Hybrid Vigor, Part 1

(by msulliva@asacomp.com, 19 February 1997)

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Notice:  This story has been rated "NC17" for adult language, nudity,
strong sexual content, violence, and explicit smoking.  If you find any
of this objectionable, I suggest you try another fetish.

Copyright 1997 by G. M. Sullivan.  All rights reserved.  This story may
be copied and distributed for the uncompensated amusement of others

Author's note:  This story takes place during the spring before the
events described in "Dying for a Cigarette" and "Phoenix Ascending."
While it is not necessary to read those stories to enjoy this one, I
recommend them to you with full prejudice.

Dedication:  For Sstoryman, with deepest respect.

"Hybrid Vigor"  Part One of Five

Part One:  All the Tobacconist's Men

1.  Opportunity Knocks

Stuart Brickman was going to be famous.  The Pulitzer would be the
least of it.  There was no doubt in his mind.

His ticket out of this hick town and the dead-end job at the Hilltop
Journal, and into the offices of the Times (New York or Los Angeles) or
the Post (Washington), was spread across his cluttered desktop.  His
Columbia journalism degree would no longer be wasted on the barely
literate and ungrateful residents of central North Carolina.  The world
was about to become his oyster.

From the center of the clutter he lifted a photograph of an attractive,
red-haired girl.  This had to be fate; mere luck could never explain
it.  He glanced at his watch:  8:55 AM.  Where the hell was Aronsen?

Biting back on his impatience, he turned to inspect his daily stack of
out-of-town papers.  Nary a one of these ever passed under the eyes of
any reader of the Journal, but that didn't mean he should be ignorant
of happenings in the real world.  On top was a paper he usually
detested, the New York Post, but he paused to examine the lead story by
Persephone Jones, a reporter whose hard-hitting and concise style he
admired.  Another day, another murder spree; that was New York.  Well,
if not the Big Apple, there was always LA, DC, or 'Frisco.  He
preferred the warmer climates anyway.

He had managed to get one copyrighted story onto the wires during his
year as editor of this rag, about abuses of workers on local tobacco
farms.  Some grudging reforms had followed his exposure of the shocking
facts.  You'd think his readers would be grateful that their crusading
editor had put this burg on the map for a minute and had the guts to
challenge big business, but no.  They resented him for it!  Even the
workers he was trying to protect reviled him!  Still they bought the
paper, if only to be outraged at whatever hornet's nest he would stir
up next, and that's all the owners in Greensboro cared about.

His next hornet's nest, though, would be the end for Hilltop and his
tenure as editor-in-chief at the Journal.  When he was done stirring
this one, few in town would be able to afford a paper anymore.

2.  The Assignment

Shelly Aronsen approached the door to Brickman's office, wondering at
this summons from the chief.  She was a 20-year-old journalism student
at Duke, taking a summer internship at the paper, and had only met
Brickman one time before.  Once had been enough.  He was an
insufferable, arrogant, ass who held his readers and community in
contempt, and had enough chips on his shoulder to build a log cabin.
He would be much more at home in a place like New York.  Still, it was
little enough to put up with for three months while she gained some
valuable experience.

"Come in, Aronsen!" barked his voice in answer to her knock.  At least
she could admire his brusque professionalism.  He treated everyone
alike regardless of gender.

She entered the small office and saw her ultimate boss for the second
time.  Under 30, he was (in his own mind at least) a true Wunderkind,
and not bad-looking.  She could go for someone like him, if he had not
been such a pain to be around.

Similar thoughts were crossing Brickman's mind as he watched Shelly
enter.  She was a looker, with long, curly, carrot-colored hair,
upturned nose, respectable boobs, and a natural sashay to her walk.
She was also from Massachusetts, a real state, and had a touch of class
absent from the native yokels.  However, this was the sort of place
where they hung you from a tree if you were caught shtupping the
interns, so he refrained from acting on his impulses.  There was too
much to lose, especially now.

"Sit!" he ordered. She sat.  Brickman glanced at the glossy in his
hands, then at Shelly.  It was incredible.  He handed her the
photograph.  "Do you recognize this girl?" he asked.

