Chapter 2.8 (Naomi)

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Chapter 2.8 (by Naomi)

Penelope dug through her tiny mouse-sized files. Every few moments she would find herself digging without purpose as the rodent aspects of her current state attempted to take over. She stopped and ran her little claws over her face in an attempt to refocus her attention. Finally she stopped altogether and trudged wearily to her desk. She wheeled out her wooden swivel chair and plopped down, feeling a bit deflated. Rowena would certainly have something biting to say about Penelope’s genetic alteration hindering their work. She always did. The science had been so new at the time, but they had been so eager to get started. Rowena had insisted that Penelope go ahead with the procedures resulting in a less than perfect result. The final calculations had been Penelope’s and Rowena never let her forget it. Never mind Rowena’s procedures had also been calculated by Penelope, and were near absolute perfection.

Suddenly Penelope raised her head from her hands. She knew where her research files were! She flung her office door open and scurried down the hall and back to where she left her clothes in the lab corridor. As she opened the tiny door in the baseboard, she peered out into the light and saw that her clothes were gone. This. This was the exact reason she was inspired to solve for being fully clothed when she conducted her research for Rowen’s procedure. Someone was always cleaning up the “dirty laundry.”

Still blinking hard in adjustment to the lights, Penelope set off in search of some clothes. She hoped she didn’t run into Chelsea. She was in absolutely no mood to fight off a feline/canine hybrid on an already asinine mission.

Chapter 2.7 (Grace)

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Chapter 2.7 (by Grace)

While Penelope fetched her research, Rowena checked to make sure Edgar and the birds were soundly asleep before briskly walking over to the cabinet where the empty, sterile sample vials were kept. She had a small window of opportunity while Eric and Horatio slept to collect blood and tissue samples.

She quickly prepared a tray with all the necessary instruments and then quietly walked it over to the table. They had discovered quickly that there was no good way to remove sleep aids from blood samples, so they had developed a subliminal sound “playlist” for animals that induced REM sleep, thus allowing them to collect clean samples not influenced by stress-released hormones, nor contaminated with drugs.

Once Rowena collected the samples she needed, she took her tray of samples to the DNA sequencer. Rowena needed to make sure the wren population they had brought to Alpha Centauri IV were on track in their evolutionary adaptations to the newly terraformed planet. The gravity on this planet was in constant flux of +/-0.2 N. While that level of fluctuation didn’t seem to affect most land animals, birds and fresh and salt-water creatures were having some trouble adapting.

These wrens seemed to be the exception, and could possibly be key in helping other birds survive on Alpha Centauri IV. If she could discover the secret to the wrens’ ability to adapt to the gravity fluctuations, she may be able to save the other birds who weren’t adapting as well as they should be.

Chapter 2.6 (Naomi)

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Chapter 2.6 (by Naomi)

Penelope pushed open the door of the lab and took long, purposeful strides through the main corridor. She had a determined expression on her face, discouraging her favorite orangutan lab assistant from approaching her. Penelope saw Sandra’s furry arm reach out and then retreat. She would just have to wait.

Coming to the end of the hall, Penelope stopped, coming to face a seemingly blank wall. Taking a small step back, she crouched down, bending at the knees and waist. Squeezing her eyes shut, she bowed her head into her folded arms. Penelope inhaled deeply, counted to five, and exhaled sharply. As the last of the air was expelled from her lungs, she began to shrink.

Opening her eyes, Penelope found herself in a puddle of clothes. Looking at her hands, she saw the little pink claws of a field mouse. The transformation was successful. Penelope scurried to the wall and placed her paw on a tiny knob and turned. A small door imbedded in the baseboard swung open and she stepped inside.

Taking a number of turns down a dimly lit corridor, Penelope once again stopped to face a dead end. Opening the door before her, she stepped into a tidy, mouse-sized office. Pausing on a tiny oriental rug, tassles all perfectly aligned, Penelope scanned the room. Now, where had she filed that research? Squinting her beady eyes, she scurried towards a tiny metal filing cabinet.

Chapter 2.5 (Grace)

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Chapter 2.5 (by Grace)

Rowena’s eyes widened. “However did you manage to solve for the flatulence issue?!” she exclaimed, “But Penelope, tortoises in tuxedos? So cliche. Though the tailoring is excellent. Whose work is this?”

Penelope preened ever so slightly. “I actually made the prototype, but I taught the spider monkey-falcon hybrids to sew once I knew the tuxedos would fit.”

“Remarkable,” Rowena stated, “now you were saying that you solved for flatulence. How?”

“We were missing a vital protein strain – No. 394. Once I realized it, it was quite easy to fix the problem. It had quite the stabilizing effect and as a lovely bonus, cured the flatulence issue quite by accident.”

As they finished up their snacks, Henri slow made his way around the room collecting empty dishes and placing them on the tray on Henry’s back. Once all the dishes had been cleared, Henri carefully stepped back into his shell. Henry tapped a small knob on Henri’s shell. The shell slowly came back together until Henri’s shell was once again seamlessly in place. Henry and Henri slowly turned around and made their way back to the kitchen.

“Would you like to see my data?” Penelope asked hesitantly, “It’d be no trouble –”

“What kind of question is that?” Rowena interrupted irritably, “Of course I want to see it. Now close your mouth and go get it.”

