Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 1 – lostandwhatever
Here is a commission done for Areat, the start of a new series. This one has been in the works for a long time now. Expect new chapters to appear twice a week for a while. Thank you for such enduring support, Areat. This chapter was originally published on my Patreon.
“I want to turn you into a child.”
“Excuse me?” Chuck Ponce replied, thinking he had misheard his boss. “Did you say, ‘a child?’”
“Yes, a child,” Mr. Kingsley repeated. The big man shifted on his office chair, causing it to creak under his weight. Chuck now understood why the CEO was nicknamed, “yeti.” He was a nearly seven foot tall man in his fifties with a thick beard and gregariously loud voice.
“Are you speaking metaphorically?” Chuck asked
“No, literally. I want to transform your body into the body of an 8-year-old boy.”
Chuck was at a loss for words. He nervously repositioned himself on the chair in front of his boss’s desk. “I see,” he said at last, not really seeing at all. He had applied for a promotion to a managerial position at the pharmaceutical company where he worked. Being led in to meet with the owner and CEO of the company had been a big surprise in itself, but this surprise was almost too much for him to handle. “Would you mind explaining a little more, maybe?”
The big man chuckled and said, “Of course. Of course. You must think I’m out of my mind. But, no, I’m deadly serious. Arvaxis Pharmaceuticals has developed a drug than can rapidly turn an adult into a child again.”
“That’s…” Chuck searched for a suitable response. “Amazing” was all he could think of. He was starting to understand why they had made him sign such an extensive nondisclosure agreement before the meeting had begun. “May I ask-”
“Why?” Kingsley said.
“It has to do with Project Tabula Rasa,” Kingsley said. “I imagine you’ve heard rumours about a big secret contract we have with the government.”
“Something to do with prisons,” Chuck said. “I had heard people speculating that we were creating a new drug cocktail to use for lethal injections.”
“That’s what we want people to think,” Kingsley said, smiling. “Nobody has any idea what we’re really up to, and we would like to keep it that way. We need to stay ahead of our competitors on this, even if the rumors are not the best for our image. As I’m sure you’re aware, most drug companies have become a bit squeamish about being involved in executions. It’s bad publicity when people who use your drugs die, you see. What we have managed to do is the exact opposite, though. We have found a novel means of removing dangerous felons from death row without needing to actually kill them.”
“Project Tabula Rasa?”
“Exactly,” Kingsley said. “We can take the condemned adults and transform them into innocent children again. No one has to die, and an inmate who was once a threat to society is allowed to grow up again into a law-abiding adult with no memory of his criminal past. Let me tell you, the government loved the idea. As it turns out, they were having second thoughts about executions as well and were happy to pump funding into our research on the project. Additionally, they were happy to provide willing human test subjects.”
“This is…” Chuck said, once more grasping for something to say. “Unbelievable.”
“Believe it,” Kingsley said. “Here, you want proof. I can tell. I have just the person to show it to you.” Kingsley called out towards the doors of his office, “Dr. Wolff! Do join us in here now if you’d please.”
The double wooden doors opened, and a severe looking woman in a business suit walked inside and shut the doors behind her. She appeared to be in her forties and wore thick-rimmed glasses. Her dark hair was tied up in a tight bun. Chuck found her to be attractive in a domineering way.
“This is Doctor Linda Wolff,” Kingsley introduced her. “She is the chief scientist on Project Tabula Rasa.”
Chuck stood and shook her hand. “I’m Ch-”
“We both know exactly who you are, Mr. Ponce,” she said and let his hand go. She laid a file folder she had been holding on the desk and opened it. “Charles Ponce. ‘Chuck’ to his friends,” she read from his personnel file. “Twenty-eight years old. Four years of experience in sales. Good numbers. Single?” She looked up at him quizzically. It was apparently a question.
“Um, yes,” Chuck admitted.
She nodded and looked back at the file. “No write ups. Positive reviews from managers. A model employee.”
“And,” Kingsley added, “an ambitious one, too. You knew you were unqualified for that manager job when you applied, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Chuck confessed. “But, I figured I would give it a try anyway.”
“Good,” Kingsley said. “That’s what I like to see, initiative. You have a goal, and you’re working towards it. I imagine you might like to be an executive one day too, right?”
