigail gasped and stormed back to the booth, breaking down in sobs as she left. Chip watched her go, and then let his head fall again. His mind was so cluttered. He could hear the alien talking to him in inaudible whispers now that the doctor had suppressed the parts of his brain that kept him and the alien from being compatible. However, the doctor‟s suppression made his mind groggy. He could see again, but couldn‟t understand anything. Words, images, and memories tumbled about his brain senselessly, and the dull throbbing from his arms, pinned by the crane and pulled down by his weight annoyed him. The alien pieces jumped, in concert, in his body. They jerked him back into reality for a split second, but he quickly sank into his confusion again. Chip tired of the sensations and felt like he wanted to give in to it, but at the same time was afraid of the chaos, and refused to allow himself to be swept away. Rigyit sighed. He‟d been watching Chip for twenty hours and with no progress whatsoever. He slowly edged the dial that controlled the shocks up a notch or two, watching the meters and the monitors carefully. Chip‟s brain was locked in a constant state and refused to slip out of it. He turned it up a lot, watching Chip struggle and then finally go limp, with no change. Sighing, Rigyit rubbed his eyes and was about to get some dinner when a small beep sounded, signaling a change. Chip‟s eyes were clear now, but questioning. He surveyed the room with a strange expression on his face, moving his hands and feet experimentally. “137,” Rigyit said, his heart pounding in his chest. Chip looked straight at him, but no thoughts appeared on the screen. The doctor checked the brainwave logs from the last few minutes and noticed a drastic change. They‟d been near flat before, but now would spike, stay constant, and fall, over and over again, forming strange, perfectly symmetrical blocks. The alien had indeed taken over, but Rigyit wasn‟t sure what to make of it now that it had happened. He quickly turned off the shocks to the alien and walked into the room where Chip‟s body was being held. The alien glanced down at him. Rigyit removed the mouth seal and breathing tube. The alien awkwardly caught its breath and adjusted to breathing on its own. After it had sufficiently recovered, it moved one of Chip‟s hands, the chains jingling. “Why am I being held here?” it asked. “Why give me a body, countless bodies, when I cannot use them freely, or at all?” “You aren‟t quite compatible with humans, yet,” Rigyit said, excitedly. “We‟re trying to find a way to make you so.” The alien blinked and then tilted Chip‟s head, looking thoughtfully. “My host, he‟s trying so hard to fight me. I cannot communicate with him, and it bothers me. I do not like being at odds with a creature I have to share a body with. Am forced to, in fact,” the alien added, looking coldly at Rigyit. “The connections aren‟t quite right yet, we‟re still working on adjustments,” Rigyit replied, feeling somewhat guilty. “Do you mean well, or ill?” The alien sighed. It was amazing how much it had picked up during its years of confinement, even without totally meshing with a human host after all those years. “Although you have treated me horribly over the years, you have given me a fair chance. I will aid you in your efforts if you allow me to communicate with this boy. I can access his mind for his knowledge and memories, but I cannot use it or speak with him unless he lets me. Similarly, I would share with him all that I know, but he‟d have to let me, or I‟d have to find another way in,” the alien said. Rigyit nodded. “We thank you for your cooperation. Our goal, as you might already know, is to find a way to mesh your kind with ours, hopefully for the better. You and 137 would greatly facilitate this if you both cooperated. I‟m sure if he found out you are reasonable he would not mind working with you, though he‟s very bitter against us.” The alien nodded, tilted his head as if listening to something internally, and then eyed Rigyit. “The boy wishes you would not refer to him by that number. His name is “Chip,” and he resents being reduced to a mere thing both in name and treatment.” “Can you speak to him?” Rigyit said, eagerly. “No, but he feels strongly about it. He‟s still conscious and can hear you to some degree, though I have control. Usually I can‟t read his thoughts or speak with him directly, but he feels so strongly about the matter that his pain is leeching through,” the alien said. Rigyit looked embarrassed. “Well,” he said, coughing, “can you allow Chip his control back? Keep trying to get into his mind, perhaps you can convince him if you find a way.” The alien nodded and then went limp. After a minute or two, Chip sighed and slowly opened his eyes. He blinked at Rigyit, surprised that the confusion was gone. The shocks in Chip‟s brain and spine had stopped now that the alien was not trying to gain control, and Chip took a deep breath of relief. Rigyit looked the boy in the eyes. “Chip,” he said slowly, “wouldn‟t you reconsider opening your mind to the alien? You‟ll get used to the sensation, and it‟ll come easier and less painfully each time.” “When did you start calling me by my name again?” Chip asked, suspiciously. It seemed he didn‟t remember the alien taking control of his body, despite the alien saying he was semi-conscious of the proceedings. “The alien told me you resented me calling you by your number,” Rigyit said, trying to hide his embarrassment. Chip looked a little confused at Rigyit‟s statement, but decided to ignore it. “Well, I still don‟t want that thing crawling around in my head!” Chip said, a little too loudly. “It‟s already crawling inside my body, and enough is enough!” Rigyit sighed. He left Chip hanging there and turned back to the control panel to check on the settings. The doctor was surprised how easy the alien was to talk to. He wasn‟t sure what he‟d been expecting, though they knew the alien to be highly intelligent. Excitedly, he wrote down his report as he watched the boy and the alien carefully. Chip was left there for several days while the doctor monitored him. He was fed painkillers to dull the torture of being hung without much support, but other than that his mind was clear of drugs. Though Rigyit was certain the alien posed no threat, he wanted Chip‟s body as immobile and helpless as possible, just in case the alien was duping them. Chip would occasionally become dazed, staring at the wall or the floor, sometimes his body twitched slightly as the alien tried to get into his mind, but at first he was able to keep his wits about him. He shouted at the doctor, and was depressed when Abigail came in but wouldn‟t look at him. He wondered if he‟d done something wrong, but he couldn‟t remember much from when he dazed off. After a while, however, Chip‟s body and mind became exhausted. Sleep eluded him, snatching a few moments here or there, but he‟d always wake up when the alien moved and the shocks began again. They weren‟t exactly painful, but they made his body and mind feel too relaxed, and he‟d quickly fight against it, trying to keep the alien at bay. “We‟re not getting anywhere!” Abigail said, a week later, a desperate tone in her voice as she watched Chip nod off, only to be startled awake again. “Can‟t you just let him down for a while?” “Not until he‟s at least talked to the alien, if not fully accepting of it,” Rigyit said, not looking at her. Chip‟s breathing was somewhat labored, but he didn‟t need the breathing tube yet. The boy had stopped struggling against the restraints a few days ago and hung pathetically from the crane. He was constantly drifting in and out of sleep, but never enough to rest his weary mind and body. Rigyit felt bad for him, but he was eager to open the boy‟s mind to the alien. His project goal was almost met, even if it could not yet be sustained, and Rigyit was torn between the comfort of the boy and his project‟s success. He sighed. “I want more of the alien grafted onto Chip,” he said. Abigail gasped, and then quickly turned away. Rigyit glanced at her and then began to order the surgery. “You can‟t do it, not yet,” Abigail said quietly. Rigyit shook his head, finalizing the procedure. Abigail watched, unmoving, as Chip fought against the anesthetic that flowed through the sedative tube. His body still remained slack, but his eyes kept closing and then flying open. Eventually his eyelids and mind felt so heavy that he felt his consciousness slipping away. He managed to open his eyes one final time, in a last-ditch effort to stay awake. He saw Abigail watching him through the glass door, worry creasing her face. Smiling at her with the last of his energy, his head slumped against his chest and the breathing and mouth seal were quickly replaced by ambidextrous robotic arms. Rigyit ordered Abigail to place the vat of alien pieces in the room, and then quickly sterilized everything once she was out. The robotic arms went to work, efficiently slicing open the boy‟s flesh and placing more of the alien into the open wounds. There wasn‟t much of Chip‟s original skin left, and some of the pieces were fitted together, joining seamlessly into each other. Rigyit marveled at how well adapted the alien was as he watched the surgery. Before long, the robotic arms had finished their work and sutured the boy closed, retreating into slots in the wall that quickly disappeared again. Rigyit smiled at Chip, pushing a button that slowly filled the cell with bio-gel. “He‟s finally getting some sleep now, and the alien seems to know. It‟s not tried to enter his mind since we started the surgery,” Rigyit said to Abigail. The girl was still pressed up against the glass door. She‟d been plastered there throughout the surgery, unable to turn away or leave, and still looked shaken. “It‟s not the same, anesthetizing him,” she said quietly. Then she grew quiet and peered in at him carefully. Rigyit ordered one of