Shelly's eyes went wide as she examined the picture.  "It's me..." she
began, then saw that it was not.  But it was damned close.  Closer than
sisters, more like twins.  With matching hair arrangements, their
mothers would hard-pressed to spot the differences at ten feet.  "Who
is she?"

"Her name is Mary Lou Demming, and she's the daughter of a friend of
mine at the club, a local tobacco farmer...an enlightened one, if there
is such a thing."  The "club" was actually a run-down gym and seedy
bar, but since he had joined the gym he liked to refer to it that way.
"She has a summer job, too, at Osborn-Smithson Tobacco, or was going to
until she broke her leg playing field hockey last weekend.  I want you
to go in her place."

Osborn-Smithson, a cigarette manufacturer, was the largest employer in
5 local counties and indirectly supported many more with its purchase
of tobacco crops.  "You mean impersonate her?" asked Shelly.

Brickman smiled.  The kid caught on fast.  "You got it, Aronsen.  Her
father has agreed to cooperate completely."  After a small honorarium,
he neglected to add.  He handed her a manila envelope.  "In here you
will find Mary Lou's driver's license, Social Security card, and a copy
of her employment application."

"So will Mary Lou collect my pay from Osborn-Smithson, too?" Shelly
asked, smiling.

"Yes, she will, but don't worry.  During this assignment you will get
double the usual intern pay and a nice bonus if the story goes
national!  Are you game?"

Shelly sat silent for a moment.  She needed to know a lot more about
this assignment before she took it, but she was certainly intrigued.
In her journalism classes they had discussed cases of  reporters going
undercover to get a sensational story.  It had all sounded so
exciting....here she mostly xeroxed, filed, ran errands, and watched
the two full-time reporters type up boring crop reports and wedding
notices.  "I might be," she said, trying to sound cool.  "What would I
be looking for?"

Brickman knew she was hooked.  "Okay, here's the background.
Osborn-Smithson has been around about 100 years. In the 40's and 50s
they had four of the top-ten-selling brands, but since have slipped far
behind the real biggies like Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, and the other
merchants of death."   Brickman made no secret of his hatred of
corporations in general and tobacco companies in particular.  It was
just one more source of ire between him and the townspeople.  "Their
overall market share fell below three percent in 1994.  Then came the
GenSci buyout."

"I read about that," said Shelly.  "Wasn't that a little strange?"

"Strange doesn't begin to describe it.  It was a nine-day wonder back
in '96.  GenSci is one of the five most cash-rich, privately-held
corporations in America, with 7 basic patents for genetically
engineered products, most of them foods.  They have never before or
since acquired another company.  They paid $2 billion in cash for OST,
a premium price of $10 per share above market, then took it private.
Since then no one knows how much money OST has made or lost, or any of
the other financial scuttlebutt you can pick up on publicly traded

"So you want me to scope out their financials?"

Brickman laughed.  "That would be a bonus, but no, Aronsen.  We have
much bigger fish to fry here.  Have you been by their headquarters
since you arrived?"  Shelly shook her head.  "Well, make a point of it
before you start work there.  They have recently finished a major
expansion to their R&D center.  I'd say it set them back $100 million
at least, an unheard-of sum for a tobacco company.  They've also
obtained certification for a P4 lab."

"What's that?"

"Come on, Aronsen, didn't you see the movie 'Outbreak?'  That's the
kind of lab where they handle deadly viruses...or do dangerous DNA

"Oh, my god..."

"Oh my god is right!  And here's the clincher...have you ever heard of
Dr. James M. Ryan?"

"I've heard the name..."

"At 26, he's an MD, a Ph.D., a PE, and probably several other things
too.  He's already been with GenSci two years and is thought to be
responsible for at least three of their patents.  His main area is
botanical microbiology, but he's pretty diverse.  He's only the hottest
intellectual property in America, that's all.  Now he's been appointed
director of research and development at OST.  Why do you think they'd
ship someone like him to a backwater like Hilltop?"

"That's where I come in?"

"Exactly!  Mary Lou was selected to be Ryan's personal assistant.  He
asked for her by name.  However, according to her father he's never
spoken to her personally."

