HEX and the City

Mayor Percival George relaxed when the prof’s head bobbed through the crowd.

The professor—Dr Theobold Baldwin—waved his hand high above his head. His lab coat, which he wore even out here, on the city streets, fluttered about him. His ruffled white hair clung to his scalp. And a pair of round glasses perched at the end of his nose. Had he googled “mad scientist” and copied the attire? His two PhD students flanked him on either side.

Percival whispered to his police guard, opening his line of defence for the trio. Prof Baldwin and his companions, a boy and a girl, made their way over to him. ‘Percy!’ The professor shook his hand. ‘So good to see you!’

Mayor George winced at the use of the name “Percy”. Nobody called him that anymore. Well, nobody except old friends, such as Theo, here. ‘Nice to see you too, Theo.’ He frowned at the crowd, separated from them by metal rails. This women’s rights protest had started to get out of hand. They even had signs and a chant and everything. They even used the word “damn”. Far too rambunctious. He needed to control these women. Why couldn’t they behave? The counter-protesters managed it with their colourful banners and funny jokes. So what if they sported Nazi flags and performed Sieg Heils? ‘There’s nothing good about it, though.’

‘Ha! We’ll soon see to that.’ Prof Baldwin clapped the boy on the back. ‘This is my protege, Wally Mann.’ Wally grinned and looked down at his shoes in an aww-shucks expression. The girl cleared her throat. Prof Baldwin did a double take as if he’d forgotten she’d also tagged along. ‘Oh, and this is Felicia.’

Felicia extended her hand. ‘Felicia Wintringham, pleased to mee—’

Mayor George ignored her. He shook the boy’s hand—Wally—and then addressed the prof. ‘Do you have it? Please tell me you have it.’ He glared at the women as they circled and stomped. If the professor’s drug worked as promised, he might defuse an otherwise-explosive day.

Prof Baldwin patted the grey box that Wally held in his arms. ‘Wally’s got the samples safe and sound, here. Good lad. It’s sitting on ice, ready to go.’ He glanced at the cardboard box Felicia had. ‘We also have the dispersion canisters.’

Percival nodded. ‘Good. Do it, get it over with. I have a golf session scheduled this afternoon, and would rather not turn up late.’ His face paled. ‘Or have to postpone.’

Prof Baldwin put an arm around Mayor George’s neck. ‘Now, Percy, do you give us complete permission to use HEX?’

‘HEX? Why is it called HEX? It sounds like something from an eighties B-movie. Something that resurrects zombies.’

‘Ha! No, Percy. You see, zombies are already resurrected. What you mean is something that resurrects the dead. Also, that’s not what HEX is. HEX is completely natural—first extracted from the scalps of babies, no less! We call it HEX because its chemical name is hexadecanal.’

Mayor George’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t mean to tell me that you—’ He cleared his throat and continued in a conspiratorial whisper. ‘That you ground up babies for this?’

The professor flinched as if he’d smelled a nasty fart. ‘What? No.’ He laughed. ‘Goodness gracious, no! No, we synthesised it ourselves, once we’d got the structure down. Y’know, it’s a remarkable process that—’

Percival interrupted him. ‘And it works? You’re sure of it?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the professor. ‘One hundred percent of test subjects showed reduced aggression and increased calmness. It makes sense, when you think about it. Babies secrete it so that their parents get all lovey-dovey when they smell them. Speaking in evolutionary terms, it—’

Mayor George interrupted him again. ‘Do it.’ He looked at the crowd. A couple of the women had painted their faces like warriors. Some even had slogans daubed on their skin. A couple of men walked amongst the women, too. Traitors. ‘I carry full liability.’ His eyes flicked to his police guard. ‘These nincompoops say that it’s illegal to stop them. Something about “a right to assembly and protest.”’ A woman walked past, swinging a bra over her head. ‘Do it now, before someone gets hurt.’

‘Roger that!’ The professor snapped off a salute. ‘Come, my boy, let’s get this show on the road, I can’t do this without you. Also you, Felicia, we need those canisters.’

Wally turned and followed the professor like a flower twisting to face the sun. His enraptured eyes stared up at the man with nothing short of adoration. The girl, meanwhile, hovered for a moment. She chewed on her inner cheek and paused. Then, finally, she opened her mouth to talk.

‘What is it, missy?’ said Mayor George. ‘I don’t have all day, spit it out!’