the robotic arms to position Chip‟s head upright as the gel rose above his head. He set the gel slowly, and the arm retreated. Abigail sighed as Chip‟s body was frozen in the gel, wondering if he was conscious of his surroundings or not. The anesthetic was turned off, so Chip might be waking soon. She was about to turn away when Chip‟s face tensed up, and his body struggled as best it could, confined in the gel. “You can‟t! Not yet! He‟s not even an hour out of the surgery! He‟s too weak. If you let the alien into his mind now, it might kill him!” she wailed at Rigyit. Rigyit shook his head. “The alien knows what it‟s doing. I have to keep the electrodes on, as I can‟t stop the alien, regardless. But it wouldn‟t do anything if it thought Chip was incapable of handling it. It needs Chip as much as our project needs him. Maybe more so!” Abigail put her hand to her face. She tried not to watch Chip struggling, but found herself staring helplessly at him anyway. “You need some time off. I want you to take a vacation, at least until I can get Chip and the alien to talk. Until I can take Chip out of this station. How about that?” Rigyit said gently. “No, no… I need to stay with him. He‟ll be hurt if he wakes up and I‟m not here. I‟m okay. I just don‟t understand why you have to torture him so much!” Abigail whispered. Rigyit was silent, not quite knowing how to answer that question. He had no good reason, except the project, but even that was starting to seem lame considering that Chip‟s life was probably ruined now. He sighed. “Well, if you ever need to get away from the project for a while, I‟ll take good care of Chip. I promise,” Rigyit said wearily, and then turned back to the consoles, watching Chip‟s readings. Chip had finally fallen asleep, and the alien worked slowly, gently this time. It had hoped he would let it in, eventually, but that tactic failed over and over again. The alien was lonely, not just from its three years without a host, but from the years since it was taken from its homeworld. It was unused to having hosts who‟s minds were incompatible with its own, and it longed for that meshing as much as its body longed for the physical symbiotic relationship it also shared with its hosts. The alien had gotten through to the last host, but their minds were so incompatible that it hurt them both, and the alien had lashed out in pain and anger. Before too long, it had killed its new host, accidentally of course, and was ripped from the body and thrust into a glass container. The alien was fed raw meat from time to time, but it wasn‟t the same as living flesh, and there was no connection. It wondered why the humans had thrust it into so many of their own kind, even after the deaths. Putting aside its thoughts, it concentrated and mentally caressed Chip‟s sleeping mind. The alien felt Chip‟s body tense slightly, and withdrew, waiting until he was relaxed again. The shocks the doctor was using on Chip‟s brain kept the secretion the alien released into the boy‟s bloodstream from working properly. Apparently the secretion was too strong for a human host‟s body. It caused a connection into the host‟s brain, normally, and allowed the alien to weave its thoughts seamlessly into its host‟s mind. They alien was benign, for the most part, and usually the creatures it inhabited were much bigger and heartier, able to withstand being fed on with little or no problem at all. The alien meshed its mind with its host‟s however, so that the host would not try to loose or kill the alien. The alien usually joined with simple-minded but large animals, and would do its part by keeping the animals safe from harm as much as possible, especially when just instinct would not suffice. As intelligent beings, however, the aliens would often hunger for knowledge of other creatures and switch hosts often in their lifetimes, which could be hundreds of years long. The host animals were none the worse for wear, although often disoriented for a while and with a slight wound where the alien had attached itself. Humans, however, were a different story. Chip was definitely a step above its past human hosts, but even he needed a lot of technology to pull him through. Without the help of Rigyit, which the alien was both thankful to and loathed, Chip probably would have gone insane even had he survived becoming its host. The alien liked Chip though. It could read his thoughts when his guard was down, and skimmed his brain for knowledge and memories when he was unconscious or sleeping. Human brains, however, were highly incompatible with the aliens‟. Both were too intelligent, and the secretion the aliens produced in conjunction with the mental promptings seemed to create an imbalance in the humans‟ minds, instead of aiding in communication as it was supposed to. The alien had waited as long as possible, knowing the outcome, but soon its own instincts and longings to become truly one with its host had taken over, and it tried gently to commune with Chip. Chip had fought the weak attempt, luckily, and eventually the alien was able to control itself. The doctor soon stepped in, allowing it, however briefly, to control Chip‟s body, but it still longed to be allowed into his mind. Feeling Chip relax again, the alien sent out a thin, probing thought. As it had hoped, the secretion accompanying the thought was too weak to activate the shocks. The alien hoped someday the boy would stop fighting the shocks and allow the alien in, but for now it would have to do. It was learning how to change its secretions, which might also come in handy later. Chip whined a little and fluttered his eyes, but didn‟t wake up or fight. The alien then began to feed him an image of its home world. A large creature with thick, smooth skin was tromping through a forest, overgrown with strange, brightly colored plants. The sky was yellow and a strong sulphurous smell hung in the air. An alien, not in pieces like Chip‟s was, hung from a tree, waiting for the creature to pass by. It dropped smoothly onto the back of the creature and quickly dug its sharp tentacles into its flesh. The creature bucked and grunted as it tried to dislodge the alien, but the alien sent long, questing nerves through the creature‟s veins and into its brain. As it released the secretion into the creature‟s brain, the alien talked soothingly and calmed the creature down, their minds meshing. The creatures with the aliens tended to live a longer life than those without, and in return the alien was given shelter and food. Finally, the alien left the creature, removing its tentacles smoothly and cleanly. It grasped a tree as the creature passed by, and waited for another to pass. The creature seemed a little disoriented at first, but it soon got used to being alone again, and the small puncture wounds on its back quickly scabbed up, leaving the creature almost the same as when the alien first dropped onto it. Chip relaxed his guard as the dream progressed, and by the end of it was in a deep, blissful sleep. The alien gently worked its way in and out of his mind, not wanting to wake or startle him into shutting it out again. Chip whined from time to time if the alien came on too strong or secreted a little too much, causing a shock or two, but for the most part he accepted the alien. Rigyit was surprised to see the readings, and asked Chip if he‟d had any unusual dreams when he woke. The boy seemed to have a lot more strength than he‟d had in weeks, and he related his dream to the doctor through the electrode in his head. The alien worked on Chip for several weeks, without him knowing, while his body recovered, both from the new graftings and also from his severe lack of sleep. After his body was healed, Rigyit removed the gel, the mouth seal and the breathing tube, and Abigail was allowed to see him again. Chip woke, groggy, and watched Abigail clean him up. Rigyit showed Abigail how to feel Chip‟s stomach to see how quickly he was absorbing the nutrients. Chip blinked at them and watched Abigail‟s eyes grow wide. Rigyit pushed her hand firmly around the feeding tube, instructing her to put her hand on the small of Chip‟s back to stabilize him. Abigail was about to turn to Rigyit, telling him that she couldn‟t feel anything, but then she made out a slight throbbing that didn‟t seem to be Chip‟s breathing or blood pressure. Curiously, she pushed down harder. Chip made a small gasping noise as the pressure was applied, but seemed otherwise unaffected. Sure enough, she felt Chip‟s stomach fill up, and then slowly empty, over and over in a precise pattern. She turned to Rigyit. “Feel for a good minute or two,” he said, nodding. “If the pressure inside his stomach seems too great, then too much of the nutrients is being fed to him. If there‟s no pressure at all, then he‟s absorbing it too quickly, and you need to raise the levels until you feel a fairly even flow. You can check it to the machines, but I‟ve found they take too long once you get the hang of it.” Abigail glanced at Chip. His eyes were closed, and he hadn‟t moved at all since they‟d drained the gel. She nodded at Rigyit, who smiled and then went back to the console to monitor Chip‟s readings. “Chip?” Abigail whispered when he was gone. Chip opened his eyes wearily and glanced at her, not making any other movements. “Are you okay?” Abigail asked. Chip smiled weakly at her. He looked pale and tired, but otherwise not too bad. She smiled back at him and finished up her work, carefully feeling around his body to see how the alien was holding up. She was careful to check on both aspects of Chip, as her nearsightedness had almost cost him his life last time. The alien seemed quiet, and didn‟t jump or ripple as it usually did. Chip seemed to be asleep again, so Abigail quietly left the room and went into the booth. After she‟d left, Rigyit entered the alcove and sealed it off with the glass door. “Chip?” he said firmly. Chip opened his eyes again and stared