Project Cerulean MX

by The Pecman

 After Michael and Joey discover a secret base in the desert, they start to undergo some changes that are both unsetting and exciting.

Added: Jun 2010 Updated: 5 May 2017 54,138 words 34,957 views 4.3 stars (9 votes)


The hot desert sand swirled over the building wreckage, whispering past cracked cement blocks that lay broken and crumbling in the late afternoon sun. A rusted metal fence surrounded the area, the gate tightly padlocked and marked with a large, official-looking sign that warned “Restricted Area: Keep Out by Order of the U.S. Army.” The sign cited several official Department of Defense statutes, most of which were obscured by scorch marks that blackened the metal on the lower edges.

Whatever the building had been years ago, it was enormous—roughly the size of two football fields, with deep depressions in the earth marking where large metal doors had collapsed deep within. The entire area looked lonely and forgotten, though it lay less than half a mile from the nearby Interstate highway. A drainage ditch ran down one side, exposing a massive pipe ripped open in the center.

In the distance, two figures moved steadily down a dirt road.

“You comin—, or are you chicken?” yelled a thin, reedy voice. A 13-year-old boy carefully slid his Haymaker 1200 mountain bike through an open gap in the fence, then hopped back on and raced to the top of a nearby dirt hill. He turned around and began to cluck comically, his blond hair rippling in the wind.

“Shaddup, Michael,” the other boy muttered. He huffed and puffed as he pulled up alongside him, then caught his breath. “We aren't even supposed to be in here! You read those signs back by the highway.” His braces gleamed brightly in the hot desert sun.

The blond boy grinned. “You worry too much, Joey. You saw the guard gate—nobody's been around here since Reagan was president. There's nothin’ here but ghosts. C’mon… let's explore!”

He kicked off in a cloud of dust, pealing over the hill, whooping an Indian war cry all the way down.

Joey, who was heavier-set, took off his glasses and wearily wiped the sweat out of his eyes. He's gonna get me killed yet. Resignedly, he pushed his glasses back up on his nose, gritted his teeth, and pushed off, holding on to the handlebars with all his might.

Meanwhile, back by the rusted fence post, a small warning light just outside the gate sudden lit up, its red glow almost invisible in the hot desert sun.

“So what exactly do you think this place was?” Michael asked, as they made their way down a corridor. “Some kinda prison?”

Joey shrugged. “Maybe a storage area. Doesn't look like anybody's been here for years. I'm surprised the homeless haven't found it yet.”

The exterior doorway had been barely visible, deliberately camouflaged to blend in with the desert landscape. It was only through pure luck that they had found it. The metal door had been damaged years ago from an explosion. The boys carefully crept inside, walking down a ramp that led about twenty feet below the earth. The late-afternoon sun beamed through an overhead skylight, giving them just enough illumination to make their way down a corridor. Most of the rooms were empty, except for the last one on the right. The office was small and cluttered, with an overturned desk in the center, a metal cabinet on the side, and plain, government-issue chairs.

“Bullet holes,” muttered Joey, delicately brushing his fingers across the wall. There were two jagged rows of what appeared to be automatic-weapon fire from large-caliber shells. Whatever had happened here had been deadly serious. The boys crept in and looked around, letting their eyes gradually adjust to the darkness.

“This whole area was part of some kind of government rocket-fuel facility,” Joey continued, glancing through some dusty paperwork on the desk, brushing off some spider webs and sending a few small insects skittering away. “Some big factory around here went up in flames back in 1988—my mom told me she thought it was an earthquake when it happened, and she was thirteen miles away in Las Vegas. Killed a buncha people.” He paused for a moment then looked over at his friend. “Hey!” he cautioned. “Don't open that!”

As usual, Michael ignored him and reached inside the large metal cabinet. “There's no rocket fuel in here,” he said. “Just some of these little bottles.” He picked up one of the glass ampoules and peered curiously at it, angling it to reflect the dim light. “—Project Cerulean MX—Revision 11—,” he read out loud. “—For experimental use only. Destroy after 7/13/1988.” Sounds very official.”

“That isn't ours to take, Michael,” insisted his friend. “Put it back.”

“Hey, it's been more than 20 years after the expiration date,” Michael replied, moving his hand behind his back. “The stuff is probably stale anyway. What harm could it cause?”

“Plenty,” said Joey, gesturing to a piece of paper he was reading. “That is, if this memo is accurate.”

Michael crossed back to the desk, shuffling through a thick layer of dust and debris. Joey pushed the thick notebook binder towards him. The faded plastic cover was titled Cerulean MX: A Final Analysis.

“Check this out.”

The blond boy flicked a cockroach off the table, then glanced down at a loose page inserted into the front of the binder and began to read.

To: Dr. Sanford Noble From: Major General Thomas Cartwright Re: Project Cerulean MX / PEPCON Aftermath Date: 5 May 1988


The hostile conflict is now under control. All of the Ultra subjects have been terminated with extreme prejudice. All evidence of the experiment is in the process of being destroyed. Any residual contamination is now under control and the news media has accepted the cover story of the PEPCON explosion.

All surviving personnel will be brought to the Groom Lake facility via Edwards for de-briefing and reassignment. We will need your final summary report at this time, as per our conversation earlier this afternoon.

A Senate sub-committee hearing will take place at Groom Room 51-112A on Saturday, May 7th. I will need to speak privately with each staff member prior to the hearing. Your cooperation will ensure your safety for the duration of the project.

--MajGen T. Cartwright Acting Director Project Cerulean MX Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

“It makes no sense,” mulled Joey as he spun the notebook back around and flipped through the pages. “Judging by these print-outs, this area was either called PEPCON, Project Cerulean, or Black Mountain. But according to this newspaper clipping here, it was actually some kind of marshmallow candy factory called Kidd & Company. Curiouser and curiouser.” He looked up and gestured to the ceiling, which had large black scorch marks, the remnants of a massive fire. “But I've seen marshmallows burn before, and they don't look anything like this.” He continued to peruse the pages, which were filled with a myriad of graphs and statistical charts.

“Naw, it was definitely rocket fuel,” Michael corrected. “I saw it on one of those Amazing Videos clips on YouTube. It burned like hell for hours, almost like an H-bomb.” He gestured with his hands, making a flower-like gesture. “Ka-blooey… big-time.”

“How would you know that?”

The boy shrugged and grinned. “Explosions are awesome.”

Joey started to respond, then stopped and sucked in his breath. “Did you hear that?” he whispered, looking around nervously.

“Hear what?”

A distant roar and a steady “thwup-thwup” echoed down the concrete hallway. A metallic thunk slammed over their head, as if a large object had just struck the roof.

“And that's our cue to leave,” quipped Michael, stepping out of the office and down the hallway, hurrying towards the upwards-slanting ramp that led back to the open air.

“Wait!” hollered Joey, grabbing the large binder. “I want to finish reading this.”

The blond boy ran back inside, grabbed the boy by his shoulder, and yanked him into the hallway, half-dragging him down the corridor. “We’ve gotta get outta here, now, you douche!” They both charged up to the doorway, then abruptly stopped and carefully peeked around the edge.

In the distance was a large Sikorsky H-92 Superhawk helicopter, which hovered very low on the southeast corner of the fenced-off area, bathed in a swirling cloud of dust and sand.

Michael gulped, then slammed his back to the wall. “Whoa—is that a gun turret on the side?” he asked in a half whisper.

Joey wiped his forehead, then raised his head just beyond the edge of the underground frame. “Can't see clear enough to make out. It's starting to get dark.”

Michael peered out alongside him. They'll never see our bikes from this angle, he thought, his mind racing. They had been smart enough to stash them in some tall scrub brush, keeping them well out of sight from any wandering security guards. I just hope they don't notice our tire tracks.

“Look at this,” Joey started excitedly, pointing to one of the pages. “According to this report, this whole place was some kind of secret operation—some kind of genetic research thing, like a black ops CIA project.”

“The signs back there said, “U.S. Army,—” argued Michael. “Nothin’ about the CIA.”

Joey rolled his eyes. “The CIA is always behind this stuff. My father used to talk about conspiracies like this all the time—the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy, even the Bush/Kerry election.”

Michael sucked in his breath and ducked back around. “Zip it,” he whispered. “Somebody's comin….”

Less than thirty seconds later, two soldiers wearing beige camouflage outfits jogged by. One of them stopped and clicked his Motorola walkie-talkie. “Atom-7 to Base. No intruders spotted. The barrier is still down on the Arroyo Grande entrance. Could’ve been just a coyote or a pack of dogs. This is just a wild goose chase. You copy?”

The walkie squawked and responded with some static and a muffled voice. Both soldiers began to sprint back to the waiting chopper. After a moment, the rotors gained speed.

Joey gathered his courage, then carefully nosed around the edge of the metal door.

“Are they gone yet?” whispered Michael.


With a roar, the helicopter began to lift off, its turbine engine beginning to roar. From this distance, Joey could see there was a third soldier inside manning an automatic weapon turret. This is some serious shit, he thought. Those guys were ready to kill anybody they caught sneaking around this place. The boy finally relaxed as the chopper banked to the left and hurtled off past a group of toppled trees. The late-afternoon sun was almost gone, with just a few scarlet fingertips poking up at the horizon.

Minutes later, the boys raced back over the hill on their bikes, moving in the opposite direction. Joey struggled to keep his balance, clutching the notebook under his arm while his pudgy legs furiously pumped the pedals. Neither of the boys uttered a word until they reached the break in the rusted metal fence, where they quickly squeezed their mountain bikes through the narrow opening. By the time they maneuvered from the dirt road and onto Horizon Ridge Parkway, it was already nightfall in the Green Valley residential neighborhood.

Joey screeched his bike to a halt next to Michael's at an intersection, where they both stopped to catch their breath.

“I can't believe what we just…”

“Not here, Joey,” the blond boy said curtly. “Look, it's almost 7:30. Your mom will kill us both if you're late for dinner again. Come by my place in an hour, and we can talk about this.”

Joey started to object, but Michael raced off to the East, the bicycle rocketing away until it was a small black blob in the distance. The streetlights began winking on, casting a dim yellow glow onto the sand-covered street below.

“Asshole,” he muttered, then continued down the road, leaving a cloud of dust behind him.

“This thing is totally whacked,” Joey muttered, flipping through the manuscript pages at his desk. “If even half of this report is true, this is bigger than Hanger 18, Roswell, and all that other stuff. TMZ would go nuts with this.”

“C—mon, dude,” Michael said with a grin. “I keep tellin’ you, it's just some kinda lame sci-fi movie script. No way can this be for real.”

The black-haired boy glared at him, then pointed to the bold notice on the first page and read it out loud. “Warning! It is a Federal crime to view, possess, duplicate, or distribute this document. Violators will be punished by 20 years imprisonment in Federal Prison and/or death, by Executive Order DOI-616A, February, 1988.” Embossed next to it was an official-looking metallic seal of the Department of Defense. “This real enough for you?”

“Oh, I am so scared,” Michael replied, making his voice shake comically, then let out a loud chortle. “It's the same kinda bullshit as the FBI warning on DVDs.” He pushed the blond bangs out of his eyes, then yawned and stretched out on the bed. “Anybody who was in that building got blown outta Dodge more than twenty years ago. They're all dust in the wind. Besides, the statue of limitations has run out.”

Joey slammed the binder shut and glared at him. “You mean statute.”

“Same diff.”

The boy shook his head, his expression grim. “If it was illegal to know about this stuff in 1988, it's just as illegal now. You wanna wind up in the Carson City Prison like your dad?”

“Shut up about him. You're assuming they'll catch us.”

“They might. I'm just saying…”

Michael laughed. He had an almost musical laugh, and it was clear he and his friend had a playful back-and-forth kind of relationship that went back many years. “You worry too much, Joey. Just don't take that into school for show and tell when we go back in September after summer vacation.”

The black-haired boy grimaced. “There's no show and tell in 8th grade, you dip.”

Michael tossed a pillow at him. “Just mellow out, okay?”

“If I got any more mellow, I'd ripen and rot,” Joey retorted. He glanced at his watch. “Shit. I gotta get home or my mom and dad will kill me.” The boy got up and started for the door, then paused and turned. “You wanna hang out at the mall tomorrow? I think the new Johnny Depp film is playing.”

“Maybe. Text me before lunch and I'll see if I can get some dinero.”

“Cool. See ya.” Joey jogged out the door, then abruptly stopped, spun around and returned to grab the notebook. “I want to finish reading this, maybe do a Google search on Cerulean MX. It's gotta be science fiction. And if it isn't, we're gonna take it back to Black Mountain—or PEPCON or whatever that place is called—and get rid of it.” He glared at his friend. “And you should return those glass bottles you stole.”

“What glass bottles?” Michael said, his face radiating a look of pure innocence.

“Don't bullshit me. I saw you stuff a handful of them in your pocket.”

The blond boy stood up and pulled his pockets inside out. They were completely empty. “I got nothin—,” he said. “If I had “em before, they fell out while we were ridin’ away. Just chill out, will ya?”

Joey rolled his eyes. “Later,” he called over his shoulder and dashed through the living room.

Michael leaned back, waited a moment to hear the front door slam, then reached under the bed covers and withdrew five small bottles, each about 2” long and about half an inch in diameter. He held one up to the reading light by his bed; the bottle was full of a bright sky-colored liquid that seemed to glow and swirl, almost radiating a kind of energy. Cerulean blue, the boy thought, peering carefully at his prize.

Joey frowned at the computer screen. Google had no hits on “Project Cerulean MX,” at least none connected with the U.S. government. All the other searches led to dead links or faded newspaper stories related to the PEPCON explosion back in May of 1988, which supposedly killed two people and injured about 372, and caused about $100 million in damage.

But the printed report in the binder seemed to indicate that the real reason for the explosion was something much more sinister: about 100 test subjects—or “Ultras,” as they were called—had been executed, along with two dozen scientists killed in the battle. And the entire project had been erased, as if it had never existed.

“An army of super-soldiers,” he read from the thick bound pages, “far more effective than any conventional weapon, capable of defeating enemy forces a thousand times greater.” He sat back, overwhelmed with data. Page after page showed alarming details about massive increases in strength, eyesight, endurance, along with graphs and charts comparing the progress of the group over a two-year period. But something had gone terribly wrong in the final days of the project. He stared at the binder. The last few pages of the report were missing, with page 46 ending abruptly in mid-sentence.

“This is like some bad episode of Fringe or the X Files,” he muttered. Never mind the fact that he loved both shows; sci-fi stories like that were great for TV, but in real life… no, the prospects were much too frightening. And from the look of the report, the results had been catastrophic.

He ran his finger down the personnel list in the front section. Most of them were listed as “Missing” or “Deceased,” but the fourth name from the top wasn't. “—Dr. Sanford J. Noble, Administrative Director—,” the boy read out loud. I wonder, he mused, typing frantically at the keyboard. Bingo! He stared at the screen. Could it be the same man? There was only one Sanford J. Noble in the 702 area code. Maybe a son or relative. He jotted down the name, address, and phone number.

Suddenly, his cellphone chirped. Who could be calling at 11:02?

There was a smiling picture of Michael on the phone readout. The boy hit the answer button and stifled a yawn. “C—mon, dude. It's too late. Call me after lunch, like I said.”

“Joey?” said a weak voice. “I'm… I'm in trouble.”

“Now what?”

The voice mumbled, then moaned. “The drugs… you were right. I hid them from you. I'm sorry.”


“I used one of my sister's insulin needles, from where she used to keep them before she left for college. I only injected a little, just to see what would happen.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Michael! Are you insane?”

His friend let out a short scream. “What the fuck is happening to me?” He let out another strangled cry, then regained control. “Get over here, now,” he whispered in a hoarse voice. “My mom's at work until at least 2AM. You're the only one I can trust.”

And then there was another scream—a longer one this time.

Joey snapped his phone shut, then picked up the notebook and started out the door. He stopped, then dizzily grabbed the wall for support. Asthma attack, he thought, his breath beginning to wheeze. He quickly shook his head and fought the urge to panic, then grabbed his pocket Xopenex inhaler and inhaled a couple of quick bursts.

“That's better,” he said with a gasp, slipping the inhaler back into his pocket.

He tore off the piece of paper with the doctor's name on it. If this is really happening, he thought, maybe this guy Noble can help. He slipped the binder into his backpack, then tip-toed out the door, made his way downstairs, and slipped out the side door and into the night.

The Spears residence was a shabby, three-bedroom house from the early 1950s, just off Hillpointe Road. The neighborhood crickets chirped softly, and most of the house lights on the street were dimmed. Joey pulled his bike up to the side. Despite the late hour, his shirt was sweaty and stuck to his back.

One glance at the driveway told him that Mrs. Spears wasn't home yet. Her shift at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter didn't end until 2AM. But after that, he mused, she'll beat the living crap out of both of us. Michael's father was in county jail for drug possession; the mother had always warned the two boys to stay away from any of that stuff. Joey had feared that Michael might one day try the same sort of chemicals that put his dad behind bars; now, the nightmare seemed to be coming true.

Joey tried the front door, which was locked. He softly cursed, then darted around the side and through the fence that led to the back yard. The kitchen door at the rear of the house was slightly ajar, and the ceiling light was on.

“Michael?” he called. “It's me! Are you okay? If we have to, I'll call 911.”

The boy slowly pushed the door open, then he sucked in his breath. On the floor was a naked man, shaking, doubled over in spasms of pain. The man was short—no more than about 5” 6”—but had enormous, muscular arms, with veins that stood out all over his body. Coarse blondish-brown hair sprouted over his massive chest, fanning out to a matted “V” shape extending down to his navel. Joey's eyes darted lower to the man's groin, revealing a major erection that was more suited for a small donkey than a human, pushing several inches past his belly-button.

Joey felt a momentary pang of desire, muted by absolute fear. “Who the fuck are you?” he cried, backing up against the wall his eyes widened. “I'm calling the cops!”

“Don't,” the man whispered, then rolled over on his side. “It's me… Michael. Please… Joey, you gotta help me.” He moaned, then vomited a small puddle of viscous fluid, and curled into a fetal position.

“Jesus,” the boy whispered, then stepped inside and slammed the door behind him.

The old man mopped his brow. Goddamned Koreans can't even get air-conditioning right. He smacked the side of the window-mounted unit. The device chugged for a moment, wheezed, then at last the compressor kicked in and a cool breeze finally began to blow from the plastic vents.

He let out a satisfied sigh. His field of expertise had been organic chemistry. Certainly, he had a rudimentary grasp of the essentials of physics, but nothing practical enough to apply to home appliances.

“Your days are numbered, my friend,” he said, wagging a warning finger at the air conditioner, a cheap Samsung unit that had been dying for the past couple of years. He made a mental note to buy a new one on sale in the morning. No way can a man survive in Nevada in a double-wide trailer without air conditioning, he mused. Certainly not with July temperatures averaging about 110 degrees. And that was on a mild day. It was still over 80 degrees, even in the dead of night.

