Our expectations color our reality. It’s something that happens so frequently that one may hardly pay attention to it. Jack had found himself increasingly aware of this sneaky detail, mostly because of jobs like this. If he had walked into a hellish dungeon with bodies hanging from hooks, screams echoing in the background, the smell of decay and death permeating the air, these things would have made sense to Jack. He never expected to find an empty loading dock with a bare cement floor filled with boxes. The room wasn’t large, only a few people could have worked in their at the same time, so it’s main use was clearly storage. On the far side of the room, a stream of light ran across the floor and up the wall.
Walking to the door, Jack noticed the stacks of boxes grew smaller near the door. Silently, he opened one box to get a look at the contents. It was just a jug filled with liquid. Picking it up, and briefly holding it in the light shining through a window in the door, he realized how wrong he was again. It wasn’t just liquid. It was pink goop, which sloshed around as he moved the jug. It was the same material he had scraped from the walls while cleaning Dr. Lighting’s office. Replacing the jug and closing the box, Jack stopped for a moment to collect his thoughts. This job kept getting more complicated. If Betsy wasn’t really Mr. Meriet’s grandmother, then it was clear what happened to her original body. She was somewhere in this room, sloshing around in a jar with five other people.
The amount of cars sitting out front meant that this false Wellness Clinic was well staffed. He and Stan couldn’t just kill everyone, because they needed someone to answer questions. They also couldn’t just drag someone around with them until everyone else was dead.
Waving Stan over, he waited until his comrade was right next to him, “We’re shutting this place down. We have about six hours to get what we need. I’ll go left, you go right. I’m looking for the head doctor, you’re going for security. Lay them out quick and quiet.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Stan cracked his knuckles.
With barely a sound, they pushed past the doors and went on their separate ways. Jack wasn’t normally the killing type, unless he was faced with a truly irredeemable monster. On most occasions, that meant a creature out of its mind with fear or hunger. This was worse, because whatever was going on here, it had coldly and rationally taken lives. The corridors in the building twisted and turned in strange ways, with no visible markers, making it very easy to lose your way. Jack reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a small red pen. When you don’t want someone to get out, you make it easy to get lost. The Goodbody family created a complicated marking system for keeping track of where you’ve been and how many bodies you’ve left behind. Jack marked the hallway and moved on.
While the Wellness Clinic initially made no sense to Jack, from whatever perspective he came at it, the facility started to fill in the blanks a little. Many of the rooms were devoted entirely to research. Tables lined the walls, covered with beakers and test tubes. Scientists, wearing white lab coats spotted with dull red blotches, buzzed around the tables like bees, checking charts and examining their work. What Jack didn’t see for a long time was an examination table, or any of the normal knick-knacks one finds in a doctor’s office to assure the patient their caretaker is still human. Clearing each room proved to be difficult, because there weren’t many rooms with only one person in it. That was heartening, though, because with massive research facilities like this, the man in charge would hardly be doing grunt work.
The whole first floor took an hour to clear out. Once Jack found the steps leading upwards, he waited for Stan to show up before slowly stalking his way up the stairs. The top floor was laid out in a more spacious manner, lacking the claustrophobic and confusing hallways of the ground floor. The stairs led out into a small room with large room on either side. All around the room were doors, spaced far apart from each other. The door nearest to him was labeled “Specimen 1”. Ominously, the doors were all made of heavy steel. A window in the door at head height looked into the room.
Specimen 1 was hardly the label Jack would have expected to see at a wellness clinic. Having never gone to a facility like this, he could only guess that the patients must have felt the same way. As he got closer to the door, the light from inside the room could be seen shining out from inside. Jack took a quick peak through the window. There were none of the amenities he would have expected from even the worst experimental facility masquerading as a health clinic. No bed, no desk, no closet and no means of making or eating any food. Standards had really gone downhill in the last few years, but that’s what you get with such an unregulated industry. The walls were painted a brilliant white and the whole room was so brightly illuminated, he could hardly make anything out.
Then, it jumped at the window in the door, causing Jack to reflexively back away. It was human, in form, but it showed no sign of intelligence. It possessed the same white skin the grandmother had, and when it moved, it moved as an animal did with no understanding of its humanity. It gazed out through the window in rapt fascination, watching Jack intently before moving away again towards the middle of the room. Jack checked every single door in the room, and they all had those strange creatures in them, mere vessels waiting for something to fill them. Most of them behaved fairly docile, but some of them were extremely aggressive, attempting to attack him through the door. That explained the pine scent and the jugs on the first floor. When Jack had cleaned for Doctor Lighting, he had wondered what use there possibly could be for human materials. This certainly cleared that up. They were making and replacing people. To find out why, he would need to interrogate the man in charge.
