When Anybody’s Rights are Threatened,
Everybody’s Rights are Threatened.
Shameless Pimping for Pennies
by Harding McFadden
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
So, for better or worse, this coming Monday, after too long a delay on behalf of this grumpy writer, the second book in my long gestating series of juvenile (see: “Young Adult”) adventure stories, The Great First Impressions Trip, is going to be available on amazon.com. Deep breaths all around, and fingers crossed that someone out there will be interested in picking up this little bit of politically offensive, time traveling, anti-authoritarian sci-fi. Though now comes the hard part: Finishing up the next book.
While in the process of writing a short suburban fantasy book for my oldest daughter, I’ve set aside a few days to collect and format nearly all of my published short fiction. Add to these little trips a few bits new to this collection, and coming soon we’ll have a hodgepodge of my tiny tales called The Judas Hymn.
In the interest of promoting this little tome, I submit to you now a story not collected in it (formatting problems, sorry). First published in Lovecraft’s Disciples # 27, “Taking the Plunge” is my love letter not only to a lifetime reading Cthulhu Mythos fiction, but also to lost youth, and more importantly to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, unquestionably my favorite of the Universal Monsters flicks. Every character name (with the exceptions of those taken from the work of HPL) was lifted from someone who worked in, or starred in, CftBL.
It is my sincere hope that you enjoy reading this little story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have a great day.
Taking the Plunge
The Dagon Institute loomed before me like the seat of God as I departed the bus. I left my life behind, and threw away all that I was, in favor of something... else. It was during the cold winter of 2027-28 that I came to Innsmouth, in the cause of love. My coat was heavy and hung to my knees, yet even with the collar pulled high, the chill still bit me bone deep. My teeth chattered, and the bag hanging from my shoulder threw my balance off. My life was with me, all of my possessions, all I would ever need. Everything but her.
On my way into town, I had looked out the frosted blue windows of the bus, at the structures growing like a forest around me. It seemed like a slow bleed, the ending of the forested area surrounding the town, into the buildings, first old and gothic, growing more and more industrialized the closer we came to the town center. Innsmouth was a large place, much larger than the histories I had read about it would have led me to believe, though nowhere near as imposing as the travel brochures would have you expect. The early cobbles gave up their ghost in favor of asphalt, in the same way that the dead give their long-honored places away to the young and inexperienced. Age gave way to youth, the common to the unexpected, and humanity to things other.
My breath plumed from my blue lips as I stood before the building, its completely glass sides giving off more shadow than should have been possible. I could not shake a feeling of dread as I stood looking at the place. Instinctively, I knew that this wasn’t fear aimed at the building, or what they did there. It was what I was going to become that I feared; longed for; was mystified by. For longer than any sane man should have, I stood, looking at the place, the birthing suite of my new life.
Mulling around before the imposing structure was the cluster of protesters, carrying their signs and chanting their chants. In half a glance, it was obvious to anyone what their problem was. I had seen them before, on the news and in the papers. Even before the patents had been given, and the new laws forced through congress, the Institute had been a sore spot for certain people. The pictures held high on the placards of the protesters gave mind to similar things held in the hands of the people who stood outside abortion clinics every day of the year, rain or shine, with one startling exception: these pictures were of living things...
...oddly, I was reminded of my parents...
Grasping my fear, I swallowed a deep breath, straightened my back, and strode briskly through the crowd. Up thirteen stone steps I went before entering through the twelve foot high double doors, feigning a courage that I did not feel.
The inside of the Institute was like a spa, only more so. People mulled calmly, quietly about. The walls were whispered pastels, the ceiling an endless row of soft lights, the floors a perfectly smooth hard wood, accented with sea green rugs. It was welcoming and intimidating, classic and yet somehow futuristic. It was like nothing that I had expected.
For a minute, I stood there, taking in all the sights around me, letting the chill from outside subside as the inner warmth of the building embraced me. A symbolic return to the womb, it only seemed right that I make my way further into the building. I knew from the pamphlets Laurie had given me that the Dagon Institute sat upon more than half a mile of real estate, its operating rooms and medical offices state of the art, its doctors, surgeons, and genetic specialists better than the best. It should have come as no surprise to me that their security would be much the same.