The telephone rang. Probably just a telemarketer—but they never called past midnight. He glanced at the caller ID, but the number was unfamiliar. The old man thought for a moment. He had few friends, save for a few from the last rehab facility he'd attended—his fifth, if you started counting in the “90s—and none of them were likely to call him unless they needed counseling. But he hadn't been a sponsor to anyone for more than ten years.

The phone continued to ring. At last, he picked it up. “Yes?”

“Is this Sanford Noble?”

“Yes, this is Dr. Noble. Why are you bothering me at…”—he glanced to a small LED clock on the crowded bookshelf to his right—“…at the ungodly hour of 12:15 in the morning?”

“Please, you gotta help us. My friend… he took the serum!”


“Cerulean MX! From the Army project!”

The old man caught his breath. “No,” he whispered. That was long dead. Nothing but ghosts. He'd kept the memories of that catastrophe out of his mind for more than two decades—his friends, his co-workers… Mary, the beautiful Mary Woods…

“No,” he continued, keeping his voice calm. “I don't know anything about that. I'm afraid you’ve got the wrong number. Good night.”

He slammed the phone down. Almost immediately, it began ringing again. The man was angry now, and lifted the receiver. “I can't help you,” he snapped. “I know nothing about any project. Even if I did, I couldn't talk about it if it has anything to do with the government.”

The voice on the other end sobbed. It was clearly a boy, probably no more than 12 or 13. “Listen to me,” he pleaded. “I think my friend is dying! He's… he's enormous! I think he's gained at least 40 pounds of muscle in the last two hours.”

Could it be true? “Where are you now?” the old man barked.

“In my friend's kitchen. It looks like he's eaten everything here—every scrap of food is gone! There's empty cans and boxes all over the floor…”

There was a blood-curdling scream in the background.

The boy sobbed again. “My friend… he's having convulsions! Please… you’ve got to help us! I'm begging you!”

The old man closed his eyes and held the telephone to the side. Ten long seconds passed.

“Alright,” he said, after a long breath. “There might be something I can do. Where are you now?”

“12112 Elsinore Avenue. Half a mile from Windmill Parkway. It's a gray house on the East side of the street. How long before you can be here?”

Dr. Noble did some quick calculations. “It's not far. I can be there in… perhaps ten minutes.”

“What should I do?”

“Fill a bathtub with ice. Drag your friend to the bathroom and make him lie in the tub. Keep him as cold as possible. Make sure he keeps breathing. Don't leave him alone. Is anyone else in the house?”

“No. His mother won't get back for at least an hour.”

His mother? “How old is the patient?”

“We're both thirteen. Please, can you just get here?”

Noble stopped, then cocked his head. Most unusual, he thought. The serum was never intended for children. And it should have expired at least ten years ago… unless…

“Dr. Noble? Are you still there?

“Yes, I'm here. To whom am I speaking?”

“Joey… Joseph Hartford. Michael's a friend of mine.”

“Listen to me, Joseph,” Noble said, keeping his voice calm. “Give me a minute to get my things. I'll be there in ten minutes. Stay… just stay cool.” And I mean that literally and figuratively, he thought. He hung up the phone, then grabbed his car keys and slipped on his shoes.

It seemed the ghosts of 1988 still haunted the Nevada desert.

“Will he die?” the boy asked, as the ancient Toyota Camry bumped down Windmill Parkway, taking a sharp right turn onto American Pacific Drive.

“No. Not if I can control the effects. Judging by the syringe, he was only able to inject about 10cc's of the serum. That's far from a lethal dosage, even for someone of his size and weight.”

The boy glanced out the window. “Are you taking us back to the project?”

“There is no project. It was all destroyed decades ago. I had a separate office about a mile away, but it was shut down that same day.” He paused. “I would rather not talk about it.”

The man took a long left curve, then straightened out the car and headed towards a thatch of palm trees and cactus, just past a sign proclaiming “Welcome to Trailer Estates.”

Joey turned to look at the… creature in the back seat. They'd wrapped him in one of Michael's father's old bathrobes, but his arms bulged at the sleeves. It was clearly about six sizes too small.

His body's incredible, the boy thought, like some kind of bodybuilder. But the face… There was no question: despite the beginnings of a beard, the eyes and nose were definitely that of Michael—s. He was completely unconscious, his breathing shallow, and his long, muscular were legs bent sideways onto the floor.

The man drove the Camry up to the outskirts of the trailer park, which was dim and deserted. He pulled up to the last trailer on the left and turned off the engine.

“Help me lift him out,” he ordered.

Together, they half-lifted/half-dragged the unconscious body to the steps and into the trailer.

“Set him down here in the living room. I don't really have all the instruments here needed to do all the necessary tests. But I'll do what I can.” To keep him alive, he thought.

“Is he… is he going to stay looking like… like that?” Joey said in a low voice. His friend almost looked like a monster—his muscles were huge, almost cartoonish, like a caricature of a superhero. Thick veins ran alongside Michael's arms, spreading out into a spiderweb-like pattern.

Dr. Noble didn't answer. He daubed at Michael's face, removing a puddle of goo seeping from the boy's mouth.

“And what is that stuff, anyway? It looks like…” Joey stopped himself. He almost said, “sperm,” but that would be much too weird to say out loud.

“It's body fat,” Noble said, balling up the tissue and tossing into a nearby trashcan. “His body is rejecting almost all the fat from his tissue. Ah, and look at this.” He reached in Michael's mouth and pulled out a small nugget of metal. “A filling. He's probably swallowed the rest. Look at his teeth.”

Joey leaned over, fascinated. Michael's face seemed different somehow, almost like an artist's rendition of his boyish features, superimposed over the face and body of a male model. The unconscious man—Joey could no longer think of Michael as a boy—had a flawless mouth of evenly-spaced teeth. Not a single cavity.

“That's impossible,” he whispered. “Michael's teeth were almost as bad as mine. Look—I'm still wearing braces.”

“Cerulean MX did away with that,” Noble replied. “The body is regenerating… perfecting itself. There's no need for fillings, artificial limbs, eyeglasses. Scar tissue is eliminated, missing organs are regrown.” He looked up at the boy. “It's merely the human form, perfected to the Nth degree.”

“But he's supposed to be 13.”

“He is still 13—at least on the inside. I can restore him, to some degree. But it will take some time. I can't get any chemicals until 7AM, when the drugstore opens.”

“What… you just walk into a Rexall and get this stuff?”

Noble smiled. “Yes and no. Most of what we need will be in stock. You do have the rest of the ampoules?”

“The what? Oh, these.”

Joey reached in his pocket and produced three of the small blue bottles. “Here.”

Noble took them and peered at them through his thick glasses. “Revision 11,” he mused, “from stage 4 of the project. And you found these in my old office? I could’ve sworn they were all destroyed.”

“I didn't take them. Michael found them in some cabinet.”

The doctor thought for a moment. “That's possible. There was a spare office at the Black Mountain facility half a mile away, a backup to the main building. Were you able to retrieve any of the computer files?”

The boy looked up at him. “Computer files?”

Noble let out a sigh. “Never mind. They're ancient DOS files. I doubt we could even read them today.”

“Wait—I remember, there was a computer in there.”

“Any floppy disks?”

“Floppy what?”

The man shook his head. “Never mind. I'll stop by the facility in the morning.”

“They'll kill you.”


“Soldiers. They came by in a helicopter. They… they were armed. We shouldn't have been there.”

That's odd, Noble thought. The alarm's batteries should’ve failed years ago. Unless they reconnected it for some reason.

“Let me worry about that,” he said. He took a look at Joey's face. The boy was shaking, clearly terrified. “I'm sorry. Listen, I'm a scientist, but I'm also a human being. You're not in any danger, and neither is your friend Michael. We’ve stabilized his growth for now.”

“But how will we explain…”

“Listen,” Noble interrupted. “You should probably stay here tonight. Will your parents miss you?”

“Sure,” he said. “They'll be totally pissed-off.” He thought for a minute. “I'll send them a text… I'll tell them Michael had an emergency, and we won't be home until… when?”

Dr. Noble did a quick calculation. “Assuming I can start administering the antidote around 8AM, I'd say… well, he'll be presentable by noon.”

“Alright. Noon, then.” We'll be grounded for a month, he thought. But at least we'll be alive.

“We'll dilute the original MX formula with a solution of clonadine and lanreotide, which will create a synergistic reaction. We came up with this control serum towards…”—he shuddered for a moment, then continued—“…towards the end of the project. But by then it was too late.”

Joey nodded, then swung his backpack off his shoulder and withdrew the binder. “I know. I read most of your report. But the last few pages were missing.”

Noble's eyes widened and he snatched the bound print-out from the boy's hands. “Where did you get this?”

“I told you, from the “”

“I know, I know,” the old man muttered as he stared at the opening page. “From our backup facility. Incredible.” It's as if it was written by someone else.

“You wrote it.”

Noble nodded. “I was one of only three staff members who survived. I was injured during the explosion, but I was one of the lucky ones.” He held out his left arm and pulled back the sleeve, revealing an ugly burn that stretched up to his shoulder, the withered flesh resembling melted plastic. “And that was after six successful skin grafts. I was on a lot of morphine at the time. I can't believe I was coherent enough to dictate this report.”


“Couldn't type worth a damn after my arm caught fire.” He looked down at the report and glanced through a few more pages. Yes, he mused. These were my words. And that's almost what really happened.

Joey caught himself staring at the withered arm, then turned away. “Can you… can you tell me the rest of the story? About Cerulean MX?”

“Tomorrow. For now, get some sleep. Take one of these.” He handed the boy a pale blue pill.

“What is it?”

“Just a Unisom. You're agitated. It'll make you sleepy for now. I'll keep Michael comfortable in here. Take the couch in the other room. I'll stay up for a few hours. I'll need to refresh my mind with the facts in this”—he held up the report—“and then go over the control formula. I'm concerned about the reductions involved, given Michael's age and body mass.”

Joey slipped the pill into his mouth. The doctor handed him a bottle of Crystal Geyser water, which the boy cracked open and gulped. He let out a long sigh of relief.

“I can't believe this is all happening.”

Noble reached out and squeezed the boy's shoulder. “Get some rest. I'll wake you before I leave in the morning. It won't take me more than an hour, I promise.”

Joey stared at him, then finally nodded. Noble had a kind face. Whatever disaster had happened in the 1980s wasn't his fault. The boy decided to trust him. “Thanks.”

His feet padded into the other room. Noble checked his laptop for email, then did a couple of quick searches and made some notes. Within minutes, he heard Joey's breathing slip into a series of short snores. The doctor glanced through the door, then flipped off the hall light and returned to the living room.

“Alright, Michael,” Noble said quietly, as he sat down and adjusted the unconscious man's body on the couch. “Let's make sure you don't cause us any trouble.” He reached into a nearby closet and grabbed several thick leather belts and bound them around the man's massive arms and legs, securely fastening him to the couch. “And I think you'll need a few of these as insurance.” He poured the entire contents of the Unisom bottle into Michael's mouth, along with a small shot of water. The body stirred for a moment, coughed, then swallowed.

“Good,” Noble muttered. He knew that over-the-counter drugs wouldn't affect a real Ultra. But hopefully this one hadn't yet mutated far enough. At the least, fifty pills wound slow him down for a few hours—at least until 8AM.

He checked his watch, then shuddered, recalling the carnage from the original 1985 experiments; the project had gone through at least three volunteer soldiers every week for nearly a year. And the last group… they wound up filled with rage and sexual desire that was almost unimaginable, like some sort of impossible wild animal.

Noble glanced at the doorway to the other room. “Pray that your friend here stays asleep, Joey,” he whispered. “Before he becomes a monster.”

“What? Where?” Joey muttered, abruptly sitting up.

“It's almost 7AM.” said a familiar voice. “I'm going to the store to get a few things and run some errands. I'll be back in an hour—faster, if I can make it.”

Momentarily confused, the boy rubbed his eyes and stared at the room around him. It was an odd makeshift workroom, with a desk on one side. The shabby vinyl couch beneath him had been torn in spots and repaired with duct tape, but was surprisingly comfortable. Dr. Noble's face was filled with concern.

“Right,” Joey replied, struggling to his feet. “How—s… how's Michael?”

Noble held out his hand to stop him. “Listen—I need to tell you a few things. It'd be better if you stayed out of that room.” He nodded towards the living room down the hall.

The boy's eyes widened. “Has Michael grown any bigger? I thought you said he was under control!”

“He's stabilized… for the moment. But there's something more. You didn't see the rest of the final report. I found an old Arpanet copy on a website—incredible, what you can find out there if you know where to look—and these should fill in the blanks.”

The boy reached out to take the printed pages, but the scientist hesitated. “I warn you, you won't like what you read.”

Joey stared at him. “Tell me the gist of it.”

Noble sighed. “All of the Ultra soldiers eventually went mad, a kind of insanity—a side-effect of the experiment. Physically, they were… well, perfect. But after about three or four months, their minds became bent in a narcissistic direction—as if their intention was to subject and dominate the entire human race. Unchecked, I think they might have eventually done it. Despite being completely psychotic.”

“What, were they frothing at the mouth?”

“This was far more insidious. Ultras were…”—he struggled to find the right word—“…they were terribly charismatic. Up until that time, the most charismatic man I had ever met was President Reagan.”

“Ronald Reagan?”

“Yes. He authorized the funding for the project through DARPA, beginning with his first term in the White House. I didn't always agreed with his politics, but he was an honorable man. More than I can say about some of the Army staff.”

Joey nodded towards the hallway. “What about Michael?”

Noble shook his head. “Aside from his body, his mind may have been… altered by the formula. He's not the boy you knew yesterday—not anymore.”

“But you said you could restore him?”

“I said I would try. We won't know until the solution has had a chance to react. But just in case, I've had to restrain him.”

Joey's eyes widened. “What?”

“I've tied him down to the living room couch. Don't listen to a word he says. He's been drifting in and out of consciousness.”

“This sounds like something out of The Exorcist,” the boy mused.

“In a way, that's not far off,” Noble agreed. “Michael is possessed—but the demon has been a part of our DNA for thousands of years. The Cerulean formula perfects the human form, but what we didn't initially know is that it unleashes a lot of negativity in our minds. I can't claim to understand all the psychological effects; that was Dr. Woods’ department.”

“Mary Woods. I remember.”

“Yes, Mary. She was the first to fully understand it. Ultras can be… well, let's just say very persuasive. They get what they want.” He stared at the boy. “Anything you have, they'll take.”

“I only have about fifteen bucks on me.”

The doctor sighed. “Are you a virgin?”

Joey's mouth dropped open. “I'm thirteen—give me a break.”

“Answer the question. Yes or no?”

His face reddened. “Yes.” Well, except for a little horseplay with Michael over the past year or two, he thought, but that hardly counted.

Noble raised an eyebrow. “You won't be, after the creature in the other room gets through with you. Chances are, you'll beg to have sex with him.”

Joey shuddered, but it was a mixture of desire and horror. He'd long known he was attracted to his friend. Who wouldn't be? Michael was by far the more good-looking athlete of the two. What few other school friends Joey had were all Michael—s; they only hung out with him as long as Michael was there. More than one person at school had told him they thought his friend was the best-looking kid in their class.

“I don't… I mean, I never tried…”

The doctor waved a hand. “I don't care if you're straight or gay or somewhere in between, or if you're currently undecided. Trust me: Ultras always get what they want. They are very dangerous. Beyond their strength, their agility, their regenerative powers… no one can resist them.” He shook his head sadly. “We had no idea of the fatal flaws in our experiment. Once we unlocked the test subjects’ DNA in the 1980s, we let the genie out of the bottle, and over 130 people died before we shoved it back inside. And it's got to stay there.”

The boy sat down on the edge of the bed and ran his hand through his shaggy black hair. “Michael won't hurt me,” he said. “I've known him since kindergarten. My mom and his mom were best friends in high school.”

The doctor let out a long sigh, then checked his watch. “Alright. Just promise me you won't get anywhere near him. Avoid even talking to him if you can. I'll bring in the necessary compounds and will mix the control formula. I'm also going to get some ice, so we can return him to the bathtub. It's imperative that we lower his body temperature in order for the process to work.”


“You’ve got my cell number—call me immediately if you run into a problem. If necessary, I'll bring help.”


“No police. And not the government either. I know someone else who can help, but I'd rather avoid it for now.”

Joey nodded and watched the man walk out the hallway, then heard the front door open and close. A moment later, the Camry roared to life, chugged once and stalled, then re-started and began rolling through the gravel driveway. The desert crickets momentarily halted their nightly serenade, waited until the car disappeared down the lane, then began chirping again.

The boy glanced at his watch. 7:05, he thought. This was worse than an episode of 24, where each passing minute gets more and more intense. He prayed for time to speed up, mentally willing the watch to move faster to 8AM.

“You’ve got to be kidding, Sanford,” the white-smocked clerk said, glancing over the hastily-scrawled list.

“Do you have them in the stock room, or not?”

“They are, but the third one down is a controlled substance.”

Noble sniffed. “It's not a narcotic. It's not a somatostatin, nor is it a steroid.”

“It's not exactly legal, and you know it.”

The scientist slid a $100 bill across the counter and under the man's fingertips. “And you'll have to accept my word that I won't use it for any illegal purposes. You’ve known me for 15 years, Howard. My proclivities extended only to alcohol, and my arrest record is completely clean. Have I ever given you cause to doubt me?”

Howard frowned. “No. Not recently.” He paused for a moment. “I haven't seen you at meetings lately.”

“I'm down to only going once a month. Haven't had a drink for seven years, and I have no intention of falling off the ladder. I'm comfortable. The pension isn't what I deserved, but I can survive.”

The technician shook his head. “I don't like it. But I'm going to go against my instincts and give you what you want. We're going to write it up as samples.” He took the $100 bill. “And you still owe me $47—plus tax.”

Noble smiled. “A small price to pay for your kindness. I appreciate your trust, Howard.”

The man gave him a suspicious glare, then began measuring out some brown powder into a small plastic container.

Joey peeked around the corner. Michael—or at least the man-sized version of his friend—was sprawled out on the couch unconscious, his breathing slow and regular.

He tiptoed into the room and grabbed the water bottle he'd left behind and took a swig. Despite the rattling air conditioner in the window, the room temperature was already well over 90 degrees. The boy took a swig of water, then wiped the sweat off his forehead. He hadn't slept very well, sleeping pills or no. He looked forward to getting back home, and was already trying to come up with a plausible story that would placate his mother and father. He checked his cellphone and winced: as expected, there were six angry texts and three voicemails, all from his home phone, the last from 4:30AM. He'd been rehearsing several ideas for the past few minutes; his current favorite was that Michael had been injured while doing some harmless, petty crime, and that he'd found a doctor and Joey decided to stay with him until he was well.