At that, the girl snapped her mouth shut. ‘Never mind. Forget it,’ she said, then followed her cohorts, shoulders slumped. As she walked away, she shook her head.

The trio crouched down on the pavement behind the safety of the fences and the police guard. The prof instructed, and the students obeyed. Wally opened up his cryo box and pulled out small Eppendorf tubes. Felicia opened her cardboard box and retrieved the canisters—grenadelike objects. Wally inserted the former into the latter.

The mayor hovered over them. ‘Is it ready? Is it ready?’ He cast furtive glances over his shoulder.

‘Almost, almost,’ said the professor. ‘One more here and— Ah, done!’

‘Good, good.’ Mayor George wrung his hands together. He shooed and ushered them. ‘C’mon, let’s get it going, up, up, up!’

As they returned to the fences, behind which the protest continued, Felicia tried to speak. ‘Um, professor? Are you sure this is a good idea? Because—’

Neither the prof, mayor, nor Wally paid her any mind. Soon, her voice disappeared into the mix. Professor Baldwin distributed the canisters amongst the men. After all, who’d have the better arms for throwing? ‘All right, lads,’ said the professor. ‘We want to get these right into the middle of ’em. Press the button then lob ’em in. Ready? Three, two, one, NOW!’

The canisters landed dead on target and rolled into the mob. ‘Ho-ho!’ The prof cheered. ‘Ten points! The boys have won it! Snatched victory from the jaws of defeat!’ The three men high-fived each other.

The grenadelike objects popped and dispersed their chemical bursts amongst the protesters. Nobody reacted. After all, they had all experienced teargas and pepper spray on more than one occasion. And—hey—at least this cloud didn’t burn their eyes.

The men changed first. The guys amongst the sea of women dropped their signs and stopped marching. A few started to cry—happy tears. They hugged each other. Most stood there, dazed, with a contended smile and a trickle of drool on their chin. One even chased a butterfly, giggling like a schoolchild.

The prof and the mayor exchanged grins. The tension seeped out from their bodies. Wally spoke first. ‘It works!’ He laughed. ‘It actually works! I mean, I knew it would work, but out here, in real life?’ He laughed and shook his head again. ‘Professor, you are a genius. They ought to give you the Nobel Peace Prize for this. You deserve one for biochemistry, too.’

Professor Theobold Baldwin smiled and shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, if that’s what they choose to do, then that’s what they choose to do. Who am I to turn down the great—’

‘Wait a second.’ Felicia spoke. ‘Something’s not right.’

‘What?’ The prof turned to her with his brow furrowed. ‘What do you mean? Look at them, they’re beginning to calm down, they—’

‘Look at the women.’

They did.

The women had stopped marching too. Only no peaceful contentedness shone from their countenances. Instead, their wild eyes twitched. Their pupils contracted and dilated like impact tremors in a puddle. They bared their teeth and hunched their backs like riled cats. Their hands—where they didn’t clutch their signs—opened and closed in claws. After their rowdy chants and calls, the silence hung heavy in the air.

‘Huh,’ said the professor. ‘Still, at least they’ve stopp—’

With a choir of battle cries, the women attacked.

They launched themselves over the metal fences and went for the counter-protesters first. Picket signs plunged into eyeballs, spraying gelatinous goo. Teeth tore at Adam’s apples, and fingers gouged skin. Soon, the screams of the men joined the screeches of the women. They spared only the men with whom they marched. Limbs flew, blood sprayed, and signs soared like graduation caps. The men on the outskirts hesitated, then turned and fled.

‘What’s happening?’ said the mayor. He grabbed the prof by the lapels. ‘Tell me what’s happening!’

The prof’s eyes rolled in their sockets. ‘I— I don’t know.’ He, in turn, caught ahold of Wally by the scruff of his neck. ‘Wally, my boy,’ he said in a choked voice, ‘what’s going on?’

The boy shook his head, face pale, eyes wide. ‘I-I dunno. PMS? Menopause?’ The carnage—the utter massacre—continued to unfold before their very eyes. ‘Their periods might have all synced, and—’

Felicia shoved her way forward and roared. ‘I’ll tell you what’s going on!’ She spiked a finger into the prof’s chest, whom she had stunned into silence. The mayor let him go. ‘Sex-based differences in drug activity!’ Wally snickered at the use of the word “sex”.

