I helped Beej take a seat on the cold tile floor, his anxiety getting the better of him once more. He was covered in sweat, like he had been pedaling a bike for miles. Or been to a male strip club.
I only held it together because he could not. I was frustrated, confused, lost. But I couldn’t show it. Couldn’t let them see that, couldn’t let anyone see that. Once they see you cry or quit, they win. I couldn’t let them win, not if that meant losing my friends again.
Once I knew BJ was in a safe spot, I turned my attention back to the doctor. “So, you were saying? Some crap about parallel universes?”
The doctor smiled his warm, out-of-place smile. “I assure you, it iss nacht krap, as you say. Zere are ozzer uniferses out zere. Lots uff zem. Ve haf nein idea how many yet.”
My head spun from all the chaos and the combos and the silly accent. I tried my best to take in his words, to know what they meant. “What does that have to do with us? And what about choices or whatever junk you were rambling about before?”
His off-putting smile deepened. “It iss all related, I assure you.” He straightened up a bit and wiped some blood from his cheek, looking at the red stain on his fingertips with a blank stare. After a moment, he looked back at me. His eye contact was unnerving. “Choices,” he began, “vhen you make one, you moofe on from it after you make it, as you are actifely dealingkt wit ze konsequences uff your choice. Follow me so far, yeah?”
I nodded yes, but wasn’t entirely sure I was. “Good,” he said in a calm, doctorly way. “Now, vhat ve do nacht see, iss zat afterwarts, ze choices ve did nacht make kreate new alternatifes, new realities. New timelines. Timelines in vhich you made a different choice. Again, how many exist ve do nacht know. Maybe an infinite number.”
He paused, studying me. Scrutinizing my face. I shifted my weight to the other foot. I didn’t like the way he was making me feel. It made me feel like, like…like this was all a part of his plan. Like he was in control, even though he was the one battered and bloody and outnumbered and on the floor. I shuddered.
“So,” I said, trying to force false bravado into my voice, “there is a world out there where you aren’t bald, short, needing glasses for your beady little eyes and didn’t just have a big wang attached to your face?”
I had hoped my words would bother him a bit, ruffle his feathers, but they didn’t seem to. He only continued to smile, a small mischievous glint in his beady eyes. When he opened his mouth to speak, it was me who ended up bothered, it was my feathers that were ruffled.
“Yes,” he replied slowly and sinisterly, “in fact, zere iss efen probably a vorld in vhich your friend iss schtraight undt white, like god prefers.”
He smiled. I glowered.
“You see,” he went on casually, “i know mein vords about your friend bozzer you. But vhy? Are zey right? Or are zey vrong? Vho iss to say?”
I straightened up, angry. “Who’s to say?” I shot back at him, spitting as I did so. “How about the Supreme Court? How about basic human decency? You can’t just judge and eliminate any traits you don’t like. You don’t get to pick what color people should be and decide who they should love.”
The doctor’s smile didn’t waver. Instead, it warmed. “You do nacht realize zis, but you are profingkt mein point exactly.”
I clenched my jaw and my fists simultaneously. I really wanted to hit this Nazi worm again, but we were low on time and I needed him talking. Through my clenched teeth, all my remaining patience could muster was a two word question. “How so?”
“You say zat ve can nacht, or razzer schould nacht, pick undt choose ze qualities zat ve desire in ozzers. But, vhat if i told you zat ziss iss vhat ve haf always done, efer since ze beginningkt uff time?”
I looked at Beej and made a show of rolling my eyes; trying to simultaneously cheer him up and calm him down, while also irritating the doctor and letting him know that his whole spiel sounded dry and stupid. I looked up at aLizardbeth and she rolled her eyes at me. But whether it was because of the doctor or because that’s how her eyes were constructed now, I did not know.
The doctor, for his part, launched into one hell of a defense for his mindset, for his actions. He could be a lawyer in one of those other timelines he mentioned.
“Ven ve choose a mate, ve try to pick an attractife one, nein? Ve find certain aspects uff zem beautiful. Zat iss simply natural selection. Iss zat vrong? Or just nature? Just genetics?”
“I think that’s -” I tried to cut in, but the doctor went on, his questions apparently rhetorical.
“Peppers,” he went on cooly, “ven ve vant peppers to get hotter, ve schtress zem out, put zem in unnaturally schtressful enfironments. Until zey change. Until zey become vhat ve vanted. Iss zis vrong? Or iss it just farmingkt? Iss it just personal undt social tastes?”
My mind began to spin, the words he said being hard to understand. Not just because of the funny accent, but because they provoked more and more thoughts. They connected and intertwined and, I hated to admit it to myself, made a sort of sick sense too.
When we choose a partner or pick where we live, we also don’t choose other partners, other less desirable environments. More choices. More preferences. More perceptions. More timelines.
He talked about how we bred sheep to grow wool at such an accelerated rate that they can no longer survive without our help with the sheers. Are we now partners then? Or slave and owner?
He spoke of the way that we took the poisonous gene from scorpion tails and put it into cabbage. This killed all the insects that ate it, but it was modified to be safe for human consumption. This saves our food from pests. Which is good for us.
Yet it kills many insects, which the insects would consider to be bad. So which is it? Right or wrong?
He said that right and wrong were perceptions, no more no less.
He said that it’s about the greater good, not the individual.
GMO corn. Glow-in-the-dark beagles. Spinach that can detect landmines. Argentinian cows that produce human milk. The Vacanti mouse with a human ear. Wonders? Or horrors?
Finally, he seemed to get to the main point. The underlying truth behind all of this. The purpose.
“Ve are here,” he said he said with obvious pride, “to force ze next schtage in human evolution.”
Those words, the part about forcing our evolution, they sent chills down my spine. They seemed to echo throughout all of me, and also far beyond me.
“Ve haf been to ozzer vorlds,” he said, his smile darkening. “Lots uff zem.” His pupils expanded to large saucers as he gleefully recalled them in his head. “Some uff zem vere nacht much different zen our own vorld. Some vere beautiful beyond description.” A single wet tear slid down his face as he recalled the great beauty he had seen. Then, a very different emotion flashed across his face. “Undt some,” he said in a near whisper, “Zey vere terrible places. Savage places.”
I gulped. The look in his eyes could stop your heart. They spoke of horror. And suffering.
“Point being,” he said as he brought himself back to the present with a shake of his head, “Iss zat zere are many vorlds out zere to conquer; to rule. To eat. To mate vith. To strip. Vho knows just vhat kind uff traits ve vill need to haff to rule zose vorlds?”
There was a large crash in the office behind us. A hiss and a tearing sound. I wanted to turn around but I was afraid to. The doctor went on, as if he didn’t notice. Maybe he didn’t.
“Maybe ve vill need ze schtrength uff a bear. Or ze gills uff a fisch. Or maybe ze camouflage uff a lizart.”
He smiled his biggest smile yet, revealing more teeth than I thought he should have. White and wet. Glistening with intent. Row upon row. Like a shark.
He twisted his head and gnashed at the tie that had been fastening him to the desk. It fell to the ground in pieces. The collar on his shirt stretched from the sudden motion and revealed jagged indigo gashes cut into the sides of his neck. No, not gashes. Gills.
“Zere are so many vorlds out zere,” he said in an excited voice. As he spoke, the gills opened and flapped wetly along with his lips. The deep pulsating purple of their veiny innards made my flesh crawl. “Do you vant to see zem?”
He flashed his biggest smile and revealed all his sharp, numerous, unnatural teeth.