“Hello, sir,” the largest man that I have ever seen said to me as I approached his desk. “Can I help you?”
Even seated, he was as tall as me, his skin already beginning to take on the greenish hue of someone going through the process. His eyes were large, but not yet glassy. His fists were the size of hams. It must have taken yards of material to make his uniform. I could see no armaments on him, though these could easily have been hidden away on his person. Not that he necessarily needed them: I doubt that a mere bullet could have caused him to slow down once his steam was up.
Awkwardly, I cleared my throat. “Yes,” I answered this mountain before me. “Ben Chapman, here to see Doctor Adams. I have an appointment.”
Picking up the comically small phone in his fist, the guard directed me to an alcove of chairs out of the way but still within his sight. “Please, have a seat, sir. I’ll call Doctor Adams for you. It shouldn’t be more than a moment.”
Nodding my thanks, I did as I was bade, and gladly put down my bag on the floor beside me. My shoulders ached, from the weight of my things, but more so from the stress that assaulted me. Forcing my breath to level out, closing my eyes against unwanted flashes of angry memory, I sat there. Moments passed, and I opened my eyes again, having removed the wallet from an inner coat pocket, flipping it open to the small photo I kept there. I smiled, despite myself.
Laurie Browning, my love, my life. The picture was of her, just after graduation last spring. She was beautiful in the ways that angels must be. In her eyes was the depth of soul that poets write about. The first time I had met her, I had fallen into those eyes. I was falling still.
“So,” a velvety smooth voice just over my right shoulder said, “is that her?”
I stood abruptly, turning to face my visitor, the wallet already forgotten. The woman in the lab coat was beautiful in a girl next door kind of way. Tall with long dark hair, her white lab coat did nothing to hide her shapely body. Awkwardly, I forced myself to meet her eyes and ignore the rest of her.
“Who?” I asked.
She smiled at me. “Her.” She pointed to the wallet. “With all due respect, Mr. Chapman, most young men of your age are here for one of two reasons: First, they are rabid environmentalists who see a return to the sea as a way to all but eliminate their carbon footprint. Second, the lovers, who give up this meaningless walk upon the dry ground in favor of a life of love and laughter beneath the waves. You look too clean to be an environmentalist, so, again: is that her?”
Folding the wallet, stuffing it back in its pocket, I attempted indignation, but must have come off as little more than childish. “I love her,” I answered lamely.
“You always do,” she replied, extending her hand. “Doctor Julia Adams.” We shook.
She led me down a long hall. Through the continuous soft lights, we moved like phantoms through the inner workings of the building, past silent, etherial workers and guests, many in various states of changing. I felt like Scrooge, detached and untouchable, out of sync with the world around me.
On the walls about us were photos and landscapes: Innsmouth and the surrounding countryside over the last three hundred years, as well as pictures of the Institute some time shortly after opening, and others more recent. Interspersed between them were portraits, past Doctors of note associated with the Institute. At the far end of a long hallway were mounted two larger than life paintings, encased in golden frames. The first, a pale, mutton-chopped man with the hard skin and bearing of a man who lived off of the sea, under which was a small plaque which read “Obed Marsh: Founder, Dagon Institute of Applied Genetics, Innsmouth, Mass.”; beside it, and slightly smaller, a more recent photograph of an elderly, gray-haired gentleman in the height of expensive fashion: “Jack Arnold: Executive Dircetor of the Dagon Institute of Applied Genetics, Innsmouth, Mass.”
I stood to look at the larger of the pictures, marveling at the detail, the almost skin-crawling accuracy of the painting. Wherever I looked, the paint still seemed wet, like it was barely restrained by the glass and golden border that held it. Try as I might, I couldn’t help the sensation that it was looking at me, wishing, wanting to leap from its bindings and attack.
“Right this way, Mr. Chapman,” she said, breaking me free from my trance. Shaking my head slightly, I followed her into a comfy room much like the lobby: pastels, soft light, sea green carpets.
“That first painting,” I began, seating myself. “Obed Marsh. I remember reading about him in the literature about this place.”