“One day,” Chuck said. “Yes.”
“Well,” Kingsley said. “If you succeed in the task I have for you today, then you just might get there and sooner than you think.”
Chuck’s head was spinning with the idea of his career taking off, but he was still confused. “What exactly is this ‘task?’” Chuck asked. “And, what does it have to do with me becoming an 8-year-old?”
“He needs some proof,” Kingsley said to Dr. Wolff. “Show him the video, please.”
“Does he have clearance?” she asked.
“Just play it,” Kingsley said. “He signed the papers.”
Dr. Wolff nodded and opened a laptop computer, while Kingsley turned on a giant TV screen on the wall. “Seeing is believing, afterall,” he said. “Watch this.”
Dr. Wolff pressed some buttons, and a video started on the TV screen:
First, there was warning text about classified information displayed on the screen in black, white, and red.
Then, a video started with a date stamp from a few years ago and the words “Tabula Rasa” displayed at the top of the screen.
The video showed a sterile-looking room with smooth brick walls. Two women in nursing outfits were standing in the room. Something odd about the lighting made Chuck think that the camera was watching from behind a two-way mirror.
A gurney was rolled into view with a man strapped to it wearing an orange uniform, his massive frame extending beyond the edges of the gurney. The guard who had pushed the gurney paused a moment to look at the nurses. They nodded at him, and he left the three of them alone in the room, shutting the door behind himself.
“Test subject number three,” one of the nurses read from a clipboard. “Edgar Rios, 26.”
“…and going to be 27 in three days,” Edgar added. “And they said I’d be dead before then.” He chuckled.
The nurse continued, “Height: six feet, six inches.”
“Six and a half inches,” he corrected her. “And I’m eight inches somewhere else.” He winked.
“Weight: 248 pounds.”
“All muscle,” he said and flexed his muscles a little against the bindings on his wrists and ankles.
Chuck believed him. The man’s arms were thick as tree trunks and covered completely in tattoos, which ran up under his shirt sleeves and likely continued all over the rest of his brutish body. There were even tattoos on his shaved head.
The nurse turned to Edgar and said, “A final check. Mr. Rios, do you understand the procedure and do you willingly give consent to go through with it?”
“Lady,” he replied. “I don’t care what you’re doing to me, so long as I get to walk out of this hell-hole alive. I consent. Get me out of here. Pretty please.”
The nurse picked up a syringe from a tray and said, “First injection.”
“This is the first step of the procedure,” Dr. Wolff said. “She is injecting him with our drug to trigger the physical regression.”
The nurse finished the injection.
“So do I get a lollipop now or something?” he asked. “You know… something sweet?” He smiled at her.
The nurse did not smile back. She stepped back and checked a clock on the wall. “9:47 p.m.” she said. “First injection.”
Edgar squirmed on the gurney and groaned. “Ugh,” he said. “I’m feeling a bit hot. Who’s messing with the thermostat?”
“It’s an exothermic reaction,” Dr. Wolff explained. “There’s a lot of mass that needs to be burned away quickly.”
“See!” Kingsley said, pointing at the screen. “He’s sweating already.”
Edgar’s skin was glossy with sweat. Then, a light mist formed over his skin. The sweat appeared to be boiling off of him. “Argh,” he cried. “I’m on fire!” He kept on groaning and squirming in pain.
“His immune system and metabolism are working overtime now,” Dr. Wolff said. “Burning and repairing his body all at once. The immune reaction is focused on his more mature cell structures. Basically, his own body is healing away his adulthood.”
“What’s happening to me?” Edgar cried. He looked down at his body, which was visibly getting slimmer. His thick muscles thinned away as his tattooed skin purged out all the ink within it.
His prison uniform was soaked through with sweat, showing off his shrinking body beneath it. He now appeared to be a young adult in his late teens. Then, he started to become shorter.
His wrists and ankles slipped out of their restraints as his arms and legs became shorter and skinnier. He now appeared to be in his early teens and showed no sign that his shrinking was slowing down. If anything, it had suddenly accelerated, dropping him backwards through puberty. His groans grew higher, pitching up from a manly base to a boyish soprano.
