Tuesday, October 18, 2016 – Late Afternoon
Biodevisor Testing Labs, Whateley Academy
"We've got something unusual in one of the biocompatibility test runs!" a lab aide burst into Mr. Bumsfeld's office, a little out of breath but highly excited.
"Oh?" Bumsfeld was on his feet immediately. "Show me."
It took a few minutes to wind through the tunnels to the biological compatibility testing lab. Once inside, the aide led Bumsfeld to a computer. "Look at this! the aide said, pointing to a spot on the screen. "Tissue sample eight one four. Look at the difference between the control sample and the experimental sample."
Bumsfeld looked at an extremely magnified image of the sample. "The experimental sample is significantly enlarged," he observed. "What's the tissue type?" he asked, deliberately tamping down his hopes that they might have found something.
The aide manipulated the computer again. "Lot five-one-six of fatty tissue ... from the breast area. Tissue from the gluteal areas is showing some swelling as well, although not nearly as significant," the lab aide added. "But no other tissue types seem affected."
"Those are the tissues affected during female puberty?" Mr. Bumsfeld was too much a pro to jump at one data point. "But no effect on any other tissue types." He thought a moment. "Run the tests with different cell lots. Let's make sure this isn't a fluke associated with this one genotype."
The aide smiled. "We already started that, as soon as we saw the results."
Bumsfeld nodded; the staff was on the ball, as usual. "I want to confirm the results on the other cell lines before I report to Turner's task force."
"In the meantime," Bumsfeld continued, "What project is this material from?"
The aide didn't have to look at the computer to give Mr. Bumsfeld the answer. "The devisor chocolate."
"I'll let the project know that we've uncovered a potential safety issue," Bumsfeld said. It was standard procedure to inform students of anything adverse that was discovered. In this case, the developers of the wildly-popular chocolate were not going to be happy.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016 – Dinner
Crystal Hall Annex, Whateley Academy
Without much enthusiasm, Laura carried her tray to the M3 table and set it down. She didn't so much sit down as she slumped into a chair, and her face was devoid of the usual energy and enthusiastic smile. Several of her teammates noticed.
"Why do you look like your dog just died?" Bianca asked rather bluntly.
The blue girl shook her head slowly, dejectedly. "I just found out that we have to repeat some safety tests," she moped.
"Oh? Which one?" Tanya asked the obvious question.
Laura gave her a stare that said 'you really have to ask?', then she sighed. "The chocolate. And sales were going so good."
Jimmy's eyebrows shot up. "So ... your chocolate is the cause of all this ...," he looked around, noting the reduced numbers of students, the number of baggy sweaters and jackets, and the enhanced curves on some of the girls, "growth?"
"No!" Laura shot back, her voice not quite angry but definitely unhappy. "There was a software glitch in the testing rig," she admitted, looking back at her plate and shaking her head sadly. "So they have to rerun the tests." Then she looked up at Jimmy with a defiant expression. "But there are dozens of projects from the chem and bio-devisors that could be causing ... this!"
"But it is possible," Bianca noted, speaking the uncomfortable truth. Laura simply nodded.
"Hey, DF is back!" Tanya changed the subject as she enthusiastically announced the return of their missing friend.
"About time you quit loafing around ...." Jimmy's comment cut off when he saw Morgana's arms, which showed considerable not-yet-healed trauma. "What ...?"
Morgana wasn't listening; instead, she was looking around, her eyes wide with surprise. After her involuntary confinement in Doyle, she was seeing in the 'enhancements' for the first time. "Good grief!" she exclaimed softly. "I can't leave the lot you alone for a moment, can I?" She looked pointedly at Laura. "You wouldn't have anything to do with this, would you?" she asked suggestively.
Her gaze wandered back to the M3 table, and she noticed a few differences, until she focused on Laura. "Grown a bit, Laura?" Morgana joked, to which Laura didn't look up but blushed deeply. "Now if you have a bigger butt, you'd have a stunning figure!"
Laura didn't look up; if anything, she looked she was distressed by Morgana's comment, and the redhead noticed. "I was just teasing!" Morgana assured Laura. "Really, it looks good on you!"
Bianca noticed Laura's reaction, so she leaned closer to her roommate. "Long story. I'll fill you in later," she whispered.
"How can they say you've recovered?" Tanya asked, again changing the subject. "Look at you! And your plate! You've got less on your plate than Laura!"
"Send her back to Doyle!" Vic chuckled. "They broke her appetite!"
"The next sound you hear will be the hoof beats of four horses," Bailey commented dryly. When she saw a few confused looks, she rolled her eyes. "The four horsemen? Of the apocalypse? Because if Morgana has lost her appetite, it's a sign of impending doom?" She let her eyes drift shut as she shook her head slowly. "Sheesh - it's such a pain when I have to explain all my jokes and cultural references to you guys!"
"To quote my mom," Laura said, looking up a bit and finally joining in the conversation, "you look like you've been 'rode hard and put away wet'."
"Uh, what?!?" several of the team gawked at Laura.
"Maybe it's just Midwest and West," Laura grumbled, "but that's a ranching saying. You work a horse too hard, then don't care for it, and the horse looks it."
Bianca cocked one eyebrow. "And you know about ranching how?"
"My mom's brother has a ranch in Wyoming. I've spent a few summers there," Laura replied defensively. She turned back to Morgana. "So what's the story? Is this all from your burnout?" She cringed as she spoke; despite assurances from Doyle and the technical staff that it wasn't her fault, Laura couldn't help but feel at least partially responsible for what happened to her friend.
"Yes," Morgana answered simply, glancing around with her eyes, signaling silently that she didn't want to say anything aloud. "Burned out, got mostly healed, still have a bit to go."
As Laura buried herself in her food again, she didn't notice the odd questioning look Bianca game her roommate, or the silent 'later' Morgana mouthed in response.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016 – Late
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Fearing the worst and flanked by a security guard, Laura walked into the Administration wing, where Lori and Horace were sitting and waiting. The blue girl didn't have a chance to sit down in the outer office area; as soon as she was present, the Three Chocolateers were summoned to the executive conference room.
As with previous meetings about the topic, the room contained representatives from Doyle, from the advanced tech labs, from the powers testing crew, and house-parent representatives. Perhaps fortunately for Laura, or unfortunately - she'd have to see how things went - Mrs. Horton was one of the house-parent representatives. And Mrs. Cody was part of the lab team.
The trio of kids were directed via a pointing gesture from the Headmaster to sit at one end of a long table, seated conspicuously together. All eyes were on them, and the nervous lump in Laura's throat seemed to grow.
"Mr. Bumsfeld," the Headmaster spoke in a neutral tone, "could you please summarize your findings?"
"As I understand it," Mr. Bumsfeld began, glancing at his tablet on the table, "you started with a devisor cacao plant." The kids nodded. "You used devisor technology to ferment the cacao beans?" Again, a nod confirmed his statement. "Ms. Simms, you created a devise to roast and dry the cacao beans?" Lori nodded. "Now, I'm not clear as to who created the machines for the following. You pressed the cocoa butter, mixed and very finely ground the cocoa, ...."
"It's called conching, sir," Lori spoke up.
"Ah, yes, I see," Bumsfeld noted. "You also tempered the chocolate - using a devise?"
"The press was also a simple mechanism, not a devise," Horace clarified.
"So - devisor plant, devisor fermenting, devisor roasting, devisor tempering. Do you see any potential problems with this?" Bumsfeld asked.
"We passed all the safety tests," Horace rebutted in their defense.
"Did they?" the Robert Turner asked, curious about his claim.
Mrs. Cody piped up. "Yes, they did. With the required independent replication." She glanced at the nervous trio. "It turns out there is a very subtle fault in the computer program that controls test equipment. The tests are scanned microscopically against a control to identify any impacts. The microscanners use an auto-magnification feature to focus on features of potential interest. Unfortunately," she got a distasteful expression, "in certain conditions, the magnifications of the sample and the control can get out of synchronization. That could result in a false negative."
"And in this case it did," Bumsfeld noted. He tapped on his tablet, and two side-by-side samples were projected on the wall. At first glance, they looked virtually identical. "This is what the scanners examined on their first pass." He tapped again, and the image on one size changed so that the features on one sample appeared massive compared to the other. "This is the same scan taken with the auto-magnification error fixed."
Even Dr. Mazarin's eyes were wide at what he was seeing. "And this sample is what?"
Mr. Bumsfeld glanced at the unhappy lab trio, then nodded, his expression grim. "The sample is specialized cells from the breast area. The material under test is the chocolate, both pre- and post-liver metabolization."
Laura's eyes widened. "You mean ...." She couldn't help but glance down at her own expanded chest, as did Lori.
Mrs. Cody nodded. "Your chocolate is most likely the cause of the sudden ... enhancements ... that have appeared on campus."
Ms. Claire nodded her agreement. "The security movement traces show a forty-five percent correlation, which is most likely low due to students sharing or secondary sales."
"The weak correlation is also due to varying effects," the powers lab team added. "It appears to affect consumers of the chocolate at different rates. However, we haven't yet been able to identify any correlation with any powers profile."
Dr. Rascomb agreed. "The effects vary widely student-to-student, but we won't know for certain until we can study a wider sample over a longer time."
Dr. Mazarin turned to Ms. Claire. "Since you are a little more ... diplomatic ... than I, please compose an announcement to include the following key points. Testing has not conclusively identified the cause of the situation. From an abundance of caution, sale of the chocolate ...."
"Punk Pink Penguin chocolate," Lori volunteered their chosen 'brand' name.
The Headmaster looked at the trio with an expression of disbelief before rolling his eyes and shaking his head at the extremely odd name they'd chosen. "Sale or distribution of Punk Pink Penguin chocolate is prohibited. All uneaten chocolate is to be turned in to a house-parent , security staff, or administrative staff. Details of reimbursement will be worked out."