“Yes. A bit of revisionist history, calling him the ‘founder’ of the Institute. He was a very important person in Innsmouth during his life, and introduced many new customs to the locals. Inherited from a Polynesian bride, or some such. Thought he could breed a better sort of person, I believe the thought was. You know how it is: ‘Better, stronger, faster.’ By contemporary standards, he was kind of a eugenicist.”
“I had heard the same thing about Planner Parenthood, a long time ago,” I added, for lack of anything better to say.
She gave me a hard, steady look. “I cannot speak to the motivations of any other organization, of course.”
“Of course. I was just making conversation.”
The desk in the center of the room seemed more to have grown from the smooth floor than been placed upon it. I saw that there were no personal touches there, nothing to say she intended to stay. No photographs, no thumb-tacked comic strips, nothing. She gave the impression of being more of a visitor than a lifer.
Once we were both seated, she had taken a notepad from a desk drawer, unscrewed the top of a very expensive-looking pen, and gazed at me. After a few uncomfortable moments, she said, “So, tell me why you want to undergo this procedure, Mr. Chapman.”
My discomfort escalated. Moment of truth time. How do you explain this to a stranger? How do you tell someone who had never felt love like I felt that you would be willing to do anything at all to be with the woman of your dreams? There weren’t words for my feelings, and any that I would try, I feared, would make me sound more like a mad man than a rational person.
“I’m... not altogether sure,” I lied.
She smiled a warm smile at me, and put down her pen. “Mr. Chapmen,” she began.
“Ben,” I interrupted. “Please.”
That smile again. I was surprised at just how attractive she was. Maybe, if I hadn’t met Laurie...?
“Ben,” she continued. “I think we must be truthful with each other from the outset, if this is going to work. To disregard any further misconceptions, I am not one of the Institutes surgeons or geneticists. I will have nothing to do with the actual procedures that you may undergo. I will not be involved with the rewriting of your genomes. I will have no hand in any preparatory surgeries that you may have to get.
“What I am, is a staff psychologist. One of many. It just so happens that I was up on the rotation when you contacted us about beginning the procedure. I have no ill will toward you, nor will I, as long as you are completely honest with me about this. Think of it as the relationship between a phycologist and a person wishing to undergo a sex change. There is actually very little difference, here. What you wish to do is only more drastic. A change of gender is one thing; a change of species, something else entirely. In truth, if you will not be open and honest with me, if you do not convince me that you are not a threat to yourself or others by undergoing this transformation, then I cannot, in fact will not, sign off on your papers. So, for the last time, I have to ask you: Why do you want to undergo this procedure, Ben?”
I took a deep breath, and forced myself to meet those probing eyes. Finally I replied, “Because I love her, and would do anything for her.”
“Is she aware of your feelings for her, Ben?”
“Yes. I’m not some kind of stalker. She is well aware of how much I care for her, and she feels the same.” My voice grew thick, my face damp.
She leaned back in her chair, apparently pleased, and made some notes on her pad. “Good. Mutual affection is a fine beginning to a long lasting relationship. You also need respect, trust. You need to be the most important people in each others lives. Her happiness must be necessary for your own, and vice versa. I have to assume that you will tell me that you two have all of this?”
Putting her pen and pad down again, she stood and moved around her desk toward me. Once before me, she perched on the edge of the desk, her lab coat open. Though completely clothed, she wore a skirt suit that was flattering, showing off her legs. I must have stared for more than a moment, as when I met her eyes again, she was looking at me with a melancholy, knowing glare.
“How do your parents feel about this, Ben?” she asked me.
I fought to keep my voice calm as I answered her, half-growling through gritted teeth. “They’ve disowned me. It wasn’t really a surprise. I’ve been with Laurie over a year, and they’ve hated her the whole time. They think she’s a corruptive influence. When she came here to begin the procedure, they started calling her a ‘greenie’, and a ‘frogger’. They’re bigots! They just don’t understand. She hasn’t corrupted me, she’s opened my eyes to a whole new world. She’s made me a better person.”
“I assume that you realize this is a frightfully expensive procedure. How do you intend to pay? Have you been saving for a while? They don’t take it in installments, you know.”