levelly at the doctor. “Have you talked to the alien yet?” “No,” Chip croaked. He was tired and wished the doctor would just leave him alone. His entire body ached from being in the same spot and hanging from the crane, even though much of his time had been spent suspended in the gel. The doctor stepped closer to Chip and put a firm hand on his stomach, checking the nutrients absorption again. He nodded to himself and smiled. “Abigail is making a fine nurse after all, don‟t you think?” he asked, not really expecting an answer. He took Chip‟s chin in his left hand and held one of his eyes open, shining a light into it. Tutting, he let Chip‟s head drop again. “You know the alien is already in your brain. You really would do better off letting it into your mind completely. You‟ll be put back into your recovery room, and will be much happier,” Rigyit said, gently. “No!” Chip exclaimed, as emphatically as he could in his weakened state. His whole body began to tremble. “It already has my body, I won‟t let it have my mind as well!” “You don‟t understand, the alien doesn‟t take over your mind, nor your body. It merely merges with you, not suppresses you,” Rigyit shook his head. He was getting frustrated with the boy, but at the same time he understood, and even admired him. Chip was definitely going through a lot to avoid loosing himself, or so he thought. “I don‟t like it,” Chip said quietly, though he was still trembling. “I can‟t do anything now that you‟ve already chosen me and gotten so far, but I really wish you had picked someone more willing.” Rigyit was quiet for a while. He lifted Chip‟s head again and looked into his eyes. Chip tried to free his head but Rigyit held him firmly. The doctor sighed. “Well, regardless of how you feel, Chip, the alien is already in your mind,” he repeated, letting Chip‟s head drop. “It‟s just a matter of time before you give into it. But until you do, we‟ll have to keep you hooked up to this machine, so it might be in everyone‟s best interest if you gave in to it, just for a little while. If it turns out to be hostile, I promise we‟ll stop the experiment and remove the alien from your body!” Chip didn‟t say anything, but squeezed his eyes shut, tears escaping and rolling down his cheeks. Rigyit sighed and wiped the tears away. He patted Chip on the shoulder. “I can‟t imagine what it must be like in your position, Chip,” he said quietly, “but though I do wish you‟d just trust me, I have to admire your fighting spirit.” Rigyit raised the glass door and went back into the booth, sending Abigail out onto the floor to tend to Chip. Chip sniffed, fighting back sobs. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes to see Abigail standing in front of him, blurred by the tears. “Oh, Chip,” she said, and hugged him as best she could. “Rigyit said I have to give in to the alien,” he said quietly. “It‟s part of the experiment, Chip,” Abigail said, apologetically, “and we can‟t progress until you do.” Chip sighed heavily. “I just can‟t do it, Abigail,” he said. “I can feel the alien moving around in my mind and my dreams, whether I‟m awake or asleep. I really want to get down from here, and get this horrible experiment over with. I know Rigyit‟s right, and eventually I‟ll slip up and the alien will get in, but I can‟t just let it!” Abigail smiled sadly at him. “I know,” she said, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze. “You do what you have to. I have to do what Dr. Rigyit says, but… I really wish I could let you go.” Chip closed his eyes. “I know, and I don‟t blame you, or even Rigyit, really. I‟m trapped, and I don‟t know what to do.” Abigail gave his hand another firm squeeze and then walked quietly out of the alcove, sealing it with the glass door behind her. Chip waited until the door gave a sharp click, signifying he was alone, and then opened his eyes and let out a long, shuddering breath. The alien tugged gently at the edges of his consciousness, and he shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. His head was throbbing. He was constantly being given very low level shocks to keep the alien from overloading his brain, but while they weren‟t painful on their own, the constancy of them was wearing on him. He moved slightly and winced. His arms ached from being held at such an awkward angle and supporting the weight of his body. He also became aware of the myriad of monitors attached to his skin, pulled slightly with his efforts, and sighed. Chip was feeling less human every day, and becoming more and more depressed. He wondered if he should just give up to the experiment and let them do whatever they wanted to his body and mind, but somehow he just couldn‟t bring himself to, despite how easy it would be to slip away. He closed his eyes, an overwhelming sense of weariness and sleep coming over him. He knew it was the alien, coaxing him into its dreams, but he couldn‟t resist it. He drifted off, despite himself, but this time the alien allowed him to sleep without dreaming, and soon his body relaxed fully. Rigyit returned to the console and eyed Abigail. She sniffled and avoided his gaze, working quietly on preparing fresh tubes for Chip. Turning to the boy, he smiled slightly as he noticed how relaxed Chip was. “I think it‟s time we grafted the rest of the alien into Chip‟s body,” he remarked. Abigail turned to face him, shocked. “We can‟t do that, it might kill him!” “It‟s all right, he‟ll be able to take it. Most human bodies can accept the full bulk of the alien, but some are too small, especially children. But Chip is of average height and build and will easily be able to take on the full alien. We‟ve found the alien works best when it is whole, obviously, and I think it will speed up the experiment as well. We‟re losing time, and we can‟t afford to wait any longer, Abigail. Neither can Chip,” Rigyit explained. Abigail sighed and worked her way into the booth. The older doctor was about to stop her, but then decided to let her go. He didn‟t really need her for the operation, as the automated arms could do everything themselves. He sterilized the room and then instructed the arms to remove the monitors first. They had placed hundreds of small monitors all over Chip‟s body, especially focusing on the areas that were covered with the alien. The boy looked like a strange sea creature with tentacles protruding every which way. The robotic arms moved quickly and efficiently, carefully picking the sticky monitors from Chip‟s skin. The boy‟s eyes fluttered a little and then he struggled to consciousness, watching the arms for a second and then a look of realization and horror crossing his face. Rigyit sighed and turned on the sedative, enough to knock Chip out for the operation. Chip fought it as well as he could, but soon fell into a deep sleep just as the last few monitors were removed. One arm put in the mouth seal and another attached the breathing tube, and they soon began grafting the alien into Chip‟s flesh. Soon whole areas of his body were covered, and only a few patches of normal skin showed. He looked like a patched up doll with the sutures, but everything went well, and the alien didn‟t try anything daring. Soon, the gel was piped into the room, and the heavier sedative was replaced with the milder one. “Is it done?” Abigail asked sheepishly. She had her head down, but had been watching the readings. They seemed stable and she wanted to see Chip, even if he would be unconscious. Chancing a glance, she gasped, seeing how much of his body was covered with the alien. Rigyit put a gentle hand on her arm and guided her toward the console. “I didn‟t realize there‟d be so much,” she said, quietly. Chip seemed to be struggling for consciousness, but the alien was caressing his mind, coaxing him into a sleep he badly needed. Between the sedative and the alien, it was making it difficult for him to wake up. “He‟s been here for over seven months,” Rigyit said, “and already he‟s taken in the entire alien. It‟s taken years for some of the other specimens to even get up to this point, and they‟ve been sickly and unresponsive, some falling into comas they‟ve never come out of. That Chip has absorbed all that alien and is not only himself still, but healthy as well, is amazing! He‟s responded well, physically, to the shock treatments. The alien has been unable to force itself on him. It‟s unpleasant, but not unbearable, and he‟ll live. Once we condition both the alien and the boy‟s mind, he won‟t need the brain stimulation anymore. In fact, the only thing he‟ll really need from us is the special nutrients. Without them, the alien would eat his body alive.” Abigil sighed. Rigyit‟s words didn‟t help her feel any better about it. She glanced up at Chip and bit her lip. He seemed to settle down a bit, falling into a light but sound sleep. The monitors still registered pain from the procedure, but hopefully with the alien‟s help he‟d manage to sleep it off. She carefully turned up the painkillers and watched the monitors drop almost to zero. Exhaling in relief, she stood up. “I‟d like a bit of a vacation,” she said. Rigyit smiled and nodded, not demanding an explanation. “I‟ll give you the rest of the week. Chip should be out of the gel by then. His body seems to have gotten used to the operations and heals very efficiently now. Do you want me to call you if any new developments crop up?” “Yes, I think that would be best,” Abigail said, gathering up her notepad. She stuffed it into its slot inside the booth and then exited the lab. Rigyit watched her go. “She can‟t really take it, poor thing,” he said quietly to himself as he watched Chip suspended in the gel. He dimmed the lights in the lab and turned on low lights in Chip‟s alcove. The boy looked strange, illuminated in that way. Rigyit pulled out a dinner he‟d ordered a while ago and jammed his fork into the cold food, sitting back in his chair and staring blankly at his work. The doctor watched him until he himself