Ms. Claire finished typing on her own tablet computer. "Got it." She glanced at the students. "I'll also add words prohibiting any acts of retribution on our, how did I hear them described? The Three Chocolateers?"
Turner nodded. "Agreed. I would suggest adding a reminder that violence without conclusive evidence is considered vigilantism and will be dealt with in the strictest terms, as outlined in the student handbook. I would also suggest alerting security to keep a watchful eye on the Three Chocolatiers just to ensure no-one decides to over-react."
Ms. Claire nodded her agreement. "I'll also add a statement that if a student's projects or actions is determined to have caused this condition, it is the responsibility of the administration to dispense punishment."
"Good points," Mazarin said with nod. "Thank you. When you finish the announcement, run it by Robert for his concurrence, then send out an audio announcement and send both text and e-mail message. I want the announcement repeated tomorrow morning during breakfast and first period classes, and repeat the text and e-mail messages," the Headmaster ordered.
Mazarin looked at the lab staff. "All of the cacao and derived products will be moved to a vault suitable for biohazards."
"Maximum security for the vault and labs working on an antidote?" Mrs. Cody asked. "All of the chemical and bio specialist in the labs, including students, are working to identify an antidote as the highest priority ...."
"If there is one," Dr. Rascomb added a note of caution.
"Agreed. If there is one," Mrs. Cody noted. "As I was about to say, if we have to go through high-security procedures for all access to the samples, it will significantly slow down the research."
Mazarin exchanged a glance with Turner. "I don't think this warrants that same security we'd use for a lethal toxin or bio-agent. Keep it safely locked up with access control, and make sure cameras are monitoring the vault you use."
"Why not just be safe and destroy it?" Mr. Filbert, representing the house-parents, asked what was, to him, an obvious question, since he wasn't a lab-coat type.
""We will need the source material to find or confirm a remedy," Mr. Bumsfeld replied without sounding condescending, even though the answer was clear to anyone familiar with lab work.
"Anything else?" Mazarin asked, glancing around the table. He noticed a frown on Dr. Rascomb's face. "Doctor?" he prompted.
Rascomb glanced at his tablet computer. "We performed a repeat examination of several of the students who we examined earlier."
"I assume it's bad news," Elaine Claire speculated from the doctor's expression.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," Rascomb replied. "In one case, we noted that the enlarged cells have begun very rapid cell division, and there is rapid growth of the actual breast tissue. We don't have enough data to understand if this is a universal development. It may be this is a rare case. We don't know if discontinuing consumption of the chocolate will cause the growth to stop or not. We have a lot more testing that needs to be done. I would like to request that affected students be directed to comply with Doyle staff for any additional examinations we may deem necessary."
"Agreed." The Headmaster sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he focused on the unhappy trio of students. "Needless to say, since you were selling the product, reimbursements will come from your sales revenue. As to punishment, we will need some time to discuss the matter to decide on something appropriate."
"With all due respect, Dr. Mazarin," Mrs. Cody piped up strongly, "while the product was made with devisor technology throughout, it did pass all of the safety tests. It was not the students' fault that the testing apparatus had a latent software flaw."
Mrs. Horton nodded her agreement. "They did do every test that was required. It's not fair to hold them responsible for errors in the Whateley's equipment."
Robert Turner thought a moment before nodding. "Duly noted. We will consider that fact when we decide on appropriate ... penalty for this incident."
Wednesday, October 20, 2016 –Very Early
Lab Tunnels, Whateley Academy
"You sure about this?" a young, slightly pudgy boy said to his companion as the two leaned against a side-tunnel wall, trying to look inconspicuous.
"Yes, I'm sure," an older, more determined boy replied firmly. He was clearly in charge of whatever the two were up to.
"What if it's just ....?" the first boy asked nervously.
"Think about it, dude! We have these chocolate bars that came out of a biodevisor lab. After that, girls started growing bigger boobs." he continued, pausing to frown at his own slightly swollen chest. "Even guys started developing! My friends tell me that Doyle and the labs are going ape-shit researching something. And then we have an announcement last night banning that same chocolate due to 'safety concerns'." He frowned, looking directly at his companion. "I don't believe in coincidences. These are related."
"Okay, if they are, what's in it for us?" the younger boy asked.
"Dude, think how many women would give really big bucks for a non-surgical breast enhancement cream that really works! If we can find the secret, I've got a few contacts that are willing to pay really big money!"
"But ... how are we gonna get it?" the younger, smaller boy complained. "You saw the security where they're storing it! We can't get past that!"
"You may be a computer genius," the older boy said, shaking his head, "but outside a keyboard, sometimes I think you're clueless! Even if we got all the chocolate, it'd be how much? How long would that last? How much could we make?" He sighed. "Horace Bishop is a bio-devisor, right? The other two?" He shook his head. "The trash-panda does mechanical stuff. Smurfette is mostly into electronics. So he's got to be the brains behind this, right?"
"Okay. He has to have made notes about the project. So while everyone is still sleeping, we sneak into his lab, which isn't nearly as secure, and that's where you come in. If his notes are on a lab computer, you hack in, find them, and copy them."
As predicted, the lab wasn't secured, and there was no trace of any chocolate or cacao pods or anything relating to the confection. It didn't take long, though, for the pair to find a portable hard drive tucked away in one of Horace's drawers. While the older boy kept lookout, the younger one made quick work of copying the entire disk to a thumb drive. The two then carefully put everything back, leaving not a trace that they'd ever been there, and went back to the older boy's room.
The data was a gold mine, as far as the older boy was concerned. It was only weakly protected, so the younger computer expert opened the drive easily. The older one started looking through the data files, and suddenly, he stopped. "Bingo!" he declared gleefully. "Let's go!" he shut his computer and grabbed a jacket.
"Where are we going?"
"His notes indicate that there are some kind of hybrid cacao trees. He even has their locations marked!"
"But ... it's not even dawn yet!" the younger boy protested.
"Exactly," the older boy said. "My bet is that as soon as it's light enough, the grounds-keeping crew is going to be out there cutting down every one of those trees. So we need to get to them before they're destroyed."
Wednesday, October 12, 2016 –Breakfast
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
By arrangement, the Poe girls - Laura, Bailey, Bianca, and Morgana - met the other members of M3 outside Crystal Hall. It wasn't Laura's idea, but rather Morgana's; after the announcement the previous evening, repeated in emails and text messages, the girls felt it best for Laura's safety, as there had been a lot of anger expressed by the boys who'd grown boobs. Some of the 'larger' girls had also complained, though not in nearly as great a proportion.
The M3 group walked in together, clustered around Laura, and almost immediately, the slightly-subdued roar of a hundred or more teenage table-conversations turned to silence. Most of the students were staring at Laura, with severely angry gazes from some of the boys.
"I told you this was a bad idea," Tanya whispered insistently to the group, looking around at the eyes fixed on them in the awkward silence of the cafeteria.
"Look at all the security!" Tanya noted as the group walked. Indeed, about three times the normal security complement were standing around the cafeteria, looking around, fidgeting and nervous, poised to take immediate action if necessary. A few had their hands suspiciously close to their non-lethal weapons. They expected trouble.
"The announcement didn't say it was the chocolate," Vic tried to reassure Laura. "Everyone is probably nervous, and all gadgeteers and devisors are getting extra scrutiny."
"Hmmph!" Laura snorted softly. "They could just as well have announced, 'Laura, Lori, and Horace did it!' She was getting quite nervous at the hostility on display.
Not surprisingly, Laura had lost most of her appetite due to nerves; the group moved as one toward the escalator up to their table. The crowd noise had slowly resumed, though it was a little less boisterous.
Before they got to the escalator, the group was intercepted by Brita Baumann, Irina Tetchkova, and Trish Loyola, all known and outspoken man-hating members of the Amazons. Brita forced her way between Tanya and Jimmy so the trio stopped face-to-face with Laura, her usual scowl fixed on her face. Around them, security quickly closed in, expecting serious trouble.
"Did your chocolate do all this?" Brita demanded, her tone neutral. She must have had some chocolate, because she was at least one cup size bigger than the M3 girls remembered.
"I don't know," Laura hedged. "Maybe." She realized she had to talk fast to avoid some kind of beatdown. "They're re-testing all devisor stuff, so we had to stop selling just to be safe."
Irina rolled her eyes. "Da, right," she scoffed. "You make chocolate, you sell chocolate, boobs grow. Coincidence? Nyet."
Strangely, Brita grinned and wrapped Laura in a big hug. "Great job!" she enthused. "All those assholes get to find out what it's like to be eye candy for a change!"
"Too bad they're not bigger, and it didn't affect all the boys!" Trish added, grinning as broadly as Brita.
The rest of M3 stood as shocked by the display as Laura, not understanding what exactly was happening. Brita Baumann, long-time adversary of M3, was congratulating her? Treating her like a long-lost sister?
"Is permanent?" Irina asked hopefully. "Serve them right if so."
"If any of these assholes give you trouble," Brita added as she backed out of the embrace, "we've got your back." As quickly as they'd come, the trio of Amazons left M3 alone, while around them, several of the angrier boys gulped nervously. Even a slight display of friendship from the Amazons informed all the upperclassmen that tangling with Laura would now bring a world of hurt. Some of the freshmen had learned as well - usually the hard way. Without understanding why, Laura's life suddenly got a bit safer.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Dr. Mazarin had left campus for a fund-raising meeting in New York City, leaving Robert Turner, as Assistant Headmaster, in charge. Mazarin wasn't worried; he knew how competent the Whateley administrative team was. That was one part of Mazarin's management style - to ensure that if he was away from the school, those he left in charge could manage as well as he did.
