Pollinger’s Notebook: Years 4.3 – 6.4

By Mark Burgh


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It’s about Hermione. All of this is about Hermione. Today, after the Lab Director leaves, a smile of incomprehension painting his face, Hermione peeks her nose over the core unit. “He’s your new boss?” she says.

“What are you doing out of your environment?”

Hermione’s expressions seldom change; she’s difficult to read. “I got bored. Do you want to live in cedar shavings?”

I roll back in my chair. “I wanted on the Mars project. But here I sit.”

“Mars, Mars, Mars,” Hermione says. “Did you get the gorgonzola?”

“Go easy, it’s strong.”

Hermione shifts, cleans her paws. She looks at me. “Watch that guy,” she says. “He won’t like me.”
STATUS REPORT — Project 401.1 Genetic Implications

Pollinger, A. F. — Research Leader

  1. Recombination of genetic material for the purposes of enhanced performance is the purpose of this research.
  2. Manipulation of specific genetic material in human subjects lacks consistent results in cases not related to physical characteristics.
  3. In the past, attempts to enhance nervous system and personality functions have resulted in subjects experiencing psychosis or mental incapacity. (See the file marked USGCA.ROHRBACH.CLASSIFIED3222/31).
  4. Project 401.1 has directed its research to non-human subjects, mostly smaller mammals.
  5. Some success with symbolic recognition enhancement with rodent subjects has been documented. (See file marked USGCA.AFP.CLASSIFIED.401.01.15).
  6. Further research is promising.

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Dr. Otross, the new lab director, sets down the report and looks into my face. “Much work you’ve done here, I see.”

“More to do,” I say.

“So you want to go to Mars,” he says. “I’m impressed. But I like Earth, you know.” He whispers, giggles, xy to xy, “Have you seen the rack on Ysyto?”

I shrug, ignore him. “Zero and low-G living can be made better though fast-tracked gene replacement,” I say.

Otross nods. “I did some genetics work,” he says. “Hair color. That’s a bastard.”

Hair color is, in fact, not a bastard. In one of the grad schools I attended I paid for my classes bootlegging hair color genes I made in my rooms. “Yes,” I say. “Hair color is problematic.”

“Tell me about the mice.” Otross blinks at me behind his glasses. Pure affect? Eyeball reshaping costs nothing.

“They’re responding better than I hoped,” I say. “I’ve given you the full data.”

Otross puts his hand on his chin. “What about, um, mouse psychosis?”

“Delusions? Violent paranoia?”

“How can you tell?”

I rub my face to hide my exasperation. “Control groups?”

“Group mouse psychosis. Get it. ‘Mouse’ psychosis?” Otross laughs like a chipmunk.

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I’ve been through the training, and passed all the psych programs regarding emotional intelligence, but I couldn’t help disliking Otross. Unctuous, imperious, a head shorter than me. He must have come from a poor background. Where were the gene mods, the HGH? I’m lucky, I suppose. My mother was only 1.5 meters, about the size of the director. I chose not to go over 2 meters since height is of no advantage, not in exploration, where I plan to go.

Ysyto, over in Bionome Surveillance, descended from Mesoamerican genes, now sways at 2.3 meters, with breasts large enough to suggest an unstable structure. And she wonders why she’s not found a partner.

The new director stopped by to ingratiate himself with those of us with National Science Fellowships: me, Greenburg-Lu Xian, Tal, and of course, Doe X. The director is above his level of expertise, the same old story: who among research wants to go in Admin? Who in admin could do any proper research? Anyway, I’m going to keep quiet about Hermione for a while.

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Hermione sits on the desk now, staring at the only capture I’ve hardcopied that I keep. “Is she pretty?” Hermione asks. I’ve implanted a nano-voice amplifier/transponder so I can hear her tiny mouse voice.


“This … subject in the picture.”

“She’s a person,” I say.

“And I’m a subject?”

“You’re a mouse, Hermione.”

Hermione nibbles on some cheese I’d left for her. “It’s good. Pecorino Romano, right? Did you love her?”