fell asleep, but Chip didn‟t move or wake at all. Chip sighed and felt his mind pushing itself toward consciousness. He pushed back, wanting to dive back into sleep, but a sharp sensation in his head and a voice in his ear jolted him. “Wake up, boy!” the voice said. Chip squinted his eyes tightly shut and tried to ignore it, but it kept prompting him to wake up. Finally he opened them, expecting a sharp light but finding the lab dimly lit. “Ah, good, I thought you‟d be about ready,” Rigyit said, smiling. Chip stared at him through the bio-gel, his mind and body groggy from the painkillers and sedatives still, although Rigyit had turned them off a while ago. “You‟ve been asleep for almost a week now!” the doctor said, almost cheerfully, and Chip felt the gel slither from his body, draining out several grills in the floor. Two arms removed the mouth seal and the breathing tube, and Chip coughed trying to acclimate to breathing on his own. He was surprised when Rigyit walked in almost before the last of the gel slipped away and firmly grasped Chip‟s head, peering into his eyes. “Hmm,” he said, letting Chip‟s head go. Chip was shivering now, the temperature of the open air much cooler than the gel, and the doctor nodded to himself and quickly left, sealing the room behind him. Warm air soon flooded in, and Chip relaxed some. His mind felt weird, and he wasn‟t quite sure why. “Still not letting the alien in, eh?” Rigyit sighed though Chip‟s earpiece. He shook his head. Chip could barely see him through the dim lighting of the lab. His own room was lit somewhat and the glare the lights reflected off the glass door, making it hard for Chip to see through. He watched Rigyit for a while, but soon the grogginess won and he drifted off to sleep again. The doctor smiled to himself and paged Abigail on the intercom. Abigail returned from her hiatus with a new outlook on the project. She decided not to be too down, lest it affect Chip. She missed his bright personality, and decided she‟d be bright for the both of them. Rigyit allowed her to work directly with Chip again, though nothing changed for weeks. Chip was adamant about not allowing the alien free access of his mind, and despite his growing weariness, he would not give in. Abigail was having a hard time keeping her spirits up. She worried that Chip would be stuck there forever, or worse yet, that he‟d die before too long. He‟d become so depressed and sullen, it seemed he lost the will to live. She sighed and was about to go back in to speak with him when the lights flickered and then went off. Dim emergency lights flickered to life, but all the instrument panels and monitors went dead. “The power to the lab‟s been cut!” Rigyit exclaimed, running into the lab. It was the late night shift, and the other scientists had long gone home to their quarters to get some sleep. Abigail herself hadn‟t been able to leave Chip alone at night since she‟d come back, feeling guilty for leaving him. “How!?” Abigail exclaimed, “What about the auxiliary power?” “Cut too! Seems there was a malfunction with all the generators in the area. A short of some kind. Only the emergency lights seem to be working, but barely! They‟re looking into it. Shouldn‟t last more than an hour, but we‟re having trouble with the experiments. A lot of them are hooked up to life support!” Rigyit rushed out of the room, Abigail close behind him. They hit a major hallway intersection where most of the facilities‟ scientists had gathered. There was mass chaos, though some attempts to hand out duties were being made. Abigail suddenly had a flash of inspiration. Using the chaos as a blanket, she slipped away from Rigyit, who was too busy trying to help sort out the mess to notice. She arrived in the empty lab, her heart pounding and her footsteps sounding a little too loud. Chip was watching her, alertly, the sedative and shocks turned off from lack of power. “I can get you out of here!” she cried, pulling the manual lever that worked the alcove‟s heavy glass door. She began ripping monitors and tubes from Chip‟s body as best she could. “Ouch! Abigail, what‟s going on?” Chip asked. He was still somewhat groggy. “Hurry, there‟s a power outage. If you can get to the upper labs, someone can help you. Once word spreads, you won‟t be subjected to this experiment anymore, I‟m sure!” Abigail said. Most of the monitors were gone, but some stuck stubbornly to Chip‟s skin and she‟d just ripped the wires. She quickly pried the arms of the crane open and cut the chains shackling Chip‟s wrists and ankles to the wall with a large pair of cutters. Chip dropped weakly to the floor, struggling to get up. He was impressed by Abigail‟s ingenuity at working the equipment without power. “Hurry!” Abigail hissed again, roughly grabbing Chip‟s arm and throwing it over her shoulder. She half dragged, half supported him as she led him toward a blank looking section of the wall. “I still don‟t understand,” Chip spluttered, wondering if Abigail had gone crazy. “This wall,” she panted, kicking it fiercely. A panel clicked sharply and then swung open on hinges. Chip was amazed further still. “It leads to the upper floors of the facility. The underground labs, like this one, work on the most dangerous experiments and specimens. An old service tunnel leads to all labs, but most don‟t know about it, for obvious reasons. However, the lowest levels are given the information in case a specimen gets out of hand and we have to evacuate. You‟ll need to go up several floors before you can safely come out, otherwise they‟ll send you back down. The lower floors are all kept up to speed on projects, in case some emergency happens, but the upper floors are independent and won‟t know about you or this experiment, so they should help you without turning you back in!” Chip was about to protest that she might get in trouble when Abigail shoved him roughly through the opening. “Thanks,” he said, smiling sheepishly at her. “Hurry!” Abigail hissed. She quickly sealed him in the tunnel and then went back into the chaos, wondering at what she just did. Chip blinked, his eyes adjusting to the low light. Emergency lights were here as well, but much dimmer, even, than in the lab. He staggered forward, picking idly at the monitors still stuck to his skin. Most of them hurt to pull on, so he just left them as they were, limping and willing himself forward. He was confused at Abigail‟s sudden behavior, and wondered why she‟d been so hasty. His mind was still a bit groggy, and he noticed a vague fuzziness starting up again. Groaning to himself, he shuffled along as fast as he could. He was surprised at how well he could move, given the time he‟d spent in the alcove, though his arms were extremely weak and painful. Chip walked on, steadily, for about a mile, before he began to feel weak. He‟d passed marked panels like the one he‟d left his lab from at steady intervals but he wasn‟t sure how far up he should go, and wanted to make sure he wasn‟t taken back. However, his entire body began to ache, and his head started to throb. He wasn‟t sure how long or how far he‟d walked, but suddenly he knew he had to find his way out. His mind became fuzzy and he couldn‟t think whether he was due for another panel or if it would be faster to turn around. He wheezed and panted, his legs finally giving way. Chip sprawled out on the dusty metal floor of the passage, moaning in pain and agony, the red haze creeping over his mind and his body too weak to even twitch. After a while, he blacked out. Rigyit was the first one back to the lab after the power was restored. He was not shocked to see the monitors were reading nothing, but was speechless when he saw the empty and ruined alcove that once housed Chip. “WHAT…!!!” he shouted, turning bright red with rage. “Oh no,” Abigail whispered, behind him, trying to act innocent. “Who did this?” Rigyit shouted, whirling around as if he could see the culprit. He ran about the lab, looking futiley for Chip. Abigail slumped to the floor, not sure if she should confess. She was worried about Chip, but wouldn‟t have any way of knowing how he fared until someone found him. “Hurry!! Bring an investigation and search unit to the lab! Specimen 137‟s escaped!” Rigyit was screaming over the intercom. In less than a minute a large squad of heavily armored men was in the lab, searching thoroughly. “No prints,” one of them said, nodding at the broken equipment and the tools. “We have no way of knowing, as all the cameras and microphones were out of commission!” Rigyit wailed. “Sir, this panel is dented slightly,” another man said. Rigyit suddenly became excited and ran over to the wall. “Is it? I think… it is! But how did they know?” Rigyit said, mostly to himself. He carefully banged on the door and the men watched as it swung open. They quickly filed into the passage and followed it up. “Here he is, sir!” the first man called. Rigyit puffed up behind him, staring at Chip‟s limp form. His eyes almost bugged out of his head. “A stretcher!” he gasped as he fumbled over Chip‟s body. He felt for a pulse. Not finding one, he gently nudged Chip onto his back and put his ear against his chest. He heard a faint heartbeat, though his breathing and pulse were extremely weak. “Hurry, hurry!” Rigyit called, jumping about frantically. The men expertly piled Chip onto a stretcher and ran him down the passageway back into the lab. Abigail had followed them into the passage and watched everything in horror. Rigyit eyed her. “Oh, Dr. Rigyit!” she sobbed. “I know, Abigail. He‟s weak, but I think he‟ll make it if we can hurry,” Rigyit said, misinterpreting her distress. She felt both better and worse that he didn‟t suspect her yet. Deciding not to press the issue, she allowed herself to be led by Rigyit. They ran after the stretcher and soon had Chip‟s body back into the tank and in the bio-gel. Rigyit stabilized Chip‟s breathing with the breathing tube and pumped in as much nutrients