That was almost the truth, he thought, running the story over and over again in his head, examining it from every angle for possible flaws.

“Mmmmph,” said the body on the couch. “Mmmm! Mmmmmmph!”

Joey turned and Michael was staring right at him, wide awake. His eyes were pleading and filled with tears. Please, they seemed to say… please at least remove the duct tape.

“Water?” Joey asked.

Michael nodded slowly. “Mmmmph.”

What could that harm? he thought.

“Look,” Joey began, “We brought you to Dr. Noble's place last night, right after you called me. The Cerulean serum—you never should’ve tried it, but I think you know that now.” He sat down on an end table, making sure he was well clear of the man's muscular arms and massive legs, which were straining against the leather restraints. He noted that the scientist had added some ropes, which had already worn deep grooves into the couch.

Michael nodded again. A tear trickled out from his right eye.

“Alright,” Joey said finally. “I'm gonna remove the duct tape. But you're not yourself, Michael. Don't try anything. Dr. Noble's gonna be back in twenty minutes. He's going to get you back to normal.”

He reached over, then slowly peeled the duct tape off his friend's mouth. Michael let out a short moan.

“Jesus, thanks, dude,” he panted. “My mouth is as dry as the friggin’ desert. Please, give me some water, willya?”

Joey blanched. The voice was not exactly that of his friend—s; it was a good half-octave deeper, that of a man at least twice the age of Michael. But it really is him, he reminded himself. He carefully held the bottle up to the man's lips and let him drink.

“Slowly,” he cautioned. “Not too fast.”

Michael sipped every drop until the bottle was drained. “God, I needed that,” he said, letting out a small hiccup. “Thanks, dude. God, these straps are really tight. You wouldn't want to—”

“No fucking way,” Joey retorted, taking a step back. “Not with that Ultra stuff swimming around in your veins. You'll pull some kind of Jedi mind-control bullshit on me.”

Michael looked confused. “What are you talking about? Look, I know I got a few more muscles, but—”

“A few? Jesus, Michael—you're like the teenage Arnold Schwarzenegger or something! You’ve put on about 50 pounds and grown about half a foot taller in… what, 2 hours?”

Michael nodded. “Yeah, I know. And unlike in the movies, it hurt like fucking shit! The Incredible Hulk never had these problems.”

Joey laughed. “That movie totally sucked. And besides, you're not green. And you're still Michael.”

The man grinned—and suddenly he was his best friend again. The boyish smile was the same as it'd always been, only he was bigger, more masculine and more attractive. Maybe this was the Michael he would’ve eventually become in another five or ten years.

“I swear, it's still me. Well, maybe a little more. Check out the arms.” He bent slightly and made a slight flex. The arm ballooned out more than two inches, and the bicep momentarily flared and expanded, rippling and tensing under the tight leather strap.

Joey felt a twinge. No question, his friend's body was totally hot. But he couldn't get past the idea of having sex with a man, which seemed repulsive; if he'd been a guy his age… maybe. But this version of Michael was anything but a kid.

“My stomach, too,” the man continued. “I know it's hard to see under all the hair, but check out the abs. I'm totally ripped.”

He leaned forward slightly and deep ridges suddenly appeared down his lower torso. “Remind me to shave, so you can see what they look like. Stallone never looked this ripped in any of the Rocky films.”

Joey's mouth suddenly felt a little dry. “Yeah. You actually do look pretty cool.”

Michael slowly turned his face towards him. “And you should see my cock,” he said in a low voice. “It's fucking huge. I swear to god, it's gotta be a foot long.” His fingertips touched his thigh, and a bulge suddenly appeared through the bathrobe. “Bigger than any porno star we ever saw in those videos we watched at my place.”

The boy said nothing, but continued to stare as the robe continued to swell upwards.

“You want to touch it, don't you? Please. I really need to get off. We’ve done it before, Joey.”

The younger boy gave a shudder and looked away. “But that was before. Things are different now.”

“They don't have to be different, Joey. C—mon—please, do it for me.”

There was a faint odor in the air, a musky aroma of salt and sweat. Joey's heart began to pound, and almost against his will, he leaned closer, then reached out and brushed the robe aside, his hand shaking. Michael's massive erection sprang free, throbbing to his heartbeat.

“God,” the boy said in a whisper. “I'd give anything to have one that big.”

“I think we can arrange that. But just get me off. I did it four times in a row last night when I was changing, and it wasn't enough. I gotta come… right now. Please.”

Almost hypnotically, Joey reached out and began to stroke. The cock was hot to the touch, warm and alive, almost like a living creature. The man's body began to writhe and moan.

“That's it,” he said, with a slight gasp. “Keep it goin….”

The boy had a hard time grasping it with one hand, and reached out with the other, using them in tandem to keep the rhythm going.

“Cup my balls, please,” Michael said in a low voice. “I'm actually pretty close.”

Joey obliged. The testicles were large and heavy, much more than he would’ve expected, like trying to grasp two large lemons.

Michael immediately moaned. “God, that's great. Can you… just put your mouth on it?”

The boy stopped. Their mutual sexual horseplay over the past year had usually been at Michael's invitation, but this was a line they had never crossed before. While Joey admitted he'd been slightly attracted to Michael and a few other boys, he also was interested in several girls at school. Granted, up until now, he hadn't yet dated any—unless you called that library project with Michelle a date, and that had been just pizza and a few laughs—but he never considered himself to be gay.

Just a phase we're going through, he'd thought at the time.

“I'm almost there,” Michael begged. “Please. When this is over with, I'll do it for you. I swear to god, Joey.”

The boy felt another twinge. He was now hard as a rock, though his own erection was only a fraction of the size of his friend—s. Every time he stroked Michael's dick, he felt a surge in his own groin, almost as if they were sharing the impending orgasm.

As if under a spell, he lowered his head and widened his mouth. The cockhead barely slipped past his lips. It was thick enough that he had to open even wider than expected.

“Teeth,” Michael cautioned.

Joey quickly complied, anxious to please his friend any way he could. Using a combination of his hands and his mouth, he sped up the pace faster and faster. It was like gripping a log, rigid as iron, yet warm and pliable; he felt waves of power surge through him, like he was tapping into an enormous electrical outlet that filled him with strength. He never wanted it to end.

The erection went deeper into his mouth until it touched the back of his throat. The boy choked quietly, then mentally willed it to stop. I want this to be perfect for Michael, he thought in a daze. It'll be the best ever. He sped up the motion, feeling a tingle in his own groin.

Suddenly, the man cried out and began to pump his hips spasmodically. A geyser of warm fluid erupted into the boy's mouth and down his throat, again and again. At that exact moment, Joey's erection surged and he came violently, staining the front of his jeans with a large, sticky patch that trickled down his thighs. He collapsed onto Michael's lap, and almost without thinking, he lapped up every drop, his entire body afire, his cock aching. I could do this all day and not even care, he thought, feeling slightly numb yet utterly alive. The front of his face and shirt were damp with goo.

He looked up and Michael was smiling at him, his expression practically glowing. “God, Joey… that was even better than I hoped for. Come—ere.”

Joey did as expected and embraced his friend's face, then they shared a long, deep kiss. After a few moments, he felt a warm hand on the back of his head. He looked down. The belt was torn loose, ripped at the seams, and the ropes were now frayed and tattered.

“Thanks, pal. I really mean it. Now, do me a favor and grab my jeans over there. I think there's a spare bottle in the back right pocket, and it's got your name on it.”

Dr. Noble raced the car down American Pacific Drive, then glanced at his watch. 8:02AM. Slightly behind schedule, but I had to double-check the relative balance ratios. He estimated that the original adolescent version of Michael should’ve been about 100 pounds, maybe 110, tops. By his calculations, the control formula would return the boy to within 20% of his original body weight, and his face and relative proportions would return to normal.

Well, perhaps not quite normal, he mused. Judging by the spent ampoule, the boy had only managed to give himself a half-dosage. If it had been a full adult dosage, he could’ve potentially grown seven feet tall and gone completely mad, possibly with a genetic structure so unstable, his cells would’ve disintegrated by dawn. Noble shuddered at the memory of Test Group 5 from 1986, whose results had been so disastrous, several of the attending nurses had to be institutionalized just from the visual shock of seeing the molecular structure of five human beings mutated beyond recognition. Like a malfunctioning transporter beam from Star Trek, he thought, remembering one of the old sci-fi films.

But that wouldn't happen this time. The Revision 11 serum was proven to be stable in the final months of the project. Had they only been allowed to continue, this would’ve solved all the issues. Unfortunately, the staff were only able to try it on three of the last volunteers. This test group hadn't gone mad, though they'd shown the same sexual characteristics of the others, yet without the narcissistic tendencies. Unfortunately, the Revision 11 subjects been executed along with all the others. Cartwright had made no exceptions. Couldn't take the chance, Sanford, the General had explained to him in the hospital, while the scientist was recovering from his injuries. Not after what they did to Mary and Dr. Watanabe. It was all or nothing.

Noble had been assured that all traces of the project had been “cleansed” and every trace of the Cerulean formula had been burned and destroyed. The inferno—created with the aid of about 10,000 pounds of the most powerful rocket fuel on the planet—burned nearly three square miles for 48 hours, with an initial temperature of over 3000 degrees. More than enough to incinerate 130 bodies and completely vaporize the ashes. Their seven-year experiments had proven that the Ultras’ regenerative abilities were almost beyond belief.

Not even a silver bullet in the brain would stop them, he thought with a shudder. Burning or a nuclear bomb were the only permanent solutions.

Noble pulled his creaking 1993 Toyota Camry up to his parking space, let the engine grind to a halt, then got out. The mobile home looked clear. He looked around, satisfied there was no one watching. His comings and goings had been few, especially over the past few months. The scientist had a limited diet, and the FIOS internet connection inside his trailer was more than enough to provide him with daily information and entertainment to sustain him. Aside from once-a-week trips to the supermarket and to the local laundromat, his needs were few.

The doctor picked up the bag of supplies from the back seat. He had the hypodermics already prepared—he'd learned that lesson from nearly seven years of dealing with the Ultras—and he couldn't take the chance that Michael (or the young giant that still retained some of the boy's mind) might try something hostile. The first vial would be enough to subdue him; the second would begin to reverse the original formula. How far, he mused, we won't know for at least three hours. He prayed that the ratios he'd estimated were right and would restore the boy to some vestige of normalcy, at least for the next week. If not, he knew the outcome: he'd have no choice but to telephone his contacts at Wright-Patterson, and the black ops squad would come to take Michael away.

Noble paused. Probably dissection first, then oblivion. Because, after all, there was no permanent antidote to the Cerulean project. True, he'd come up with the control formula in the last few weeks before everything collapsed, but it was temporary at best. Eventually, the animalistic tendencies of the altered DNA would always break through, like a weed slowly pushing its way through solid concrete. Nature always finds a way, as the saying goes.

He stepped up to the door, which was partly open. Not good, he thought, reaching in his picket to feel for the first syringe. “Joey?” he called. “You boys alright? It's Dr. Noble. I brought you a bagel, in case you need breakfast.”

He closed the door behind him and turned towards the couch. Michael appeared to be sleeping fitfully on the living room couch, muttering every so often. The restraints seemed to be secure. Noble set down the bag and held the needle point down, carefully hiding it in his palm as he walked down the hallway.

“Joey?” he whispered. “You taking a nap?”

Noble poked his head in the guest room. The boy was sprawled face down on the couch… but he was shuddering. The doctor was alarmed. As he grew closer, he saw that Joey's limbs were beginning to ripple and to change…

“No!” he whispered out loud.

“Yes,” said a voice behind him.

Noble slowly turned. “Hello, Michael,” he said calmly. “I see you’ve injected Joey.”

“In more ways than one, doctor,” the muscular monster replied, dropping the robe to the ground, standing naked in the doorway, his muscles gleaming in the dim hallway light, his limp penis swinging pendulously between his legs. “I fucked him twice, just in the last half hour. The kid passed out, but trust me, he had a smile on his face. And he's gonna be as big as me very soon. I hope you won't do anything to stop him.”

“Not for the moment.”

“You can't do anything to me, puny man,” the creature said, forcing his wide shoulders through the narrow doorway. “In fact, I think you want to have sex with me. Wouldn't you be more comfortable down on your knees? I bet you never saw a cock like mine before.”

Noble shrugged. “Actually, I have. In fact, I saw more than 200 men that were nearly twice your size in the 1980s. Some wound up over seven feet tall and 400 pounds, though most specimens bigger than that usually died within 24 hours. But the other subjects… why, they'd make you look like what you really are: just a 13-year-old boy.”

Michael stopped and scowled at him. “Shut up. I'm a lot more than that.”

“But you're still just a boy inside. You have no idea how to handle your powers. There's no one on the face of this earth that can help you refine your skills other than myself. Believe me, I was the last person to want Cerulean MX to end. It was my concept in the first place.”

Michael shook his head. “I read the report again and memorized every bit of it. Took me less than a second a page, like I've got a high-speed scanner right here.” He tapped his forehead for emphasis. “Dr. Watanabe and Major-General Cartwright started the project in 1981.”

Noble smiled. “Mere figure heads. Watanabe was a well-intentioned man, but he just looked “good in a suit,” as they say in corporate America. And Cartwright had the connections to the Pentagon. I was the unsung hero who actually held the whole thing together. Do the research, and you'll find I was the architect of the entire program, starting in 1980.”

“From the ashes of Majestic-12.”

This time, it was Noble's turn to be surprised. “You knew about that?”

Michael shrugged and leaned back against the door frame. “Yeah. I was just finishing up checking your internet cache when you drove up. Amazing the stuff that people post on websites.”

“Half of it's exaggerated. The other half is just a mixture of truth and folklore.”

The muscular giant leaned forward, casting a dark shadow across the doctor's face. “I figured out that you lied when you said you came up with the original Ultra formula.”

Noble blanched, but caught himself. How much had this young man figured out in only 15 minutes? “I never said that,” the man insisted. “I was the first to synthesize the formula—which isn't quite the same thing. It all came from the residue from… well, you read the reports.”

“From the spaceship wreckage.”

Noble nodded. “The alien bodies were already much too deteriorated for us to examine. They disintegrated to dust only a few hours after they had perished in the wreckage. I wish we could’ve kept them alive, figured out some way to communicate with them.”

“From Roswell?”

“No. Roswell is ancient history, a dead end. This was from the 1977 crash in south Kansas—a real one, this time.”

“The alien blood was the answer.”

“Yes, exactly. We were able to retain a small sample of their blood cells. Within a year, we experimented on lab animals. They grew radically, became absolute ideals of their species, as long as we could keep them alive. And by 1981, we were ready to try it on human volunteers.”

Michael nodded. “That explains a lot that wasn't in the report. But the alien DNA didn't completely match ours.”

“No. It was very close, just as a chimpanzee's DNA is within 97% of our own. But the aliens… were even closer—more like 99%. But matching that final 1% took us over ten thousand man-hours of constant calculations to perfect, with a staff of twenty scientists. And we ultimately succeeded, after massive trial and error.”

“But not for long.”

Noble began to inch closer. “Long enough for us to realize the pros and cons. Hitler had tried the Lebensborn program in the early 1940s, leading to the ultimate level of Übermensch, the so-called “Hünenmensch.”

“The master race.”

“Exactly.” Noble took another step closer, keeping his right hand in position. “We weren't trying to “cleanse the race,” as the Third Reich had attempted. We looked upon all mankind as equal, regardless of racial origin or ethnicity. As far as I'm concerned, this was for the human race, the entire world: the eradication of all birth defects, the elimination of disease, the perfection of mankind to the highest possible level.”

“And that includes intelligence as well. My brain feels as big as my muscles,” Michael said, instinctively flexing one arm.

“Exactly. Think of it as a brain-boost. You're at least 50 IQ points beyond where you were yesterday afternoon. We're not sure why; there are still some aspects of the alien blood composition that still remain unknown. My research was shut down before—”

Michael leaned over. Their faces were now less than three feet apart.

Noble hesitated. He felt the hidden hypo in his hand, wondering if he could possibly strike fast enough before the creature ripped him limb from limb.

“Yes. Before the government exterminated all of us.”

Noble snorted. “Us? You're not even close to an Ultra—not yet. They required months of training and testing. Merely having the power doesn't give you the ability to use it.”

“But you killed them all.”

“Never. Cartwright killed them all, with the help of more than 2000 troops and six fighter jets. All their bodies were incinerated near Black Mountain.”

“Yeah. The PEPCON explosion here in Henderson.”

Noble nodded, then felt for the needle and fought to keep his voice steady. “The death squad attacked the Ultras at dawn. They'd taken two prisoners as hostages—our top scientists—but it didn't matter. Everyone was killed. The military burned all the bodies just before noon and used the chemical fire as a cover. Nobody could get within two miles of the explosion.”

“And none of them survived?”

“Not that we know of. And there were some good men there. I counted several Ultras among my friends—close friends.”

Michael leaned forward and smiled, his massive naked physique a model of pure masculinity, and got within a foot of Noble's face. “Why, doctor—I do believe you're propositioning me.” His hips twitched and his flaccid cock began to slowly rise upwards.

The scientist returned his smile. “No. We broke the genetic code on the pheromones in “84. I was permanently vaccinated—you can't seduce me the way you did Joey.”

Michael began to scowl. “Then what use are you to me?”

“I know a lot more than that report can ever tell you. You need me alive. You have no idea of the complications you're in for. Cancer, for instance.”

“But you solved that by Revision 9.”

“Not always. It's dormant, but anything that super-sizes your own body's cells like hyperplasia also has the potential for causing cancer. It requires constant checking.” Noble stopped for a moment, then pointed to Michael's massive arm, which must have been at least 18”. “In fact, was that lump there yesterday?”

Michael momentarily glanced down, and Noble quickly brought his right hand out and smashed it towards the creature's left shoulder. In a blur, Michael caught the man's wrist, where it froze in mid-air. The needle dangled from his fingers.

“Naughty, naughty, Doctor. You're gonna have to be a lot faster than that if you want to stop me.”

Noble grimaced, his hand shaking. “True,” he said at last. “But it was worth a shot—so to speak.”

“I should shove that hypo right up your ass.”

“Spoken like an intellectual. I'm disappointed, Michael. I suspect your IQ may have only gone up only about five or ten points, certainly not quite the usual 50.”

“Shut up.”

Noble leaned forward. “I dealt with more than 200 men like you, most of which were almost three times as powerful as you are, with ten to twenty years more life experience. I know exactly what you're dealing with, but you have no idea who I am and what I can do for you.”

Michael narrowed his eyes. “I could rip your head off in less time that it takes for you to finish your next sentence.”