Robert looked around the conference table, ensuring that all the key people were present. Again, Doyle, the labs, the powers testing team, and the house-parents were well represented. In addition, the security team was represented as well.
"Since the progression of the condition seems to the most urgent factor, let's start with you, Ted," Turner began, addressing Dr. Rascomb.
Dr. Rascomb fiddled with his tablet computer, and a screenful of data was projected on the wall. "We've been closely monitoring twenty patients, including scanning and biopsies every four hours. "The good news - of the twenty cases, five cases show a slow, steady reduction of size." His display showed a series of images, highlighting his point. "Nine cases show no changes." Another chart illustrated his point.
Turner winced, as did most of the others around the table. Six cases were unaccounted for in the 'good news' category. They were all nervous about the rest of Dr. Rascomb's report.
"Four cases are showing continued enlargement of the cells. The more worrying cases, though are the other two." He caused another chart to appear on the wall. "One case shows reduction in the sizes of the enlarged cells, but regular breast tissue is rapidly developing," he used a laser point to highlight an area on the big image. "Close-ups show the difference in tissues, as you can see here and here."
"Permanent change?" Turner asked warily.
Rascomb nodded. "The final case has completed cell division, and in the last eight hours, has shown no change." His final set of images punctuated his message. "That fact that some cases appear to be self-resolving is promising, but we don't know what percentage of all cases will fall into this category."
"From a purely psychological perspective," interjected Dr. Betty Markham, one of the counselors on Doyle's staff, "the longer the time to resolve, the more 'issues' some of the boys are going to have." The murmuring of assent indicated her comment was obvious to most.
"Anything else?" Turner asked. When Rascomb shook his head, Turner looked at the lab team. "Are we having any security issues?"
Samantha Everheart, chief of security, nodded. "Some of the boys are a rather ... angry and hostile ... toward the Three Chocolateers," she reported. "It's not serious yet, but we're keeping a close watch because it's a potentially explosive situation. The friends of one of them escorted her out of Crystal Hall this morning because they probably feared for her safety."
Turner sighed. "I was expecting something like this." He looked at Ms. Claire. "Since we're certain of the cause, put out another announcement. Don't blame the chocolate, but note that all products are thoroughly tested; if there was an error in the testing apparatus, it's not the students' fault, and so on. Remind them of the rules on vigilantism, and hit the in-school detention or expulsion angles hard."
"Same as before - audio announcement, e-mail, and text." He looked at the tech lab crew. "Have you got anything cheery?"
Mr. Bumsfeld didn't bother with his computer. "We did a few computer models, and then synthesized a handful of devisor drugs that are currently being tested, but so far, those haven't been overwhelmingly successful. However," he paused for effect, "we also searched through our project records for anything that could be useful. How many of you remember that devisor weight loss drug that was tried about nine years ago?"
Dr. Markham perked up. "Is that the one that ... was it Belphegor ... was fiddling with? With all those ... bad ... side effects?" With her jogging their memories, several of the attendees did remember, as evidenced by their head-nods or raised eyebrows.
Bumsfeld nodded. "That's the one. Uncontrollable tics, muscle spasms, significant thirst and urination, gastric distress, diarrhea, mild paranoia or hallucinations, hyper-sensitivity to sunlight ..."
"And those are just the worst side effects," Dr. Markham chimed in.
"It was a highly unsuccessful effort," Bumsfeld agreed.
"So why did you ...?" Turner stopped mid-question and his jaw dropped at the every-so-slightly smug smile on Bumsfeld's face. "You've made it work?"
"But with those side effects?" Mr. Filbert gawked. "I don't want any of my boys taking a drug like that!"
"It causes the expanded fat cells to deflate like popped inner tubes," Bumsfeld announced. "That effort was looked at several times in the intervening years, and a number of the side effects have been eliminated or minimized. The current teams think we've licked the worst of them."
"Is it safe?"
"We've been running the bio-compatibility labs flat-out, and so far, it's been effective on nine of the eleven cell lines." He wrinkled his nose. "There are a couple of caveats, however. First, the fat-reducing effect has to be carefully monitored. It's totally non-specific."
Ms. Claire's countenance darkened. "So, are you saying that it could cause a woman's ... derriere ... to be ... reduced?" Reading Bumsfeld's expression, she frowned deeply. "And other ... curvy ... areas?" She shook her head. "There are a lot of girls and women who would refuse it just on those grounds."
"And what about the psychological side affects you noted?" Dr. Markham continued questioning the lab team.
"We think we have a solution," Bumsfeld said warily. "It appears that these effects can be almost eliminated with a low concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. We estimate a required BAC of point zero two percent or greater until the drug is completely absorbed."
Turner gawked at the man. "You're telling me," he finally stammered, "that in order for the antidote to work without the subject going bat-crap crazy ...," he glanced at Dr. Markham and winced at her reaction to his poor choice of wording, "the subject has to stay mildly drunk?"
This point finally got Bumsfeld to flinch. "Um, not entirely. The drug should be absorbed or eliminated within a half hour of the dose, and the tests indicate that two or three doses, every four hours, will be sufficient, so a large sustained dose of alcohol won't be necessary. We won't have a lot of drunk students wandering around." He glanced at Dr. Rascomb, then back to Turner. "Of course, we're still working on that minor problem."
Dr. Rascomb sighed. "Given the uncertainty of how many of these cases may become permanent, we need to start trials as soon as the lab gives us a green light on biocompatibility. Otherwise, some of the cases, especially the male ones, will become permanent and will then require surgical correction."
The Assistant Headmaster looked around the conference room. Everyone had the same reservations he had about the alcohol requirement. "Conrad?" he asked Mr. Filbert, house parent of Twain. "What do you think?"
"Either we give a bunch of students a small dose of alcohol under medical supervision," he said, "or we have a bunch of boys with boobs." He frowned. "Do we really have a choice?"
Turner looked at Bumsfeld. "When you give us the go, Doyle can start trials."
"We've tested as much as we can," Bumsfeld assured the assembled team. "It's as ready for trials as it's ever going to be."
"Hopefully we'll have a better outcome than the last thing that was tested in your lab," Mr. Filbert commented dryly.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – Late Afternoon
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Deeming it unprofessional to run in a business suit, Robert Turner walked with a determined and quick pace through the main corridor of Doyle. Some students didn't recognize him and might have been slow to get out of his way, but Turner wasn't one to dwell on titles or formalities. He was in Doyle, ergo they were probably patients who had higher need to be in the building, so he dodged the staff and the students. It was how he did business.
Dr. Rascomb wasn't in his office, which didn't surprise the Assistant Headmaster. The medical center was very busy tending to the 'boob crisis' in addition to their normal workload. Dr. Gutierrez, however, was present, enjoying a cup of coffee, which, given the frenetic pace of things around Doyle, might have been her first break of the day.
"Coffee in the staff break room?" Robert asked simply. The doctor didn't interrupt her sip of the hot black liquid, but merely nodded. "I'll be back in a sec."
As he walked back to Rascomb's office, coffee cup in hand, Robert saw the doctor come around a corner, nearly running. "Sorry I'm late," Rascomb said as he neared Turner. The duo walked into the office, where they sat in an informal conversation group as opposed to the formal desk area.
"Your call sounded ... urgent," Robert began hesitantly. "I hope it's not more bad news."
Rascomb shook his head vigorously. "No, not at all. I think it may finally be good news! Apart from minor side effects, it looks like the chemical is working in seven of our ten test subjects."
Turner hesitated. "Define minor side effects," he asked cautiously.
"Headache, rash, slight tingling sensation on the extremities." He half-smiled. "Seven of the test group already show signs of size reduction."
Turner perked up. "Size reduction? With minimal side effects?"
Rascomb nodded, as did Dr. Gutierrez. "It's slow, but there is noticeable size reduction."
"And the alcohol?"
Dr. Gutierrez smirked. "It's low enough that five male and two female patients don't even seem to notice. One male got sleepy. One's telling all the dirty limericks and jokes he knows in a really bad English accent, while the last one has been regaling the staff with an off-key rendition of the 'Drunken Sailor' sea shanty!" She rolled her eyes. "Do you know there are more than twenty verses of that damned song?" she asked with an exasperated tone. "Not counting the ones he's making up about Whateley students!"
"So that's progress?" Turner asked hopefully, then he turned to Dr. Gutierrez. "Not the singing, I mean."
"I just sent them down for scans and tissue samples, so we'll know in an hour or so," Rascomb answered.
"And the others?" Turner was concerned about the three that weren't shrinking.
"One isn't reacting to the drug so far, but we're keeping him on it. One female patient is non-responsive, but she's rated as an exemplar, so we're not sure if her BIT is keeping her at her increased size. The third case is a male patient whose breast swelling is still increasing, and had already begun cell division and maturation. We've withdrawn him from the test since the drug has no effect, and we've switched him to a medication which is used to halt macromastia growth in the hope that will stabilize his size."
"Seventy percent?" Turner noted. "Not great, but not bad for an experimental protocol."
"We don't know how many would be self-resolving, though," Gutierrez responded. "Of the control group, which has eight female and two male patients, three are reducing in size, five are unaffected, one is still growing, and one has undergone cell division and maturation."
"Okay," Turner decided. "Continue to monitor ...."
"We need to start them on the drug as quickly as we can, at least the boys," Dr. Rascomb interrupted. "Based on what we've seen so far, there's at least a ten percent chance that the changes will become permanent, mature breasts."
"Drs. Markham, Cody, and Bellows agree with that assessment because of potential psychological harm if they have to wait for surgical correction."
Turner closed his eyes, shaking his head slowly. He didn't like having to make on-the-spot decisions with these types of consequences, preferring instead to gather more data and then carefully weigh the pros and cons. "Your estimation of health risk?"