"What am I...is she expected to do?"

"She's pre-med at UNC Chapel Hill, with a good background in biology.
That's what they wanted in their interns."

"Mr. Brickman, I quit science when we started dissecting frogs.  I
don't know anything..."

"How much journalism have you needed to know for this job?  It won't be
any different there.  Running the xerox will be your most important

"But how will I know what to look for?"

"This will be a good test of your journalistic instincts.  Nose
around.  Ask questions.  When Ryan gives you something to copy make a
set for yourself, even if you don't understand a word of it.  If
they're counting copies, ask to take the stuff home with you and copy
it at Kinko's."  Brickman's face developed a leer.  "And...there had to
be some reason why Ryan asked for Mary Lou, and I can tell you it
wasn't because of her mediocre academic record.  Perhaps you can get
him to open up a little.  He's young and good-looking...."

Shelly tried not to grimace.  Relying on feminine wiles had never been
part of her fantasy of undercover investigating.  "Well...." She
started, and could not keep the hesitation from her voice.

"Remember, Woodward and Bernstein did not get the dirt on Nixon by
pussyfooting around!  Whatever it took, they did!  No one gets a chance
like this at your age, no one!  You could have a name for yourself
before you even get your god damned degree!"

"I know...and I want to..."

"We have responsibilities to our readers, Aronsen.  Important
responsibilities.  You follow the news.  You know how the tobacco
companies put all kinds of chemicals, extra nicotine, and other crap in
cigarettes.  Now it looks like they're adding gene-splicing to the
list!"  Brickman was growing impassioned; the crusading editor was on a
roll.  He pounded a fist on his desk.  "This is more than a story,
Aronsen.  This is an errand of mercy, to save the American people from
being victimized once again by the worst class of corporate criminals!"

Shelly was impressed by Brickman's conviction. She had imagined scenes
like this in the office of Ben Bradlee, legendary editor of the
Washington Post.  "All right, I'll do it!" she said.

"I never doubted you, Aronsen.  Here's some more background reading on
OST, GenSci, Mary Lou, and Ryan.  I also dug up an introductory text on
microbiology.  Forget about your gofer duties and just concentrate on
this.  You start at OST next Monday, which gives you four days."

Shelly took the large stack of material, thinking this would be the
worst cram session of her life.  She would do it, though...it might be
decades before she got another chance like this.

"Thanks for giving me this opportunity, Mr. Brickman.  I won't let you

"I know you won't, Aronsen."  As Shelly got up to leave, Brickman
added, "Aronsen? One other thing."

"What's that?"

"Do you smoke?"


"Start.  Mary Lou does, and they're likely to be sensitive to that at
OST."  Brickman frowned.  "I'd do it for a story like this, but it'd
give me a hell of an incentive to get the goods and get out fast.  You
follow me?"

"Yes, sir."

3.  Kingdom of the Blind

James Marcus Ryan lived in a different world from ordinary mortals, and
it often annoyed him greatly.  Everyone around him seemed to speak and
move in slow motion.  Before they finished a thought he usually
finished it for them, formulated his response, anticipated their
questions, and answered them.  He could never understand why most
people were so obtuse.

When he had left academe and joined GenSci, things had not improved.
Although most of his colleagues were Ph.D.s with extensive experience
in his field, they were only a little quicker to understand him than
most others.  They were also slow, deliberate, and fearful of failure
in their research.  Worse, they often doubted his insights because of
his age, forcing him to plow ahead on his own to prove himself right.
Egos were bruised.  He was not seen as a good team player.

He had sought the OST assignment in part because he had some ideas
about tobacco, but also because he needed to be in charge and on his
own.  He was also the only professional at GenSci who smoked.  Nicotine
and caffeine both increased mental acuity, and anything that did that
he would use regardless of the risks.

He lit an OST Premium Deluxe 100 and sipped his coffee while scanning
his electronic calendar.  His office was cramped and dim, but only
because he had designed it that way, as he had designed every inch of
the new R&D annex.  He hated being in his office, hated dealing with
administrative details.  However that came with being in charge, and it
was greatly preferable to dealing with the professional jealousies of
his alleged peers.

