The accident hadn’t been her fault, that was the one thing that Kelly would stick to if asked. The blame there lay solely on Jared. She’d been doing everything just right, not wanting to get in trouble with the professor, Jared on the other hand was being careless with how he was labeling the samples the two of them had been assigned to pipette. She still didn’t know how he’d made it into the advanced placement biology class or how he’d been lucky enough to be selected, along with her, to go help out an actual professor doing actual research for actual college credits over the summer, but he had, along with her and he was as careless as ever.
Then there was the way he was putting the samples in the centrifuge, which might have been even worse than how he was labeling them. They needed to keep it balanced before running it and she wasn’t going to fix everything for him.
The absolute worst thing though, beyond him being sloppy and careless was that he was goofing off on his phone and ignoring her because he thought it was funny.
So to get his attention she slammed her hand down on the table because nothing else was working.
Of course it had been the hand that she was holding the pipetter in that she brought down. On the bright side she hadn’t damaged the pipetter when she slammed it down on top of her other hand. She wasn’t sure how much the things cost or if they were easy to fix, but she was pretty sure that if they’d managed to break it they wouldn’t only have been made pay for it to be fixed, they’d get kicked out of the advanced placement program.
Jared managed to find a first aid kit while she cleaned the blood up, agreeing that they didn’t need to report the accident, not when they still had hundreds of samples to pipette and their argument might still get them in trouble if anyone found out.
In hindsight, given that they were working with irradiated tardigrade DNA, she probably should have reported the accident to the school, or to someone, but it hadn’t seemed like a big deal. Besides, the fear of getting in trouble was greater than any concern over what might follow.
The little puncture didn’t seem like something to worry about when there was so much else going on. Things always got crazy during the summer, she and her friends trying to pack in as much slacking off before school started, finishing summer homework and getting ready for her last year of high school while worrying about applying to and getting accepted by colleges. She had a lot going on and she didn’t want to find out how a lab accident before she even started college would impact her ability to get into a good university.
Really though, saying something might have been the smartest thing to do, even if it was doubtful that the end results would have been any different.
She’d gone back to pipetting and Jared went back to goofing off on his phone, tracking the latest escapades of the most recent supervillain, the Deadly Gamma-Ray. Jared was convinced that the authorities needed to stop looking for some disgruntled professor who’d somehow lost tenure or missed out on a huge grant and that instead they needed to look for some guy named Ray tinkering in his garage. Kelly didn’t want to know why Jared was so adamant about this, especially when last year he’d gotten suspended for adding some features that weren’t competition legal to machine the school robotics team were building.
He was confident that in the ‘Senior Superlatives’ section of the yearbook he was going to end up as ‘Most Likely to be a Superhero (or Villain)’ and teased her about being his only competition for the title thanks to that incident in tenth grade.
Storm out of one advanced chemistry class ranting that everyone in it were idiots and they’d all be sorry when final grades came around and you never got to live it down, never mind that it had all been because Kevin had done something stupid with the polymers they were making and managed to stick her backpack to her chair.
Kelly hadn’t been amused and when the professor came by to tell them that they were free to go for the day she’d left in a bad mood, thinking about how glad she would be to get into college and how miserable dealing with high school was.
High school was so stupid and she was glad that she only had one more year of it. Getting to college where everyone would be smart, reasonable and focused on learning rather than goofing off would be such a relief.
On the way home she called her best friend and they spent the evening talking about the idiots they went to school with and finishing off a gallon of ice-cream and a whole batch of brownies between them.
Which meant there was no doubt in her mind as to why she felt awful the next morning and slept until nearly noon.
The day after that it was another session of helping at the college, more pipetting as Jared played games on his phone. The one time he looked up was to comment that she looked even worse than usual so she ignored him. He’d get his when he ended up not getting accepted to any of the colleges he applied to and need to go to some two-year school to build up his transcript before trying again to get into a real university.
It was almost a relief when the professor rushed in halfway through the day and told them to go, that the college was probably going to be evacuated. He wouldn’t say why, but both she and Jared had their suspicions, especially when, on their way out, they caught a glimpse of a brightly colored blur overhead.
Whichever hero it was had been flying too high and fast for them to get a look at their colors, but it was clear that someone thought something bad was about to go down at the college or somewhere very close by.
Rushing home, Kelly went straight to her room and started watching the news on her computer, waiting for an update on what was going on in between chatting with friends and griping on Facebook about how annoying high school was and how she was glad that she was almost done with it.
Of course nothing had happened by the time her mom called her out of her room for dinner and fortunately nothing happened while she was away from her computer, other than Riona uploading an entire album of photos and videos from her crazy summer vacation. Apparently the rain had made her stir-crazy because some of what she was posting was hilarious.