"So far, we haven't seen anything serious, but that's not to say we won't," Dr. Gutierrez replied honestly.
"You also need to know that we're limited in our supply, because the lab can only synthesize and purify so much at a time," Rascomb reminded the Assistant Headmaster.
"Get them started as quickly as you can. Use your best judgment to prioritize cases."
Dr. Gutierrez looked at Dr. Rascomb. "Males first, except for cases of extreme macromastia?"
Dr. Rascomb nodded. "Rank it by size increase and time of diagnosis. The earlier cases appear to have the greatest chance of permanence."
"I'll let you make the contacts," Turner added, "or you might have a stampede on your hands."
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – Late afternoon
Holbrook Arena Annex, Whateley Academy
Dr. Janosic sighed before pushing open the door to the main pool. The previous two days had been extremely weird, and he knew that if he expected normal, or as near normal as could be expected at Whateley, he was going to be surprised yet again.
The girls were lined up for roll call, as were all the 'unaffected' boys. Those boys who had the boob syndrome were, unsurprisingly, not present. After taking roll, Janosic ordered the swimmers into the pool, and then he pushed open the boys' locker room door a crack. "Get out here."
* * * * *
Inside the locker room, one boy was still sitting on a bench, looking down to avoid the gazes of the others. "Come on," one of the older boys pleaded with him. "We all agreed."
"But ... this is embarrassing!" the sitting boy mumbled.
"No, what was embarrassing was how they tried to humiliate us yesterday!"
"Yeah," another chimed in. "We do this and we show them that we're not going to take crap from any of them!"
"It's too late to chicken out now," another added. He held a sports-bra type swim top out of reach of the reluctant sitting boy.
"Give it back!" the sitting boy griped, making a futile grab for the top.
"You can do it," another encouraged. "We're all in this together. If we all do it together, they won't pick on one of us!"
"Yeah! If we show them we don't give a shit, that we're making a game out of it, there's no fun in harassing or teasing any of us, and they'll just drop it!"
"Coach is getting impatient, too!"
The sitting boy glared around the locker room at the other boys, then he sighed. "Okay," he finally agreed. "But if I get crap over this ...."
"If you do, we all do!" one of the upperclassmen declared.
* * * * *
Coach pushed open the door again. "Get out ...." His voice cut off as the 'affected' boys marched out, and his jaw dropped in disbelief. In the pool, the girls all stopped and gawked, and while they started snickering, those chuckles died out as the boys with boobs stood by the side of the pool, all wearing bikini tops with their swim trunks. And not just any bikinis tops, but bright, colorful tops, as if to make a statement of defiance against ridicule.
At any other time, Janosic might have smiled proudly as the boys stood up to being bullied, but it had been a long couple of days. This situation was affecting kids all over campus, and while Doyle and the labs worked on a solution, the administration had given teachers the very general guideline of 'keep things normal' and 'keep the kids busy', probably thinking that keeping them busy would make everyone ignore the changes - as if anyone in the pool could ignore that some boys had boobs and were wearing skimpy bikini tops! In other classes, where the kids wore uniforms and jackets and sweaters, much of the 'development' could be hidden, but not in the swimming pool. Of all the teachers, Janosic figured that he had one of the biggest challenges
"Get in the water and start your laps!" Coach ordered, flinching as the row of bikini-clad boys marched smartly to the pool's edge, and practically as one, dove in, most losing their tops in the process. But instead of being embarrassed, they were making sport of putting their bikinis back on, splashing and occasionally flashing boob at the shocked boys and girls in a deliberate demonstration that they would not be bullied or embarrassed by their classmates.
Janosic knew that there was both good and bad in the boys' display. On the one hand, they were working together, standing up to harassment, and trying to make sport of a bad situation. On the other hand, this was no doubt adding to a massive pile of psychological confusion the boys were feeling. If a solution wasn't found quickly, he and every other teacher knew that this entire situation was going to explode, one way or another, into a messy heap of angst-ridden teenage emotions and trauma.
Coach shook his head at the spectacle. "Watch them," he muttered to one of the lifeguards. "I've got another headache."
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – Evening
Lab Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Komiko Onishi walked cautiously through the unfamiliar tunnels of the lab-coat crew. It was late, she wasn't familiar with the tunnels, and she wondered why her friend had summoned her down here.
<Komiko,> a voice called in Japanese from a side tunnel.
The girl halted, then turned slowly and peered into the darkness that was an unlit side tunnel. <Sumika?> she asked hesitantly, ready to bolt if it wasn't her friend.
<Yes. Come over here. We don't want to be seen by a lot of people!> Sumika directed.
Komiko glanced about, and when she'd reassured herself that no-one was watching, she slipped into the side tunnel, her heart racing with fear. <What's so important?>
<Does your new bra feel loose this afternoon?> Sumika asked cryptically.
Komiko thought a moment. <Yes, it does. What does that mean?>
<I heard my cottage fixer talking this afternoon,> Sumika replied. <The chocolate is definitely the cause, but in many cases, after one stops eating chocolate, the effects wear off.>
Komiko's eyes widened. <So we're in that group? Our boobs will get smaller again?>
Sumika frowned. <Yes, unfortunately. So I asked the fixer to find us more chocolate, so we can keep big boobs!> She shook her head. <She said no, she wouldn't help me with that.>
<So what are we going to do?>
<Nakano Kosuke is a gadgeteer. He is almost always in the labs. So I asked him ...,> Sumika began.
<You mean you bribed him!> Komiko shot back. <Everyone knows he's infatuated with Laura-san.>
Sumika chuckled. <Okay, so I bribed him. A few kisses, a few hints of some future cuddling, and he told me everything he knows about the chocolate project. Did you know that one of the byproducts of their manufacturing is cocoa butter.>
<And cocoa butter is widely used in cosmetics and lotions,> Sumika added.
<Laura-san and her group aren't making cosmetics or lotions.>
<No, but they sold the cocoa butter they had to someone who is experimenting with cosmetics,> Sumika said boldly. <Tens of kilograms of cocoa butter.>
<That would last quite a while,> Komiko observed.
<Longer. Kosuke thinks that it would be better absorbed through the skin, and less of the active chemicals would be lost in the liver. So it would be far more effective.>
<So why are we here instead of searching for this cosmetic devisor?> Komiko asked.
<Because an intermediary already made contact, and we're here to pay and take delivery of the entire supply of the devisor cocoa butter,> Sumika announced proudly. <And I need you to help pay and to help carry it to a storage location I have arranged.>
Komiko grinned. <Did you think I wouldn't go along with this plan?>
<Of course not,> Sumika answered with a grin. <Let's go get our miracle boob enhancing cocoa butter!>
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – Late Evening
Biodevisor Labs, Whateley Academy
Strangely, Horace found the lights in his lab off when he opened the door. He could have sworn he'd left them on. He always left them on.
As he turned toward the light switch, he sensed motion behind him, and the door swung shut with a loud slam. At the same time, the lights snapped on.
Horace gawked at a large inky figure in front of him; everyone knew Black Hole, and how he was not above violence.
"Good timing, Horace," a voice said behind him. "We just stopped by to have a word with you, but you weren't here. We were just about to leave when, by some coincidence, you just happened to return!"
"Oh, hey, Elijah," Horace said as he turned around to face the speaker. His first guess, as the boys around him slowly closed in, was that he had at least ten visitors. He also noticed that they all had boobs, and none of them looked very happy. "What can I do for you?"
"You can start by answering a simple question," Earl Terry, a junior who seemed to be even more afflicted than some of his compatriots.
"Sure. What do you want to know?" Horace was terrified; he'd experienced a small dose of anger and intimidation from the 'affected boys', beginning mere moments after that stupid announcement the previous evening had all but named him, Lori, and Laura as the culprits behind the 'boob plague'. He'd planned on eating breakfast in Crystal Hall, but seeing the reception that Laura received in line ahead of him, he wisely opted for a to-go breakfast bag and made a hasty retreat. In classes, there had been some expressions of anger and a few veiled threats, and he'd skipped lunch entirely, not daring to show his face in the cafeteria.
"Why is it that you, one of the guys making that chocolate, aren't affected, but all of us are?"
"Yeah," Black Hole growled. "Unless maybe you knew what it would do and avoided it?"
"I don't like chocolate that much," Horace protested weakly. He knew the small mob wouldn't believe him, despite the truth of his statement.
"What did you plan, Horace?" another boy snarled. "Some twisted revenge plot, and you had to dose a lot of innocent people to cover your tracks?"
"Trying to shift some of the blame to Trash Panda and Smurf-Girl?" Elijah queried, stepping toward the boy and closing the circle around him.
"Don't call her Trash Panda!" Horace protested angrily. "That's not her name!"
"Ooh, feelings for her? Was she part of the plot?"
"Is this maybe revenge on her part that you're helping carry out?"
Horace swallowed hard, knowing that these boys weren't going to believe him, no matter what he said. "It was an accident!" He had to try to explain the circumstances anyway. "There was a bug in the lab's testing system! Honest, we didn't know that it would cause this!" He was tensed up, waiting for a blow to strike him from behind, expecting a pummeling from the angry mini-mob.
"You expect us to believe this was all a weird accident?" Elijah asked, strangely calm.
"That's what happened!" Horace whimpered. "I swear! It wasn't on purpose!"
"Well, if it was an accident" Elijah said, "it wouldn't be right for us to beat you senseless."
"Besides," Black Hole added, "with security watching you three, it'd get noticed, and someone would blame us."
"So you can prove your innocence," Elijah was grinning. From his pocket, he pulled out a bar wrapped in an all-too-familiar wrapping and logo. "Eat it."
"I don't like chocolate that much!" Horace tried to protest.
"And these." "And mine. "Here's two more."