as his stomach could take. After the initial scare was over, he slumped into his chair, still refusing to take his eyes off Chip. “I don‟t know who could have done this,” he said. Abigail said nothing. She wasn‟t sure if Rigyit knew, but he seemed relieved, and didn‟t press the point again, even if he did suspect. “Doctor, I‟m sorry…” Abigail sighed. “No, Abigail, it‟s not your fault,” Rigyit said kindly. He glanced at the girl and smiled. “You go and get some sleep. Out of the lab!” Abigail nodded numbly and walked to her quarters. Once she was gone, Rigyit let out a deep sigh. “You scared us there, my friend,” Rigyit said into the microphone. Chip didn‟t move but Rigyit knew he heard. The boy was a phenomenal specimen, and had come through yet again. Another hour and Chip would have been dead, the alien literally eating his body to death. Rigyit watched Chip a little longer, and then ordered some repairs on the alcove. They were near completion when the doctor fell asleep, tired from his busy day. Chip awoke several days later to find himself in the alcove again. He was still weak from his brush with death, but was recovering more quickly than he wanted. The alien hadn‟t tried anything since the incident, and Chip was glad for it, but never truly able to relax. He knew the alien would try again as soon as his body was recovered, and he couldn‟t fully enjoy his down time. Abigail turned off the microphone the first night Chip was in the alcove and looked at him teary-eyed. “I‟m so sorry!” she whispered. “Why?” Chip asked. “You… if it wasn‟t for me… you almost died!” she stuttered, unable to word what she wanted to say correctly. Chip smiled weakly at her. “I have to thank you, really,” he said, “You tried to help me out of this predicament. I would have rather died than come back here.” “Oh, don‟t say that!” Abigail wailed. “It‟s okay. I‟m alive, and I‟ll get out and live my life again, eventually,” he said, though he didn‟t even convince himself. Abigail sighed and hugged him, then quickly stepped back, embarrassed. She slowly lowered herself to the ground, her back against the glass door, and looked up at him. His eyes were already drooping, and she let him nod off in peace, happy just to watch him for a while. “Abigail!” a sharp voice called, waking her up. She looked around groggily, and then noticed Chip. He was gasping sharply and crying out. His eyes were squeezed shut and his face was etched with pain. “Help!” he said weakly, and then gasped and tried to clutch his chest. “Abigail! Hurry! He‟s having a heart attack! Apply the pads to his chest!” the sharp voice said again. She realized it was Rigyit, and quickly jumped up, slapping the defibrillator pads to Chip‟s chest and plugging them into the wall. She quickly slapped the door button and hurried out. Rigyit managed to stop the heart attack, but he looked grim. “What‟s the matter with him?” Abigail asked. “His heart is going,” Rigyit said grimly. “It‟s natural that the alien would push his body to the limits, but it‟s accelerated since his brush with death. The alien pushed his heart to the limit and it‟s unable to recover.” “Is he going to die?” Abigail whispered. “Of course not, but we need to give him a heart transplant before his original one gives out completely,” the doctor said, glancing at Chip. He was watching them and seemed to know what they were talking about. They quickly replaced his heart with one of the extras they had prepared just in case. All Chip‟s internal organs had been cloned and stored for if and when they‟d be needed, as the alien tended to tax a human host‟s system several times more than was natural. Chip‟s chest was left open for a week after the operation so that they could better monitor the heart, and also to cause less stress should a repeat operation be needed. The extra workload of the alien might short out a new heart prematurely, and it was safer to be ready than risk a full operation. Chip woke once, but fainted when he saw his own heart beating in his chest. Rigyit quickly filled the alcove with bio-gel, as much to seal the wound against infection as to keep Chip‟s head upright so he couldn‟t see it. The boy was soon declared in full health, and his chest was sutured closed. He was kept submerged in the bio-gel for a week longer, but it was soon removed after everything checked out consistently normal. They resumed working on connecting Chip‟s mind with the alien‟s. “I think it‟s about time we take him out of there,” Rigyit said. “You‟re taking him out?” Abigail exclaimed. She looked happy but suspicious. “Well, it‟s not doing him any good being strung up like that. I‟m sure his arms are killing him, or will be once the painkillers wear off. We have to keep him strapped down until he makes contact with the alien, though, and we know what kind of threat it poses, if any.” Abigail fought breaking a smile and nodded. Rigyit glanced at Chip and typed in the orders for the transfer. They soon had him out of the alcove and back onto the metal operating table. Chip stayed sound asleep during the transfer, and they easily hooked him up again. Abigail was secretly pleased, as she was able to be near him now. She reached out and began gently brushing his hair out of his face. They‟d cut it a few times, but it was getting long again. Rigyit watched her and then sighed and walked back to the booth to go over readings again. “Abigail?” Chip muttered softly. Abigail quickly snatched her hand back and blushed fiercely. Chip was struggling to open his eyes, but the lights were bright and forced him to close them again. “Chip, how long have you been awake?” Abigail asked, shocked. “It felt good,” Chip murmured, “just like Melany.” Abigail turned down the overhead lights and eyed Chip. He seemed to be in a strange daze. He‟d been awake long enough to feel her playing with his hair, but he didn‟t seem to be all there. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Tired,” Chip said. “Just talk to the alien a little bit,” Abigail pleaded, slipping her hand into his for reassurance. She wasn‟t sure it was such a good idea herself, but he seemed so weak and helpless tied down. She was hoping he‟d be moved into the recovery room if he learned how to communicate with the alien. Chip stayed silent for a while, and Abigail thought he might have dropped off to sleep again, but as she started to turn away, he gripped her hand firmly. She glanced at him. He was looking at her weakly, and frowning. “What‟s the matter?” she asked. “I think… I‟m very tired… I give up,” Chip said quietly. Abigail realized he was taking her advice, but somehow the knowledge just made her heart sink. Chip‟s grip went slack and his whole body seemed to deflate. He closed his eyes again and wouldn‟t respond to her promptings. Sighing, she started to walk back to the booth and Rigyit. “CHIP!” a loud shrill voice screamed suddenly. Abigail was taken aback, spinning around and almost tripping over her own feet. Rigyit was already heading toward the door of the booth, but stopped just inside. A young girl had somehow made her way into the lab and was already just a few feet away from Chip‟s table. Abigail looked up at the doors, wondering how she‟d gotten through security. She was further surprised to find a young boy standing uncomfortably just inside the doors. “H-how did you get in here?” Abigail demanded. Rigyit had gone back into the booth and was not looking directly at the girl, who‟d finally made her way to Chip, though he was sneaking covert peeks. The boy at the door sighed and then left. Abigail stood waving her arms frantically, her mouth opening and closing but making no sounds. She wasn‟t sure what to make of it all! “Chip,” the girl said, gently now. She was caressing his face, and with a sudden sinking feeling, Abigail realized this must be Melany. She stood awkwardly by, not sure what to do and not wanting to intrude on the scene. Melany quickly drew her hand away in disgust as the alien moved at her touch, but then steeled herself and resumed her caressing. Chip smiled a little, but it took a while for him to struggle to consciousness. The alien was disappointed, sure that this moment was the chance it had waited for. Finally opening his eyes, Chip looked uncomprehendingly at Melany‟s face. Melany was surprisingly calm, and for once wasn‟t crying as she would have in the past. “Melany?” Chip said weakly. He blinked a few times, thinking it was a cruel trick or dream. “Chip!” Melany said, fighting back sobs. Chip tried to turn his head away and blushed deeply. “What‟s the matter?” “I‟m a freak, now,” Chip muttered, barely audible. He squeezed his eyes shut, expecting Melany to notice the alien and be disgusted with him. “It‟s okay, Chip, I know what they‟ve been doing to you. Sort of…” Melany started, but her voice choked in her throat as her emotions finally caught up. She took in all the wires and tubes and just how changed Chip‟s body was. Chip shivered at her touch as she gently felt around his body, wishing to comprehend his pain. “How‟d you get here?” Chip asked. The alien was thankfully at bay, waiting patiently for its time to strike again. Chip noticed it was being more cautious and reserving energy, instead of attacking him constantly with little headway. It would often strike as he tried to get to sleep, keeping him awake. After a while, he was so exhausted that it was hard to fight back. He realized just how lucky he was that Melany had come when she had. He was on the verge of giving in to the alien, but her warm touch jolted him out of it at the last moment. He‟d recognized her touch even in the deepest trances! “The others have been helping me research this project you‟ve signed up for. We thought it was fishy, and you disappeared so quickly. With all the physical attention you‟ve been given, we thought it must be an experiment aimed at you yourself, but we… we didn‟t think it would be this bad,” Melany said, pausing for a second to