I looked at my feet, embarrassed for the first time. Talk of money always made me uncomfortable. “Laurie’s parents died a few years back. They were fairly well off, and left her with a nice nest egg. She’s offered to foot the bill for the procedure.”
“And has she begun the process herself?”
“She’s done. Started about a year ago, and went into the water last month. I was with her as much as I could along the way. Being apart from her now is killing me.”
Nodding, she buttoned up her coat and returned to her desk. Scribbling more notes, she asked, “Then you know that this will take some time? Many months, if not well over a year. Do you have anyplace to stay while your here in Innsmouth, Ben?”
“Not yet,” I admitted.
“You should try the Gillman House, for right now. It’s nothing fancy, but the rates are fair and the food is good. I’ve stayed there a time or two, myself.”
“Thank you, I’ll give it a try.”
“Good. I’d like to see you again in two days, Ben. If we’re going to suss out what to do with you, I’ll need a true feel for your mental state, and this won’t happen overnight. If all goes well, we’ll talk to the geneticists, and proceed from there. I can make no promises, but we’ll see.”
She stood, and ushered me out into the hallway. We walked in silence back to the great doors at the front of the Institute. She graced me with that smile one last time, then extended her hand toward me. I took it, feeling a slight tingle shoot through my body. My face felt flush.
“Have a good afternoon, Ben, and I’ll see you back here in two days.”
With that, she turned on her heal, and made her way back to her office. I stood there, watching her go. When I noticed the mountainous guard watching me, I averted me eyes, shouldered my bag, and went back out into the cold. There were fewer protesters out there now, the cold and lengthening day seeming to have blown some of them away.
I took Doctor Adams advice, and got a room at the Gillman House. It was modest and quaint. More importantly, it was cheap. Quickly cleaning myself up, I left my bag there, and walked toward the shore.
The gray-black sand was untouchable, tourists and natives alike being restrained by thick chains that kept everyone on the cobblestone sidewalk. I stood there for a long moment, looking out into the far distance, where I could just see the reef. From more than a mile away, it looked like a misshapen thimble, crawling with ants.
Atop a raised brick observation deck, a metal and brushed brass long distance viewer was constantly aimed out there. A tourist attraction that always seemed more racist than not to me. Feeding it my fifty cents, I searched the reef, and found her, one among dozens. Beautiful, lithe, glistening in the foaming surf, she stood and turned her face toward me, knowing that I was there, as if we were psychically linked. Instantly, she dove into the water and swam toward me.
When she exited the water, my heart seemed to catch in my throat. My eyes tearing up, I strode to her, meeting her just over the chain, and we embraced. Her scaled skin was smooth to the touch, her lips chill but still as welcoming as ever. She was nude, pressed against me, and I somehow knew that we were drawing a crowd.
Pulling away from each other, I looked into her eyes, larger, deeper than they had been, but my Laurie’s nevertheless. I wiped a rogue tear from my eye and smiled at her. She did much the same.
“I can’t believe you’re actually here,” she whispered, her gently webbed fingers tracing the lines of my jaw. It was clear in her face that these past weeks had been long ones for her as well.
“Nothing could have kept me away,” I told her.
We kissed again, chuckling, basking in each others company. Becoming more conscious of the crowd around us, she took my arm and began leading me away. Her head rested on my shoulder. Sighing, she whispered, “Gods, how I’ve missed you.”
I kissed the top of her head, and let her take me wherever she wanted. We walked in silence for quite a while, simply enjoying each others company. It had been too long, a lifetime. We had so much to make up for. We had the rest of our lives to do it.
At last, she asked, “You’re going to go through with it?”
“Yes,” I replied. “If they let me.”
She giggled, like a school girl, and pulled herself closer to me. “Oh, Ben,” she said, her voice sweet, welcoming. “I dream of the day you will join me. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. A waking dream, something you will never want to leave. The secrets of life will be so plain to you. Once you’re with me, you’ll understand. And the music, Ben! Oh, gods, the music...”
I had left my old life behind, and thrown away all that I was, in favor of something... else. I came to Innsmouth during the cold winter of 2027-28, for the cause of love. I had everything that I owned with me, everything I might need, everything... except her.
...and now she was mine again...
as always, for Naomi, Eleanor, and Iris
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