Horace gawked as the angry crowd around him produced nearly two dozen Punk Pink Penguin candy bars, demanding that he demonstrate his remorse for the accident by deliberately joining the ranks of the 'boob boys'.
Feeling sick already, Horace took the bar from Elijah, and after unwrapping it slowly, he put it to his mouth and took a bite, while the guys around him grinned wickedly. He knew that he was going to feel ill from all the sweets he was being coerced into eatingbut that was better than the alternative of a severe beat-down. As he chewed and swallowed the confection, he wondered just how big of boobs this much chocolate was going to give him.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 – Late Evening
Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
On one of the freshmen wings of the cottage, Ike Mackay looked up sharply when the door opened, but relaxed again when he recognized his roommate Tim. The moment the roommate closed the door behind himself, he straightened, stretching a bit as he did so and ignoring the unfamiliar bouncing and swaying on his chest.
"Hey," Ike greeted his roommate simply, likewise relaxing a bit. Like his roommate, he, too, had the effects of the Punk Pink Penguin chocolate within his shirt.
"Long day," Tim said absently as he peeled off his sweater. "I think I'm going to just shower and go to bed."
Despite trying to study, Ike couldn't help but look as Tim undressed, especially when he slipped his shirt off, revealing that he was wearing a bra, as directed by the house-parents and administration. "I hate this thing!" Tim commented unnecessarily as he looked down at the constricting female garment.
"Yeah," Ike agreed. "Me, too."
Tim looked up at his roommate. "Hey! Quit staring at me, you pervert!" he snapped angrily.
"Sorry," Ike apologized quickly as he forced himself to look away. "It's just ...."
The other boy paused, looking down again. Like any normal teenage boy, he was fascinated by boobs; even a bra was an erotic garment when it concealed big breasts. Now he had both.
"It's ...," Ike tried to continue, but the words wouldn't come. "Um, have you ever, um, you know ...?" he asked as he gazed down at his own boobs.
"What?" Tim asked, startled by the question. "Um, you know - hasn't everyone?"
Ike winced. "I wasn't ... I was kind of ... awkward. I wasn't one of the ... popular kids," he admitted. "Girls ... kind of ignored me."
Tim gawked at his roommate's admission. "Um, me, too," he finally admitted. "I used to be fat and ... awkward. Girls wouldn't, you know ... pay any attention to me. I got teased a lot."
Ike looked back at his roommate. "Um, I suppose ... you kind of wanted to ... stare at me sometimes, too?" The other boy blushed bright red, answering Ike's question. "Maybe ...."
"Maybe what?" Tim asked, startled and a little alarmed.
"Maybe ... we should, I mean, before we get an antidote, I mean, um ...."
Tim's eyes widened. "You mean ... see what it's like ... I mean, to ... to touch real boobs?" He gawked for a bit. "Um, that's kind of weird, isn't it?"
"But you're curious, aren't you? I mean, I am ... kind of."
Tim thought a few moments, then he looked at his roommate. "If you take your shirt off," he suggested.
With a worried expression, Ike stood up and slowly peeled off his own shirt, exposing his own bra, blushing as he did so.
"Wow! That's ... um," Tim stammered. "That's a ... nice bra!"
Ike's embarrassment rose. "The bookstore was out of plain ones," he said defensively, looking down with annoyance at the lacy demi-bra he'd been forced into.
"Wow! That makes your ... boobs ... look bigger!" Tim hesitantly reached out toward Ike's boobs and bra. For his part, Ike flinched back a bit, but then his own curiosity about what it might feel like to have boobs stopped him. He closed his eyes and forced himself to stand firm as his roommate began to feel him up. To his surprise, it felt kind of nice. He reached up and did the same to Tim, surprised at how soft his roommate's boobs were.
After several minutes of hesitant exploration of each other's boobs, Ike pulled back from his roommate. "That's enough. It's too weird."
"And we shall never speak of this again," Tim added emphatically.
Ike nodded. "Agreed."
Thursday, October 20, 2016 – After Lunch
Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
<Hi, sis!> Terese Vitesse spoke into the video-conferencing app on her smart phone.
<Tessa! How are you doing?> Adalie, her older sister and Whateley alum, asked. Concern was writ large on Adalie's features. <We heard that there was some kind of plague on campus.>
Tessa laughed. <No, no. It was no plague. There was some devisor chocolate that had interesting side effects.>
Adalie's eyes opened in surprise. <You weren't affected, were you? Devisor stuff is dangerous! My friend's significant other, Reach ....>
Tessa sighed and shrugged. <You've told me,> she cut off her sister. <Many times. Don't worry. The effects were ... harmless. Mostly.>
Adalie gawked at Tessa's words. <What do you mean? Were you affected?>
<Yes,> Tessa replied. She backed up a bit and turned side-to-side, showing off her new profile. <See the results?>
<Your ... your boobs!> Adalie cried out. <They're ... very big! Is it a tumor or something? Have the doctors ...?> Clearly, she was worried about her little sister.
<I'm fine! The doctors have checked out everyone who was affected. It's normal breast tissue! There is no danger,> Tessa assured her worried sister.
<Is it temporary?>
Tessa chuckled. <It would have been, if I had taken the antidote. But I decided that I liked the ... improvement! I didn't take the antidote when they offered it. Several girls didn't.> She saw the horrified expression of concern on her sister's face, which also included a bit of envy. Like many typical French girls, Adalie and her sisters hadn't been overly endowed. Now, Tessa had bigger boobs than her older sister by a couple of cup sizes, at least before Adalie started nursing her baby.
Thursday, October 20, 2016 – After Lunch
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
With tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, Adam Moreno looked helplessly at Dr. Gutierrez. "Why didn't it work?" he practically begged for an explanation.
Dr. Gutierrez shook her head. "The antidote doesn't work on some people. On others, if it's been too long, some changes take place which makes the antidote ineffective."
"I need another dose!" Adam said plaintively. "A bigger dose."
"Adam," Dr. Gutierrez said solemnly, "it's not going to work."
"It has to work!" Adam pleaded. "Give me another dose, please!"
Dr. Gutierrez punched a few keys on her computer keyboard, then turned the monitor toward the distressed boy. "This is what the changes look like in early stage," she noted, pointing at an enlarged picture from one of many biopsies Doyle had done over the past few days. "The fat cells which are normally present become massively enlarged, which accounts for the size increase."
Adam looked at the doctor, nodding warily. He was becoming aware that the doctor was trying to tell him why the antidote didn't work on him, and he was rather terrified of hearing that explanation because it meant that he couldn't change back.
The doctor stepped through some more pictures, showing how the condition progressed, explaining as she went. She made it clear what stage the antidote ceased to be effective. Then she showed Adam a picture of his own biopsy.
"You're in late stage three," she told the boy. "No matter how much antidote we give you now, these tissues will not go away."
"I don't want boobs!" Adam wailed, losing his fight against tears as he stared down at his E-cup breasts.
"You aren't the only boy in this position," Dr. Gutierrez explained to him. "We are arranging to have cosmetic surgeons come to remediate this condition for you and for all who the antidote didn't work for. The first surgeon should be here tomorrow afternoon for consultations. We'll work with him to get the surgeries schedule as quickly as possible. There are enough cases that it may take several days, possibly up to a couple of weeks, to get all the surgeries done."
"What am I supposed to do until then? I'm a freak! Everyone's going to make fun of me!" Adam sobbed.
"The administration is making arrangements to help you and anyone else who needs it. I don't know their plans, because I'm only dealing with the medical aspects. In the meantime, I'm sending you to a counselor," Dr. Gutierrez said. "And to minimize trauma to your skin, I want you to wear a compression T-shirt at all times. That will help minimize the visual size, as well."
Thursday, October 20, 2016 – afternoon
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Dr. Betty Markham gestured for her patient to sit, and then took her own seat. "So, what's on your mind that needs an extra session?" she asked her patient.
Tanya Wright sat in a chair with a very morose expression. She normally saw Dr. Markham every two or three weeks to talk about her mother and that loss, but this was an unscheduled session with the psychiatrist.
"It's ... all this chocolate stuff," Tanya griped, sounding quite bitter.
"Ah," Dr. Markham noted as she typed on her tablet. "You would be referring to the epidemic of ... breast growth?"
"Yeah. It's not fair!" Tanya complained bitterly.
"You are only an exemplar-two," Dr. Markham reminded her patient. "It will take time for you to grow into your BIT."
"But other exemplar girls have had the chocolate, and they've grown!" Tanya was near tears. "I'm sick of having a 'boyish' figure! It's not fair! I ate more chocolate than anyone in our group! Why couldn't I grow, too?"
"As I understand it," Dr. Markham spoke calmly to reassure her patient, "not everyone is affected by the chocolate."
"Even Koichi and Jimmy grew boobs! Two guys in my team have bigger boobs than I do!" Tanya was near tears. "Laura went up three sizes to a D-cup! Bianca grew! Erica and Bailey grew! Callie grew two cup sizes! The only reason Morgana didn't is that she was in Doyle with a burnout and didn't eat any chocolate!"
"Tanya, you're completely female. Your breasts will grow."
"I saw a boy who's huge! He's got to be at least an F-cup! A boy with F-cup. Or bigger! And I have ... I barely need a training bra!" Tanya sobbed.
"Do you feel like a boy?" Dr. Markham asked.
"Do you feel like a boy?" the doctor repeated.
Tanya gawked at her, then thought a bit. "No, I guess not," she admitted slowly. "After what happened with Callie, it's ... it's like all the middle-ground was gone. We had to choose sides. And I know which side I'm on. I'm a girl."
"What makes a girl? What's on the outside, or what's on the inside?"