compose herself again. She was fine until she thought of the horrible things Chip‟s body and mind had been through. Shaking herself, she continued, “Henry helped me hack into the confidential database, and we sifted through hundreds of files until we found yours. I convinced him to help me break in here to see you, even though the others were against it. I had to come see you, even if it meant my job!” Chip eyed her shyly and then looked away again. “You know what they‟ve done to me then?” “Yes, all of it,” Melany said. “I don‟t want to get you in trouble. I‟m sure you don‟t want something like me as a boyfriend anymore… maybe if you leave now they‟ll let you off. Just go back to working on the nanobots and forget about me,” Chip said quietly. He blinked back tears and tried to stay calm. It was the rational course of action, and Melany couldn‟t be expected to stay faithful after his long absence and then her finding out that he‟d become a half-alien freak. “Don‟t be silly!” Melany shouted, adopting a no-nonsense tone. Then her expression softened and she buried her head in his chest, hugging him as best she could. “I don‟t care if you were completely covered with the alien. As long as you‟re still you, it doesn‟t matter what you look like,” she said. She was so muffled he could hardly hear her, but his heart leaped at her confessions of love. He wanted to pretend he didn‟t love her so that she would hate him and leave, but he couldn‟t bring himself to do that. Her mere presence was giving him strength he thought he‟d lost months ago, and her touch was driving him batty. “We‟re in a fine mess now. I don‟t want you to leave, but you can‟t stay. They‟ll reprimand you harshly as it is…” Chip said, but Rigyit finally came onto the floor. “Actually, Chip, her little trick has doomed her to confinement in the lab,” Rigyit said, grabbing Melany by the arm. “Stop!” Melany shrieked, and tried to beat him off. “Rigyit, let her go! I‟ll communicate with the alien, I promise!” Chip pleaded, suddenly more scared for Melany than he had been for himself. He didn‟t want her life to be ruined just because his was! “Chip, it‟s deeper than that,” Rigyit said. “You‟ll submit to the alien whether you want to or not, anyway. But for now we can‟t risk an information leak. Your teammates know too much, but that can be handled. Melany, on the other hand, cannot. She has to stay here with us.” Chip gritted his teeth and glared up at Rigyit, wishing he wasn‟t restrained to the table. “Look on the bright side, Chip,” Abigail said softly, “You‟ll be able to see Melany a whole lot more now.” “No, she has to go back to her life! I‟ll make her promise not to tell anyone, just let her go!” Chip cried, struggling now, even though he knew it was futile. He‟d been sorely tempted to just go along with it, but it wasn‟t fair to Melany. “I‟ll stay,” Melany said quietly. She smiled at Chip and touched his cheek before Abigail led her away. Rigyit checked Chip‟s body to make sure Melany hadn‟t damaged or changed anything, and then glanced over at the recovery cell. Melany and Abigail were talking inside it, and Abigail was ordering some changes to the room. Rigyit went back into the booth, leaving Chip alone again. Sighing, Chip closed his eyes. He wasn‟t sure if it was a good thing that Melany was here now. He knew Rigyit and Abigail would make her comfortable, but it was hardly any sort of life being cooped up in a lab with nothing to do but watch her boyfriend being turned into an alien. Still, he was secretly thankful that she‟d come, and couldn‟t help being pleased, despite himself. Rigyit came out a few minutes later and tilted Chip‟s table up slightly so that he could watch the girls in the cell. The mirror tinting was turned off at the moment, and the two attendants were holding firmly to Melany‟s arms as Abigail removed one of the walls and added on to the room, making it bigger. A door was added on Melany‟s side, fully secured, Chip guessed, and a new Meal Service panel appeared. Another bed, this time a standard issue cot, was placed in the new space, along with a nightstand that housed several drawers and a small shelf. A divider wall was called up between the normal space of the cell and the addition. Chip thought it odd, but the new wall was opaque, unlike three main transparent walls. There seemed to be a little window that had a cover accessible only from Chip‟s side of the room. Chip‟s curiosity got the better of him, and he finally asked Rigyit. “Normally you‟ll be able to inhabit the same space, when you‟re in there with her, of course. But we‟ll still need to do maintenance on you from time to time, and we thought it might be better to have a means of blocking her off. Just as a precaution in case the need should arise, of course. Otherwise the door and window will be opened and she‟ll be able to go from her room into yours easily!” Rigyit explained. He seemed excited that Melany was here, and Chip wasn‟t sure why. “Will she come to see me?” Chip asked. “No, not until you make contact with the alien. I promise once you do you‟ll be allowed some time alone with her in the recovery cell, but until that time I think it best you have no distractions.” Chip sighed. He knew Rigyit was forcing him to make contact with the alien. One part of Chip wanted to keep resisting the alien as long as possible just to spite the doctor, but the larger part of the him wanted to give in as soon as possible so that he could see Melany. Rigyit eyed Chip, sensing his inner conflict, and quiet removed himself. Chip watched him go, and then began the long process of battling out his priorities. He watched Abigail and Melany for a time, wondering vaguely what they were talking about, and then saw Abigail leave. Melany wandered the small quarters, looking very small and helpless. Abigail soon returned with several builder robots following her with supplies. Chip watched with interest as they soon built a small add-on to Melany‟s room. The walls were slightly foggy, enough to give some modicum of privacy, and Chip soon deduced that it was a small bathroom, just enough for a sink, toilet, and stall shower. He wondered why they wasted the shower by the gym set up, but then realized they wouldn‟t want to risk Melany trying to break away to see him. His mind soon wandered back to Rigyit‟s ultimatum, he slowly caved, deciding to try tonight to talk to the alien. He watched Melany for a time. She was sitting on her bed, watching him as well, but she looked apprehensive. After a while, she lay down on the bed, facing him, but he could tell she was nodding off. He felt rather tired himself, and the alien had begun tugging at his mind again because he could feel the shocks starting. Taking a deep breath, Chip steeled himself and looked around the lab. His mind was already beginning to drift into that odd state of consciousness the alien and the shocks caused, but he noticed it must be pretty late, for the lights in the entire lab were dimmed and it was dead quiet. His head began to throb from fighting the shocks, and he realized it might be difficult to relax; his mind fought automatically, and it was so used to it he wasn‟t sure how to stop. Then, realizing a way, he took another deep breath and stared at Melany. Smiling fondly, he was soon able to fill even his unconscious mind with thoughts of her, and just when he felt his consciousness slipping into a daze, he let go completely. “Finally!” a voice said in his head. Chip tried to struggle but then remembered he was tied to the table. Forcing himself to calm down, he looked around the lab, noticing his eyesight seemed blurry. “It‟ll take a little time to adjust,” the voice said. Chip realized it wasn‟t Rigyit. “Are you… the alien?” he asked out loud. “Of course,” the alien said. Chip was amazed how relaxed and at ease he felt. He could still move of his own freewill, though his senses felt off. “I never wanted to hurt you, or take over your body,” the alien said, reading his thoughts. Chip was a little taken aback by this, but the alien sent a wave of reassurance through him. “You‟re feeling yourself as you always do, and yourself and everything else through me. I have no reason to harm you, especially now. The mental link allows us to share our thoughts and emotions and physical sensations, including pain. I can read your thoughts, as you probably have noticed, as well. So you don‟t need to speak to me out loud.” “Then those dreams… they were you?” Chip asked. The alien nodded, mentally anyway. Chip blinked, realizing how real it seemed in his mind. The alien chattered away at him for the rest of the night, but Chip was having a hard time absorbing all the information. Apparently, the alien had been kidnapped from its home planet thirty-some years ago by humans exploring the new solar system. They had researched the local flora and fauna and found that this particular alien had the most potential. Seeing how well it aided the hosts it inhabited, they captured several of the aliens and brought them back for experimentation. But the lab, as Chip remembered from the dreams, wanted to waste no time on lower life forms, and so humans were subjected to the horrific experiments. At first, they were willing. Some of the original explorers wanted the alien, hoping it would make them faster or stronger. Chip thought it funny, since the alien had clearly shown him that it didn‟t change the host‟s body but merely took over when lower life forms were acting on instinct alone, thus upping their rate of survival. But the humans thought it some sort of way to lengthen their lives. Soon, however, all the humans who wished to partake in the experiment were either dead or silenced, afraid to admit to the awful truth. So Rigyit and his crew started to dupe others as they had duped Chip. Before long they only had one alien to work with, and were exceedingly more careful with it, but even at that dozens of specimens were killed, and the alien