Noble didn't even flinch. “And you'd be like a man who just bought a Ferrari and doesn't even know how to drive. I know how to operate that body of yours better than you do. You don't have a clue.” He wrested his hand free, then pointed to Michael's head. “No matter how big you are, you're not a man at all up here; you're just a boy. No less a boy than Joey over there.”

Michael grinned. “You take a look at him lately? He doesn't look like a kid to me.”

Noble turned and sucked in his breath. Joey was now in convulsions. His arms and torso were rippling, shaking with agony, and a low moan came out of his mouth. Suddenly, he began to vomit uncontrollably.

Michael stepped forward, concerned. “What's happening to him?”

“He's repelling all his body fat. He was a little stouter than you, so this could get quite messy. Ultras don't need any body fat—they absorb almost 100% of all the nutrients they eat, with almost no waste. And if he doesn't get enough food in the next fifteen minutes, he'll burn himself out.”


“You don't remember, because you were undergoing the transformation yourself last night. You were incoherent. Joey told me you consumed everything in the kitchen, even the dog food.”

“For all I know, I ate the dog.” Michael looked over to what was once his childhood friend, his face momentarily panic-stricken. “Can you do anything for Joey? Is he gonna die?”

“One hopes not. Look,” the doctor said calmly, slowly reaching into his back pocket. “I'm going to give you some cash. Here's $200. I want you to go to the supermarket a mile east of here.”

“How should I get there?”

“Run. With that body, you can get up to 20 miles per hour—at least, the last Ultras I tested could do that for short periods. Take the back roads and don't let anybody see you. And put on some clothes, for heaven's sake.”

“What should I get?”

“Fifty pounds of meat. Ground sirloin, preferably Grade A ground round if they have it. Fresh, not frozen—low-fat. Then go to the health food store next door and buy three cases of premixed protein shakes. That should be enough.”

“Any kind?”

“If Joey likes chocolate, go for that formula. And hurry. I'll feed him what little I have in my kitchen, but he's going to shrivel up and die unless he gets a lot more food very soon.”

Michael grabbed the doctor's shirt and dragged him forward until they were face to face. “This had better not be a trick.”

“Stop talking to me and get moving. As god is my witness, Joey will be dead in”—he checked his watch—“in twenty five minutes or less. Go! Now!”

The naked hulk squeezed back through the doorway. “What'll I wear?”

“There's a pair of sweatpants in that closet. My son's old sweatshirt should be hanging nearby.”


“You're too big. Just go barefoot. Buy a cheap pair of extra-large shoes if you have the time. Run!”

Noble listened for the thumps of the creature clumsily stumbling through the trailer, a momentary pause, then a slam as the door opened and closed. He heard the sound of bare feet running down the gravel road until they grew fainter in the distance.

The doctor sat by the bed and put his hand on Joey's shoulder. The boy trembled, then vomited again. Noble used the sheet to wipe off the residue. “I'm sorry,” he said. “You're just going to have to endure this as best you can. I'll bring you some raw meat once I thaw it out.”

Noble caught a glimmer of a small glass bottle on the floor and picked it up, then silently cursed. The ampoule was completely empty: Michael had injected the smaller boy with a full dosage. “Not good,” the scientist said out loud. We saw what happened when a 13-year-old boy got a half-dosage. And now we're going to find out what happens when another adolescent gets the adult dosage.

Joey's eyes opened. “Help me,” he moaned. “Michael… he gave it to me.”

“I know,” the doctor said. “I'll bring you some food in one minute.”

The boy clutched at Noble's sleeve. “But I wanted it. Do you understand? I wanted it. I knew the risks… this is what I wanted.”

Noble sighed. “Understood. But listen to me: there's going to be consequences for this. You two have opened Pandora's box.”

The boy lifted up his arm, which was already twice the size it had been an hour ago. He moaned, then flexed it, and the bicep swelled into place. He smiled weakly. “It's gonna be worth it.” He winced and looked up, his face suddenly looking very small and young. “Does it have to hurt this much?”

The doctor sadly nodded. “I'm sorry. Chromosomal activity at this level can be quite violent, and will tax even the strongest man. I'll be back with some food in a moment. Lie still, and don't try to move. Bite the pillow if you have to, and try not to scream too loudly. I'll get you something for the pain.”

Noble moved swiftly down the hall and began pulling out every container of food from the refrigerator, starting with the milk and eggs, then reached for the cabinets, where he grabbed four canisters of Quaker Oats and cereal.

He let out a long sigh and gazed towards the side bedroom. “Be careful what you wish for, son,” he said quietly, then grabbed some frozen meat from the freezer, tossed it in the microwave oven, and hit the “Defrost” button.

While the microwave began to whir, Noble pulled out an empty trash bag, tossed in the groceries, then dragged them back down the hall to the bedroom.

“Professor?” Michael called, as he returned to the trailer. “I'm back with all the stuff you asked for. Had to load up two of these giant cardboard shipping boxes. Took me a little longer than I expected, but it's all here.”

He chuckled for a moment, remembering the astonished look of the female cashier at the supermarket's front counter, whose hands shook as she handed him his change. The bag boy's eyes nearly popped out of his head, staring at his chest and arms, but still managed to slip him his phone number on his way out. Another potential candidate, he mused, noting the older teenager's muscular build. No telling how big a guy could get on the serum if he already starts off as big as a football player.

The trailer was quiet. Michael frowned.

“There better not be any tricks, Doc!” he warned. “If you’ve done anything to hurt Joey, I'll rip your fingers off, one at a time.”

As if to answer, there was a moan down the hall. “Joey!” he cried. Grabbing the grocery bags, he pushed his way through the living room and into the bedroom. His eyes widened.

The boy was positively huge. He'd grown half a foot taller, but was surrounded by puddles of blood and white ooze on the bed and floor. His arms were massive—if anything, slightly bigger than Michael's—and his rapidly-growing thighs had already split the seams in his pants. His enlarged cockhead poked out obscenely from the torn crotch, the fabric in tatters.

Whoa, Michael thought. Little Joey might just be bigger than me. He made a note to give himself another injection, once he got the doctor under control. Speaking of which…

“Hey, Doctor Noble,” he called, setting down the grocery bags. “I think Joey here needs some attention. Can you—”

But before he was able to finish, Noble leapt out of a nearby closet and jabbed him in the spine with a sharp poke.

“No! You bastard!” Michael spun around, trying to dislodge the needle, but the doctor held on, then slammed the plunger all the way down.

Michael screamed and sank to his knees.

Noble leaned over. “Sorry about that, son,” he said, speaking quietly into the man's ear. “Normally, that would paralyze most humans. In your case, getting the sedative directly into your spinal column was the most effective way to knock you out. The nerve endings will grow back in an hour.”

“You're gonna… you're gonna take away all of my muscles…” Michael said, his head already lolling onto his massive chest.

“I couldn't do that, even if I wanted to. But I'm going to reduce them to the point where you can function in the real world. Trust me, society isn't ready for a 150-pound body-building 13-year-old. Your family would go crazy, then the DOD would put both you and your friend in chains and send you down to the deepest pit of Groom Lake. You know it as Area 51. There's a lot of failed government experiments over there, and it's like the Roach Motel: once they check in, they don't check out.”

“Don't wanna… don't wanna be normal…” the boy gasped as his vision began to blur.

Noble caught him before he hit the floor. “You'll be on the high side of normal,” he said. “But not so much that you'll attract attention. Trust me.”

“Never… not after you betrayed…” Michael slumped over, and the room went black.

Joey was confused, disoriented. As his vision slowly cleared, he became aware of a familiar face next to him on the couch. It was Michael—or at least someone who resembled his best friend. And yet it was someone else as well. Something was wrong.

“Ah,” said a voice. “I see young Mr. Hartford is now coming out of it. Excellent.”

The boy’s vision momentarily cleared. His hand was lying in carpet, and the fibers were rough and scratchy. He looked down to see his fingertips in matted black fur of his massive chest.

“Oh, shit,” he groaned. “Michael, what the hell have you gotten us into?

“Calm down, you douche,” the boy replied. “Two hours ago, you were beggin’ me to give you the juice.” He forced his voice higher. “‘I want the muscles, Michael, gimme the muscles!’” Michael snorted. “Some thanks I get.”

“You were most unwise to inject him, Michael,” said Dr. Noble grimly. “It’s a miracle that both of you are even alive.”

“Wh… why aren’t we tearing the place up?” asked Joey, opening and closing his eyes, then shaking his head.

“I gave both of you the antidote. It’s a control formula, nulling out most of the effects of the Cerulean MX serum by synthesizing myostatin back into your bloodstream.”

“Myo… what?”

“Myostatin—a growth differentiation factor that nature uses to limit your body’s development.” Noble began to pace back and forth, punctuating the scientific points with broad expressions. “The project’s Cerulean formula completely eliminated this from your body and triggered muscular hypertrophy at a greatly-accelerated rate, achieving true hypergenesis: not just building on existing muscles, but the creation of completely new muscle tissue. Without myostatin, your bodies development will overload, becoming monstrous, out of control creatures that would wreak havoc.” The doctor stopped, then looked at both boys and began to relax. “The antidote’s effects are only temporary, but judging by its progress, I think you both will shrink back down to something approaching normal in another hour.”

Michael yawned and cocked his right arm in a classic bodybuilder pose. “Hmmmph. Still looks pretty big to me,” The arm was boy-sized, but now resembled that of a teenaged Olympic athlete, etched with sinewy veins and muscles that led up to his thick shoulder.

“Yes, but you’ll lose another ten pounds by 2PM. If you two had shown up at your homes the way you looked six hours ago, your families would’ve taken one look at you and called the authorities.” Noble glared at both of them. “And then we’d all be… well, ‘up shit creek,’ is I believe the appropriate term. I’ll plan on giving you booster shots once a week for the immediate future.”

Joey felt his own muscular arm and thick chest, then ran his fingers down through the matted fur on his stomach. “Yick,” he said. “This hair totally sucks. Wait! It’s starting to fall out!” He held up several loose clumps of thick black hair in his hands, letting them drop to the floor.

“Good, it’s started already,” Noble said, examining a tuft of hair. “I’ve turned the clock back, so to speak, on the effects of the Cerulean formula. At least you’ll pass for adolescents, for now. Somewhat large for your age, perhaps, but acceptable.”

“We’ll be like we were yesterday?”

The man shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid not. You’ll never be your former selves again, not exactly. But had we allowed the formula continue to mutate your genetic structure, you would’ve shot past six feet and reached two hundred pounds by nightfall. Assuming we could get you enough food and you survived the painful transformation, that is.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad to me,” Michael said with a yawn, as he put his thick arms behind his head and leaned backwards on the couch, revealing an impressive six-pack below his ripped shirt. “In fact, it looks pretty hot.”

“Not on a thirteen-year-old boy!” Noble hissed. “Don’t you see? Being well-developed and genetically perfect is one thing—but your family and friends would never accept you looking like a man ten years older. They’d think you were some kind of monster, a freak of nature!” He paused and glared at him. “And you would be.”

Michael thought for a moment, then slowly nodded as realization set in. “Yeah,” he admitted. “I see that now. We can’t look too different or else it’ll draw too much attention. Too much of a good thing.”

“Exactly. Someday, years from now, we may choose to let the formula’s effect go unchecked.”

“Whoa… go totally Ultra?”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps. But not today.”

Joey shifted, then winced. “My balls… they still hurt like hell,” he moaned. His hand rubbed the towel around his waist, which covered a large lump roughly the size of a cantaloupe.

“That’s to be expected. You’ll find your… your genitals will be somewhat more enlarged than before. We can’t reduce them any further—we’ve already stressed your endocrine system to the limit. Injecting any more of the control serum would be too risky.”

“Too risky?”

The doctor sighed, then pushed his glasses up to his forehead and rubbed his tired eyes. “Yes. The Revision 2 test subjects wound up being reduced to puddles.”

Joey’s eyes widened. “Puddles?”

“Yes. Reduced to their original metabolic state: a zygote, essentially an embryo in its earliest stage, just a large blob of protoplasm. Radical retrogression is something we need to avoid.”

“Important safety tip,” Michael noted. “Got it. Beware the blob. Any other lessons, doc?”

“Listen to me,” Noble continued. “There’s some important rules you two are going to have to follow from now on.”

Michael smirked. Despite his body having radically shrunk back down, the boy still packed considerably more muscle than he had the day before, and his cocky attitude was unaffected. “I gotta warn ya—I was never much for rules, Doc.”

The old man firmly grabbed his shoulder. “If you don’t do exactly what I tell you, you could die—both of you. And potentially, so could every single person you know and love. I saw it happen two decades ago. You have no idea the terrible danger you’re in, or the risks of your condition.”

Michael started to interrupt, but his friend stopped him.

“Listen to him,” Joey said quietly. “He’s the expert here, not us.”

Noble took a deep breath. “Alright. First, you both have 40% more body mass than you had yesterday. I’ve managed to reduce the effects of the serum down to a manageable level. But until we can come up with a reasonable explanation for your obvious change in muscularity, you’re going to have to hide your bodies from sight.”

“Hide this?” said Michael, laughing, as he flexed his chest, letting the two pectoral muscles swell, revealing a chiseled valley between them. “Fat chance.”

The man nodded. “You’ll need to wear long, baggy shirts—sweatshirts, if possible—and don’t let anyone see you naked.”

“Fat chance of me getting through football practice like that,” Michael retorted.

“Practice doesn’t start for another three months,” Joey pointed out. “We’ve got until September.”

“I would strongly advise that you avoid playing any contact sport,” Noble said. “You could kill one of the other players with one tackle. Trust me: you don’t know your own strength.”

“Wait,” said Joey. “Couldn’t we learn to control our abilities—pull our punches, do all that stuntman stuff they do in the movies?”

Noble thought for a moment. “Perhaps. Our experiments always kept the Ultra soldiers segregated from the general population, so they never had to worry about blending in with civilians. With effort, you two might be able to keep your abilities in check and remain unnoticed.”

Michael nodded. “Sort of like Peter Parker as Spiderman. I get it. Secret identities.” He made an odd gesture with his right hand, letting his middle finger touch his palm, then chuckled. “Nope—no spider webs shooting out. I’m shootin’ blanks.”

The scientist rolled his eyes. “You’re both still human—very strong young men, exceptionally gifted… but still completely human, nonetheless. Not comic-book superheroes.”

“Wait.” Joey stopped, then turned his head and stared out the trailer window. “I hear the postman’s truck down the road. He’s listening to Lady Gaga on his radio. And he’s talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone. He’s going to be late for dinner tonight.” The boy’s eyes widened, then he turned back to the doctor. “Am I imagining all that?”

Michael’s eyes widened. “I hear it, too. This can’t be real.”

“It is. You both have exceptional sight and hearing, increased roughly forty percent over normal. Perhaps more.”

Joey poked at his chest, which was now almost free of hair. He brushed away the last few strands onto the floor. “Are we invulnerable now?”

“Faster than a speeding bullet!” cried Michael, then mimicked a ricochet sound effect and let his fingers spring off his muscular chest.

The doctor shook his head. “No. The bullets will still penetrate your flesh—but you can’t be killed that way. I’ll demonstrate.” He reached over to a nearby dining room table and grabbed a fork. “Give me your hand.”

Michael stared at him curiously, then yelped as the doctor abruptly stabbed the prongs deep into his skin. “OW! Jesus Christ, why’d you do that?”

“A picture is worth a thousand words. Look.” He withdrew the fork, leaving a row of bloody dots on the boy’s palm. A smear of blood trickled down. In seconds, the wound began to disappear.

The two boys were thunderstruck.

“Initially, you’ll feel the pain,” Noble continued. “But a minor wound like this will heal almost instantly. A bullet wound takes a little longer. Your body’s own protective nature will push the bullets out, attacking them exactly like the way white blood cells react to foreign bodies. Everything will return to normal within a few hours. Even a bullet to the heart will heal in a day, perhaps less.”

Michael examined the wound, which was now completely healed. “What if you chopped my hand completely off?” He gave the doctor a wary eye, then steadily moved his arm away. “Not to give you any ideas.”

“It would grow back in less than a week,” the doctor said simply. “It would hurt terribly, but you’d live. Anything other than your head will regenerate itself.”

“What can kill us?” Joey said.

“Radiation… acid… fire… Extreme heat. Anything over a thousand degrees can permanently kill you, provided the ashes are scattered.”

“Not a stake through the heart?” Michael said, remembering a scene from Twilight they’d both seen recently on DVD.

“No. You’re resistant to all known diseases. You have the strongest immune system in human history.”

“Then what else can hurt us?”

Noble thought for a moment. “Well, you still need air, though our last group of Ultras could survive nearly ten minutes without oxygen. And you need to eat at least 5000 calories per day, or the equivalent in vitamins and nutrients, or you’ll begin to starve. That won’t kill you, but it’s quite painful.”

Michael mulled this over. “OK. Food, air, water. And stay away from fire. Check. But what else can kill us?”

The scientist hesitated. “Only one more thing that we know of: if someone incapacitates you, dissects your head from your body, and keeps it separated for a certain period of time, you’ll cease to exist.”

Even Michael winced at this. “Jesus.”

Joey stared at the man. “How do you know all this? Don’t tell me that you…” His voice trailed off and the room grew uncomfortably silent.

Noble sighed. “I’ve done my best to try to forget those terrible years. Don’t ask me for the details. Just trust me.” He checked his watch, then stood up. “It’s almost 2PM. I told Joey’s mother that I was bringing you back from the outskirts of town. You’ve got your story straight, as we discussed?”

The two boys nodded.

“Yeah,” replied Michael, as he got to his feet. “I got into a fight with somebody on the way home from Joey’s house. I called Joey on my cell, he came to help me, and we decided to leave town for awhile in case the guy came looking for us.”

“This is so lame…” interrupted Joey.

Noble shook his head. “No. This has got to work. Tell them you were only going to be gone for 24 hours. And make them believe it. Don’t forget to force your voices a little higher, the way they sounded yesterday.”

They continued talking as they walked out of the trailer, letting the door slam behind them. Joey was wearing one of Dr. Noble’s plaid shirts and a baggy pair of black dress pants, since his own clothes had been destroyed.

The boy suddenly skidded to a stop. “Wait a minute,” he sputtered. “My glasses—I’m not wearing my glasses. But I can still see!”

The scientist nodded, then reached in his pants pocket, found the glasses, and handed them to him. “You’ll need to keep these on for appearance’s sake, Joey,” he said. “But the Cerulean serum has made eyeglasses unnecessary. Keep them on for now, just until we can figure out a way to cover this for your parents.” He thought for a moment, then handed the boy several small pieces of twisted metal. “Oh, and here’s what’s left of your braces. Your body rejected them.”

“My teeth—” Joey exclaimed, frantically reaching for his mouth.

