Paul looked at the storefront and back at the address in the paper.
Then he frowned and repeated the process.
"This can't be right." He muttered. "This doesn't look like any university that I've ever seen."
The building that he was looking at had obviously been the site of a Chinese restaurant. The faded and peeling paint on the sign still could be read as "George's Asian". Over that, though, someone had spread out the thin, paper banner proclaiming "Joe's University of Science".
Paul looked back at the add in the paper. Test Subjects needed for psychological studies. Generous pay for little time! Shrugging, he opened the door and stepped into the darkened lobby.
Standing at the registration desk was a heavyset older woman with a sour look on her face. She barely looked up as Paul walked up. "Tuition please."
"I'm not a student, I wanted to vol..."
"Volunteers go to the left." She interrupted in a strangely flat and emotionless voice. Without another word, she walked off down the hall to the right.
Peering around the corner, Paul watched the lady disappear through what looked like the kitchen door. Looking around and not seeing another soul, he turned to the left and walked cautiously forward.
"Welcome! Thank you for coming!"
Paul nearly jumped out of his skin as the bearded man stepped from the shadows of what had been the bar of the restaurant. Squinting in the dim light, Paul could only make out the vaguely Freudian look to his features. The man had the look of a professor, with a red tie and white lab coat. "Don't scare me like that!" Paul yelled.
The man shrugged. "Okay. But are you a student?" he asked hopefully.
Paul shook his head and showed the man the newspaper. "No, I was just looking to volunteer for this study. It says that it pays."
The professors face fell. "Darn, I haven't gotten many new students since I came to this location. Still, it's more pleasant than that loft over the rendering plant. Anyway, on with the study. Have a seat."
Paul sat down on the dusty barstool. "Okay, what's next?"
The white coated professor type made a show of pulling out a clipboard and a pen. He jotted information down all over the page, often throwing Paul odd glances from time to time. Paul just stared, wondering just what he was going to be asked. He began to suspect that this whole strange set-up was a part of some odd study. Finally, the man took a deep, expectant breath.
"What do you think about your mother?"
Paul blinked. "Huh?"
The man rolled his eyes a little. "Simple question. What do you think about your mother?"
"Uh, I love her just fine."
"Great! We're done here. Thanks for your help."
Paul blinked again. "What? Huh? Don't you at least want me to elaborate or something?"
Paul didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He slid off the stool and held out his hand. "Whatever. Just pay me and I'll leave."
The man smiled and nodded. "Of course." He reached into his pocket and fished out a shiny, newly minted quarter and laid it in Paul's hand with a flourish. "There you are, young man. Thank you for your help."
Paul stared at the coin for a moment before looking back at the professor. "You're kidding, right? Right? This doesn't even cover my bus fare."
The professor shrugged. "Pretty good for one question, though. But if you'll excuse me, I need to teach a class." He walked to the door to the old, dingy bar, but stopped. "You know, I need a test subject for this class. You interested?"
Paul shrugged. Probably meant another quarter, but his day was shot anyway. Besides, he was getting an unbelievable story to tell his friends when this was all over. "Sure, why not. I guess I can survive some questions."
The professor led him into the former rear dining area where chairs had been set up like desks. An easel with butcher block paper was set up at the front, but there wasn't anything written on it. Paul noted, more than a little concerned, at the distinct lack of students in the chairs. The professor motioned for him to sit on another dusty bar stool at the front of the empty class.
Apparently not noticing the fact that he was talking to a semi-dark room, the professor started to speak in a loud and booming voice. "Ladies and gentlemen! Today we will examine the effects of the alteration of the deoxyribosenuclic acids of the human genome to another totally and completely different form of deoxyribosenucleic acid. We will undergo this procedure utilizing..."
Paul started to tune the old man out. The fact that he was speaking clearly and confidently in a language that he couldn't understand was enough. The fact that he was doing this to a room that was full of empty chairs was just plain strange .
Glassy eyed and now staring at the ceiling while the professor droned on, Paul didn't notice the tiny syringe until it was already pressed and drained into his buttocks. "Ow! Christ! What the hell are you doing?!" he yelled, leaping from the stool.
The professor ignored him. "As you can see class, the transmutation of the subject will occur in rather short fashion. The nanotechnological robots that I invented will quickly replace the old codes and rewrite them. Excess mass will simply be... Oh! The process is already starting!" he finished cheerfully.