“I’m working here. You can stay, but be quiet.”

“If you’re going to be like that, I’m going back to my environment,” she says.

“Take the cheese.”

Hermione takes the chunk of Romano in her mouth and skitters off.

Daybook: 11 June

19:00: Dinner outside the compound with Ysyto. She wants to discuss research.

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Ysyto sits at the table, towering over her food. She’s dark-skinned with sad, dark eyes. When she looks up, she smiles at me, touching her dark hair. “Why do you want to go to Mars?” she asks.

“Don’t you want exploration?”

She shrugs, like the movement of an unquiet lake. “I don’t know that my skills would suit off-world.”

“Oh, come on. Mars is like here, except it’s colder and all indoors. You’re brilliant.”

Ysyto smiles again, turning her head. “Oh. Why aren’t you up there?”

“Timing,” I lie. “Got the grant and that was it for a while.”

“I don’t know if I could take being screwed into a tube in zero-G for two months.”

“What’s the difference, between that and working at the lab?”

Brief smile like the last pulse on an EEG, slight shrug. “More closeness.”

“Are there any cheese shops around here,” I ask.


“We’ll take a look after dinner,” I say. Ysyto’s body moves when I say that. I can’t wait to look over the cheeses.


  1. Old Business – On Campus dining; Lab courtesy; Vetting of janitorial staff; Cooperation with USGINet agents.
  2. Human Resource Effectiveness Review Protocols – Discuss upcoming reviews and set appointments.
  3. Project Updates – Projects 401.1,401.2, & 401.3. Project leaders will give short presentations on the status of their work.
  4. New Business – Preliminary budgeting for the next fiscal year – Dr. Otross will talk about funding issues and resource allocations.
  5. Lunch in the Sarah Palin Dining Room. Meet & Talk with Congressperson Varda Patel, chair of the House Science Oversight Committee.


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“Emmenthaler?” Hermione sniffs the cheese.

“It’s real Swiss,” I say. I hold up the package showing the white cross in a circle of red.

“What’s Ysyto want with you?” Hermione asks. She picks up the piece of Emmenthaler I slice from the block.

“We’re scientists. Geneticists. We discuss research.”

Hermione licks her lips. “She likes you.”

“Don’t mistake desperation for love,” I say.

“Who’s the desperate one?” Hermione returns to the cheese.

I tap my pencil on my head. “Look.” My monitor lights up with a Mars Q. The red planet snaps into view. It’s Mars Supervisor Tor Gharsh.

Hermione leaves off the Emmenthaler and climbs onto the keyboard. “What’s with Mars? I like the moon. It’s made of cheese.”

Tor Gharsh smiles, behind her the luxurious urwald of the Mars base station. Plants droop, rich with fruit. You can smell the oxygen, sweet and new, even in my ozone-rich lab. “Next training group for Mars will be chosen in two solar months. Boys and girls, girls and boys, I can’t tell you what’s it like up here. We’re a tight crew. Every time I go EST I see stars that even the North Pole crew can’t see. They’re treading water, and we’re looking into the heart of creation.” If I love anybody, it’s Tor Gharsh.

“The moon is not made of cheese,” I say.

“Better if it was. Some nice Camembert, or smelly Stilton.”

Tor Gharsh shows her loving viewers around Mars base station. Halls waiting for geneticists to work in. Kilometers of emptiness. “Were,” I say. “Better if it were. Use the subjunctive mood for conditions contrary to fact, or wishes.”

Hermione chews. Mouth full. “What’s a mouse need with wishes?”


Lab Report Experiment 401.1.100

Intro: Using GENMOD 401.03.223 on subject mouse, designated HERMIONE, we will attempt to track psychological effects in a simulated space environment.

Problem: Effective psychological genetic modification in human subjects has not produced a stable result. Most often, the subject evinces psychotic tendencies and/or enters a catatonic state, resulting in death. Upon brain post-mortem, development of lesions, as well as accelerated degradation of neuron networks were revealed. Can genetic personality modification be made effective in human subjects?