Tanya sighed. "But it's ... it's the outside that boys notice! It's the outside that makes them know you're a girl!" She sighed once more. "When they found out it was the chocolate," she admitted after a long hesitation, "Laura got me a bunch of candy bars." She noticed Dr. Markham peering over the top of her reading glasses at her. "We both knew it was wrong, but I had to try!"
"And nothing! Nada! Zero, zip, zilch!" Tanya cried.
Dr. Markham decided to try a different tack. "What does it say about you that you have a friend who's willing to risk getting in serious trouble to help you?" Tanya gawked at her. "Does Laura treat you as a girl, or as a boy?"
"As ... as a girl."
"And if she thought you were a boy, would she have taken a risk to help you try to grow breasts?" She watched as the thoughts sank into Tanya's mind. "Your friends know you're a girl. They treat you as a girl. They're willing to risk serious trouble to help you feel more like a girl."
The girl sat silently for a moment. "I guess."
"And I very obviously misunderstood what you said Laura did."
Thursday, October 20, 2016 – Afternoon
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
"Have a seat," Dr. Ophelia Tenant said to Cederic Lyons as she invited the boy into his office. Worryingly to the boy, Dr. Bellows was already waiting in her office to join the discussion, which did not bode well for him.
"What's going on?" Cederic asked, perplexed and a little fearful. He'd been to Doyle after the antidote didn't work on him, and then he'd been sent to the power testing labs, where the staff had run almost as many experiments as he'd encountered when he'd gotten his first power test after manifesting. Now he was back in Doyle, still without any answers. "Can you tell me why the antidote didn't work? No-one is telling me anything!"
"When the antidote didn't work," Dr. Tenant admitted, casting a quick glance at Dr. Bellows, "we wanted to see if the powers labs could confirm our suspicions."
Dr. Tenant glanced at Dr. Bellows again. She wished that she didn't have to be the bearer of bad news, but that was part of the medical profession. It was also why Dr. Bellows was present. "There are a few conditions that prevent the antidote from working," Dr. Tenant began to explain. "If the condition is at stage two or later, it won't work."
"Yeah, they told all of us that," Cederic said impatiently. He wanted answers, not a repeat of what all the affected students had already been told.
"The other reason we know is that exemplars resist the antidote because of their body image template," Dr. Tenant continued.
"I'm not an exemplar," Cedric retorted.
"Ah, that's not what the powers testing report says," Dr. Tenant said to the boy. "They found that your strength and reflexes are currently rated at exemplar three," she said. "So you have a BIT."
"But ... I was tested!" Cedric protested. "I'm not an exemplar! I don't have a BIT!"
"We'll be continuing medical and powers tests until we're certain," Dr. Tenant informed the unhappy boy, "but the powers lab's first guess is that when your original manifestation somehow got 'stuck'. The chocolate apparently unstuck it so that your exemplar trait and BIT emerged. It's possible that your new exemplar rating will end up higher as well."
"But ... does that mean my BIT has ... has boobs?" Cedric stammered, alarmed at what the doctor seemed to be implying.
"The internal scans we did show some changes starting in your internal organs as well," Dr. Tenant added, cautiously. "Your BIT is very likely ... female."
"What?" Cedric gawked in horrified astonishment at the doctor's words. "I can't have a female BIT!" he cried out. "I'm a boy!"
Dr. Tenant shook her head. "We'll continue to observe you for other changes, of course. In the meantime, I want you to go with Dr. Bellows to talk about what's may be happening to you."
She waited until the counselor and the boy left, then she began typing a report, including notes that the powers testing labs had sent. She knew that Dr. Bellows would help the young man understand that he wasn't the first, nor would he be the last male mutant to turn female, and it wasn't the end of the world. That was his job, not hers.
Thursday, October 20, 2016 – Dinner
Outside Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Because the antidote was calming passions, Laura walked with only Bailey toward Crystal Hall, where they were meeting the remainder of the M3 coterie. It was a pleasant enough day for a walk, too. The blue girl still paid attention to what was around her, but she was less worried.
"You!" came a very angry cry as the pair came around the corner of Schuster toward the cafeteria entrance. Laura spun toward the noise just in time to see a fast-moving blur smash into her, knocking her down.
"You ruined my life!" her attacker screamed as he punched at her. His attack was fast and quite furious, and though she dodged and deflected his strikes, the boy was landing some hard blows because his weight pinned her body and one arm to the ground. "It's your fault!" the attacker continued to yell as he continued to try to hit the girl. "I don't want to be a girl! You ruined my life!"
After a stunned moment, Bailey jumped into the fray, but because she knew she was inexperienced, she was mostly trying to grab the boy's arms and stop or slow his attack. As she tried to grasp an arm, she recognized the attacker as Cedric Lyons, a freshman from Melville cottage. She was managing to interfere with him somewhat, but he was attacking Laura like a madman, ignoring everything except his intent to seriously hurt her.
It took only moments for campus security to reach the scene because they were still watching for trouble associated with Laura, Lori, and Horace. The two officers grabbed at the boy, quickly controlling his flailing fists and pinning him in a helpless position. After they had him safely in restraints, one of the officers turned to help Laura up from the ground.
Bailey gasped as Laura stood; her lip was split open, one eye was already showing massive bruising, and one cheek was a little misshapen, probably due to swelling from trauma. Blood from her nose and lip was splattered all over her face and her sweater, and she looked dazed from the repeated blows that had been inflicted on her.
"Can you walk to Doyle, or do you want me to get a cart?" the officer asked Laura. He pulled a cloth from his jacket and gave it to Bailey to help wipe some of the blood off the girl.
"I ... I can walk," Laura said weakly, staggering enough that Bailey had to steady her.
The officer shook his head. "I'm calling for a cart." By that point, two other officers had arrived, and they were leading Cedric away.
A few minutes later, Laura was wheeled into the Doyle emergency room, and Dr. Gutierrez was examining her injuries. A quick x-ray showed that one cheekbone, the one that Bailey thought looked odd, was broken. The opposite side was already showing signs of a major black eye, as well, and her nose was broken. She was going to have numerous other bruises as well; some spots on her face, neck, and shoulders were already showing some swelling.
With the confidence that Laura was getting proper care, and with her insistence that she report the event to her teammates so they wouldn't panic at the rumors that were sure to be spreading, Bailey walked quickly back to the cafeteria.
Laura lay on the examining table, with an ice pack covering her cheek and nose, thinking about the attack. No matter what anyone said, Laura knew that the boy was right, that she played a key part in developing the chocolate that he'd said had ruined his life. Without the adrenaline rush in her system, she considered his words, gasping when she recalled that he'd said that he didn't want to be a girl. Did that mean that the chocolate was making him change even more than most? Did the chocolate have additional side effects that could change a boy into a girl? How many others might suffer due to her negligence?
After many minutes, during which Laura convinced herself even more of her guilt in Cedric's change, Dr. Ophelia Tenant came in. "How are you feeling?" she asked pleasantly.
"Sore," Laura replied morosely.
Laura shook her head sadly. "Cedric attacked me because the chocolate affected him," she replied. "He said I ruined his life." She looked up at the doctor. "Are his changes some of the permanent ones?"
Ophelia Tenant thought about the medical privacy laws on the one hand, and about the distress which could have led to an attack on the other. "I can't tell you that," she said. "But, everyone knows that the breast growth is sometimes permanent, right?"
Laura nodded, thinking she understood. "He said he doesn't want to be a girl," Laura reported. "Did ... did my ... our ... chocolate ... do that to him?"
"I can't tell you," the doctor repeated. "Speaking hypothetically, if someone had a specific type of change of the type that you understand, do you think it would cause that person some significant distress?"
Laura digested what Dr. Tenant was hinting to her. "So it is my fault," she cried, starting to feel overwhelming guilt.
"No, it isn't. There are other factors involved here," Dr. Tenant replied in an attempt to calm the girl. "I can tell you very confidently that it is not your fault." She put on a smile. "Now let's do some healing so you can get back to the cafeteria for dinner."
Fifteen minutes later, Laura walked out of the examining room to the ER waiting room, where Bianca, Morgana, Tanya, and Bailey were nervously waiting. Immediately, they were on their feet bombarding her with questions. Before they could depart, Mrs. Cody came running into the waiting room, straight to Laura. She wrapped the girl in a hug, like a worried parent embracing an injured child. Dr. Barton appeared a minute after Mrs. Cody, and he, too, looked extremely relieved that Laura appeared relatively uninjured.
The two adults flanked Laura as they walked back toward Doyle. Somehow, they'd already gotten reports of what had happened, and while it was obvious they knew more than they were saying, they didn't offer much explanation, but continued to insist that what happened to Cedric was not her fault. With their constant reassurance, which continued through the food line and through most of dinner at the M3 table, Laura's sense of guilt over what had happened to the boy was reduced but not eliminated, even with repeated assurances that what happened to the boy was something that was going to happen to him sooner or later and she couldn't have either caused it or stopped it.
With all the comments from the adults and the support of her teammates, Laura was no longer wallowing in self-recrimination. Despite that, she slept very fitfully, her sleep interrupted by nightmares of bizarre and permanent changes the chocolate had caused others.
Friday, October 14, 2016 – Late Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Dr. Mazarin, having just returned from his trip to New York, looked around the conference room. "What's the current situation?" he asked simply. "I read yesterday's reports on the plane, so let's just focus on new developments."
"The antidote is working as well as we can expect," Dr. Ophelia Tenant reported. Mazarin correctly interpreted her presence as the only representative from Doyle to indicate that, at least to the medical center, the worst of the crisis was over. "Of the cases that were in stage 1, over ninety percent responded favorably. Those in later stages, however, did not respond to the antidote. We have eight young men and fifteen young ladies with later-stage cases and who are not exemplars. These cases will require corrective surgery. Two of the male and four of the female cases have enlargement sufficient to cause severe psychological or physical complications, and of course, they will have priority for immediate attention. The other eleven female cases have rejected the antidote and corrective surgery."