As Penelope walked away from the table quietly grumbling under her breath, Edgar jumped up on the table and walked to the sunny spot to settle down for a nap. Horatio and Eric landed on Edgar’s side once he had settled down and began preening each other and then Edgar before falling asleep.

Chapter 2.4 (Naomi)

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Chapter 2.4 (by Naomi)

Rowena flashed back to her human form and rubbed her temples. Too many flashes in a short period of time gave her head a dull ache. She turned to Penelope who was still observing the whole situation from her seat at the table, chin resting in her hand. Rowena caught her gaze and Penelope raised an eyebrow. This exchange was their signal that the specimens in the lab needed a snack in addition to their regular meal routine. It was a necessarily wordless exchange because any hint of a mention that the animal might be hungry would sometimes result in indignation and hurt feelings, which could lead to accidental ingestion down the food chain.

Once she saw Rowena’s almost imperceptible nod, Penelope gathered up all her energy. “Henry and Henri are most probably interested in a visit!” She sang as brightly as she could muster. She stood up and strode quickly into the lab.

After a few moments Penelope returned followed by two Aldabra giant tortoises in single file. On their backs they carried trays of food for each hungry species in the room. For the birds a worm and insect medley of two types of beetle, earthworms and wingless flies. For Edgar, salmon sashimi on a bed of leafy greens. For Penelope and Rowena, lightly grilled tuna steaks served on beds of rice and a side of sautéed spinach with a hint of garlic and sesame oil. Rowena greeted Henry and Henri and stepped aside. Henry, who stood behind Henri, grasped Henri’s tail firmly in his mouth and gave a little tug. Henri’s shell expanded away from his body into a cube with holes. With care to not disturb the food, Henri stepped backwards out of his shell and began distributing dishes around the room to everyone.

As they sat at the table eating, Rowena took a breath to say something, but Penelope cut her off, “Yes they’re still slow, but Chelsea is the key. And you must admit — the flatulence issue has finally been solved!

Chapter 2.3 (Grace)

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Chapter 2.3 (by Grace)

With a scoffing laugh, Horatio fluttered his wings with annoyance. “Fine, I’ll let Tiny talk — if that’s even your real name.”

Tiny/Rowena let out a slow, calming breath. “Let me start at the beginning. My colleague over there –Penelope– and I are scientists. We study and manipulate the genes of animals –humans, mammals, reptiles– to make them stronger and adaptable to other planets without needing additional life-support and to live longer lives as well as communicate across species. You see…” Rowena frowned at Horatio who was clearly snoring. She let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Tiny?” Eric asked, “I’m not sure what all the means. I know you are speaking bird — I mean, I think you are. I mean, I understand you…” he trailed off. “Why did you pick us? And how come you change into a two-legs-no-feathers? And what is an Edgar? What’s a Chelsea? Also, are there any good bugs to eat around here? I’m starving!”

Horatio snorted awake. “Did someone say something about food? I’m starving!”

Edgar stalked over to the birds and brushed up against Rowena. Then he sat down and yawned wide, showing off all his teeth. “Did someone mention food?”

Penelope knew she should do something to diffuse the situation, but she did not suffer through years of grad school and thesis papers to become an over-qualified serving wench. It was then she remembered the serving turtles. Now was as good a time as any to see if she had worked out the bugs. Everyone seemed to be edging into hangry territory, including herself.

Chapter 2.2 (Naomi)

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Chapter 2.2 (by Naomi)

Edgar turned his full attention to Chelsea. With claws carefully retracted, he patted her on the top of her snowy white head, right between her jet black ears, his oversized Maine Coon paw making soft thuds. Chelsea did not respond, instead sitting perfectly still, staring straight ahead, unblinking. Searching for any clues as to snap her out of this trance, Edgar sniffed her face. That musty, offensive canine smell filled his nostrils. Attempting to rid himself of the odor, Edgar shook his head. Regaining his composure, he turned to Penelope, who sat at the table with her head in her hands, oblivious to his frustrations.

“Dr. Glyndor, if you please, I require assistance,” Edgar began. “It appears Chelsea is in some sort of comatose state.”

Penelope looked up to see Edgar gesturing politely in Chelsea’s direction. She warily took in the situation and muttered, “Try her paw. Front right. Front left locks, front right unlocks.”

Following Penelope’s instructions, Edgar managed to release Chelsea, who arched her back in a shuddering stretch and leapt clumsily from the table. Edgar leaped gracefully to the floor to follow. Guiding her to a small flapping cat door, Edgar and Chelsea disappeared into “the back.”

A few moments later, Edgar reappeared and leapt back onto the table to settle right in front of Penelope. “Why? Why canine? And how?” implored a distraught Edgar. “And is she part… ROBOT?!” exclaimed the large cat, as if this was even more offensive than the canine horror.

“Well, technically speaking, the process is threefold…” Penelope launched into what sounded to Edgar a very “science-y” sounding explanation.

Edgar reached out and put a tabbied paw onto Penelope’s gesticulating hand and very patiently told her, “I am a cat. I already know science-y things.”

Across the room a little brown bird twittered in laughter. Penelope held her breath. Edgar glared in Horatio’s direction.