Hypothesis: Using subject Hermione, a 400.10 mouse with an appropriate GENMOD 401.03.223, this experiment will test if the personality modifications as listed in attachment 401.01 will occur absent of above listed complications.

Methods: Using the nanomonitors implanted in Hermione, we will track physical data in response to stimuli as the subject interacts in the SSE, a sealed low-gravity environment. We will use both the Bflärhag LG fields and the Feinberg SGG to create the low-gravity environment. No anti-anxiety medications will be introduced. Hermione will remain in the SSE for duration of 48 hours or longer, depending on reactions.

Results: See attachment 401.01.100.01 for data graphs. Subject mouse Hermione exhibited no signs of psychosis or anxiety during the 48.5-hour duration of the experiment.

Conclusions: A promising beginning, but further experiments must follow.

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Ysyto claps the loudest at the meeting. Otross smiles, clearly not comprehending this breakthrough. Other colleagues look interested, then sour, or both simultaneously. The Congressperson stares at Ysyto, stifling yawns as I speak. Is she getting any of this?

At lunch I sit next to Doe-X. She’s keen to discuss my findings. “I wonder if your work can be transferred to mine.”


She points a fork loaded with chicken at me. “Next logical step.”

“Tell me, Dr. Pollinger,” the Congressperson asks. “Your work will change the game?”

“Oh, it will, Congressperson Patel,” Otross says. “We here at the institute push the edges of science every day.” As he says this he stares at Ysyto’s chest.

“There’s a long way ahead,” I say. “First result is a fluke, two results is a coincidence, three is a run of luck, four might be something. Consistent reproducibility is the aim.” My colleagues nod, except for Otross, who looks confused.

The Congressperson gives me a condescending appraisal. “I have a PhD in Biomechanical Interface Protocols,” she says.

“Oh,” Otross says. “I love cyborgs. Did you see that new vid, Ahab, Cyborg, about the cyborg that hunts the whale in violation of all environmental laws?”

Everyone turns to stare at him. A moment of silence, then chewing commences. Congressperson Patel says to me, “If only we could get mice and simians to speak.”

Doe-X shakes her head. “Sign language in chimps is quite advanced.”

“Still,” Congressperson Patel says. “Real idiomatic speech would make this easier.”

“Or more difficult,” I say. Am I wrong, or is Ysyto eyeing me?

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Hermione blinks. “I don’t want any Havarti,” she says.

“He’ll be able to talk as well as you,” I say.

“I’m not your slave.”

“How about Blue Castello?” Hermione withdraws. Is she shaking?

“Why? Why?” she asks. “Can’t you clone me?”

“We’re talking evolution here, Hermione, not duplication.”

Hermione walks to the picture I keep on my desk. She rises, resting her paws on the frame. “Were you scared?”

I stare at the face. She’s long gone. “Yes,” I say. “But then I was glad.”

Hermione turns to look at me. “And now?”

“I’m going to Mars,” I say.

400.10. “Hermione” Scientific Narrative

1. Introduction

Hermione is a BALB/c Mega-Doogie mouse, descended from the original Doogie strain developed in the 1990’s. (See Appendix 1 for history of the developments of NMDA receptors in Doogies). The next developments occurred through breeding Doogie mice together with other transgenic mice. The genetic enhancements were, as predicted, passed down and subject, like all genetics, to mutation. Hermione’s ancestors developed neural functions akin to dogs in two generations, akin to chimpanzees in eight, and in Hermione’s case, higher thought functions, including the ability to learn through abstract symbolics, media, and interaction with humans. Unlike chimps, however, mice cannot communicate with sign language, leaving a gap between objective data recorded from sensors, and observational behavior. Human subjects are notorious for unreliable expressions, but speech can give a researcher some direct data from the consciousness that no sensor can do. A mere graph of brainwaves can show a mental state, as can scans, but ultimately, the holistic totality of a subject is more than the sum of its correlating data, especially in research and experimentation.