Stan reached the top of the stairs and surveyed the room, “Boss, them halls downstairs is dead quiet.”
Jack groaned, “What did I tell you about bad puns, Stanley?”
“Don’t make no bad puns, this ain’t a movie.”
“That’s right, now help me find the man in charge. I’ll again take the hallway to the left, you take the one to the right,” suiting his actions to his words, Jack started down the hallway to the left of the room. It didn’t go far before it hit another room filled with specimens. The hallway went on in the same direction Jack had been going in, before it took a sudden turn to the right. At the end of the hall, Jack could see Stan had come out the other side. The only door in the entire hallway was between the two of them, and above it were two small plaques which read, “Dr. Brown” and “Head of Research Team.”
And that’s what they were looking for, the man who would know what happened to Betsy. Striding down the hall, they were both getting close to the door when it opened from the inside and a middle aged man walked out, “Parker, where is that coffee? I asked you to grab it an hour ago and…”
With a start, he saw Jack. He would have backed away further, but he slowly backed into Stan. He had thinning brown hair and a white lab coat which was in dire need of a wash. It had a small myriad of dull red stains around the cuffs and the middle of his chest, which Jack found highly suspect under the circumstances.
“Dr. Brown, if that is your real name, I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about your facility here.”
Looking over his shoulder, Dr. Brown nodded his slightly pudgy face, “Of course, please step into my office. I would offer you some coffee, but you’ve probably killed my assistant. Please, make yourself at home.”
Walking back into his office, Dr. Brown sat down behind his desk and gestured to the two seats in front of it. On the walls were the diplomas and citations you would find in any doctors office, as well as a picture of Dr. Brown and a team of researchers standing next to what looked like a giant swamp monster hanging from a hook. They were all wearing lab coats, so Jack couldn’t tell if it was an experiment, a hunting trip, or both.
Sitting down in one of the chairs, Jack eyed the doctor carefully. Stan took one look at the fragile chair and decided to stand. Their prey seemed to have gotten over his initial alarm remarkably quickly, and was idly playing with a pen he had found on his desk, “You don’t seem awfully surprised to see me here.”
Dr. Brown chuckled, “I don’t even know who you are, technically, but this sort of thing happens frequently in the world of mad science. I’m just a contract worker, so I hardly care about what happens to this facility. It was built with just enough care to do our research, and then it will inevitably fall apart when we leave.”
“Wait, you’re not in charge here?”
Frowning and pursing his lips, Dr. Brown actually managed to look quite annoyed, “I was placed in charge of this team, so yes. I am in charge. I’m not doing this work for myself, if that’s what you mean. I was given this job by a man who called himself Doctor Lighting. He wanted to know how well artificial bodies could maintain new human hosts.”
“And…how do you do that?”
“I’m not exactly certain how the process works. Dr. Lighting makes the final transfer from the old body to the new one. I do wish he would let us watch, or at least stick around for the results.”
Thinking back to Betsy, Jack realized that Dr. Brown’s continued presence meant he had yet to succeed to his client’s satisfaction, “It’s not going very well, is it?”
“No. The bodies start to fall apart without constant maintenance. Even with our help, they still have a limited shelf life before the host body starts to reject…whatever it is which makes a person.”
“Let’s leave aside what you hoped to accomplish and let me tell you what you’re going to do for me. One of your former clients is clinging to life in her new body, but it’s starting to fall apart. You’re going to tell me everything I need to help her stay alive as long as possible until I can come up with a more permanent solution.”
Dr. Brown laughed and rolled his chair back a bit, “You can’t possibly expect me to help you. If my client and his rather rambunctious friends don’t kill me, the company I work for will.”
Jack snapped his fingers and Stan cracked his knuckles menacingly, “That’s true, but they won’t do it as painfully as my friend here will. Now give me some information or I’ll let him work his polo game on your body.”
Dr. Brown gulped audibly, “You make a convincing argument, but I don’t have any lab partners anymore. You’re going to have to help me, Mr….”
“Goodbody. Jack Goodbody. Now get to work.” Jack rose from his seat and pointed to the door. Now that they knew what was going on, they just needed to help Dr. Brown find a temporary solution to keep Mr. Meriet’s grandmother held together. Once this job was done, they could think about what to do with the new information about Dr. Lighting.