Paul didn't really notice that the man had stopped talking. He was too busy looking at his growing tail in horror. He felt his breathing speed up as he approached hyperventilation. Somehow, he was coherent enough to realize that he couldn't seem to get the thought to Run! out of his brain and into his legs.
Legs that seemed to be getting distinctly shorter at the moment.
Paul suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge. Not to run or scream, but rather to go to the bathroom. But unable to control his legs, his body seemed to decide that it could be taken care of right there, at the front of the empty class. His pants, now far to big for him anyway, fell to the floor with their sudden extra weight as his body tried to get rid of all the materials that it no longer seemed to need.
The professor started talking again. "As you can see, the body will make use of currently existing structures to correct itself for mass and water content. The subject is already rapidly shrinking and altering. Complete metamorphosis will be complete in about ten seconds."
Paul felt a sudden sensation as the man spoke, a sensation not unlike going down a roller coaster. He felt light headed, almost giddy, and his feet felt cold and unresponsive. He felt a hand grab him around the back of the neck and lift his now tiny, white furred form off the floor.
"As you can see, class, the subject that was a young male human is now a simple white laboratory rat. It's a rather easy procedure, really. Easily reversed, too." He glanced at his watch. "Sadly, we'll have to hold off on that procedure as I see you all have a ten minute break followed by another class. We'll do the procedure tomorrow in class, then."
Paul started hyperventilating, which seemed to be about normal for this rat metabolism. He still felt a little weak, but managed to squeak out in terror.
The professor looked down, oddly seeming to notice the white rat in his hand for the first time. "Oh yes. I'm sorry, Paul. I'll just have to change you back in a little bit. But no need to worry, I'll take care of that after the next class. And when you're done you'll get a silver dollar!" he said with a little flourish. He reached over to a table and opened the door to an old, scummy rat cage. "In you go."
Paul looked out through the bars of the cage, his mind reeling. How did a loser like this guy, obviously insane, manage to get technology like that ?! Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. This must just all be an elaborate delusion. He was probably hypnotized somewhere, maybe not even in the building he thought he was in, to think all this was happening. He had volunteered for a psychology study, after all.
His breath started coming a little slower, and his heart seemed to slow. That was it, of course! Nothing more than a delusion! He looked over his white furred body and rubbed his large ears with amusement. Now that he knew what was going on, it was actually kinda fun. Sorta like a dream.
Playfully, he pulled on his tail, actually admiring his imagination at getting the detail so good. It looked as convincing as it could be. On a whim, he stuck it in his mouth and bit down...
As the cage was set down on a shelf, Paul started to realize that this wasn't all just a dream.
"Okay, my young friend." Said the professor. "Let me just give my students a break and then I'll teach their next class. After that, you'll be..." he was interrupted by a phone ringing. "Excuse me." He walked over to the well worn desk in the corner and picked up the receiver.
Paul let his eyes wander a little bit. The office was tiny, cramped and loaded with other animal cages. Most were empty, but a few held small lab animals. Paul didn't think that any were people as he was, as they seemed to pay him no mind at all. But a quick scan of the room showed a few other rats of various colors, frogs and even a few crayfish in a tank.
The professor hung up the phone and smiled. "Fantastic! I have a whole 30 days before I'm kicked out of here! Wonderful!" he said with apparent true glee. He smacked his hands together and walked over to the line of rat cages. To Paul's horror, he leaned in on a white rat three cages over . "So maybe you can come back and act as a subject again later!"
Paul chattered as loud as he could, but the professor seemed not to notice. Instead, he walked over and picked up Paul's cage again. Looking back at the other rat, he said, "I'll be back to fix you up as soon as I'm done with the next class."
Paul kept chattering away, but couldn't seem to get the attention of the senile, or insane, man. Instead, he stepped out into the empty former dining room and set the cage down on the workbench. The dim lights of the room glinted blindingly off some silver objects on the table. Paul felt his heart sink as true terror set in. He tried to escape the hand that quickly reached into the cage but there was simply nowhere to run. He was soon held tightly in a position that prevented him from using his teeth or claws. Abruptly, he was dropped into a tall, glass jar. A few smelly cotton balls were dropped in with him.
The smell started to make him swoon a bit. As the lid came down, he barely heard the professor for the last time. "Today class, we'll start our first dissection..."