If we could engage in higher-order speech functions with our test subjects, we could advance all the faster. 400.10 Hermione has already shown that GENMOD 401.03.223 is successful. The question is now whether this transgenic modification will transmit generationally. Ancillary to this genmod, Hermione’s communication functions are enhanced. She can point to words, show affirmative or negative responses, and in general answer the Exploration Service’s Psychological Standard Battery (see Appendix 2).


Introduced subject mouse Edgar 10, a mega-Doogie equally responsive and intelligent to Hermione 10 for the purposes of creating a new generation, designated 401.10.11. This introduction is of particular importance, since this is the first generation of mice with transgenic material combined with natural developments. As mice become more sophisticated thinkers, will their sexual instincts remain keyed to biological cues, or will the subjects, for want of a better word, turn human, with all the agonies of mate selection, relationships, and sexual jealousy attending?

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Hermione nibbles on smoked Gouda. She looks up at me, and returns to her cheese. She stops nibbling, cleans her whiskers. “He’s an idiot.”

“You don’t like Edgar?”

“He can’t talk. He stares at me.”

“You’re telling me your instincts aren’t working?”

Hermione stares at me. “Are yours?”

“Sexuality is different in mice and humans,” I say. “We don’t go into estrous cycles. Humans also treat sexuality as a form of recreation.”

She shakes her head. “For fun?”

“So they say.”

She nibbles more cheese. “I’m in estrous, right?”

“It’ll be dark,” I say. “Tonight.”

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It’s in front of me. My ESPSB and Hermione’s ESPSB. With the GENMOD 401.03.223, her score reflects the optimum profile of an Exploration Team member. Of course, no mouse will be on an Exploration Project. People like me will be. Better people than me.

Ysyto buzzes me. “Can I come in?”

I press the unlock button. My ESPSB in front of me, I hardly notice. The score never changes, and never will. Not in the five years since I stayed in Huntsville for the initial screening. Some got passed over for physical reasons, some for political beliefs, some for aggressive personality profiles, and some for minor mental tics. It’s like the last post she sent me. I read it over and over again, but nothing changed. How could it? I can make any living creature larger, change secondary sexual characteristics at will, increase strength, endurance, metabolic rate, hair, eye, and skin color. But no genmod can create or sustain love, or erase mistakes.

I feel Ysyto’s mass behind me, a palpable force. “ESPSB?”

“Hermione’s.” I hand her the tablet.

Ysyto hums as she scans. “Okay.” She looks up. “And this one?”

I kill the tablet. “Nothing. Old data.”


“You ever take it? The ESPSB?” I turn my chair around and run into her chest, not deliberately. “Excuse me,” I say.

She doesn’t back off. “You don’t have any human connections, do you?”


She stands up, making me crane my neck. “Who is in that picture?”

“Don’t you have research? Running any experiments? Observations?”

“Yes,” she says. She crosses her arms.

“I loved her.” My stare is hostile.

“Her? When?”

I shake my head. “A long time ago. She’s dead.” I look away and see Hermione perched behind the monitor post.

If Ysyto were normal — if I were normal — a round of commiseration might commence, but we’re both scientists. I have just given her another point on the graph, another piece of data. Why did I tell her that? To get rid of her? Ysyto must sense that I don’t really have any sexual interest in her.

Ysyto nods. “Human warmth. Intimacy. It has benefits.”

UNIT 401 LAB RECORD Date: 5.1

After the standard 20 day gestation cycle, subject Hermione 10 has given birth to six live-born offspring of subject mouse Edgar 10. (Unique designations to follow.) No complications to the births, or any observable defects to the infant mice. High-Security close observation protocols to be enacted as per Unit 401.20.

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Hermione spends time with her litter, as all mice must do. I’m actually missing talking to her. It makes no sense to bond with a mouse, even a descendant of 1519 day Methuselah as Hermione is, though I curtailed much of the longevity of her genetics due to the need to move through generations. I regret this now, since I’ve come to care for her. She’s intelligent for a subject mouse, and maybe because of this, I find her company more compelling than with any human, lately. When I was younger I sought more human company, but now, since I’m in the lab all day, and sometimes all night, I can’t be diverted.