"Eleven rejected surgery?" Robert Turner asked.
Dr. Tenant smirked. "Fortunately, most of the cases did not progress to the later, permanent stage. Many of these teenage girls would welcome an increase in breast size, so for those in later-stage syndrome, it's understandable that they would turn down correction. I suspect, though, that many of those now declining treatment will in the future seek reduction surgery." She shrugged. "Since it's not life-threatening, we have no reason to force them to have the corrective procedure."
"The counselors agree that the girls have the option of having surgery or not," Dr. Markham commented. "If any who decline it now require surgery later due to physical discomfort reasons, we'll have to deal with it."
"For the young men, priority for surgery is mainly for psychological reasons," Dr. Tenant added unnecessarily. "All of them have been referred for counseling, of course. Of the priority cases, one boy measures as a G-cup; the other priority case is a D-cup. The girls needing immediate attention are G-cup and up, including one measure at N-cup." She paused when practically everyone in the room goggled at the sizes she'd discussed. "And we have two ... complicated ... cases. Both male. Cedric Lyons and Shannon Dougherty."
Dr. Powell from the testing labs nodded. "Mr. Lyons now tests as an exemplar, and we believe he now has a BIT which is evidently female."
"Not just female," Dr. Tenant reported. "A CT-scan this afternoon showed signs that a tail is starting to develop. Based on a comparison of bone structure, we believe that he will ultimately have feline GSD."
"A kitty-girl?" Turner asked. Dr. Tenant confirmed his guess with a nod.
"And Mr. Dougherty's case?"
"His case appears - so far - to be just a gender change. We'll keep watching, of course." She leaned back a bit, signaling that she was done with her verbal report.
Mazarin nodded his understanding of the medical report. "Security?"
"We had a security incident last evening just before dinner," Sam Everheart stated. "Mr. Lyons attacked Ms. Samuels, rather violently blaming her for his change. He's in custody ..."
"With psychological counseling," Dr. Tenant added.
"And Ms. Samuels was treated at Doyle for broken facial bones, bruising, and contusions."
Mazarin winced. The rules on vigilantism were clear, but he could also understand that Mr. Lyons was suffering severe psychological trauma. "Ms. Claire?" he asked.
"I would suggest that we put consideration of this on hold pending more counseling and medical testing?" she offered.
"I think that's a wise course of action," Mazarin noted. "Anything else?" Everheart shook her head.
"I have a rather problematic case," said Mrs. Boyce, one of the three Melville house-parents. "One of my boys hasn't replied to three calls to get a dose of the antidote."
Dr. Tenant shook her head. "Has he been to Doyle? Is he on our case list?"
Mrs. Boyce shook her head. "I don't think so. He's been hiding out and avoiding everyone."
Dr. Tenant closed her eyes, sighing as she shook her head. "He's probably a stage three by now, so the antidote probably won't help now."
"Sam, have security deliver him to Doyle for examination," Mazarin ordered.
"I'd suggest psychological examination as well," Dr. Tenant noted.
The rest of the reports were boring enough to convince Mazarin and Turner that the daily face-to-face task force meetings were no longer necessary. The labs had finally produced enough of the precious antidote that they could stockpile some - just in case. The investigation into the chocolate was under sufficient security to satisfy Dr. Mazarin. The powers labs had little to add except ongoing investigation into whether any powers or mutant characteristics affected vulnerability to the devisor chocolate.
"At least this wasn't as bad the 2004 breast-growth serum that made girls larger only because it caused them to start lactating," Mr. Bumsfeld reported with a chuckle.
"Or the sunblock that turned everyone's skin purple," Dr. Tenant added.
"Or that fur virus?" He shook his head. "That was a helluva mess!"
"Don't forget the body wash that turned into long-lasting perfume!" Dr. Tenant laughed. "Filbert complained that Twain smelled like a French whorehouse for a month!"
Mazarin gawked at the two of them, looking back and forth in the hope of some sign that they were pulling his leg.
The Assistant Headmaster, though, had once been a Whateley student. "They're not kidding," he informed the Headmaster, then he shrugged. "You get used to it."
Saturday, October 22, 2016 – Breakfast
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Despite still getting disapproving glares from some of the boys, Laura didn't feel quite as nervous walking into the cafeteria because the antidote had proven quite effective in most cases, with most of the students no longer showing any breast swelling. The presence of Tanya, Erica, and Bailey helped her sense of security, as did the still-enhanced security detail.
As the girls stood in line waiting, they couldn't help but overhear a small gaggle of boys laughing and joking around. What surprised them was that the boys were making extreme light of their brief foray into the world of hooters. Natural competitive male egos were twisted to include who had the bigger temporary boobs. Their comments ranged from which girls were jealous because a boy was more endowed, how they'd rock low-cut shirts if it was summertime, all the way to how 'easy' it was for them to deal with wearing a bra.
Erica's eye-rolling reaction was typical of the girls who could hear their joking. "I bet they're compensating for being embarrassment by the whole thing," she noted.
Laura chuckled. "Of course they are! They were probably the biggest whiners and complainers."
"I bet half of them never set foot outside their rooms," Bailey commented. "Now they've got to show that they're really cool and it didn't faze them at all."
"Good morning, Laura-chan!" a heavily-accented girl's voice turned Laura's attention away from the annoying boys.
"Oh, hi, Sumika, Komiko," Laura greeted the two Japanese girls who'd approached. "Uh, konichiwa?" she said hesitantly, partially bowing in what she hoped was a respectful Japanese greeting.
The two girls smiled at the way Laura was practicing Japanese customs, and they gave a small bow in return. "Konichiwa," the two replied in almost perfect unison.
"Uh ...." Laura gawked at the two, because when they bowed, two veritable gorges of cleavage showed through the unbuttoned tops of their blouses. "Uh, you're ... um ...." she stammered.
The two Japanese girls glanced at each other and giggled, then looked down at their own massively-endowed chests and giggled some more. "We have some ... growth," Sumika confirmed with a huge grin.
Komiko nodded enthusiastically. "Bigger than many Americajin girls! Now ... boys notice us first!" Clearly the two were reveling in newfound attention from the large number of teenage males who were naturally attracted to big boobs.
"But ... the antidote? Didn't you take that? And ... the effects wear off!" Laura commented, slack-jawed at what she guessed were at least E and F cups on the two petite girls.
Both girls exchanged a giggling glance. "We ... not take antidote," Sumika admitted with another glance at Komiko. "And ... not reduce size!"
Laura noticed the 'knowing' glances the two girls exchanged and couldn't help but wonder if they had some secret between them. Perhaps they'd gotten a stash of chocolate to maintain their size? Maybe on Asian girls, the side effect didn't wear off?
"Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita!" Komiko said enthusiastically.
"Thank you for ... boob-grow chocolate!" Sumika added just as exuberantly. "We ... see you tomorrow for anime movie?"
Laura gawked a moment, then nodded. "Of course!" she replied.
"Maybe ... join us for lunch?" Komiko offered.
"That would be fun," Laura replied with a smile. "I'll have to check with my team, though."
"If you do dine with them," Erica interjected with a chuckle, "you won't get any attention from the boys at the table!"
It took a moment for the girls to understand her comment, and when they did, they glanced at each other, giggling some more. Clearly they were reveling in the attention they were getting and knew they would continue to get as long as they had very large breasts.
The girls bowed to Laura, once more displaying their décolletage before they bid goodbye and scampered off, seeming to half-walk, half-skip in a way that made their boobs jiggle and heave on their chests.
"I bet they have back problems within a month," Bailey observed dryly.
* * * * *
A small pack of boys pushed their way through the doors, elbowing their way toward the head of the line. Loud objections from the students who were being bypassed died suddenly, replaced with shocked expressions, eyes nearly bugged-out, and titters of mirth that slowly grew into a crescendo of outright laughter.
In the middle of the group, Horace walked slowly, eyes downcast, trying hard to ignore all the taunts and laughter directed his way. The boys who'd force-fed him many candy bars were now 'escorting' him around campus, making him endure the same shame and ridicule they'd felt. And Horace felt extreme shame.
"Holy hooters, Batman!" one boy called out when he spotted Horace, to the amusement of the 'escort' and many students around him.
"Dayum!" a girl sang out in surprise. "Those are bigger'n stripper tits!"
Red-faced, Horace tried to sink a little lower, hunching his shoulders a little more to try to hide his chest, but that was nigh impossible, as the massive dose of chocolate had produced an equally massive reaction.
One junior girl who was a well-endowed exemplar, herself fully filling a D-cup bra, marched up to the boy, the escorts parting to allow her to get closer. "Damn!" she muttered, gawking at the sight. It wasn't bad enough that he had huge boobs due to the chocolate, but one of the boys procured a scoop-necked blouse that was quite obviously a couple of sizes small and stretched to the limit. With a two-sizes-too-small bra, Horace's endowments were pushed upward to where they threatened to spill out of the sweater, displaying what was quite probably the Grand Canyon of cleavages on the Whateley campus.
"What are they?" the girl demanded in a loud voice. "G-cups? H?"
"Um, J, I think," Horace mumbled softly.
"What?" the girl asked, just as loudly. "Speak up! I can't hear you!"
One of the boys gave Horace a sharp elbow in his side, reminding him that he should cooperate with the humiliating interrogation if he didn't enjoy physical pain. "J," he answered in a quavering but loud voice, feeling his cheeks burning with what he figured was a white-hot intensity.