was forced to wait for Chip. Chip fell asleep before too long, his mind exhausted from the rush of information and the sensory overload. The alien sent a strange but pleasurable feeling through his mind that tingled all through his body. Apparently it was so happy to have broken through to its host, at long last, that it couldn‟t contain its happiness. Chip woke the next morning feeling more refreshed than he had since coming to this lab. “So, you finally made contact with the alien?” Rigyit said as soon as Chip showed signs of waking. Chip blinked at him. He was still having trouble getting used to the dual sensations. Rigyit pressed down on his stomach firmly, and he cried out. The alien disliked it as much as he did! Rigyit looked at Chip in surprise, but kept his hand there, reading the nutrient levels. He fiddled with the tubes in Chip‟s head, making them shorter and plugging them in to the normal monitor machines. The shock machine slowly disappeared into the floor, and Chip looked at Rigyit apprehensively. “”Don‟t worry, boy,” Rigyit said, patting Chip on the shoulder. “Now that you‟ve made a connection with the alien, it‟s not likely to let go of your mind any time soon, so we won‟t need the shocks for now.” “What do you mean, not letting go of my mind?” Chip asked groggily. “We‟re connected until I leave you, Chip,” the alien said gently, causing Chip to miss Rigyit‟s technical explanation of the predicament. Chip blinked, not sure how to feel about that. “What if I don‟t want you in my mind?” he thought. “I‟m truly a part of you, for now,” the alien said simply. Chip was about to protest, but figured the alien wouldn‟t be able to tell anyone his deep dark secrets, if he had any anyway. Rigyit asked Chip what it was like as he unhooked him from most of the machines. Chip wasn‟t sure how to answer the questions and was overwhelmed by it all. Finally, Rigyit removed the restraints, but put a firm hand on Chip‟s chest as he tried to sit up. “Not yet, Chip,” the doctor said. Chip winced again as the alien flinched at Rigyit‟s touch, but he was starting to get used to the double sensations. The doctor didn‟t seem to notice and pulled over a cart with a large pump on it. He grabbed a tube connected to the end of the pump, unhooked Chip‟s feeding tube, and quickly swapped it with the pump tube. Then he helped Chip up and they walked slowly toward the recovery cell. Chip‟s heart jumped as he remembered Melany. “We never intended to keep you, once you and the alien meshed. We want to see how an alien host does in normal life, as well. Kind of an experiment in an experiment, to see if there is really any advantage to grafting the aliens into humans or not. We know that lower life forms benefit from the joining with a more intelligent creature, but we aren‟t sure how humans will fare,” Rigyit explained. “What does that mean for me?” Chip asked. He was hoping Rigyit really intended to let him go. “Well, we‟re all for letting you go back to your old life, Chip,” the doctor said slowly. “However, it will be far from normal. We‟ll need your body monitored constantly through the monitor panels we implanted earlier in the experiment, and you‟ll have to return to this lab, sometimes over night, so that we can check you more closely. You‟ll also have to sleep hooked up to a bed similar to the one in the recovery cell, which we will equip on your living quarters should you agree to this arrangement. The only other alternative is to stay in the lab as a specimen for the rest of your life. Your body is too unstable with the alien right now and will require several operations in the future to replace spent organs. There are several things we need to research still. Some include more shocks to your brain to see what connection the alien has in it, and others are finding out what makes your body more suitable to be a host to the alien while others‟ have failed. It isn‟t a particularly pretty life, but you‟ll at least be able to get back to your research team.” Chip was silent. He didn‟t like being a guinea pig, and wondered how the others would take him, now that he had the alien sutured into his body and wires and tubes everywhere. It might be better to stay in the lab than to face looking like a freak! “Chip!” Melany cried, running over to hug Chip. He fell into her, trying weakly to stand on his own as Rigyit released him. She carefully dragged him to his bed and started to hook him up to it, awkwardly. Rigyit and Abigail were standing over her, watching her progress. Abigail was whispering directions whenever Melany seemed stuck, but she was a fast learner. Chip lay quietly on his side, suddenly embarrassed again that Melany was seeing him like this. After she was done, Abigail congratulated her and smiled warmly at Chip. She seemed aloof now that Melany was here, and quickly excused herself. Rigyit nodded at the couple. “We‟ll see how you do, Melany,” Rigyit said, and then left as well. “What was that about?” Chip asked. He sat up slowly, still weak but able to manage. Quickly he cast about for the sheet and pulled it up to his chest, blushing. Melany suddenly realized he was being modest and blushed as well. “Sorry Chip,” she said, but then brightened. “Dr. Rigyit said I can stay here and help care for you!” Chip nodded and smiled, shivering a little. “You‟ve lost a lot of weight,” Melany said, worry in her voice, as she went to the closet and pulled out two thick warm blankets. She propped up some pillows so that Chip could sit up comfortably and then gently pushed him back, making sure not to knock any of his monitors. Carefully she spread the blankets over Chip and tucked him in, and then sat on the edge of his bed looking sad. He sat quietly, not sure what to say. “It‟s just horrible what they‟ve done to you!” she exclaimed suddenly. Chip hadn‟t ever heard her quite this angry. “It‟s okay. The alien isn‟t hostile, and… well I think I can live with it,” Chip said quietly. He wasn‟t too pleased with it, nor with the future experiments he‟d be subjected to, but the worst seemed to be over, especially now that Melany was here with him. “As long as you‟re here, I think I can take anything they do to me!” “But you shouldn‟t have to!” she shouted, and then covered her mouth. She was flushed with anger and tears were forming in her eyes. “Melany,” Chip said quietly and struggled to sit up more, hugging her. She relaxed in his arms and started to sob. “It‟s not fair!” she wailed. “Well, I‟m still alive, and I‟ve still got you,” Chip said. “I didn‟t ask for this, but I‟ll be able to help out twice, once with this alien research and once with our own.” “Our… you mean they aren‟t going to keep you here?” Melany asked. “Well, I don‟t know for sure, but Rigyit said they were going to let me go back to my old life, at least part time. I‟d still have to come here every day for a little bit, sometimes maybe for a few days, and I‟d always have to wear these monitors and stuff, but that I‟d be able to go back and work with our team. He said it‟s either that or staying here forever, and I think… I think I‟d rather go back,” Chip explained, hugging Melany tighter. Melany pushed him away and looked at him. “I‟m not sure if that‟s great, or just torture,” she said, sniffing, “but that might not be so bad…” Chip smiled at her and lay back against the pillows, but Melany still seemed to have something on her mind. “Melany, I know it‟s not the best scenario, but it‟s still better than me being here all the time…” he said, trying to reassure her. “No, it‟s not that, at least not really,” Melany said. “I am still mad that you‟ll always just be an experiment to them, but… well, I‟m sorry I saw you naked!” Chip stared at her for a second and then blushed. “It‟s okay. I actually had a nightmare that you – well, that‟s not important, but I know you‟d never do it on purpose!” “I know we promised to wait for even that. I wasn‟t even thinking about that when I first saw you! But Dr. Rigyit said I could stay with you if I learned to care for you. Abigail is so nice, and she‟s going to teach me what I need to know. I hope you don‟t mind,” Melany said suddenly, realizing that Chip might feel uncomfortable with her working on him. “Not at all. I like Abigail, but naked or not I‟d much rather have you touching me,” Chip said shyly. He realized he never used to be this awkward, and wondered if it would have been this way when the time came, regardless of the setting and circumstances. He blushed again, but then smiled at Melany. “Well, I‟m glad. I wouldn‟t have done it if you felt weird about it, but I‟d rather be the one touching you as well! I guess I‟m a little jealous!” Melany exclaimed, and the two of them dissolved into laughter. “I‟ll sit out for experiments though. I don‟t mind cleaning you up or hooking you up to monitors and machines, but I don‟t want to do anything that will hurt you,” she said seriously. Chip nodded and then sank back into the pillows. “Mind if I sleep?” he asked Melany. She shook her head and smiled at him, then ordered some food at the Meal Service panel and sat down at the desk. He watched her, sleepily, and then drifted off. The alien chattered in his head, but seemed content with his subconscious thoughts. He was learning to ignore its random thoughts as well, and the dual sensations were becoming normal to him. Abigail came in a few hours later to show Melany how to clean Chip‟s tubes. It was more embarrassing for Chip than when both Rigyit and Abigail did it combined, and neither Melany nor Chip could look at each other for a long time afterwards, but it soon became routine. Melany learned quickly, and soon Abigail only came in once in a while. Chip was allowed several weeks to regain his strength, and Melany helped guide him through an intense recovery workout plan. Soon Chip was in top condition, and he and the alien were working seamlessly together. Chip was even beginning to wonder how life had been like without the