I think about that night, about her, dying in my arms. Her name too was Hermione, named after some movie character her mother loved as a child. Her hair, natural, waved in the breeze, coronaed with sunlight, and her eyes shone with intelligence, but with an edge of daring, too. We met in genetics class before the war. Both ambitious, she more than I, ambitious enough to join me in my bootleg genmods, teach me the basics of eye color and retroviruses for secondary sexual characteristics. We made enough money to equip a good lab of our own in the house we rented. Women with small breasts and men with small penises started to come to see us, and those that wanted to change their genders without surgery. We charged less than Government Genmod Clinics, and performed the therapies without the standard mandatory waiting periods. We took in some questionable clients wanting total genscan revision, paying us with many credits, but we made sure these were only criminals and not terrorists. We did not want to be arrested for a federal crime, after all. Hermione handled the business end, vetting the clients, bribing the USGINet Locales, using her knowledge of human behavior and reactions to pheromones to devastating effect.

I worked on my personality mods from the start, hoping mainly that Hermione and I would both go to Mars, something we talked about lying together in our bed, so eager, arrogant, so naïve. What bonded us was our claustrophobia. She could never stand to be in a closed lab for long. I hated flying and elevators. We could use anti-anxiety packs, but those made you disqualified for any exploration programs. Not that all long-trippers didn’t get a large daily dose of them once on their way. Typical USG hypocrisy.

DAYBOOK — 28 August

Dinner with Ysyto at her place.

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Ysyto rises, the sheet catching on her genmod breasts. She turns to me. Maybe I shouldn’t have told her, but I’m a scientist first, not a spy, or a USGINet thug.

“Talk?” Her eyes wide. Awe, disbelief, or hatred?

“A complex interaction between the transgenic nature of the mice and my genmod. Nothing I planned.”

She hugs the sheet to herself. “But you’ve told no one.”

“It might be a fluke. An anomaly. One subject.” I have broken down and slept with Ysyto because thinking about the original Hermione, long dead, stirred up needs I usually met with less complicated outcomes. Look at Ysyto: thinking, calculating. I would like to give myself over to someone as brilliant as her, but any bonds to earth are not worth the fleeting pleasures.

Ysyto moves forward, leaning her head on her knees. She blinks. “What did the subject say?”

I shrug. “We talk mostly about cheese.”

Ysyto hops out of bed, a sight to behold, all 2.3 meters of her. “Get dressed.” She pulls on an orange USG Exploration Spaceknit undergarment, stuffing her breasts into the tight fabric. “I must speak to your mouse,” she says.


EXAMINER: Porus Troblim, MD

Subject: Hermione Nasrim Gryffed-Alberts, aged 25 @ TOD

COD: Examination showed no physical trauma to victim. All organs intact, at proper size & weight for a person of her age and gender. Gene scan showed anomalies as follows:

  1. Presence of an unknown genmod on DNA markers for personality.
  2. Evidence of numerous genmods common to the victim’s social status, however, none of the genmods had manufacturer’s encoding.

This led to an examination of the victim’s brain, where sub-cranial lesions were found inconsistent with an organic pathology. The number and recent appearances of these lesions led to the victim’s death by inhibiting the cortex, causing the victim to lose consciousness and subsequently suffocate.

Ruling: Death by misadventure, not homicide. Possible to perhaps charge whoever made the genmod, but with no markers, whatever killed the victim will be difficult to trace. Remains may be released to family.

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Mouse and Ysyto face to face. The lab is empty this time of night, except for the USGINet Security Guards who know better than to stop senior research leaders. Except, of course, they note our entry. Now maybe I regret telling her.

“Are you in estrous?”

Hermione’s question makes Ysyto’s face open in surprise. “No.”

“I explained,” I tell the mouse. “Humans don’t have an estrous cycle.”

The mouse looks over Ysyto with her calm face. “So you did it for fun?”

Ysyto has no answer for this. “What about you?” she asks Hermione.

“I would like some Norwegian Blue,” she tells Ysyto.

“So you think about cheese?”