‘Sweetie,’ said the mayor, ‘you’re getting too emotional. You need to calm down.’

Felicia continued without reply. She jabbed again and again into the professor’s bony ribs. ‘I told you we needed female trial participants, but you wouldn’t listen. Oh no!’

A jet of blood arced high above and showered them in its warmth.

‘B-But I didn’t think th—’

‘No, you didn’t think, did you? But think now! You used men because you’ve always used men. It’s called a gender bias in medicine. HEX calms men down to reduce infanticide. We didn’t know what it would do to women, but consider it! What would it do to the calmer—’ she glared and dared anyone to smile at that ‘—sex? Hm?’

The professor scratched his head. ‘W-Well, I suppose it’s possible that it— I-I mean it could make women more, ah—’

‘More what?’ asked the mayor.

‘It may put them in a state of maternal protection.’

‘What does that mean?’

The professor swallowed. ‘I made them angry.’

The mayor’s jaw dropped. ‘How can that be possible? I-I mean it should calm them like the men, right?’

The prof trembled. ‘Fathers need to calm down because infanticide is common in nature. But mothers need to protect their babies. Thus it’s conceivable babies release a scent, with that chemical inside, so—’

For the first time in his life, Wally interrupted another man. Tears shone on his cheeks. ‘—so their mothers get more aggressive. And we’ve made them angrier than nature ever intended.’ He glanced from the mayor to the prof, back to the mayor. ‘That was pure hexadecanal we gave them.’

‘My god,’ said Prof Baldwin, ‘what have we done?’

‘We? We?’ Felicia took a deep breath and inhaled more gas. ‘It was you two! And your stupid boys’ club, it—’ She lifted her face to the sky and roared. She grabbed her shirt and tore it open like the Incredible Hulk. She then beat her fists against her torso.

The mayor stepped aside as Felicia leapt at the object of her anger: Professor Baldwin. The prof squealed and tried to dodge, but the girl moved faster. She pounced, a lioness, and dragged him into the swarm by his grey hair. The man fought and kicked but could not contend with the woman’s fury. Once inside the crowd, the prof’s shrieks ceased in a liquid gurgle.

The mayor turned to the boy, face devoid of colour. ‘I’m getting out of here. You should do the same.’ Wally nodded, turned, and ran straight into the sharpened shaft of a protest sign. It skewered him through the belly and came out the other side wrapped in purple sausages.

‘Jesus,’ said the mayor, then spun to flee in the opposite direction.

But Felicia had reemerged from the crowd to block his exit.

And she had gotten her hands on a weapon.

Felicia twirled Dr Baldwin’s extracted spine overhead—a 100% organic morning star. And the head remained attached at the end of the spinal column. The prof’s stunned, bloody, pale face stared dead-eyed out at the world as he spun. Then, in her drug-induced frenzy—none of which she’d remember—Felicia roared again.

Mayor Percival George screamed when the prof’s disembodied head swung towards him.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Written for the May 2023 #BlogBattle—Extract

3 thoughts on “HEX and the City

  1. aebranson

    Viva la difference – unless it leads to massacre! Sort of a play on the saying that the most dangerous animal in the woods is a mother defending her young. The mayor’s self-absorption is drolly displayed when he doesn’t care to be called Percy, but he’s every bit as quick to call the professor Theo. I did get a bit of the willies when Theo claimed the HEX was synthesized *now* – so they did grind up babies before they synthesized it? Might explain why the women’s maternal instincts went into overdrive. Entertaining read!

  2. deteremineddespitewp

    Macabre and sharply subversive. From the beginning with an ebullient professor, the introduction of the repugnant counter-demonstrators, and the patronising treatment of Felicia here were signs something was going to go wrong, but that was magnificently unexpected.
    I liked the manner in which the errors of the details of the poor research unfolded.
    The demise of both the professor and the mayor being wickedly satisfactory.

  3. Gary

    Stuck on where Wally is now. I think I have some puzzles in the loft 🤓

    A brilliant take on gender-based research in Yore. And good to see no actual zombie formation but over protective outcomes instead.

    Good blend of actuality twisted with your usual WTF.

    Smooth read to which is always a good sign of assorted proofing tools and to be fair a much improvemed writing style too. Always amazes me to see that aspect in BB. From, say a year ago, to now.

    The demise of mayor and professor… Now if it were to drop inside parliament…..

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