Instead of getting food, the little group paraded Horace around so more students could see and mock him for having such large breasts. After a few minutes of abject humiliation, though, a few of the 'beautiful' girls of the in-crowd marched up to Horace and the bullies, rescuing him and leading him to their table. But if he thought his ordeal was over, he was wrong. The girls began excitedly discussing 'girl things' to him, from a promise to find him a really feminine, pink push-up bra, to some 'cute' blouses and sweaters, and even maybe they could help him with some makeup, since such massive boobs could only belong on a girl, ergo he must be a girl, and therefore needed 'girl things'.
The moment Lori walked into the cafeteria, she noticed the commotion and laughter, and when she spotted Horace sitting at the table, red-faced and ashamed while the girls mocked and teased him mercilessly, her eyes bulged at the enormous endowments on his chest. Then she steeled herself and marched directly to the table, right behind Horace.
"Leave my boyfriend alone!" she snarled at the girls, who were as shocked by her impertinent display as Horace was. She took the boy's arm and practically tugged him up out of his chair. Without another word but plenty of furious glares at the girls, and then at the bullies who'd started the whole mess, she led Horace to the 'to go' serving area.
"We're going to my room," Lori announced, "so these ... idiots ... won't bother you, and we can have breakfast in peace and quiet."
Horace was fighting tears from the brutal abuse that had been heaped upon him, and yet, inwardly, he knew that he deserved some of it, since he was part of the project that had caused embarrassment to so many boys. "Thank you," he said in a weak, trembling voice.
"And then I'm going to teach you why girls love having their boobs played with," Lori added in a sultry whisper. "And I'll keep it up until you have the lesson down pat." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively as she leered at the chasm of cleavage on display.
* * * * *
Just as the girls from M3 were leaving Crystal Hall, Hikaru and some of her colleagues from Melville were entering. It was difficult to not notice that Hikaru had been affected by the chocolate, with a little more bulging beneath her sweater.
The moment the Japanese girl spotted Laura, her countenance darkened. "Laura," she said in what sounded to Laura like a guardedly-neutral tone, "I'd like a word with you, please."
Not quite sure how to read Hikaru's expression and tone, Laura hesitated a moment. "Um, sure," she replied. When the other girl glanced at Laura's companions, Laura understood immediately what she wanted. "Go on. I'll catch up in a sec," she told her M3 friends.
Hikaru's companions took the hint as well and went into the cafeteria. Seeing the traffic coming and going, Hikaru gestured with a head-tilt that perhaps they should move so there was a modicum more privacy.
No sooner had Hikaru turned to Laura than the blue girl winced at the Japanese girl's improved bust-line. "I'm sorry about ...."
Hikaru shook her head. "Meh." Instead she looked Laura squarely in the eyes. "When you said that the chocolate passed all the tests, what level of testing were you referring to?" she asked quietly, raising a questioning eyebrow.
Laura gulped nervously; this seemed to her to be an interrogation, which she expected would lead to severe criticism of her role in the chocolate fiasco. "Um, we ... all the tests required by the labs," she explained nervously.
"By chance, did you look at the FDA standards for testing food?" Hikaru added another question.
Hikaru shook her head with a slight look of distaste. "Do you know how the testing in the Whateley labs is different from that required by the FDA? Or why those differences exist?" she asked Laura.
"No," Laura responded, feeling quite defensive. But ... I'm not in charge of the labs or the testing! And Horace is the biodevisor!"
"This project you worked as part of a team," Hikaru countered. "Part of teamwork is that you succeed as a team, or you fail as a team, and everyone on the team is responsible for mistakes. You have just as much ...."
At precisely that inopportune moment, Tiff Lock burst through the cafeteria doors, scanning around quickly before her eyes locked on Hikaru, and she made a beeline for the Japanese girl. "Mrs. Boyce said you're needed ASAP! There's a problem with ... um," she noticed Laura and decided that she didn't need to make details public, "well, you'll find out. But it's your wing and it's an emergency!"
Hikaru acknowledged the message with a nod, then turned to Laura to apologize for having to run before they could complete the conversation. She never got a chance to speak. Laura had obviously misunderstood Hikaru's intent, and with everything else that had gone wrong and everyone else who blamed her, she was overwhelmed. As Tiff tugged Hikaru in the direction of Melville Cottage, Hikaru noticed that Laura was running away, rather aimlessly, and the sound convinced Hikaru that Laura was crying.
"That did not go as I'd planned," she said, wondering how she was now going to talk to Laura about the situation, for which Hikaru very specifically did not blame Laura.
Sunday, October 23, 2016 – Morning
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
She didn't want to be there. Not if there was any chance that Hikaru was in her room. But Laura had made a commitment to clean Hikaru's room, and until she could properly 'resign' from the position, she wasn't going to ignore her responsibilities. And even that thought caused her to shudder, remembering what Hikaru had said the morning before about responsibility - basically saying that Laura was a much to blame for the whole debacle as anyone.
Almost automatically, she put her shoes in the little rack outside Hikaru's door, then knocked as she stepped into a pair of slippers in the Japanese style that the older girl preferred. She was desperately hoping that Hikaru was out somewhere, anywhere, doing anything except hanging around to inflict more blame and guilt onto her.
The door opened suddenly, startling Laura. "Um, I'm here to clean," Laura said very timidly, avoiding looking directly at Hikaru. "I'll hurry up and get out of your way."
"Come in," Hikaru said, standing to one side of the door and gesturing with her arm. As soon as Laura entered, very hesitantly, the Japanese girl closed the door. "The cleaning has been done already."
"Then ... what ...?" Laura goggled at the statement, and then at a small low table with a Japanese tea set - a small porcelain pot, much smaller than would be seen in a Western tea set, with small, handle-less cups, all of which had designs that looked hand-painted on them.
"Sit," Hikaru said simply. It wasn't an order, nor was it a request. It was simply a statement.
The time spent with the Japanese students paid off; the low table was familiar enough that Laura knew how she was expected to sit. Without a word, Hikaru carefully poured tea, and then took her place at the table opposite Laura. The two girls drank the first cup in silence, with Laura uneasy about what was to come. After Hikaru poured a second cup for each, Laura could no longer contain herself. "I'm so sorry," she began to apologize. "I ... didn't mean ...."
Hikaru simply held up her hand, palm toward Laura, to stop the girl's expected rambling apology. "I do not intend to cast blame on those who are at not true fault," she said simply, "or to cause feelings of guilt. That was not my intention yesterday, either."
Laura's concerned expression softened considerably. "Then ... what?"
"Kurenai provided me with a summary of the differences between the Whateley testing standards and those of the FDA. My first reaction is that whoever wrote the Whateley lab standards should be shot," she said as a look of disgust flitted very quickly across Hikaru's features, "for recklessly endangering students."
Laura sat silently, uncomfortable again, and once more confused about where the conversation was going.
"There is a reason that the FDA requirements are as rigorous as they are. And why other countries have their own stringent standards for foods and drugs." She thought a moment, trying in her mind to phrase things in a way that wasn't going to cause Laura distress - again. "If you three were experienced, you would have known what testing should have been required."
"But ... I don't have lots of experience with these kinds of projects, and besides, I'm not a biodevisor. How would I have known?" Laura blurted out.
"As I was trying to say yesterday, every team member has a responsibility to ensure product safety, even if you're not an expert in every detail. Sometimes, that lack of expertise can lead to profound questions that are overlooked by the 'experts'. You all should question what you believe are stupid testing regimens. For every project." Hikaru smiled slightly. "In this regard, I am not very Japanese, I'm afraid, as honor and obeying one's elders is a cultural imperative, some would say." An expression crossed her face, too quickly for Laura to parse. "I however have had experience where... elders, shall we say, and fellow..." Hikaru trailed off for a second, then nodded once, "team members, yes, have not always been... wise or able to do their part."
"But ... aren't we supposed to follow the rules?" Laura inquired, a bit puzzled.
Hikaru shook her head vigorously. "'I was just following orders' is not an excuse for indefensible actions. In this case, with product testing, you should consider the rules to be the absolute minimum, and you should skeptically ask if they make sense and if they're sufficient. If someone writes bad rules, you need to do what's right, not blindly follow bad rules."
"So, are you implying that the blame ... is ...?"
"If blame lies anywhere," Hikaru said firmly, "it's with the morons who decided that an abbreviated test regime was 'good enough'."
"And are you saying that now that I've had this ... experience," Laura continued her questioning to try to discern the meaning behind Hikaru's comments, "repeating a mistake like this is unforgivable?"
Hikaru nodded; it seemed that Laura was getting the message. "You're lucky that Whateley is more like Japan in ethics of product errors. In Japan, a profound apology and effort to make things right is often enough. In America, a product error is like red meat thrown before a ravenous den of lions - it's an invitation to swarms of lawyers and hundreds of lawsuits."
Laura shuddered; she'd seen the antics of greedy lawyers as her mom and dad fought over their separation and divorce. She wanted to deal with legal parasites as little as possible. "I ... need to do something," she finally said softly, "about ... your clothes, since you grew."
"Meh," Hikaru retorted immediately. "I didn't grow that much, and it's an expectation that teenagers will grow, so clothing is far from long-lasting. If I need anything before the Winter Break, I can order a few things." Then she smirked. "Kako will no doubt be pleased, as she now has an excuse to go shopping while we're in Japan. But if you insist on some form of penance, maybe you should be the one who goes shopping with her."
Some time later, as she walked back to Poe, Laura felt less stressed about the entire chocolate affair. She'd come to realize that, far from blaming her, Hikaru was trying to help her learn from the mistakes so she didn't make them again. When she also considered Hikaru's help with the Japanese patents, Laura realized that Hikaru was being a friend, even if she hid it beneath her icy, stoic external demeanor. While some might be convinced that her cool public 'face' might be purely cultural, Laura wondered if perhaps Hikaru simply didn't know how to open up to people. Or perhaps she was afraid to open up.
Someday she'd learn. Of that Laura was confident.