“—are perfect,” finished Dr. Noble. “Let’s hope your parents won’t notice. I’ll try to come up with some kind of cover story you can give them.”

Michael wore half of a ripped T-shirt, which revealed most of his now-smooth, well-muscled stomach, along with a pair of jeans with rolled-up cuffs. Noble unlocked the Camry and gestured to the boys to get in.

“In the meantime, we’ll stop by a used clothing store three blocks from here,” he said, “and buy you some proper clothes. Nothing too tight or revealing—your parents will be furious enough as it is.”

“People are gonna eventually have to see us,” Michael warned, as they sat in the car and shut the doors. “Eventually, somebody’s gonna catch a glimpse and think we’re escapees from the Russian gymnast team.”

Noble thought for a moment, then reached into his pocket. “Here,” he said. “Here’s $200. As soon as possible, go to a sporting goods store and buy a set of weights. Do either of you have a garage?”

“We do,” Joey replied, fastening his seat belt. “A three-car garage. We just have boxes ‘n’ stuff in the third one.”

“Perfect,” the scientist replied, as he started the engine. “Buy the biggest set of weights you can. Have it delivered. Start working out today. In a few weeks, you can at least let your parents see your arms. But don’t tell any of your friends, yet. They’ll ask too many questions.”

“I’m… I’m starting to feel weak,” Joey said, clutching the dashboard. “I’m really hungry, Dr. Noble.”

The man nodded as the car pulled forward, then slowly picked up speed down the dirt road.

“That’s to be expected—it’s one of the drawbacks of the serum. You’re going to have to eat twice as much as an average human, just to keep your system satiated.”

The boy nodded, then cleared his head. “Okay,” he said. “I think I can hold on for another ten minutes or so.”

“Good,” Noble said. “Once we get you some clothes, our next stop will be the health food store at the mall down the street for some protein shakes. Both of you should drink at least two of them before we head to Joey’s house. I think at least 150 grams of protein a day will do it—along with your regular meals. You’ll need to consume as much protein as possible, so these new bodies of yours don’t starve to death. If your parents express concern, tell them you’re going to try out for a team this fall.”

Michael snorted. “Joey’s is so not a sports guy,” he said, suppressing a guffaw. “I’m the athlete—football and soccer to the max.”

This time, it was the doctor’s chance to grin. “Have you taken a look at your friend lately? I think Joey would be superlative for in his weight class for wrestling.”

Michael leaned forward. The boy in the front seat flexed his arm and the edges of the sleeve strained and began to tear slightly.

Jesus, he thought. He’s as big as me—maybe even bigger. “Hey,” Michael snapped, “that’s not fair. How’d he get like that?”

“You only had half a dose. Joey, on the other hand, received the full 20cc dosage. But since you started off with a body far more developed than your friend, I think you’ll wind up approximately equal.”

“Hmmmph,” Michael said, leaning back in the back seat. Except in the dick department, he thought to himself. I got him beat there.

He looked over at his friend, who grinned back and wiggled his eyebrows.

Michael felt a slight shudder. Then again, maybe not.

Noble pulled up in front of The Spears’ house on Elsinore Avenue and parked the car.

“I can’t believe I’m not tired,” said Joey, tugging at the sleeve of his new Diesel designer hoody. It was loose and baggy, and perfectly hid his muscles. “I’ve been awake for almost two days straight.”

Michael nodded in agreement, “Do we sleep? I haven’t had more than a coupla hours of rest since yesterday, but I’m still totally wired.”

The man shook his head. “No. You won’t need it any more. Your system is reacting the same way the chemical compound Modafinil does for fighter pilots: it completely eliminates the need for sleep. It’s permanently altered your circadian rhythm—that is, your sleep cycle.”

“Won’t there be… side-effects?” Joey asked, as the trio got out of the car and started to walk to the front door.

Noble sighed. “We’ll go over those another time. While you won’t need eight hours of sleep anymore, I would suggest that you meditate for at least an hour a day. Physically, your body doesn’t need it anymore. But mentally… you need to relax your mind. Meditation will give you that discipline. I’ll bring you some books to explain it.”

Michael abruptly stopped. “If we’re awake like 24 hours a day, but don’t sleep, what are we gonna do with all that extra time?”

Noble raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure you two will think of something.”

Much to Joey’s shock, his parents bought the entire story—lock, stock, and barrel. Dr. Noble was completely convincing, taking the role of a random driver who just happened to be on the outskirts of town at 6AM and picked up the two hitchhikers. He apologized to Joey’s parents, explaining that they were almost to Bakersfield before the boys finally broke down and revealed they were runaways.

“And I immediately turned the car around and brought them here, the moment I suspected anything was amiss,” Noble said.

“We can’t thank you enough, Doctor,” said Mr. Hartford, visibly overcome with relief. “He’s never… he’s never done anything like this before.” He turned to his son and frowned. “This is so unlike you, Joseph. Why didn’t you call us?”

The boy winced. It’s never good when he uses my full name, he thought.

“If you don’t mind a suggestion,” Noble said, starting for the door, “perhaps both of these boys need some discipline—something to keep them occupied and off the streets.”

“You mean like the Boy Scouts? Camping? A church group?”

“Athletics, I think,” the doctor mused. “Perhaps a physical activity. They are growing boys, after all.”

Michael shot him a look.

Mrs. Hartford nodded. “Yes. Joey has been growing so much lately. Perhaps you could join the swim team, like your older brother did years ago.”

“No!” said both boys simultaneously.

The parents stared at them.

“I’d like to start working out,” Joey said quickly. “You know—pump iron. Maybe… maybe not be a 97-pound geek anymore. Put on a little muscle.”

Noble seemed to consider this. “Yes, I think an exercise program is a very good idea. Particularly at this age—in moderation, of course.”

Mrs. Hartford frowned. Her son had never expressed interest in lifting weights before. That seemed so… so down-market. “Joey, I wouldn’t want you to become one of those… those people.”

“Hardly,” Joey said with a reassuring grin. “I just want to keep up with Michael.”

His father nodded. “Yes,” he said, giving the other boy an appraising look. “I can see that your friend Mike is getting pretty big.”

Joey’s smile froze. You don’t know just how much, Dad, he thought.

Just after 6PM, Joey’s cell rang with the “Boom-Boom-Pow” ringtone—Michael’s favorite song. The boy hit a button.

“About time, you moron,” he said. “So did your mom totally kill you, or what?”

Michael laughed. “I gotta hand it to the doc—he’s very convincing. Gave her the same story he gave your folks, and she totally fell for it. I went with the whole ‘total remorse’ act, tears and all. She actually seemed a little sympathetic.”

Joey shook his head. He never understood how Michael’s mother let him get away with so much.

“I’m still grounded for a couple of days,” he continued. “No bike, no movies, no XBox—no nothin’. I’d go nuts if it weren’t for the net.”

“Yeah, me, too. I just hope they don’t notice that my braces are missing.” Joey thought for a moment. “Is your mom still going to let you work out?”

“Yeah. She said I could go over to your place for an hour or two a day to exercise, but only in the afternoon. But no horseplay.” He paused. “Speakin’ of which, you know what I’m playin’ with right now?”

Joey rolled his eyes. “I assume it’s not chess.”

“No. It’s my cock. It’s not quite a foot long, but it’s close. How ‘bout you?”

Joey felt his pulse begin to race. He reached down and was shocked to see he was instantly hard. He walked over to his bedroom door and locked it, then sat back down at his desk. His mouth suddenly felt dry.

“I haven’t checked,” he said quietly.

“Get a ruler.”

The boy let out a sigh, then reached in his desk, pulled out a measuring stick and laid it on the desk. He’d done this a few times before and had always been disappointed with the results. But things were different now. He removed his shirt and tugged his pants and underwear down. His erection immediately sprang up and slapped against his rippled stomach.

Whoa, he thought. This was going to take some getting used to.

“So how big is it?”

Joey positioned the ruler flat on top of his rock-hard penis, placing one end against the lowest part of his abdomen. “Hate to tell you, but it’s bigger than the ruler.”

“No friggin’ way.”

“Way. The ruler barely hits the bottom of my cockhead. It’s got to be 13 inches, easy. That’s one inch for every year.”

“Shit. You must be measuring it wrong. Or that’s like a metric ruler or something.”

There was a few seconds of silence, followed by some slurping sounds.

“Joey? What’s goin’ on?”

Another pause. “I can actually blow myself!” he exclaimed. “God,” he said, “I may never leave the house now.”


There was another slurp. “I’ll call you back, Michael. Lemme take care of this.”

“Wait! What if you…”

Joey snapped the phone shut and killed the power. No way is Michael gonna interrupt me.

The boy leaned forward in the chair and gently eased his cockhead past his lips. The feeling was exquisite. His erection was absolutely rigid, like steel encased in soft velvet, ridged with a bright blue vein that throbbed along the top side. He held the erection in his right hand, using the left to explore the rest of his body. His chest was hard and ridged with solid muscle, like that of some kind of idealized Greek statue, without a trace of fat. He let his cock fall back again to his stomach, pleased to see that it rose high enough to slide in-between the groove between his pecs. He rubbed it back and forth for a few moments, enjoying the sensation, and let out a satisfied sigh.

His fingertips explored the deeply-etched ridges in his abdomen, then carefully moved back upwards around the edges of his pecs. He grabbed one of his chest muscles and squeezed slightly; his hand could barely contain it, almost like grabbing a large slab of beef, and he moaned with pleasure at the touch, aroused by the sheer power in his own body. His nipples were slightly enlarged, protruding like pencil erasers. He tweaked them both simultaneously and moaned at the unexpected feeling from an erogenous zone he’d never before tried.

God, he thought. I can’t believe how this feels. He looked down to his cock, which was glistening with saliva, throbbing, only a few tantalizing inches away from his mouth. With some effort, he could bend down his head almost perpendicular to his stomach. He was pleased to see his sinewy body had the agility of a gymnast.

His mouth plunged lower until fully half of the enormous penis was inside. It grew thicker at the base, forcing his jaw open as far as it could go.

I can’t believe I can bend this far, he thought, his mind racing. I bet I could almost tie myself in a knot.

He began to slowly thrust his mouth up and down the shaft, playing with his enormous balls, squeezing them lightly, letting the cock respond with short momentary spasms of delight. His cock began to softly nudge at the back of his throat as he felt his pulse quicken.

Joey moaned out loud, the sound muted by his full mouth. Momentary mental images of Michael flashed in his mind. It was the Ultra-sized naked Michael from the night before, savagely kissing him, his body hair rubbing at his bare skin, his partial beard like sandpaper against his face. Their tongues intertwined as he felt the serum burning in his veins.

Suddenly, he saw a mental image of Michael penetrating him. But there wasn’t any pain. Their bodies were as one, locked together, their sweat mingling, their muscular torsos desperately pounding against each other over and over again. “Fuck me,” he murmured. “Deeper!” He caught a glimmer of a new kind of pleasure deep inside him, almost like he was sensing the beginning of an orgasm in two separate parts of his body.

Suddenly, his whole body tightened. A lightning bolt of pleasure ripped upward from his groin, causing his cock to erupt and spasm. He jammed his mouth further down, fighting the urge to gag, letting his lips graze against the thick adolescent patch of curly black hair at the base. A flood of warm liquid gushed down his throat—once, twice… he lost count after six. At last, he slumped to the floor, absolutely spent, on the verge of blacking out.

“Joey?” called a voice from down the hall. “Are you alright, son? Did you drop something?”

“No, Dad!” he called, catching his breath. He quickly stood up, his half-wilted erection spilling another thick dollop onto the carpet, then cleared his throat. “Just, ah, putting a book back on the shelf.”

“You really should get some sleep,” called a voice outside his door. “It’s almost midnight.”

The boy pulled up his pants and quickly buttoned them up, then slipped on a loose long-sleeved T-shirt. He quickly unlocked the door and leaned out into the hallway.

His father stared at him curiously. “You alright, Joey? I hope you didn’t pick up a flu bug while you were out early this morning.”

“No—actually, I feel great. But I’m really starving. OK if I make myself a snack downstairs?”

“Sure. Just don’t make a mess.”

“And put the dishes in the dishwasher!” called his mother, overhearing the conversation from the master bedroom. “Especially if it’s another one of those messy protein drinks.”

“No problem, mom.”

Joey checked his groin to make sure the bulges were completely hidden, then hurried downstairs. I’m gonna need all the protein I can get, he thought. Especially if I can’t get this dick of mine under control.

The sales clerk at the Sports Authority store on West Sunset Road had assured Joey and his father this was the best weight set they carried. “On sale now for $395,” he said. “There’s nothing better outside of a real fitness club. And this will cost you a lot less than a year’s gym membership.”

Joey tried a couple of quick barbell arm curls. “This is too light,” he said, dropping it back on the stand with a metallic thud. “Can we go a little heavier? Maybe go to two 25’s?”

The clerk gave him a curious look, then squeezed his arm through his thick shirt. “Whoa, kid! You must already be lifting.”

Joey glanced over at his father, who was absent-mindedly going through some flyers on the table. Luckily, he wasn’t paying attention. “Never mind about that,” he said quietly, slipping the salesman another $200. “Do me a favor and double the free weight plates. And don’t let my father know—it’s sort of a surprise.”

The man winked. “Got it. We’ll just total out the invoice at $395. No problem.”


The delivery truck showed up three hours later at noon, right on schedule, and the men loaded everything out and helped him set it up the weights and the bench in the garage. Joey had spent several hours at dawn moving around the boxes, preparing enough space for two people to comfortably work out. They’d have to keep the roll-up door open, due to the lack of air conditioning, but other than that, the makeshift gym would do for now.

Promptly at 1PM, Michael rode up on his bike, hopped off, leaned it against the garage door, then walked inside and whistled appreciably.

“Not bad,” the boy said, inspecting the gleaming weight set. “In fact, it looks great.”

“It should be,” Joey said with a grin. “That’s about six hundred bucks’ worth of weights, plus the bench. And I got this book.”

Michael took it from him and snorted. “‘Weight Training for Dummies’? You gotta be kidding.”

The boy shrugged. “They didn’t exactly have much of a selection at the store. Let’s just come up with a workout routine for today, then get some more info from the net later on.”

Joey sat down on the bench and began to lean back. His friend stopped him.

“Hey, listen,” Michael began. “You really pissed me off on the phone last night. I was all hot and… well, you know. I really needed to do it.”

“Jesus, Michael. Call somebody else when you need phone sex. There’s 800 numbers for that stuff. And porn sites. And don’t forget we’re both still grounded.”

The blond boy glared at him. “I thought you were my friend.”

Joey returned the glare. “Yeah, I thought so, too—until you practically raped me last night. Twice, unless I lost count. And that’s not even counting the blowjob.”

Michael’s face reddened. “I didn’t know what I was doing. That was… it was like another guy was pulling the strings.” He leaned forward and gently squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry that happened. But you gotta admit: you didn’t mind at the time.”

Joey turned away and thought for a moment. In the heat of passion, it had been amazing. And he did find his friend attractive. Was it wrong?

Finally, the boy smiled. “Alright,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t completely rape. But you definitely owe me one. It’s your turn next time.”

Michael grinned. “I was gonna suggest that.”

Joey flicked his eyebrows. “And I’ll prove to you my cock is bigger than yours, too.”

His friend guffawed. “You keep dreamin’,” he said. “Alright. He who has the biggest cock gets to fuck the other. Deal.”

Joey grinned ear to ear as they shook hands then bopped their knuckles together. “Oh, I like this bet already. Now, shut up and lift.”

They began to struggle with the heavy bar, which was loaded down with about 135 pounds of barbell plates.

Less than half a block away, a man sat in a white Chevy cargo van, adorned with a large blue sign: “Chet’s Swimming Pool Service—Serving the Greater Las Vegas/Henderson Area Since 1992.” He glanced at an image of the boys in the open garage through his dashboard monitor, which displayed a video signal from the truck’s almost-invisible roof-mounted camera, then hit a button to sharpen the focus.

He pinged the walkie-talkie through the coiled cord in his right ear. “You getting all this?”

“Yeah. Continue surveilling the subjects. We’ll keep the satellite positioned for the next 12 hours, in case they try to leave the city again.”

“Any further instructions?”

There was a brief burst of static. “No. Report if there’s any more activity. Keep a low profile. We’ll send in relief at 6PM.”

“Got it.” The man clicked off the walkie, then zoomed in on the camera. Damn, he thought. Get a load at the arms on that kid.

“What is this all about?” he muttered to himself.

The boys progressed steadily as the week drew on. By the weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Hartford were impressed enough by Joey’s industriousness and discipline, they cautiously agreed to end his grounded status.

“But mind you, there’s still a curfew in effect over the summer,” warned his mother. “9PM sharp—and not one minute later.” She paused, then looked at the kitchen floor, which gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. That’s odd, she thought. I don’t recall it looking this clean yesterday.

The boy grinned, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then dashed out the back door. “Thanks, mom!” he called over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go over to Michael’s house and hang out over there. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Don’t cause any trouble!” she said in a loud voice, then curiously watched her son leap on his bike and pedal off down the driveway. Why would he wear a baggy shirt in this kind of heat, she thought, furrowing her brow. Crazy kids. She closed the door and inched the kitchen thermostat down another two degrees.

Joey soared past the street marker, then made a sharp left turn, taking a road that led across town to the trailer park. Michael had agreed to meet him at Dr. Noble’s place, where the scientist was going to “go over a few things,” as he put it.

The sweat stung in Joey’s eyes, but he ignored it. For the first time in his life, he felt like he’d tapped into an almost unlimited source of energy. He was never tired; he felt like he could practically fly on the bike. He ratcheted the bike into a higher gear, then took it up to 40MPH. Incredible, he thought, the hot desert wind whipping past his face, the world zooming by in a brilliant blur.

Suddenly, there was a large brown shape lumbering on his right. Without even thinking, he instantly banked left and made an impossible maneuver, flipping the bike sideways into the air, rocketing to the side and missing the UPS truck by mere inches, balancing on a narrow street curb for twenty feet, then hurtling in a sharp loop and back down to the asphalt. It was the kind of stunt you’d normally see only at a BMX championship, never on a city street.

“Jesus!” hollered the driver, slamming on his brakes, sending a huge pile of packages behind him tumbling to the floor. He mopped his face, then scowled at the bicyclist as the boy pedaled away. “Better watch it, kid!”

“Sorry!” called Joey, instantly apologetic. He carefully applied the brakes and slowed down to a more-manageable 20MPH. “Gotta watch out for that,” he muttered. It’d been four days since he’d even been on the bike, three since… well, since his transformation. The seat felt different on his butt; without the extra padding of fat he used to have, the seat seamed to mold itself to his build and felt far more comfortable. He glanced down at his jeans, wondering how his powerful bare thighs and calves would look as they strained, pumping the pedals furiously. Very hot, he thought, then shifted his position and tried to get his thickening cock under control. Down, boy. There’ll be time for that later.

