When he went into biological engineering, Bret had never expected to feel so inadequate as he did at his new job. In college, his classmates had been your average assemblage of nerds, geeks and introverts, with the occasional well-adjusted, reasonably attractive person to throw off the curve. Bret was glad that he had chosen to devote his life to science where he would be judged by his mind and his ideas, not by his physical attributes or deficits. But his colleagues in the lab at NuGene were…extraordinary.
The leader of the team, Doctor Gupta, was a giant in his field…and almost literally a giant, towering over most of his employees at six foot ten with a powerful build that seemed impossible for a man who had to be in his sixties at least.
Only Dr. Gupta’s assistant, Cedric, had the boss beat in the height department, his lean body topping out at seven feet even, not counting the spikes of his mohawk, his long muscular arms inked with elaborate tattoos.
Hayley, who worked at the station next to Bret, was “only” six feet tall (still four inches more than Bret), with a meek demeanor that seemed at odds with the voluptuous figure which her tight lab coat only served to emphasize.
Even Min-Wan, who was only a couple of inches taller than Bret at five-ten, had a physique most gymnasts would envy. His crystalline blue eyes and wavy blond hair combined exotically with his more typically Asian features to give him a breathtakingly handsome appearance.
By contrast, Bret was so scrawny that he wore a belt and suspenders to keep his pants from slipping down, due to his flat, nearly-nonexistent ass. Horn-rimmed glasses dominated his pleasant face, and he kept his short brown hair slicked back. He tended to slump, which only made the height discrepancy with the others in the department more pronounced.
To be fair, none of Bret’s co-workers treated him with anything less than congeniality, encouragement and respect, but he still couldn’t help but feel inferior in their presence.
Arriving for work, he was surprised to see shiny mylar balloons floating above his work station. When Min-Wan and Hayley noticed his presence, they both shouted “Happy birthday!” Bret was surprised, since he hadn’t mentioned his birthday to anyone, although he figured it must be in his personnel file. He blushed and thanked them, then clicked his mouse to rouse his computer terminal from its overnight slumber.
He noticed Cedric approaching from Dr. Gupta’s office, holding something in one of his massive hands while shielding it from Bret’s view with the other. When he reached Bret’s cubicle, Cedric revealed a frosted cupcake with a single burning candle. Cedric, Hayley and Min-Wan broke out in a chorus of “Happy Birthday To You”, and Dr. Gupta emerged from his office just in time to belt out “Bre-et” at the end of the third line.
“Thanks, guys,” Bret said, embarrassed. “You really didn’t have to.”
“Nonsense,” declared Dr. Gupta, stepping into Bret’s work area, with the others forming a semicircle around Bret. “You’re part of our family now. Make a wish and blow out the candle.”
Bret was surprised to be told he was “part of the family”, as he felt, at best, like a distant cousin. Still, he appreciated the gesture, took in a wheezy breath and tooted a breeze toward the surprisingly stubborn flame. As a wisp of smoke rose up from the extinguished candle, Bret turned back to his computer, eager to lose himself in his tasks.
Hayley asked, “Aren’t you going to eat it?”
Bret shrugged his bony shoulders inside his baggy white polo shirt. “I figured I’d save it ‘til lunchtime. I’m still kinda full of pancakes from breakfast.”
The others looked disappointed. “Oh, c’mon, man, live a little,” Min-Wan said encouragingly.
“Yeah, we wanna watch,” Cedric boomed. Bret didn’t notice the admonishing glances Cedric received from the others.
“That’s okay,” Dr. Gupta said, laying a palm gently on Bret’s shoulder blades. “Have it whenever you want. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
Bret nodded and said thanks, then attempted to get to work. But in his peripheral vision, he could see the cupcake, with its creamy white icing and sprinkles, just waiting for him, tempting him. After an agonizing endurance test lasting just shy of two minutes, Bret finally caved, removing the candle and peeling away the wrapper. He was disappointed to discover that it was red velvet cake, usually preferring cake that had some—or any—flavor, but he wasn’t about to complain.
Bret took a bite and discovered to his surprise that the cake had a flavor after all, and not a pleasant one, something metallic and medicinal that even the thick sweet frosting couldn’t entirely mask. Bret knew it would be bad form to spit out the cake in full view of his colleagues, so he quickly swallowed what he had in his mouth and set the rest of the cupcake on the countertop, pushing it out of his line of vision.
He tried to focus on the figures and formulas on his computer screen, but Bret began to feel woozy and started to sweat. He braced himself against the edge of his desk, gripping it tightly in his fingers as the room began to spin. A prickly sensation spread across his skin, and he could swear he was developing a fever. He made a move to step down from his stool, but his knees buckled.