His new assistant was due in at any moment.  Mary Lou Demming.  He had
asked for her after reviewing the new intern applications, based on her
smoking history and a small photograph he had seen.  His interest was
certainly not intellectual.  He never expected to see an intern who had
a spark anything like his own.  That was not egotism, only realism,
born of long and often painful experience.  He was a freak and knew it,
but he would not change a thing even if he could.

His immersion in study and research had left little time for a social
life, and what little socializing he attempted usually ended in
frustration for all parties.  He had lost his virginity at 16 in his
usual well-planned manner and had sporadic sexual contacts since then,
enough to know that such pursuits could never command his attention for
long.  However, he was always stimulated by the sight of a pretty girl
smoking a cigarette.  This was convenient, because such sights could
often be obtained even while he was working on various projects.  He
had already considered every possible etiology for the sexual
attractiveness of smoking, tracked its probable psychological
development, and even formulated some approaches to therapy.  Some day,
when he had a spare minute, he would dash off a monograph on the
subject.  In any event, that was another thing he had no intention of
changing in himself.

There was a knock at his door.  "Enter," he said.

Shelly opened the door, heart pounding and palms sweating.  She had
spent four days mentally rehearsing this moment, visualizing herself as
cool and confidant.  Now that she was here, she felt like a burglar
about to be nailed in a spotlight.  Who was she to attempt something
like this?

Entering the small office, she had her first look at the famous Dr.
Ryan, sitting behind his desk and wearing the predictable white lab
coat.  He looked so young, and for a moment she felt reassured.  Then
she met his eyes.

Those ice-blue eyes nailed her more surely than any spotlight.  She
felt layers of herself peeling away, revealing her every secret, even
those she hid from herself.  Her knees suddenly felt weak; she wanted
to run, but could not.

"Please sit down, Miss Demming, and relax...I've already had
breakfast."  His voice was deep, well-modulated, even friendly.  The
spell was broken for the moment, and Shelly sat down in front of his
desk.  Dr. Ryan's face, apart from his eyes, looked open and
accepting.  His sandy hair already showed signs of gray at the temples,
which softened his youth and made him seem more...paternal.  Amazingly,
he was typing at his computer with his right hand faster than she could
with two, while his left hand was doodling on a yellow pad, and at the
same time he held her gaze with what seemed like more than human

"It's an honor to meet you, sir..." she began.

"'Dr. Ryan' will do fine, Miss Demming.  Tell me a little about

Shelly had done her homework well, learning every detail she could
about Mary Lou's life. Happily, she found she could now roll it back
smoothly, embellished here and there with small, imaginary details, and
in a fair imitation of the local accent.  She had also plowed through
most of the microbiology text, even trying to work through some of the
equations.  Who would have thought you'd need equations to study

Dr. Ryan considered his new assistant.  She was very attractive, and no
more intimidated than most on meeting him, but something was odd.  He
called up an exact mental image of the photograph he had seen and
superimposed it on her face.  There were a few small but significant
discrepancies.  He examined her face for signs of recent surgery and
found none.  He would need more data for a solid determination.

Into some otherwise unchallenging conversation, He worked in four very
basic questions regarding DNA, RNA, other polypeptides, and bacterial
plasmids.  She answered three of four correctly, and was not too far
off on the one she flubbed.  That was already more than she needed to
know for the limited duties he had planned for her.  He opened the
cigarette box on his desk and offered one of the all-whites to Mary

Trying to show no hesitancy, Shelly took a cigarette.  She knew from
her reading that it was a Premium Deluxe 100, OST's best-selling brand,
in the full-flavored, unmentholated version.  Not a good beginner's
cigarette.  Smoking was the only part of her homework assignment she
had neglected.