Kelly spent the rest of the night texting and chatting online, at some point dozed off at her computer before waking up with a start.
Sunlight was streaming into her room, letting her know that it was pretty late in the day and she would have liked to say that the light or the news broadcast playing over her computer’s speakers was what had woken her up.
That would have been a lot more dramatic and way less embarrassing than falling out of bed the way she had.
Except, as she tried to get to her feet, which was way more difficult than it should have been, she realized that she hadn’t made it to bed last night, she’d dozed off in her chair and it wasn’t her blanket that she was tangled in. It was the shredded remains of the outfit that she’d been wearing and something else.
It was about that time she caught sight of her hand.
She knew it was her hand because when she tried to wiggle her fingers the four hooked claws moved.
Okay, so this was either one hell of a nightmare or…
Pinching herself with those claws proved more of a challenge than she’d expected, not just because her skin, despite being nearly transparent, was surprisingly tough, but because she had two more sets of arms than she should have.
Squeezing her arm with those claws didn’t wake her up, not that it was a surprise. Sharp they might have been, her skin was just too tough.
The thought that she might not be dreaming occurred to her and she did the same thing that anyone would do in her situation.
A Google search of ‘I woke up as something with eight arms’ was less helpful than she’d hoped and the search engine kept wanting to correct it as ‘I woke up with something with eight arms’ then offering sites with advice on how to recognize different types of demons. She was pretty sure that she wasn’t some kind of demon though. Both of her parents were accountants and much too practical for anything that could lead to her being part demon. There was crazy uncle Drew, who her mom never wanted to talk about and hoped would never show up at family get-togethers, but Kelly was pretty sure that had something to do with drugs, and mundane drugs at that, not the experimental stuff that turned people into monsters, common as it was.
There was always some rogue nation starting a super-soldier program and having it go wrong. Just last year that experimental osteoporosis drug Calosin was tested and its side effects had been crazy. Countless doctors and researchers tested experimental treatments on themselves when they were about to lose funding.
That thought got her thinking to her conversation with Jared back at the lab, which in turn got her thinking about the accident that he’d caused.
Googling ‘tardigrade’ yielded far more helpful results.
The number of arms and the claws certainly matched up and when she snapped a picture of her face to see what she looked like, something she immediately regretted, that sort of matched as well. Having some kind of weird exoskeleton and bones underneath, bones she could almost see because all of her skin was semitransparent, did not make for a good look. Especially with the fangs, and she was pretty sure that tardigrades weren’t supposed to have fangs, or at least not that many.
And the weird antennae things weren’t helping either.
Trying to remain clam she continued her research.
What Wikipedia had to say about the little invertebrates was interesting, if not immediately helpful.
In one of the tabs of her browser the news site that had woken her up continued with its broadcast, catching her attention only because the college where she helped with lab work was mentioned by name.
Apparently whoever thought that it would be the Deadly Gamma-Ray’s next target had been right.
He’d gotten spooked by the superheroes patrolling the area, holed up inside one of the physics labs and had apparently taken several hostages. Efforts were underway to get a superhero who was immune to radiation to show up, but it looked like it might take several hours due to a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world having unearthed a very strange meteorite.
When the broadcast changed to talking about the meteorite and what it was doing to plant life around it Kelly closed out of the browser and shut her laptop down.
Depending on how long things took and which hero they brought in there was no telling what the collateral damage might be. If things were bad enough the lab where she worked might get closed down for the rest of the summer and she wouldn’t be able to finish her course.
If that happened she probably wouldn’t get credit for it and there wouldn’t be another opportunity before she started applying to colleges. Lost credits and a blank spot on her resume. Her ACT and SAT grades were good, but most colleges ignored those now so she needed those credits and to be able to write about her experience on her admissions essay to really stand out.
Stupid Jared for getting her turned into a monster and Stupid Deadly Gamma-Ray for messing up her chance for getting into a good college.
Tardigrades were supposed to be nearly indestructible and one of the things that the Wikipedia article had mentioned was their seemingly impossible resistance to radiation.
Using the Uber app with claws proved difficult, but not insurmountably so. Finding a driver who’d be willing to get her close enough to the college for her to walk the rest of the way was far more of a challenge, but there were enough brave souls out there that she was able to get one to come for her.
Explaining her situation to them when they arrived to pick her up was going to be tough, especially when she discovered that she could hardly talk, but a notebook and a pen would be enough to fix that.
While she waited for her driver to arrive she started writing down her explanation.
This was a bad thing, a really, really bad thing, but she could turn it around. Even if the college got shut down for the rest of the summer she could still make things work. If she stopped the Deadly Gamma-Ray herself they might offer her a full scholarship out of gratitude.
If they didn’t, well, she’d show them. There were other schools out there after all and she was pretty sure that there were scholarships out there for superheroes.