Fortunately, Min-Wan had rushed over to catch him, after noticing the bite marks in the cupcake. “Here, buddy, let’s get you a seat.” He dragged him over to a chair and eased Bret into it. Hayley rushed over and watched him curiously, biting her nails in anticipation.
Bret slumped uncomfortably, crossing his arms across his chest and squeezing himself tightly. “What the hell was in that cupcake?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Just something to show our appreciation for the hard work you’ve been doing,” said Dr. Gupta as he hustled back into the room, trailed by the thumping footsteps of Cedric. “It’s nothing dangerous. In fact, I’m sure you’ll grow to love it. Just relax and don’t fight it.”
Bret wondered what kind of perverse weirdos would poison their co-worker without warning him and then gather around giddily to watch as it took effect. It felt like his muscles were being jabbed by a million needles while his body temperature skyrocketed. As he rocked in agony, he had the peculiar sensation that his body was inflating, and his arms were growing hard inside the grip of his hands. The sicky feeling began to fade, replaced by a sensation of giddy well-being.
He looked down at his forearms and saw that they had swollen to twice their usual size, their surface snaked with blood vessels. His biceps had experienced even greater growth, bulging against the elastic of his sleeves. A healing warmth spread through his body as his chest puffed out, pressing against the soft fabric of his shirt and nudging his suspenders in the direction of his armpits.
Bret had gathered that some of the company’s more top-secret projects involved genetic modifications and performance-enhancing drugs, but nothing he had been working on had the power to induce such a drastic and instantaneous metamorphosis. He looked up at Dr. Gupta, in search of an explanation.
“It’s a tradition in my department to give each other the latest enhancements we’ve been working on,” the doctor told him. “I didn’t think you’d mind a few more muscles.”
“I’m not complaining,” Bret said. “A head’s-up might have been nice.”
“I suppose we should have warned you in advance,” the doctor said, “but I’ve always found that gifts are more fun when they’re a surprise.”
Bret squirmed as he felt his khakis tighten up. He felt himself rising slightly higher in his chair. “What was that?”
“That would be my gift,” Hayley said with a slightly embarrassed smirk. “I’ve been focusing on the gluteus maximus lately. I thought you could use a little more junk in the trunk.”
Bret smiled as his pants grew snug. As his forearms began to tingle, he looked down to discover what looked like light bruising on both arms which quickly darkened and consolidated into distinct patterns.
“Figured you could use some tats,” said Cedric, unconsciously scratching at his own extensive sleeves. “If you don’t like them, I can reconfigure them into whatever you’d like.”
Bret liked the roses and watch which were forming on his right arm, but he was truly amazed to see the blue splotches on his left arm rearranging themselves into distinct letters which read, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.—Einstein.” “They’re perfect,” Bret declared.
Min-Wan walked over with his smartphone. “Come on, Bret, stand up and let me get a picture.”
Bret placed his hands on the armrests and pushed himself up, amazed by the power he now possessed. He felt like he could have launched himself through the ceiling if he had pressed hard enough. He teetered a bit before gaining his balance, unaccustomed to his body being so top-heavy. He realized he had grown a couple of inches, as evidenced by the exposed skin of his ankles between the cuff of his pants and his socks. He discovered that he and Min-Wan were now eye-level with each other, although Min-Wan still had him outclassed in the muscle department. Bret figured after a couple more birthdays, he might catch up.
“Okay, man, show us those buns and those guns,” Min-Wan said encouragingly.
Bret bent his left arm, his biceps forming a rock-hard mass as thick as his beefy new neck.
Min-Wan snapped a few shots, then said, “Awesome. Let me just upload them.”
“Wait a second,” Bret said, dropping his arm to his side. “Where are you posting them?”
“Oh, I, uh…,” Min-Wan said sheepishly, “I signed you up for a Grindr account. I hope you don’t mind.”
Bret’s adam’s apple flinched as he gulped, unaware that anyone in the department could have detected that he was gay, even though he had been pretty sure Min-Wan was gay too, despite any blatantly obvious evidence. “Uh, no, I guess that’s okay. So is that your gift to me?”
Min-Wan glanced down shyly. “No, actually my present takes a little longer to manifest itself. It should be kicking in right about now.”
The anticipation of what else might happen to Bret excited him so much that he felt himself getting aroused. An erection began to form inside his Dockers, and he hoped that it wouldn’t get big enough for anyone to notice. But as it kept growing… and growing… and growing, it dawned on Bret that this wasn’t a reaction to what Min-Wan’s gift might be. This was Min-Wan’s gift.
Bret fucking loved science.