Her mother had quit when Shelly was ten, and that was the last anyone
had smoked in her home.  She found cigarettes neither attractive nor
repelling, just uninteresting.  She had tried one or two in high
school, and decided quickly that they were not for her.  She had
assumed she could fake her way through the occasional cigarette here,
just waving it around and puffing rarely.  Now, under Dr. Ryan's
intense gaze, she found she had been naive.  This seemed like another

Her hand shook slightly as she leaned forward to accept a light from
Dr. Ryan.  She drew shallowly on the cigarette as she straightened,
while he took one and lit it for himself, never letting his gaze wander
from her eyes.  Imbibing the smoke, she experienced the barely
remembered intense, bitter, taste, and her mouth and eyes began to
water.  She quickly blew out a tiny cloud of uninhaled smoke, wishing
she had something to drink.

As if reading her mind, which would not have surprised her in the
least, Dr. Ryan turned and poured her a cup of coffee.  She accepted it
gratefully and took a large swallow despite the heat of the black
liquid.  She wasn't fooling him, she knew.  Smokers did not smoke this
way, or react like this when they smoked.  She would have to be more
convincing, and quickly.  She would have to inhale the next puff.

This she had also tried long ago, and the result had been a coughing
and gagging fit.  She was no kid anymore, though, and damn well ought
to manage this without a problem...she had seen little children do this
quite easily!  She brought the cigarette to her full lips once more and
took a longer drag.  As she did so, Dr. Ryan exhaled a large cloud
across the desk right at her.  His smoke irritated her eyes and she
breathed in more deeply then she intended.  Her concentration broken,
she ended up coughing up the smoke.

Dr. Ryan managed a concerned look through his amusement.  "Are you all
right?" he asked, as Shelly gulped down some coffee.  He had no doubt
now.  This was not the women who had interviewed for the position.  His
lab's HR chief Marilyn Patterson would have watched her smoke at least
one cigarette before marking her application for his personal
attention.  She knew his preferences well.

Whatever ever game was afoot here he could now turn to his advantage.
Soon she would be signing a false name to the company's various
"informed consent" documents, and that would vitiate many of her rights
to later legal action.  She would thus be an ideal candidate for
certain experiments he had in mind.  He was reasonably sure he could
control the risks enough to spare her any lasting harm...he was very
confidant in his work.  It was just so tiresome and time-wasting to
follow procedures designed for less competent scientists.

"I'll...be fine," said Shelly.  This was very humiliating and
unpleasant.  The smoke curling from the lit end of her cigarette seemed
to find its way unerringly to her face.  Her throat was burning.
Dropping all pretenses, she stubbed out the barely smoked cigarette.

"I suppose you exaggerated your smoking a little on the application,"
said Dr. Ryan, smiling.  "I understand.  You probably thought we might
discriminate in favor of smokers.  Of course, that would be illegal.
Please do not be concerned.  You do not need to pretend with me."

"Not really, Dr. Ryan, it's just that I have a sore throat, and I
thought it would be okay..."

"A sore throat?  It could be strep.  Perhaps I should take a

Damn!  For a moment she had forgotten he was also a physician.  "No,
I'm sure it's just a virus..."

"As you wish, Miss Demming.  Well, if you feel up to it, I'd like you
to visit Dr. Marshall and draw your BL4-P gear, read up on the federal
procedures for biohazard containment, and get a general feel for the
facilities here.  Then you may leave early.  Tomorrow, I'll take you
into the lab proper and we can begin."

"Thank you, Dr. Ryan, and I am sorry..."

"Nothing to apologize for, Miss Demming.  I am sure you will do just
fine.  Dr. Marshall is just down the hall to your right.  Welcome to
Osborn-Smithson R&D."

After Shelly had left, he called Dane Peters, head of lab security.

"Mr. Peters, we have an intruder.  The woman who reported for work
today as Mary Lou Demming is an impostor."

"Got it, Dr. Ryan, I'll have her picked up immediately."

"That won't be necessary, Mr. Peters.  She poses no danger now that we
know she is a spy.  I would like to know who she really is and who she
represents.  I would appreciate it if you kept a quiet eye on her
movements for me, both here and on her own time.  Until I direct
otherwise, you are to report only to me on this matter and inform no
one who does not need to know."

"Understood, Dr. Ryan.  We should have her ID'd before eight AM

"Thank you, Mr. Peters.  I trust your discretion in this matter."

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