For a moment it appeared as though he would melt away into nothing, but then the shrinking slowed down. The mist that had formed around him dissipated, revealing the sweaty body of a boy looking just barely old enough for grade school. He panted and sighed, apparently relieved that the heat was gone at last.
Little Edgar held up his arm and saw his smooth, unmarked skin. “My arm…” he said. “What did you…?” He stopped and touched his throat and tried to cough away his high voice. “What happened to my voice? Is this place full of helium or something? I sound like a kid.”
He sat up and looked down at himself, seeing his baggy, soaked prison uniform hanging off of his skinny frame. “Oh, God!” He said, holding up his little hands. He looked towards the camera, straight at the mirror it was behind, and saw his reflection. He touched the scruffy hair that had grown back on his head, and he must have seen the boy in the mirror do the same. “I AM a kid!”
He looked over just in time to see the nurse approaching holding a new syringe in her hand. “Hold still,” she said. “We’re almost done.”
“Get the fuck away from me, bitch!” he cried and crawled away from her off the side of the gurney, dropping onto to the ground with a grunt.
He stood up on shaky legs with his shirt covering him like a dress down to his knees. He pulled up his too large pants, but they made him look even more comically small with how poorly they fit. Then, he saw the other nurse approaching him. “Take it easy,” she said.
He looked up at her with terrified eyes. He was not even chest high to her now. To him, she must have appeared to be over nine feet tall. He shrieked and dropped his oversized pants, racing past the giant woman to the door on the opposite side of the room. He reached up for the handle and tried turning it, but it would not budge. Then, he spun around to see both of the giant nurses approaching him. He leaned his back against the wall, his eyes searching for some way to escape.
“Edgar,” the first nurse said. “You need to get back on the gurney so we can finish the procedure.”
“Fuck you!” he shrieked in a less than threatening voice. “And fuck your procedure. Let me out of here. Put me back in my cell. I don’t want to do this anymore. Turn me back!”
The nurses looked at each other and nodded. They both lunged for him together. One of them grabbed him by the arms as the other one took hold of his legs.
“Let me go!” he cried as he tried to punch and kick them in vain. The two woman struggled a bit to hold him as he writhed wildly, but they managed to lift him into the air and set him back down on the gurney.
One by one, they reattached the wrist and ankle restraints, closing them tighter on his skinny limbs. Then, they let him go while he struggled helplessly. “No!” he cried. “Please no more! I’ll be good. I’ll be a good boy. I promise!”
One nurse held down his wrist while the other one inserted the second needle.
“This is the second step of the procedure,” Dr. Wolff said. “She is injecting him with our drug to trigger the mental regression.”
The nurse removed the needle and said, “9:53 p.m. Second injection.”
The boy lay on the gurney, panting in fear as he waited for himself to shrink again. Instead, his eyes rolled back in his head as he convulsed and moaned. Then, his eyes drooped shut, and his body went limp. Seconds later, his eyes blinked open again, and he groaned a bit, sounding like a little boy waking up from a nap.
“Wuts’ goin’ on?” he muttered, looking around the room. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a hospital. You’re safe,” One of the nurses said, reassuringly. “But, I’m afraid you and your family were in a terrible accident.”
“‘My family?’” he asked. “Wait! Where’s my mama? Where is she?”
“I’m sorry, Edgar,” the nurse replied. “She did not survive the crash.”
“What?” he said. “What crash? What happened? Where is she?”
“She’s gone, Edgar. I’m sorry, but she’s gone.”
Tears poured from his eyes and he cried, “No! That can’t be true. It can’t be. Mama! Where are you? Mama!”
The other nurse grabbed the gurney and wheeled it to the door as the woeful boy continued to cry for his mother.
The video ended there.
“You see,” Dr. Wolff said. “After the second injection, he had forgotten all about his time as a prisoner. He had no idea where he was or why he was there. All of his memories from when he was older had been completely erased from his mind.”
Chuck gripped the armrests of his chair and fought back tears for a moment. “I see,” he managed to say. “I see it.”
“Sorry,” Kingsley said as he noticed Chuck’s discomfort. “It’s a bit painful to watch, but even the memory of being in that room will fade for him soon after. All of this will seem like a bad, half-forgotten dream a few days later. After that, the transformed children adjust to their new lives surprisingly easily.”