Hermione rubs her face with her paws. “I have to get my brood,” she says.

Ysyto sits back, shaking her head. “Wow, you are something, Hermione.”

The mouse ticks off to her environment, dark at this time of night. Ysyto watches her, then looks at me.

“Well,” I say.

“I need the genetics,” she says. Her brown eyes burn at me.

UNIT 401 LAB RECORD Date: 5.8

The fourth course of experimentation with subject mouse. (See previous 401 lab reports for introductory information and data).

Results: See attachment 401.01.100.04 for data graphs. Subject mouse Hermione exhibited no signs of psychosis or anxiety during the 100-hour duration of the experiment.

Conclusions: GENMOD 401.03.223 is ready for further testing.


  1. Dr. Otross will speak on the need for Inter-project Cooperation.
  2. Old Business – Parking spaces for junior researchers. Cooperation with USGINet Agents.
  3. Project Updates – Projects 401.1,401.2, & 401.3. Project leaders will give short presentations on the status of their work.
  4. New Business – Incoming Interns; Lab assignments.
  5. Lunch in the Sarah Palin Dining Room. Speaker: Actualizing Your Goals for Interpersonal Achievement. Bob and Babbette Deinerweiner of Encouragement Technology Inc.


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They stare at me, except for Ysyto, who looks at the table. Otross stares too, breaking away from his usual view of Ysyto’s chest.

“You’re sure,” Otross says. “These results.”

“The data speaks for itself.” I look down into his ferret eyes. Hair color hard to do.

“Publish,” he says. “We’ll publish. That’ll bring some attention to what we do here at the Sternberg Center.”

“Premature,” Ysyto says. “We have to do a lot more testing.”

“We?” I ask.

Otross and Ysyto look at me. Doe-X and the others shift in their chairs, looking at their agendas.

“I’m the one they gave the grant to,” I say.

Otross frowns. “Look, Pollinger, it’s a matter of…”

“National Security,” Ysyto says.

“Oh no,” I say. “It’s a simple genmod.”

Ysyto stands now, towering over me. “No, Pollinger. It’s a talking mouse.”

“A talking mouse?” Doe-X says. “You’re joking, right.”

Ysyto turns to her. “No. I’ve spoken with the subject.”

“Her name’s Hermione,” I say.

Otross pounds his palms on the table, shaking all the glasses of water. “Look, ultimately, the decision to publish our results is mine and mine alone.” For a little waxed ferret, Otross comes on strong.

“It’s nowhere near ready. And I don’t even know if the speech is transgenic,” I lie.

“Are we talking about a personality genmod that doesn’t cause psychosis, or a breakthrough in human-animal relations?” Doe-X asks.

Otross stands (not much different from sitting). “This meeting is over. Pollinger, come with me.”

Transcript of a Private Security Capture

Voice 1 (Identified as Hermione Nasrim Gryffed-Alberts): If we are going to Mars, we have to try this genmod.

Voice 2 (Identified as me, Pollinger, A.F.): It’s not ready. The effects could be…

Voice 1: I don’t care about the effects, honey. I want the genmod.

Voice 2: No. I. Look, it’s not like changing your eye color, or even gender assignment, Hermione, you know this. It’s a personality mod. And…

Voice 1: You love me?

Voice 2: The genmod needs a few tests. We have the mice. I just don’t think…

Voice 1: I thought you wanted me, you and me, to go to Mars. Exploration. That’s what we’ve wanted. Isn’t it? Pollinger, isn’t it?

Voice 2: It’s bad science.

Voice 1: All the shit we’ve sold? All the off-the-market genmods? Identity exchanges? Gender reassignments.

Voice 2: That was to pay for grad school and equipment…

Voice 1: …And the weekends in Paris and London…

Voice 2: Okay, but you could die.

Voice 1: If I don’t go to Mars, I will die. (cough) I mean, if we, you and me, don’t go to Mars, we will die. I will die.

Voice 2: Not this way, Hermione.

Voice 1: If you won’t give the genmod, I’ll take it myself.