At last, he bore his bike on a long curve to the right and bounded up American Pacific Drive, then turned into the bumpy dirt and gravel road that led to Trailer Estates. He skidded his bike to a stop near the front door, leaning his bike next to Michael’s Haymaker.

“Dude!” called a familiar voice. It was his friend, chugging down a protein shake. “’Bout F-in’ time you got here.” He finished it off with a short burp. “Man, these are good. You want one? There’s more in the blender.”

“Just had one before I left,” Joey said, hopping up the step and into the trailer, then closed the door behind him and plopped himself down in a nearby dining room chair. He looked around. “Where’s Dr. Noble?”

“The Doc’s off on a reconnaissance mission—at least, that’s what he told me. Said he had some stuff hidden away in storage. He’ll be back in another 15 minutes.”

Joey nodded, then grabbed a large plastic mug and filled it with the remnants from the blender. “Alright. In that case, I’ll go for one.”

The air conditioner kicked in, grinding a low-frequency rumble that vibrated through the double-wide trailer, sending out a cool mist of air through the living room.

Michael leaned back, fanning himself. “Gotta be over 110 outside,” he said, pulling off his thick shirt.

“Hey,” cautioned Joey, as he wiped his mouth. “Noble said not to let anybody see our bodies for at least a couple months—at least not until we have that ‘home weightlifting’ cover story under control. Plausible deniability, right?”

Michael disregarded him, then used the shirt to mop up his sweaty chest. He tossed the damp shirt behind him, then made a pose, causing the muscles to swell and thicken. Striations sprang up like a cobweb between his pectorals, and he ran his hand across the skin. “Whoa,” he said. “Between the serum and the workouts, I’m lookin’ great,” he said. “Whaddya think?”

Joey glanced up and grinned. “Not much different than me,” he said. “Look.” He pulled off his shirt in one smooth motion, tossed it over his head, then struck a similar pose.

“You don’t know even how to stand,” his friend taunted. “I read about it on the net. Check this out.” He stood sideways, then took a deep breath, held his arms back and pulled one arm up. “This is called ‘side chest.’ Looks cool, huh?”

Joey nodded in agreement; his friend did look impressive. “Yeah,” he said, “but I’ve got better abs. Can you believe these?” He leaned forward slightly and contracted as hard as he could.

“Jesus! You weren’t kidding. That’s gotta be a six-pack.”

“Eight-pack,” Joey corrected, feeling the horizontal ridges across his flat, smooth stomach. It was a far cry from the thick inner tube he’d carried around his gut for the past few years.

“You look totally hot,” Michael said in a low, throaty growl. “I could totally eat you up.”

Joey laughed. “You didn’t get enough yesterday? I thought my mom was gonna hear us for sure.”

The other boy’s face reddened at the memory. He initially hadn’t liked the idea of being on the receiving end, but a deal was a deal. And much as he hated to admit it, Joey had beaten him in the dick department—but only by half an inch.

“Be glad she didn’t,” he muttered. “I’m just glad I’m self-healing. If you’d shoved that thing of yours inside anybody else, it would’ve required major surgery.”

“True.” Joey turned sideways. His pants were bulging out comically, his erection tenting out from his crotch like something out of a satirical cartoon. “But I think you still liked it.”

Michael grinned. “Yeah. By the way, I discovered something last night.”

“Now what?”

“Something new.”

Joey stared at him expectantly.

“I can come without touching myself,” Michael said with a sly smile.

“No way.”

“Way. Pull your pants down. Check this out.”

Joey kicked off his sneakers, then slipped his pants and underwear off in one smooth motion, leaving the clothes in a pile on the floor. Both boys stood together, their muscular torsos glistening with sweat, their erections throbbing and pulsing upwards. Joey reached out to caress his friend’s penis, but Michael slapped his hand away.


“I told you, no touching,” Michael warned. “Just think of the sexiest thing you can imagine. Then concentrate on your body. Every inch of it.”

Joey looked down. His cock was straining upwards, casting a dark shadow on the carpeted floor. His muscular chest heaved and his nipples flared. He felt a sweet shudder of pleasure begin. He reached out to rub his chest.

“No,” whispered Michael. “I told you—*no hands. Just stand there. Look at me if you want.”

They were as rigid as statues, though their erections bobbed with a life of their own. The young teens began to pant slightly, their beefy young chests heaving, their eyes glued to each other.

Joey felt a trickle of sweat work its way down the deep groove between his pectoral muscles, then down to his powerful stomach and into the thin boyish tufts that sprouted a few inches below his smooth belly-button. He felt like he could sense growing waves of heat coming off Michael’s body.

Jesus, he thought, staring at his friend. We’re so much alike now—like a Greek mural featuring the gods of Mount Olympus.

Michael stared back, his mouth slightly open. He licked his lips and Joey felt another shiver of impending pleasure.

He let out an involuntary moan.

“Yeah,” the other boy whispered. “You’re definitely feelin’ it. Now, tense up your body. Flex your muscles. Show me what you got.”

Automatically, Joey curled his arms slightly beside him. His biceps leapt up, roughly the size and shape of baseballs, and thick creases of definition criss-crossed his chest and stomach. His meaty torso was in an exaggerated V-shape, as narrow as a boy’s around his hips, but radically winding outwards to his extraordinarily-wide man-sized shoulders, closely resembling that of a world-class gymnast. His chest muscles began to ripple and inflate, arching upwards slightly, and the veins in his arms became slightly engorged, revealing a thin web of visible purple lines that throbbed at the surface. His cock gave a brief lurch and his balls begin to tighten. Their pulses quickened.

Both boys raised their arms in the classic double-biceps pose, each a mirror image of the other. Their bodies shook slightly, straining with the effort, every tendon and sinew visible in the afternoon light.

The air in the trailer seemed to inch up several degrees. Their bodies glimmered with a thin sheen of sweat, exaggerating their masculinity.

“God,” Joey said. He began to gasp, feeling momentarily lightheaded, then curled his toes in anticipation of the waves of pleasure that were beginning to rumble in his groin.

“Hold back if you can,” Michael said through gritted teeth. “Just a little while longer.”

“Can’t,” he said. “Oh, FUCK!”

Joey cried out as his cock spasmed and shot out a thick white stream that arced over the floor, splattering near his friend’s foot. His hips bucked uncontrollably as he shot again, and again.

Almost immediately, Michael grabbed his own erection and gave it a few quick strokes with both hands, then let out a loud groan. Their twin orgasms shot through the air, intermingling like strands of rope, the electric pleasure rocketing through them like a thunderbolt, over and over again in sharp waves that finally begin to subside.

A final splat grazed Joey’s right side, leaving a warm trail that trickled down his chest and abs. He dizzily fell down to his knees, then leaned over and held his body up on one muscular arm, catching his breath. “Jesus,” he said with a wheeze. “I never had one that good before. And I didn’t even touch it.” He looked up at his friend and grinned. “You cheated.”

Michael shrugged, then wiped off the residue on his hand. “Sorry. I was only a few seconds away, and I couldn’t let you finish by yourself, could I?”

“That was… that was really, really great.”

His friend nodded. “Yeah. And it was all 100% mental, too. I got the idea two nights ago when me and mom were eating dinner in the kitchen.”

“While your mother was there? Sicko.”

“Shut up! She didn’t even notice. She was busy readin’ the paper and the TV was on. I looked up at the screen and saw some hot chick… before I knew it, I was hard as a rock, then a minute later I was shooting down my pants leg. I never even took my hands off the dinner table. Total stealth mode.”

Suddenly, Joey froze and cocked his ear, turning slightly towards the window. “Shit. Noble’s coming up the drive. I can hear his car—it’s less than a block away.”

“Quick,” Michael said, peeling off a long roll of paper towels from the kitchen cabinet. “Gotta get rid of the evidence.”

“How do you get me in these messes?” Joey retorted, frantically mopping up several thick white globs near their feet. “Next time, let’s spread out some newspapers, OK?”

A minute later, Noble entered the room, carrying a cardboard box. The two boys sat at the table, fully clothed, casually clicking buttons on their PSP’s.

Joey’s device blared a trumpet fanfare. “Ha! I won that one.” He turned to the old man. “Hi, Dr. Noble. Sorry I’m a little late. You… you said you had something important to tell us?”

“Yes,” the man said, closing the door behind him and setting down the box on the kitchen table. He reached in and pulled out some thin black plastic squares about 5” on each edge, then blew off some sand from one side. “I was able to retrieve a few of the floppy disks from the backup facility.”

Michael gave him a concerned stare. “I hope you avoided those Rambo guys with the helicopter.”

“I knew of another entrance, an access tunnel used only for maintenance personnel. There were no alarms there, and I’m certain I wasn’t followed. We’re under the radar for now.”

Noble walked across the room to a modern laptop on the desk, reached in a drawer, then pulled out an ancient-looking gray metal box attached to a long USB cable. “I’m going to try to retrieve some information on this disk—if we can get it to read. After more than 20 years, I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try.” As the machine clicked and whirred, Noble narrowed his eyes and sniffed the living room’s dusty air. “Do you boys smell something?”

“Smell what?” Joey kept his voice steady, but momentarily gulped. He felt a thin patch of residual wetness trickle down his thigh and prayed it wouldn’t soak through to his sweatpants.

“Nothing. Ah—yes, here’s the file. It’s a very old Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, but I believe I can convert it.” After a couple of clicks, he nodded. “Yes. This utility will convert it to Excel.” He leaned back as the computer screen flashed a few times, then rows of boxes and numbers spilled down across the display. “Incredible, isn’t it?” he marveled. “The data of over two decades ago lives on.”

“What are these?” Michael said, taking one of the loose disks out of its paper sleeve and examining it curiously.

“Those were 5-1/4” floppy disks,” Noble replied, gently prying it from the boy’s hands. “State of the art for 1988, but somewhat delicate.”

“What—no thumb drives or DVD-Rs?”

The man harrumphed. “Hardly. We were fortunate to store 360 kilobytes on one of these—a fraction of a megabyte. But more than enough for these files.” He pointed to the screen. “More than two dozen scientists died in order to create this research.”

Just then, Michael’s stomach let out a growl.

Noble raised an eyebrow. “I hope the two of you have rigidly followed the diet I assigned you. I can’t overemphasize the importance of the need for you to eat. The alternative could be catastrophic.”

Joey shuddered. He’d been awake during most of his transformation on Tuesday night, and it had been sheer agony. The last thing I want is to ever have to go through that again, he thought.

“I had to sneak off and have three Big Macs just on my way over,” he confessed. “I almost inhaled them in, like, two minutes.”

The doctor snorted. “Next time, go for the double Quarter Pounder with cheese. That has twice the protein of a Big Mac. There’s more fat, of course, but your body will automatically expel that through normal body functions. Though you’d be better off consuming foods higher in protein, like pure beef, eggs, beans, milk and tuna fish.”

“Whoa—I could totally dig a Subway tuna right now,” Michael said.

“But the fat—” began Joey.

“Won’t matter,” interrupted Noble. “All that will be eliminated by your heightened metabolism. Speaking of which, let me measure your bodies.”

He opened a nearby black doctor’s bag, which was filled with calipers and measuring tapes. After a few minutes, he checked a few figures, then entered them into a database on his laptop. “Excellent,” he said. “Michael, your overall body fat is still barely 6%. And you, Joey, are at 8%. Still well under average.”

The blond boy held out his arm and gave it a twist. “I can see all the veins down my forearm,” he said. “It looks kinda freaky.”

“Not all that unusual for an athlete your size,” the doctor said, checking the measurement a second time. “Nearly sixteen inches for your biceps. That’s exceptional for your age. You are continuing on a workout program?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “I memorized one book, then we got some more advanced routines from the web.”

Noble nodded in agreement. “Good. I would suggest the classic ‘push/pull’ routine. Biceps and back twice a week; then chest, triceps, and shoulders the other two days. At least one day for legs. I would avoid training for more than about one hour per session. Your bodies will recover very quickly, unlike those of normal humans.”

“What about sit-ups?”

“Those you can do every day,” the old man explained. “Your stomach muscles are already responding well to the exercise. I can already see some definition that wasn’t there four days ago. And you should run at least one or two miles every day, rain or shine.”

Joey shook his head. “Won’t all these workouts make us too big?”

“No. Normally, workouts stimulate the muscles, causing muscular hypertrophy.”

“Bigger muscles?”

“Exactly. But with the Cerulean formula already taking care of that, your workouts are actually helping control the muscles from growing too rapidly. Without this stimulation, the muscle cells would tend to grow out of control. The exercises are mainly for burning off your excess energy and providing a logical excuse for your relatively-massive size.”

Michael flexed once or twice, pleased to see the extra ridge in his bicep. “And I think the workouts give us better shape, too, I think,” he said, tracing his finger along a thick vein that led all the way up to his shoulder. “I don’t think this was here a few days ago.”

“All the better reason to keep your clothes on at all times,” the doctor said, pulling the shirt onto the boy’s back. “We’re still not ready to have your families glimpse your current muscular state, lest they become alarmed by your appearance.” He turned to Joey. “Speaking of which, did my idea work for your braces?”

The black-haired boy nodded, then reached into his mouth and unclasped a piece of twisted metal, then withdrew it and held it up. “I was able to super-glue enough pieces together to at least cover the front part of my mouth,” he said. “I only snap it in place when I’m outside my bedroom. My next orthodontist adjustment isn’t for another six weeks.”

Noble nodded approvingly. “Yes. By then, I think you can just walk in and show the dentist the pieces of braces and say you don’t want them anymore.”

Joey’s eyebrows shot up. “He’ll never buy that.”

“Tell him you did it yourself. Once he sees the results of your teeth, he won’t question it. I’m more concerned about your lack of fillings and occlusal caries. Let me take a look.”

He peered into the boy’s mouth, then sighed. “Absolutely perfect,” he said, frowning. “Any cavities you may have previously have had have self-repaired. That will definitely cause some suspicion. I’ll make a note to have your dental records replaced.”


The man shrugged. “I was in government service long enough to know a few people who can handle dirty tricks. Substituting dental records with modified copies is trivial, especially in this computer age. Email me the name and address of your dentist, and I’ll have it taken care of well before your appointment.”

Michael held up his hand. “Alright, we got the dental hygiene lesson for the day, Doc. What was this other life-and-death stuff you needed to tell us?”

Noble typed in some more keystrokes into his computer, then spun his chair around to face him. “We haven’t gone over all the risks yet. The changes in your genetic structure… they’re quite profound. Your muscularity is only part of it.”

“I know,” Joey said. “I’ve been reading the net non-stop for the last four days. I’ve got like instant replay in my brain. Half of Wikipedia is right up here,” he said, tapping his forehead. “Give me another week, I think I’ll have memorized the Encyclopedia Britannica, Roget’s Thesaurus, IMDB, and a few more.”

“You must be cautious about displaying your knowledge to others,” cautioned the doctor. “If they’re aware of your intelligence—your ability to memorize vast amounts of facts and data, your expanded IQs—this will make you much too visible a target.”

“A target? So what if my grades improve at school.”

Noble leaned forward. “Not if you wind up knowing more than your teachers,” he said.

“Fat chance that’ll happen with me,” Michael retorted, leaning back and putting his large feet on the living room table. “I’m lucky to make straight C’s—B-minuses at best.”

“And you should stay that way. Every time you take a test—make sure you miss a few questions, deliberately. Don’t make it look too easy.”

“Check. Keep up the dumb jock act. What else?”

Dr. Noble cleared his throat, then looked a little nervous. “Then there’s the issue of sex.”

The boys both winced.

The man waved his hands. “I could care less what the two of you do with each other. But be very careful of sex with others. Your sexual drives are very powerful, but you need to learn to control your impulses.”

“I’ve had to take care of myself about five times a day,” Joey admitted, looking away with some embarrassment. “Basically once every four or five hours.”

“Got ya beat there,” Michael retorted. “No pun intended.”

“That’s fine,” the doctor continued, getting up from his chair and pacing back and forth. “But you scrupulously need to avoid having any sexual contact with others.”

“Why?” Joey asked, concerned. “Are we carrying some disease? Some kind of super-AIDS?”

Noble shook his head. “No. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. Your immune system is better than perfect. The problem are your pheromones: they’ll act as a sexual magnet to anyone with whom you get… involved. It’s particularly strong with your perspiration.”

Michael sniffed his underarm. “Seems OK to me.”

“But not to a regular human. The control serum I’ve given you will reduce its effects by 90%. But if, say, your sweat gets on someone else—particularly someone of your age or older—they’ll want to rip your clothes off and make love to you on the spot.”

The blond teen chortled. “Whoa—so I’m gonna be more popular than ever!”

Noble put his hand on his shoulder. “Listen to me, Michael. I’ve seen nurses and trained soldiers suddenly become nearly psychotic with jealous rage, practically killing one another just to get to an Ultra for sexual purposes. Having girls—or boys, for that matter—compete for your attention is one thing. But this will potentially get into a very difficult area. This was one of the main reasons our test subjects had to be segregated from the population.”

Joey nodded. “OK. So we’ll lay off in the sex area until you can get this under control. Anything else?”

“Yes. Whatever you do, don’t have sex with a woman.”

Michael snorted. “Fat chance for Joey. I think he’s only into guys.”

The black-haired boy glared at him. “Shut up. Am not!”

Noble held up his hand. “At least, not for now. Number one, conventional condoms won’t stop your ejaculations. They’re simply not strong enough.”

“Or large enough,” Joey said, matter-of-factly.

Noble raised an eyebrow. “And,” he continued, “your emissions are an order of magnitude more fertile than those of a normal human.”


The scientist turned, then hit a few keys on his laptop and showed them the screen. “Look at this chart. Normally, the chances of a mature adult having sex with a woman resulting in a pregnancy are somewhere around 22%, assuming the woman is having the right menstrual cycle. Now, look at this.” He hit a few more keystrokes. The chart suddenly turned blood red, with several bars peaking all the way to the top. “By our calculations, your sperm could conceivably fertilize every available egg in the female’s fallopian tubes.”

Michael’s jaw dropped open. “So this would be like Octo-Mom, times three.”

“Or worse. At the very least, it would subject her to significant health risks. Having to give some poor teenaged girl an abortion to kill two dozen fetuses…”—he shook his head and made a vague gesture—“…would be extremely traumatic. Plus it would attract far too much attention from the medical community.”

“Alright,” Joey said. “Eat more. Act stupid. Keep our clothes on. Avoid knocking anybody up.” He glared at the doctor. “Anything else?”

Noble switched off the screen and looked away, then hesitated.

“What?” asked Michael. “You said we’d be alright, as long as you gave us that shot once a week, right?”

The man nodded, but didn’t respond. An uncomfortable silence followed.