constant mental company and presence of the alien. After Chip recovered enough, Rigyit started some experiments again, hanging him up in the alcove and testing the effects of different shocks and drugs on his brain and spine, and its effects on the alien and his body. The experiments were unpleasant, but usually not always painful, and Chip soon adjusted to these as routine, often dazing out so that he wasn‟t very much aware of the worst parts. Melany sat on one of the workbenches and held his hand through the entire proceedings. Occasionally Chip would be subjected to stronger shocks, strapped to the operating table, and left there for several days for observation, but these were few and far between. Though Melany demanded answers, Rigyit never told them the reasons for these experiments and she soon grew tired of asking, though it angered her that Chip went along with them so willingly, despite how painful they could be. They were both surprised, however, that Rigyit allowed Melany to be an active part of the experiment processes as well as the recovery processes. She soon became almost as skilled as Abigail, and Chip seemed to recover faster than he used to, now that Melany was around. Chip actually became worried once, when the alien was separated from his mind during one of the higher shock experiments. Rigyit remained calm, though he was most intrigued by the results. After a few days of fevered ranting on the operating table, the alien was able to connect with Chip again. Melany was appalled that Chip had so quickly become attached to the alien, but he still seemed himself regardless, and she was thankful for that. Finally, a few months and much experimenting later, Rigyit entered the recovery cell and cleared Chip to go back to his old team. He charged Melany and Abigail with monitoring Chip closely, lest the alien get the better of his body or mind, and just like that, they found themselves back at the top level of the research facility. Chip dressed slowly, the clothes uncomfortable after being naked so long. He‟d almost actually go without them, as they rubbed and caught on his monitors and tubes, causing discomfort. The alien also wasn‟t too fond of them either, since most of his body was covered with the alien, and most of the alien was covered with clothes. Chip didn‟t bother with underwear since the metal cup was still in place. Rigyit explained that though he was getting back to his old routine, much of his life would be an adjustment. The waste, breathing, and feeding tubes were still necessary for experiments and so Chip was forced to leave them in. To accommodate the alien‟s voracious appetite, Chip had to wear a special harness around his stomach. A small bag of highly concentrated nutrients and a small, portable pump were attached to the harness, the pump attached with a short feeding tube to his navel. The nutrient bags had to be replaced continuously throughout the day, the frequency determined by how active Chip and the alien were. At night Chip was hooked to a special regulator pump in the bed, but during the day it had to be manually monitored constantly. The tubes in his head were replaced with the smaller ones, but Chip was nervous that people would stare. Melany had gathered all the wires and taped them to the back of his neck. They ran down his collar and then were attached to the monitor plates. Chip also had a large monitor on his left cheek and a smaller one in the middle of his forehead that Rigyit had insisted stayed, as well as the communication device in his right ear. That too was plugged in to the monitor plate, and Chip was often summoned back to the lab directly through his earpiece. Chip was dismayed that the alien parts covering the right side of his face and areas on the back of his hands would cause a lot of negative attention, but Melany thought the wires and monitors were worse. They made up a story that Chip had been in a terrible accident at the lab and that experimental skin grafts were used. They also were planning to say that Chip had to be monitored at all times, due to horrible pain, but it turned out that Rigyit had released Chip‟s real story, and that he was being praised as a brave and amazing individual. Instead of being ridiculed, it seemed the external signs of the experiment marked him as a hero. Even Henry abandoned his rivalry with Chip and began to look up to him. Melany and Chip were moved into a larger joint room. Melany, it turned out, had been enlisted to care for Chip since he would need around the clock care and monitoring and Abigail might get in the way of the relationship. Rigyit had set up for Melany and Henry to find out about the project. He wanted to assess how loyal and in love Melany was with Chip before he assigned her to him. Of course, she passed the test, and much to his surprise aided in the final stages of the experiment before Chip could be released. Abigail was assigned a room adjoining the couple‟s. She was with Chip and Melany in the lab during work hours and on-call at any time during the night or morning. She also helped escort Chip to Rigyit‟s lab, and performed procedures or experiments on Chip that Melany wasn‟t allowed or didn‟t feel comfortable with. Chip soon became inseparable with the alien, and in experiments where Rigyit separated their minds was inconsolable by everyone except for Melany. They formed a deep relationship which Chip had trouble explaining to Melany, but she was content as long as Chip was not in any real danger from the alien. The alien itself proved to be a useful companion, often able to comb Chip‟s mind and find pieces of information he‟d forgotten or suppressed, and able to relate things as they were, instead of how they were remembered. The alien didn‟t prove helpful on the physical end, but on the mental end it more than made up for it. Chip‟s life had improved greatly, and he barely minded any of the experiments or monitoring sessions except for those that caused him great pain or discomfort, or separated his mind from the alien‟s. “Chip,” Melany said, one night. Chip was lying in their bed with a blanket over him, waiting for her to hook his monitors into the bed for the night. “Yes, Melany?” Chip asked, smiling. “Well…” Melany smiled back and slowly pulled the blanket off his bare body, but to his surprise she kissed him and then ran a finger down his chest. “Oh, you shouldn‟t,” Chip said, shivering from her touch and then frowning slightly and sitting up. She‟d seen him naked countless times during the experiments or cleanings, but that was always surprisingly professional. He was suddenly reminded of his nightmare, and hesitated. “Shh,” Melany said, dropping off her own nightgown and underwear. She stood silently in the moonlight for a few minutes. Chip‟s eyes and mouth opened wide. Slowly, she knelt on the bed and removed the cup, tubes, and plugs from his crotch. As she placed the pieces on the nightstand, Chip was finally able to muster his voice. “You‟ve already cleaned me up for the night,” he said weakly. Melany looked at him levelly. “Don‟t you think it‟s about time…” she said vaguely, but had stopped, waiting patiently for an answer. Chip stared at her blankly for a minute, then comprehension flooded in. “Oh, I love you, Melany! Marry me!” Chip cried, grabbing her and pulling her down with him. Her skin was soft along his entire body, and he wondered how he‟d resisted doing this for so long. The nightmare soon left his mind, and he knew without a doubt the timing was right, this time! “Of course!” Melany said, breathlessly, between kisses. Chip shivered underneath her, but his embrace was strong, and looking into his eyes she knew she‟d picked the right time to break their promise. Abigail looked up at the monitors and frowned. She‟d been reading a steamy romance novel and had just gotten to a good part when the alarms went off. Chip‟s heart rate and temperature had gone up significantly, and she wasn‟t sure what that meant. She quietly poked her head through the door adjoining their rooms to see if Melany was aware of the problem or not. Expecting to find them asleep, she gawped at the couple, consummating their love. Finally, blinking several times, she shook herself and quickly retreated, blushing at her intrusion. She was embarrassed though they hadn‟t seen her, but it warmed her to see how much they loved each other. She decided to keep the incident to herself, and hummed to herself as she got ready for bed. Picking up the novel, a rare paper copy she‟d gotten as a gift from her mother on her last birthday, she gazed at it for a second, smiled, and tossed it aside. She‟d had more than enough steamy romance for the night, and opted for a nice murder mystery instead. Chip and Melany lay in bed smiling in the dark. Melany had hooked Chip up to the bed, and cleaned and replaced his tubes, plugs, and cup. Both were tired, but giddy, and smiled in the dark, occasionally so overjoyed they‟d dissolve into giggling and end up kissing somehow. Eventually Melany drifted off to sleep in Chip‟s arms, her warmth and soft breathing sending waves of pleasure through his body. The alien, for once, was silent, and Chip relived the night over and over in his head. Sighing happily, he hugged Melany tighter. She‟d opted to sleep nude with him, tonight, as she was so excited she could barely hook him up, let alone have the patience to slip into clothes herself before returning to his side. As he drifted off himself, he thought of tomorrow and the normalcy of the day, despite the monumental event that had occurred tonight. He couldn‟t wait to see the faces of his team when he and Melany announced their engagement. And then, as his mind drifted back to the events of the night again, he realized that the wires and tubes he was connected to or the alien that was living inside his body didn‟t matter anymore, as he felt truly human again with Melany.
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