“But,” Chuck said. “What do you do with them? Where do you send them?”
Dr. Wolff said, “We have an orphanage where we send the children to care for them until they are adopted into new families. The orphanage has no idea that Project Tabula Rasa even exists. It’s too secret to share even with them. They think the kids we send them are ordinary orphans. But, the orphanage is where we are running into problems.”
“What problems?” Chuck asked.
“Behavioral problems,” Kingsley said. “The children are acting up, misbehaving, stealing, lying, getting violent.”
“Why?” Chuck asked.
“That’s what we want to know,” Kingsley said. “The government is getting worried that the procedure is not properly erasing the kids’ memories. They are worried that the children will be heading straight to juvenile detention, which is basically a pipeline straight back to prison. And, the government would rather not pay for an expensive procedure that turns old criminals into young criminals who will spend even more time behind bars. They feel that might be counter-productive.”
“So,” Chuck said. “You want me to find out why the children are misbehaving?”
“Yes,” Kingsley said. “We need you to go undercover in the orphanage to find out what is going on in there. Are the workers mistreating the kids? Are they neglectful, abusive, incompetent?”
“Can’t the government just send in an inspection?”
“Inspections are only snapshots of time,” Kingsley said. “They only work if they catch something happening. The government has done inspections, but they haven’t found the problem yet.”
“What about sending someone in to spy as an employee at the orphanage?”
“Tried that,” Kingsley said. “Our undercover employee found nothing either.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to find,” Chuck suggested.
“The procedure is sound,” Dr. Wolff said. “All of our tests prove that it works flawlessly. The problem is at the orphanage.”
“The only way to find the problem,” Kingsley said, “is to have someone with the kids 24-hours a day. Only then can we be sure of what is going on with them.”
“So,” Chuck said slowly. “You want me to take the drug to become a kid so that I can spy on the orphanage from the inside?”
“Yes,” they both replied.
“But,” Chuck said. “Won’t I forget who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing?”
“The mental changes only occur after the second drug is injected,” Dr. Wolff said. “We will skip that step in the procedure. Instead of the real drug, we’ll inject you with a placebo. Not even the nurses will know that you still have your adult memories.”
“Then,” Kingsley said. “You’ll be sent to the orphanage just as if you were one of the other test subjects. Your job there is to explore around and search for the reason why the kids are misbehaving. In time, we’ll come for you, and you can make your report to us about what you found.”
“How long?” Chuck asked.
“A few weeks at most,” Kingsley said. “We’re running out of time. The government is ready to cut funding unless we can show some proof of why the problem is at the orphanage and not in our drugs.”
“What happens to me when I’ve finished my report?” Chuck asked. “You’re not going to leave me as a kid, right? You can make me my normal age again?”
“Of course,” Kingsley said. “All it takes is one more injection, and you’ll be back to your old self again. You might even feel a bit more refreshed by the whole experience.”
“I don’t know,” Chuck said. “This is… pretty big. It’s a lot to take in. I think I need some time to think this over. Can I give you my answer tomorrow?”
“We’re out of time,” Kingsley said. “We need someone to go tonight. If you won’t do it, then we’ll have to find somebody else. We have a few other people waiting right now, in fact.”
Chuck nodded. “What about compensation?” he asked.
Kingsley smiled. “That’s my boy,” he said. “You will get a managerial position in the new division we’ll be starting up for Project Tabula Rasa. Additionally, you’ll earn stock options, a massive bonus, and my enduring gratitude.” He pulled out a contract and set it on the desk in front of Chuck. “Do we have a deal?”
It was all so crazy and yet incredibly exciting at the same time. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, he realized. Could he pass it up?
Kingsley handed Chuck an expensive pen, pointed at the document, and said, “Sign here.”
Chuck hesitated a moment and then signed the contract.
“Well done,” Kingsley said, shaking his hand again. “You will not regret this. Remember, find the problem at the orphanage and report back to us.”
“I will,” Chuck said.
“Follow me,” Dr. Wolff said. “We need to get you prepped for the procedure.”
Chuck followed Dr. Wolff out the door and headed for the secret research labs of Project Tabula Rasa.