“Look, we’re not going crazy, like the previous volunteers,” Joey said, trying to focus on the details of the final report. “I’ve actually felt fine—well, except for having to avoid letting my folks figure out I don’t sleep anymore. I spend a lot of time on the net.”

“That’s part of it,” Noble said finally. “It’s time. Time itself is your enemy.”

Realization finally dawned on the two boys.

“We’re going to die,” said Michael, in a low voice. “The Cerulean formula will kill us. How… how much longer do we have?”

Noble looked away. “I’m not certain. We never had test subjects who were under 18 before, let alone adolescents. I haven’t yet had time to run the simulations on this computer. It will take me several weeks to import the old files to new computer-modeling software, which I’m still in the processing of designing. Once I’ve done that, though, the calculations should take only a few hours.”

“What’s your best guess?” Joey asked, fighting back tears. He was almost in a state of shock. For the past four days, he’d thought having this body was like a gift. He was counting down the weeks before school started in September—imagining the faces of the other students who used to taunt him for being a little piss-ant geek, seeing their jaws drop once they glimpsed his new muscular body. The injection was going to change his life, make him popular, make the best-looking kids in school accept him as one of them. But now…

“Please, Dr. Noble—when are we going to die?” he repeated, staring deep into the man’s tired eyes.

The scientist shook his head. “My guess is, in your current state: five years—seven at the most. If we had allowed the Cerulean formula to transform your bodies to a pure Ultra state… no more than a year.”

Michael began to sob. “But that’s impossible!” he wailed. “There was nothing about that in the report.”

“That was Major-General Cartwright’s doing,” the older man insisted. “‘Putting a positive spin’ on the experiment, as he put it. We kept the test subjects’ limited lifespan quiet, avoided even touching on it in the report.”

Joey felt slightly numb. “What about that part in section D about the Revision 11 formula: ‘Side-effects have been almost completely eliminated to acceptable levels.’” The boy paused and wiped his eyes, then stared at the scientist. “I wouldn’t exactly call death ‘acceptable,’ Dr. Noble.”

“Neither would I. But the volunteer subjects knew the risks. They were willing to die for their country.”

“But we’re only thirteen!”

Noble clicked his laptop screen shut. “Listen to me. I have several leads on a possible cure. There’s been two decades of additional genetic discoveries since the Cerulean project ended. I think I can get access to those results and possibly unlock the key that will avoid acute myocyte failure.”

“What’s that?”

The scientist’s face was drawn. “Every cell in your entire body will eventually break down, rapidly aging within a day… 48 hours at the most. You’ll have the appearance of someone hundreds of years old. It’s very painful… like a house of cards, collapsing from the inside out.”

“Vampires,” Michael said almost in a whisper. “Like vampires crumbling to dust in the sun.”

Noble thought for a moment. “Yes. That’s a very apt metaphor.”

Both boys were trembling. Joey sniffled slightly and wiped his nose with his sleeve.

Noble stood up. “I wanted to be honest with both of you, just so you knew the terrible risks with your condition. But I believe this will be ultimately solvable. Until then, I want you to live every day to the fullest. This cellular collapse is only a theory—and in your case, I’m certain it’s still years away. It won’t happen gradually, but there will be some clues. I’ll continue to monitor your health every week. We’ll know immediately if any of the warning signs are there.”

He clapped Michael on the back. “And in the meantime, you’ll both be as healthy as a horse.”

“Hung like one, too,” Joey muttered. “Not that we’ll get a chance to use it.”

The doctor shrugged. “I can probably synthesize the anti-pheromone agent in the next few weeks,” he said. “If you find someone with whom you need to make love—someone safe—I can probably at least eliminate the psychotic attraction factor, and reduce the risk of pregnancy to a normal state.”

“Sex and death,” Joey mused, momentarily lost in thought. Those are the two biggest problems we have to worry about.

“Exactly,” Noble said. He paused, then gave the boy a curious look. “Sex and death. You know, Joey, you’ve given me an idea: it’s possible the two are related. I’m going to make a note to see if there might be a way to solve both genetic problems simultaneously. I believe they’re related in some way. The samples I took today may give me those clues.”

The boys sat in silence. This was not the news they expected to hear. They slowly got up to their feet.

“Listen to me,” the scientist said, walking them both to the door. “You’re still alive and well—for the moment. I’ll do everything I can to keep you that way. But you have to trust me for now. Go home. Don’t worry about any of this.”

“Easy for you to say,” muttered Michael.

The man whirled on him. “You think I don’t know how you feel?” he snapped. “I told you before: the blood of more than 230 men and women are on these hands. I’ve had to live with this for more than two decades.”

“Two more will hardly matter,” Joey said in a small voice.

“But you do!” bellowed the man.

Both boys shrank back, momentarily startled by the doctor’s flash of temper.

“You do matter—in some ways, more than any life on the planet at this moment!” The doctor stopped himself, then made a dismissive gesture. “I’m sorry. I’ve… I’ve slept very little since Tuesday night. I’m not going to rest until I can find a way to save you.”

“Hey. It’s OK. We understand, doc,” Michael said in a low voice. “I know you’re… you’re doing everything you can.”

The man nodded. “I am. I truly am.” He opened the door. “Go back to your families. Keep your bodies hidden as much as you can, as we discussed. I’ll call you in a couple of days. Starting on Monday, I’ll be giving you weekly injections with the control serum. It’s possible that over a period of time, I can reverse the deleterious effects of the Cerulean formula to the point where we can extend your lives another five years… perhaps ten.”

Joey hesitated. “Could we ever have a normal life?”

Noble considered the question. “In most respects? No. In terms of lifespan… it’s theoretically possible, but I don’t want to get your hopes up. But I’m going to try another approach, using the latest available research. That may put us on the road for a cure.”

“I wouldn’t take it if I had to give up this body,” Michael said, momentarily flexing his bicep, then quickly rolling down the sleeve.

The man grabbed him gently but firmly by the back of the neck and pulled him closer. “Not even if it cut fifty years off your lifespan?”

Michael and Joey gulped. Joey had always wanted to avoid getting pushed around, and fantasized for years of having the body of an athlete. Michael had been among the most athletic kids in school, but dreamed of being a champion. They glanced guiltily at each other.

The doctor rolled his eyes. “I’m beginning to think the insanity has already taken hold of you.”

“No, no,” protested Joey. “Maybe you can come up with a compromise. Maybe the cellular destruction—”

“Acute myocyte failure,” interrupted Michael.

The scientist and teen both stared at him, momentarily taken aback.

“What?” he said. “Can’t the dumb jock catch on to this scientific bullshit a little bit?

Noble raised an eyebrow.

“—maybe we don’t have to be doomed,” Joey continued. “What if the cells self-repaired at that point… replenished themselves. Maybe it’s like cancer and all you have to do is stabilize the cells and slow down the reaction. Like you did with us, using the ice in the bathtub.”

The man looked around the trailer parking lot, which had several cars parked next to his own. A couple across the way was barbecuing some hot dogs, and some children nearby were jumping rope.

“Now’s not the time,” he said in a low voice. “Let me worry about it. Come back Monday night for your injection—*not a minute later than 8PM.”

“What, we’ll turn into pumpkins?” said Michael with a smirk.

Joey and Noble gave him a withering stare.

“Okay, okay, professor,” he said, raising his hands in mock surrender as he sat on his bike. “Matter of life and death, muscular hyperplasia, cellular collapse, yada-yada… I get it.” He turned to his friend. “C’mon, douche—I’ll race ya home.”

Noble watched the two as they raced down the dirt road that led back to American Pacific Drive. Joey briefly glimpsed over his shoulder and the doctor gave him a slight nod.

I just hope you both aren’t truly doomed, the man thought, for all of our sake. He sadly shook his head and closed the trailer door behind him.

On the way home, the boys took care to keep their speed well under 15MPH. Any faster might attract too much attention; Joey felt a pang of guilt when he remembered the close call with the UPS truck earlier in the day. Gotta keep the muscles on the down-low, he reminded himself. Just like the doctor ordered.

As they wove down the circuitous path back to the Hartford residence, about two miles away, a team of workmen had just finished erecting a new ten-foot tall chain-link fence around the Black Mountain scrub brush. Three formidable rows of jagged concertina wire topped the fence, along with a yellow block wall and a new sign that warned “Danger: Hazardous Waste Area. Keep Out!” In the distance, workers with hazmat suits welded shut the underground hatch’s steel door, while a truck filled with debris and a rusted file cabinet lumbered down the dirt path and met gravel at the edge of the road. The driver waved to a uniformed soldier as he opened the gate, then shut it as the truck disappeared down Horizon Ridge Parkway.

The man wore a khaki uniform; a small embossed sign identified him as “Lt. K. Johnson,” of the “Joint Special Operations Command,” but without any specific military branch. He raised a walkie-talkie to his ear.

“Perimeter secured,” he said crisply. “Did we get confirmation from Noble?”

“Yes. We’re awaiting further information. When will the truck arrive at Nellis?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“Good. Oh, and Lieutenant?”

The man flinched. “Yes, sir?”

“Shoot the next person who gets anywhere near Black Mountain.”

“Understood, General.”

“This completely, totally sucks,” Joey wailed. “I told you my old clothes were fine.”

Mrs. Hartford rolled her eyes. “Honey, we already discussed it this morning. We have to get you some new things for school. After all, you’re a growing boy.”

The boy sweated under his thick T-shirt. For more than two months, he and Michael had managed to avoid letting his parents glimpse any more than their faces and hands. Dr. Noble had convinced them both not to let anyone know about the change in their bodies until the week before school.

Four more days to go, Joey thought nervously, as the car made the turn around Arroyo Grande Boulevard, approaching the entrance to the Galleria Mall. Then they’re going to find out just how big I really am.

They parked the car and made their way towards Dillard’s, a large department store on the west side of the sprawling two-story complex.

“Can’t we just go to Old Navy?” the boy begged. “I think they’re having a sale.” Given his new muscular form, he dreaded the thought of having to parade new pants and shirts in front of his mother and the clerk, plus in full view of the public, to boot. Maybe Old Navy would have some stuff he could buy right off the rack.

“We discussed this before, Joey,” she said, as they briskly pushed through the glass doors and into the crowded aisles. “Your father and I are barely covering our monthly bills as it is. Dillard’s is the last credit card we can use. It’s either this or—”

“—or I can just wear what I already have,” Joey interrupted. “I mean, that’d be a lot cheaper than new clothes, right?”

She gave him a steely glare. He sighed and continued glumly towards the Young Men’s Wear department, towards a section marked “Husky.” For the past four years, Joey’s waistline had been steadily edging outwards, making the fit more difficult with normal jeans and shirts. He felt his new thinner waistline under his baggy shirt, tracing his finger along the tight, flat ridges of abdominal muscles underneath his stretch pants, trying to guess what new size he’d need. No way I can fit those fat clothes any more, he thought. I’ll just have to tell her.

“Listen, mom,” he began. “There’s some stuff I need to talk to you about. It’s important.”

Mrs. Hartford ignored him and turned to a salesman in a bright blue blazer. “Excuse me—I need to get some clothes for my son.”

The man’s face brightened. “Hello. I’m Mr. Charles. And you are...” he said, extended out his hand to the teenager.

Joey glared at him but kept his arms folded. “Joey. And I don’t need anything.”

“He’ll need size 32,” the mother said briskly. “Perhaps a pair of blue jeans, then some black slacks, and some brown corduroy. We’ll look at some shirts later.”

“Fine,” Mr. Charles said. “I think you’ll like the selection we have.”

The woman looked up at someone in the distance and waved. “Claire!” she called to a woman across the aisle. “I don’t believe it! Claire Howard!” She turned back to the boy, a little breathless and giddy. “I’m going to talk to my friend—I haven’t seen her in years. Go with this salesman and I’ll be back in a few minutes. Make sure you pick out at least three pairs of pants.”

“Yeah, yeah. One pair of jeans, two slacks.”

“And at least two shirts. Button-down collars, alright?”

The boy nodded, then trudged resignedly behind the salesman over to the rack.

“Mom giving you a bit of a pain, huh?” the man said.

“You could say that.”

Mr. Charles gave him a quick look, then raised an eyebrow. “How heavy did you say you were?”

“I didn’t say. But if you gotta know, it’s 180.”

The man momentarily winced, then quickly recovered and took three steps to the right, over to the next rack, labeled ‘Boy’s Extra Large.’ “OK,” he said. “Let’s try some of these.” He began pulling out some pants on hangers.

“I don’t think...”

“Just try them on,” the salesman said reassuringly, “and we’ll see how you do. Look, I’ll make this as quick and painless as possible, OK? Don’t feel bad, kid—I was a little on the pudgy size when I was your age, myself. I know just how you feel.”

Very doubtful, the boy thought. He sighed and followed the salesman to the changing room. “This is so lame,” he muttered.

“Let me know if you need any help,” called the man, closing the door as he left the room. “I’ll be right out here in the hallway.”

The boy glanced fearfully at himself in the mirror. Trapped. He sighed, then kicked off his shoes, removed his socks, then shed his shirt and slid his pants down to the floor. Whoa, he thought, turning into the light. I really am getting ripped. Those traps are looking really good.

“And here’s some shirts that should work for you,” said the salesman, opening the door. “I can get...” He froze in mid-sentence.

Joey looked up, startled.

The salesman’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “S-s-sorry,” he stammered, staring at the teen’s ripped body. “I didn’t mean to... I, uh... didn’t know...” His mouth fell open with surprise. “Damn.”

Joey quickly pulled his old shirt up to his thick, chiseled chest. “I’m not changed yet,” he said quickly. “Give me thirty seconds.”

“Right.” The man sucked in his breath, then darted out and slammed the door behind him.

“Jesus,” the boy muttered. “I hope this isn’t gonna happen every time I take my shirt off in front of somebody.”

Joey braced himself, then opened the door and took a left, where there was a mirror at the far end of a short hallway that led back to the stockroom, away from the main store area. The salesman followed him, then stopped, but his hands shook slightly as he checked the fit of the pants and shirt.

“Your... your arms are much bigger than I thought they’d be,” Mr. Charles said quietly. “How old did you say you were?”

“Thirteen. Actually, I’ll be fourteen this coming November.”

The man gulped quietly. “That’s... incredible. I would believe you were 13 from your face, but the rest of you...” He shook his head in helpless disbelief, then checked a few more measurements, jotting down the numbers on a pad.

“Look,” Joey snapped. “Are we about done here?”

“We’re going to have to make some, uh, substantial alterations,” the salesman said, retracting the tape measure. “These jeans are much too tight in the...”

“I was going to mention that,” Joey said, adjusting his crotch. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, yes. No. I mean...” The man cleared his throat. “We’ll have to go up to a larger size, then alter the waistline and the cuffs. But I can have them done by Thursday afternoon.”

“That’s good. Thanks.” Joey trudged back to the changing room and closed the door behind him. That guy was real creepy, he thought. Probably early 20’s, maybe a college student.

He shook his head, then slipped the new jeans off and put back on his sweat pants. At least I managed to do this without letting Mom catch a glimpse.

There was a knock at the door. “Gimme a second,” Joey called.

Mr. Charles suddenly darted in, then closed the door behind him. “Please,” he begged. “Can I just touch you?”

Joey flattened himself against the wall, half-naked, his well-muscled chest heaving. “I don’t think you...”

“Yes I can,” said the man, locking the door behind him. “Please—you’ve got the hottest body I’ve ever seen.” He dropped to his knees. “This won’t take long. And I’m really good at it.”

The boy sighed, but allowed the young salesman to unzip his fly and pull down his pants and underwear in one yank.

“Oh, my fucking god...” Mr. Charles said, staring at the enormous prize dangling in front of his face. He leaned forward and opened his mouth, then reached up and clenched the boy’s thick pectoral mounds with his hands.

Joey moaned softly, then gently combed his fingers through the man’s hair. “Alright,” he said. “But I can only give you a minute.”

“I don’t know what got into that salesman,” Mrs. Hartford said, as they pulled out of the mall parking lot and back onto Arroyo Grande Boulevard. “He seemed very distracted. But I thought that was very generous of him, giving us 25% off on your clothes. Your father will be very pleased.”

Not as pleased as Mr. Charles was, Joey thought with a faint smile. The salesman hadn’t spilled a drop, and seemed eager for more.

“Call me anytime,” he had whispered to the boy as they were leaving, pressing a business card into his hand. There was a number written in ballpoint on the back, along with just one word: “Please.”

This could be a real problem at school, he thought. And Noble isn’t going to like it.

Unfortunately, that proved to be an understatement. The doctor was absolutely furious.

“I can’t believe you had the audacity to do this!” the man stormed. “After all I warned you about! Can you at least tell me who this salesman is?”

Joey glumly handed it over. “Leonard Charles,” he said. “He’s already left two messages on my cell. The texts are even worse.”

Noble shook his head. “That’s to be understood. To have an ordinary human exposed in this way to your—”

“—cum,” finished Michael.

“—your emissions, ” continued the doctor, “could be absolutely disastrous! It’s potentially far more intense than your perspiration. Hypersexuality can be fatal in some cases.”

“So, Joey’s got a new boyfriend.”

Joey glared at him. “Shut up, Michael.”

“I’m going to have to alter the formula. Apparently, your pheromones are in overdrive. I think I can take it down a notch without affecting anything else.”

“You think,” commented Michael wryly, leaning back in a chair at Noble’s desk. “That’s unless it ages us a hundred years and turns him to dust. Or turns us into a blob of organic goo on the floor. Or gives us cancer.”

The scientist sighed, then rubbed his tired eyes. “Boys, I’m doing the best I can here,” he said, sounding exhausted.

“Don’t listen to him, doctor,” Joey said, glaring at his friend. “He’s just being an asshole.”

Michael yawned, clearly bored. “I’m just stating the obvious, douche.”

The boy glared. “You started this whole thing when you shot yourself up with that stuff,” he said. “Now look at this mess! Our parents are gonna kill both of us when they see how we... how we look.” He held his thick, muscular arms up for emphasis.

“I did not start this,” Michael retorted. “The government did. And like I told you, you begged me to give you the injection. You were almost in tears.”

Joey’s face reddened with the memory. Maybe he’d been partly out of his mind with desire, but he couldn’t deny it: he had consciously begged to be as big as his friend. ”Give it to me,” he had pleaded. ”I want those muscles... please, Michael!”

How am I going to explain this? he thought, feeling his massive chest. I’m a genetic freak now “Stop it, both of you,” Dr. Noble snapped. “I told you before: you have to live with this for now. And from what I see, your appearance is still within what would be considered normal for a 14-year-old. An exceptionally well-developed 14-year-old, yes, but not beyond the range of possibility.”