Voice 2: Hermione, please (Sound of door slamming, glass breaking)

FROM: H.R. OTROSS, PhD, Director of USGINet Sternberg Research Facility

TO: SAIC Barkus, Chief of Security USGINet SRF

SUBJECT: Research Project 401

  1. You are to seize all materials related to Project 401, including animals. The lab is to be sealed and only opened under my sole approval.
  2. You are to remove Pollinger, A. F. from USGINet SRF and turn him over to USGINet Exploration at the location designated below.
  3. Security Protocol 540.24 is in effect regarding the above.

FROM: H.R. OTROSS, PhD, Director of USGINet Sternberg Research Facility

TO: Congressperson Varda Patel, chair of the House Science Oversight Committee

SUBJECT: Breakthrough Results from the Team at Sternberg Research Facility

Dr. H.R. Otross is happy to announce two important breakthroughs in genetic modification.

  1. The first wholly successful personality modification. Eliminating claustrophobia and other anxieties.
  2. The first mouse able to speak directly to humans.

Both projects come from the research team here at Sternberg Research Facility, including Ysyto Grospardo, Doe-X, and some follow-up work by A.R. Pollinger.

I believe these findings will result in significant honors for us at the Sternberg Research Facility, possibly even the Nobel Prize.

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I did the deal. I always do the deal. I did it for Hermione, and it killed her. I did it for the other Hermione, too.

“I’m not going to live long, am I?” she asked. I had only a few minutes before the USGINet thugs carted me away.

“It’ll be painless, if that’s any consolation.” Ysyto, I knew, would sacrifice Hermione to look at her brain.

Hermione laughed. “You’re going away. Mars?”

“They’re stealing my work. I’m letting them.”

She raised herself on her small hind legs. “To get to Mars.”

“I took the genmod,” I said.

She lowered herself and looked away. “Please don’t let them get my children. And give them cheese. Mascarpone at first. Just grant me that.” She looked me directly. “I forgive you.”

“Yes. I’m taking them to Mars.” I said. I looked at the picture of my dead Hermione, and then picked it up. “It won’t hurt a bit.”

I am writing this after coming out of deep sleep. A bit groggy. The mice remain in stasis, all six of them. I am confused and angry.

Before I entered the USIPTS 3028 JAMES MARSHALL HENDRIX for my journey, I transmitted the genmod, claimed by Otross and Ysyto, to the USGINet CID, still holding open the case of Hermione Nasrim Gryffed-Alberts. The genmod I created came from the strain I first synthesized in grad school, the strain that Hermione introduced to herself while I stood by. The strain that killed her. The USGINet CID will know whom to question now.

Otross wanted the credit so badly he pulled some strings and got me Exploration, and now, on the viewer Mars looms, MARS 01 and her sister installations MARS 02-05 star out from the central base, spidering into the emptiness. I wonder which leg I’ll inhabit.

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Aboard the USSPA Transitional Station ST-103M ALAN STUART FRANKEN

Some days I stare out the window away from the sun, dimmer, colder. The stars burn brighter here, clearer, more vital with no atmosphere or light pollution to block them. Some days I stare at the hardcopy of the first Hermione that I’ve mounted by magnet against my monitor screen. At last she’s going to Mars, among the clear stars.

Two weeks quarantine. Today, low-gravity protocols for incoming transport docking. Pencils float, and all hot drinks steam through lids.

My cube has stars that float too, mice, the second Hermione’s children. We are alone in this quadrant of the station, except for a poet somebody thought would do well on Mars. She sits in her cube, weeping most days. I see her in the cafeteria, a hard smile cracking her face. Maybe she needs a genmod.

Today my mice and I sing. I teach them children’s songs. Once around the mulberry bush. Twinkle, twinkle. They float and sing amid the clanking somber station. I sing too. The cracked poet blinks at my door, her green eyes startled by the floating, singing mice. She starts to sing with us, a cup of steaming tea in her hand.

Our voices rise together, sweeter and stranger that anything I have ever heard before.
Mark Burgh lives in Fort Smith, AR.

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