Michael raised an eyebrow, then cocked his arm and let his bicep inflate, straining the edges of the shirt sleeve. The bicep muscles bulged in two halves, almost a textbook-perfect version of the masculine ideal.

Noble paused, then waved his hand dismissively. “As I said—on the extreme outer edge of what would be considered normal. For example, the teenagers on the 2008 Russian Olympic gymnast team...”

“Oh, sure,” Joey interrupted. “You mean those muscle-bound kids who’ve been sucking down Soviet steroid shakes since they were babies? Yeah, like they’re normal.”

The scientist shook his head. “The Russians abandoned steroids decades ago. Human growth hormone... testosterone... slight alterations in hematocrit levels in the bloodstream... all of these techniques are far more difficult to detect, given sufficient time and precautions.”

As if to respond, Michael stripped off his T-shirt over his head in one easy motion, then flexed his muscular chest, inflating the pecs upwards like balloons, the striations sharply etching his flesh. “It’s still gonna be hard to explain this, doctor.”

“If you just stick with the story we established,” Noble said firmly, “this will work.”

“You mean it might work, once our parents have picked themselves off the floor.”

The scientist glared at Michael. “And you need to stick with the identical explanation. We’ve gone over this several times: you’ve been eating more, your metabolism has changed as part of normal adolescence, you’ve worked out strenuously every day for several months...”

“Yeah,” Michael said, rolling his eyes, “and we’ve gained almost fifty pounds in muscle. Sure, that’ll work.”

Joey held out his hands in a mock surrender. “C’mon, dude. Dr. Noble is right. We’ve gotten away with hiding our bodies practically all summer long, so we made it this far. School starts next week—it’s gonna be bad enough dealing with that. Let’s go home and get this over with, okay?”

Michael ‘hmmmphed’ in response. They slipped their shirts back on and trudged out the door over to their awaiting bicycles, which were firmly chained to a nearby post. The scientist caught up with them.

“I’m going to take care of this unfortunate department store salesman, Mr. Charles,” Dr. Noble said. “The effects of coming in contact with your semen will naturally fade away in a week. But I’ll see what I can do to hasten it. We’ll give him a stronger version of the same formula we gave your parents back in July.”

Joey shuddered, remembering the odd look his mother had given him earlier in the summer, after coming in contact with one of his dirty shirts. Luckily, they’d managed to avoid the difficult situation of having his mother get aroused...

No, he thought, quickly shaking his head. I’m not even gonna go there.

“Don’t forget,” Noble called from the doorway. “Start slowly. Just let your parents glimpse you in a normal T-shirt. Act casual. Don’t show them how strong you really are. And whatever you do, avoid letting them see you naked.”

Both boys blanched. Their penises and testicles were still quite enlarged from the effects of the formula, though not quite as huge as they’d initially been. ”Not much bigger than an average porno actor these days, Michael had commented.

That would definitely be much harder to explain, Joey thought ruefully. He waved over his shoulder to the doctor as both boys raced on their bicycles back down the driveway, towards American Pacific Drive.

“Joey?” called his father through the inside door that out led to the garage. “Almost dinner time. Are you two finished pumping iron out there?”

“Here goes,” whispered the boy to his friend. “Remember—act casual.”

“Right,” said Michael, curling the heavy bar up to his chest in a smooth, easy motion.

“Your mother tells me that...” The man stepped down the garage steps, then abruptly stopped. “Good god, Joey! What have you two been up to out here?”

Both boys looked up. Each of them were wearing thin tank tops, both revealing enough to display their massive chests and thick, bulging arms.

“Just working out,” Joey said casually.

His father walked over and gaped at the boy. Michael finished his set and handed the bar to Joey.

“Just one more set, Dad,” he said, beginning ten reps. “This is it for the day. Don’t want to overtrain.”

“But how can you...” the man sputtered, “how is it possible...”

Joey ignored him, then continued the curls, his biceps inflating dramatically with each rep. “Seven... eight... nine... ten. Okay,” he said, setting the barbell down on the concrete floor with a clank. “See you tomorrow, Michael. Same time, okay?”

“‘Bye, Mr. Hartford,” called the other boy as he quickly jogged out of the makeshift gym. “See ya!”

“Hold it right there!” The man ran after him and yanked him by the back of the shirt, then dragged him back to the garage, forcing him to stand next to his son. Both boys looked at him glumly.

“Well?” said Hartford expectantly.

“Well, what, Dad?” Joey said, struggling to keep his voice calm. “We’ve been working out for the past couple of hours. I’m really hungry, and I’m sore from the workout. Can we have dinner now, please?”

“Let me see your arms.”

The boys didn’t move.

“Hold them straight out, Joey. Now.”

The boy winced and did as he was told. The father examined them carefully, running his hands up and down the skin, stunned at the sheer size and muscularity. A small forest of veins wrapped around the curves and sinews, like a series of vines curled around a thick tree trunk.

“What are you lookin’ for, Mr. Hartford?” asked Michael. “We just got a pretty good pump goin’. We’ve been workin’ out here since 4PM. Just our normal 90-minute workout that we’ve been doin’ all summer.”

The man gave him an angry glare. “This is not normal. There’s only one way you boys could’ve gotten this enormous in three months.”

The Cerulean formula, Joey thought. From a top-secret 1980s government program.

“And that’s steroids,” Hartford continued. “I should take you both to the emergency room at St. Rose Hospital right this instant. I can’t believe I never noticed until today.”

Joey feigned complete innocence. “I swear to god, Dad,” he protested. “I haven’t used any illegal drugs. Neither has Michael. Absolutely no steroids—swear to God.” He lifted his right palm up for emphasis.

“He’s tellin’ the truth, Mr. Hartford,” Michael chimed in. “All we’ve been doing since June is pumpin’ iron and running. Haven’t you noticed?”

Joey’s father raised an eyebrow. That was true—he hadn’t really paid that much attention to either boy over the summer, especially since all the stresses at work had him occupied for the past few weeks. Is it possible, he thought weakly, that my son has been changing all this time, and I simply haven’t noticed? Am I that much of a poor excuse for a father?

“And we’ve been eating a lot, too,” Joey added. “Tons of protein. Mom’s been complaining she has to buy a new case of chocolate Met-Rx and a gallon of skim milk every two days.”

Hartford thought for a moment. “Pull up your shirt,” he asked.

The boy winced. “But Dad...”

“Pull it up.”

The boy lifted his shirt enough to reveal his stomach, which was absolutely flat. His father was flabbergasted to see that the rolls of flab which had been there earlier in the year had vanished, replaced by a half-dozen ridges of rock-solid muscle. The lower edges of his pectoral muscles resembled enormous slabs of beef, and the center of his torso was chiseled with a sharply-etched line that led down to his powerful abdomen.

“That’s... that’s a six-pack,” the man mused. He’d never actually seen abs like this outside the pages of People magazine or a movie, let alone on a teenager this young.

Joey’s face reddened. “Actually, closer to an eight-pack. There’s an extra set of ridges right up here.” His fingers moved higher up his abdomen towards his sternum.

“I can see that,” the man interrupted. He let the boy’s shirt drop back down, then gently put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “My god,” he gasped, gripping the boy firmly. “Son—you’re... you’re huge.”

Joey rolled his eyes. “C’mon, Dad. You’ve done nothing but complain for the past couple of years that I was a tub of lard. Now, I finally started working out and got into shape. And you’re hassling me for that, too? How is that fair?”

The man thought for a minute, then let go and took a step back.

“I think he’s gotcha there, Mr. Hartford,” said Michael.

Joey shot his friend an annoyed look. Shut up, he silently mouthed.

An uncomfortable silence passed.

“Alright,” his father said at last. “I’m going to accept that somehow, you boys have gained all... all this muscle, transformed your bodies practically overnight.”

“Not overnight,” Joey protested. “It took us months of training to look like this. Remember the weights we bought back in June? We’ve been doing some serious lifting out here. And running in the park.”

“And nutrition,” Michael added. “Lotsa protein.”

“Yeah, protein. And vitamins. Plus a lot of low-fat nutrition. These muscles didn’t just appear out of thin air.”

The man gave them a suspicious look. “Alright. But we’re still going to make an appointment with Dr. Evans first thing tomorrow.”

“Fat chance of him coming in on a Saturday,” Joey snorted.

“Alright—Monday, then. But we’re going to do a full lab work up on you: blood, urine, saliva, DNA... whatever. If I find out you two have been using any illegal drugs...”

“Dad, I’ve told you before: I’ve never inhaled, never even had a beer. I’ve gotten straight-A’s for two years in a row. And that’s in advanced placement classes.”

The man considered this, then slowly nodded and let out a long sigh. “I’m... I’m sorry, Joey. It’s just that this is a bit of a shock for me.”

Michael chuckled, then put his arm around his friend’s shoulders and gave him an affectionate squeeze. “Look, Mr. H—this is the new, hotter Joey. No more chubby boy. He’s wanted to look cool for years. This’ll be his ticket out of Loserville! Wait’ll they see him in school next week!”

That’s what I’m frightened of, Joey thought with a shudder. That’s if Doctor Evans doesn’t call the police—or worse.

As it turned out, his fears were unjustified. ‘On the high side of normal’ was the official report. Old Dr. Evans examined all the test results and pronounced him to be extremely fit. Joey’s testosterone levels were slightly elevated at 700, but that was to be expected for a young teenage boy still in the throes of adolescence.

Noble had prepared them late Sunday night by injecting them with a booster shot. “This is a somewhat-stronger variation on the control formula,” he had explained. “You’ll feel slightly weak for the rest of the day, but all of your blood levels, testosterone, and DNA will temporarily appear normal in all the tests. You’ll be back to as you were within 24 hours. And with the new version of the serum I’m working on, casual contact will no longer arouse desire in others, unless they’re directly exposed to your blood—which is extremely unlikely.”

The family doctor had examined every inch of his body—including a brief exploration of his tight, muscular buttocks—and said the boy was “a magnificent specimen.” As if I was some kind of a medical experiment, Joey mused to himself. Which I guess I am. He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that whatever traces Noble’s weekly injections had left on his skin had healed almost immediately, thanks to his regenerative abilities. No one would ever know about the treatments the scientist had secretly been giving him and Michael.

And Evans didn’t react too badly to my penis, he thought with some relief. Since it was almost six inches completely flaccid, he had made sure there was no chance of having an erection in the doctor’s office by forcing himself to have four orgasms in a row an hour prior to the appointment, just as a precaution. Thankfully, his newly-regrown foreskin was ignored as well; most likely, Dr. Evans saw so many dicks in a given day, he couldn’t be expected to remember the specific details of yet another young teenager’s groin.

Joey’s parents were silent all the way home from the doctor’s office. At least I don’t have to wear the long-sleeve shirts anymore, he thought, resting his thick, powerful arm on the car window ledge. The three of them stared out the window as the Buick rolled down the suburban desert street, moving towards the north side of town, back to their neighborhood cul-de-sac.

The boy leaned forward towards the front of the car. “You’ll call Mrs. Spears and tell her about Dr. Evans’ report?” he asked, a little more sharply than he intended. “I’m sure his doctor will say the same thing—that both of us were telling the truth.”

His mother frowned. “Really, Joey—you mustn’t be angry. Your father and I were just concerned that you were becoming one of those...”

“I know, I know—a bodybuilder. So what? As long as I keep my grades up, what’s the problem with me getting bigger?”

“No,” she said. “We just don’t want you to become one of those people: a wrestler... one of those Hulk Hogan types.” She gave a slight shudder.

Joey glared at her in the rear-view mirror. “Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t do too badly. He’s worth about $300 million, made about two dozen hit movies, and was governor of California for seven years.”

“You mean Cahl-ee-for-nee-ah,” said his father with a chuckle. “Alright, son. Look, as long as we know you’re healthy and not doing any drugs, we’re okay with it.” The man glanced at the boy’s broad shoulders and powerful arms. “If this is what you want, we’ll... we’ll try to adjust. Alright?”

The boy grinned. “Thanks, Dad. And I promise—I’ll tell you if I ever get sick or something.”

“You had better not,” said his mother, who turned and looked at him with a sad smile. “You’re still my little boy.”

Actually, not all that little, Mom, he thought, turning away and surreptitiously adjusting his crotch.

The following week, the day of reckoning had arrived.

“You about ready for this?” asked Michael, as they walked down up the sidewalk that led to the plaza at the front of Arroyo Grande Middle School. A crowd of young teenagers milled around the gravel path, in which a dozen cactuses and other desert plants had been tastefully arranged. Like most Nevada neighborhoods, the city of Henderson had forbidden the use of grassy lawns, insisting on desert-compatible landscaping.

“Yeah,” Joey said dolefully. “I just hope that nobody tries anything.”

“Just remember what Noble said,” the blond boy reminded, as they made their way to the main entrance doors. “We can’t slug anybody. With our strength, we might kill ’em.”

Joey nodded. He’d been in several one-sided fights the year before, with several bullies calling him “fatso faggot” and worse. Despite the slight bagginess of the dark T-shirt he was wearing, he’d let his thick forearms protrude slightly through the short sleeves. He continued wearing sweat pants, on the hope that the bulge of his considerable endowment would be slightly less visible. At least, until we have to get dressed for Phys Ed, he thought.

“Maybe nobody will no—” started Michael.

“WHOA!” shouted a voice. “Take a look at Hartford and Spears! Holy shit, what happened to you guys?”

“—notice us,” Joey continued with a sigh, as both boys skidded to an abrupt halt.

Billy Lynch—known as “Billy the Bull” to most of the school, after various run-ins with authorities over the years—was the terror of 9th grade. He’d been held back at least twice, making him at 16 the oldest and most-feared teenager in school, possibly in the entire Clark County school district. At six feet, he towered over both boys.

“Whaddya want, Lynch?” snapped Michael. As a co-member of the football team, he didn’t take any grief from the linebacker.

The huge boy knocked Joey’s books out of his hands, where they clattered to the ground. His shadow fell over the boy’s face.

“So the little fatso faggot thought he was gonna pump some iron and become a big muscle-man,” Billy said, in a sing-song voice. “Ain’t that some shit.”

“C’mon, Lynch—leave him alone,” Michael warned. “Coach could catch ya.”

Joey looked up, trying to fight the urge to panic. But his expression changed to steely-eyed determination. “I’m... I’m not fat anymore,” he said in a quiet voice.

“Hard to tell, with those outfits,” Billy said, walking around the two, carefully eyeing them from head to toe. “Your arms are pretty big, but how’s the rest of ya?”

“We’re fine, Lynch,” Michael said hurriedly, stooping to pick up Joey’s loose-leaf binder and textbooks, which were fluttering in the warm Nevada breeze. “Joey and I just spent the summer workin’ out. No big deal.”

“Yeah. No big deal,” repeated Joey.

The thug took a step closer. “And I still say you’re a fat faggot,” Billy growled, poking the boy in the chest. Whoa, Billy thought with a slight shock, feeling the solid muscle through the fabric. This punk’s chest is definitely not fat.

Joey had had enough. “Fuck you, Bull,” he said quietly. “I’m not taking your shit anymore.”

Billy started to laugh. A few scattered cohorts around him began to join in. They seemed to think this was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.

“I mean it,” Joey continued, taking a step forward. “And as for fat—check this out.” He pulled up his loose T-shirt, revealing the thick row of abs and powerful, flat stomach. “Beat that, douche.”

The bully nodded appreciably. “Not bad, kid. I gotta say, you ain’t the blimp you were last spring.” He shifted his gaze up to Joey’s face. “But you’re still a faggot.”

“Look,” Joey began, “why don’t you...”

Without warning, Billy abruptly punched into the boy’s gut as hard as he could, plunging the boy forward in a loud “oof” of pain and surprise. In a blur, Billy’s other fist slammed into Joey’s face, breaking his nose and knocking out two teeth. The boy flew to the right, his face bloody, crashing down with a thud onto the concrete steps.

“Jesus, Lynch!” hissed Michael, shoving the larger boy away. “What the fuck is that all about? It’s the first friggin’ day of school!”

Billy raised an eye. Michael had been one of the more promising members of the junior varsity team last season. There was no question he was in line to become the new quarterback. Billy wasn’t very bright, but he knew the wisdom of choosing his battles wisely, especially since they were both on the same team.

“You oughta pick better friends, Spears,” the hulking teen said in a low voice. “Joey Hartford is a fuckin’ faggot—muscles or not. And he’s still a fuckin’ wimp, too.”

Michael turned. His friend was curled in the fetal position, coughing trickles of blood down his chin, holding his nose with one hand and his stomach with the other. Michael stepped up to the larger teen.

“Just layoff, willya, Billy? Get outta here before anybody gets in trouble.”

Billy smirked, then pushed through the crowd.

“I’m okay,” Joey said weakly, as Michael helped him sit up.

“Is your nose broken?” said a girl from the crowd. “I thought I heard something break.”

Joey shook his head. “No. I’m fine.” His tongue felt the hole in his gum line where two adjacent teeth used to be. Already, brand-new teeth were growing to replace them. His nose burned on the inside, but likely that was the cartilage, reforming itself back to its original shape. He spat out some more blood. “Just give me a hand.”

Michael pulled him up to his feet and handed him his school books. “You really alright?” he whispered, as they pushed their way through the onlooking crowd and into the hallway of the main building.

“Yeah. I’m just gonna go to the bathroom and wash my face off. Meet you in homeroom in five minutes.”

They continued down the hallway, then stopped at an intersecting corridor. The blond teen turned to his friend, his face filled with concern. “You did the right thing back there,” he said in a low voice. “If you had fought back...”

“I know, I know,” Joey replied, wiping off some of the blood from his upper lip. “I could’ve killed him. I know the whole drill from Noble. ‘Don’t attract attention... don’t stand out... don’t let anybody know what you really are.’” He raised an eyebrow towards his friend. “Since when are you suddenly the voice of reason around here?”

Michael shrugged and managed a weak smile. “I’ve been hangin’ around you for almost ten years. It figures some of your good side would eventually rub off on me.”

“Don’t mention rubbing off,” Joey said in a low voice, as an attractive teenage boy in a red tank-top darted past them into the crowd. “I’m horny enough as it is.”

Five minutes later, Joey had managed to clean off virtually all of the bloodstains from his collar. His nose had miraculously set itself and the swelling was down to an almost normal level. He checked inside his mouth with the mirror above the sink, and noted that the two missing side teeth were already half-visible. Strangely, it didn’t hurt, though he was aware of a dull kind of buzzing in his jaw. It’s like I’m actually feeling the cells reforming, he thought, vaguely remembering the same kind of sensation after Michael had given him the injection three months earlier. That’s how I felt when my muscles started changing.

He examined his face in the mirror, noting a large purple welt on the left side of his jaw, and dabbing it with a wet paper towel to get rid of the last remnants of blood. That bruise would probably fade by noon—maybe earlier, if he were lucky. Too bad the formula doesn’t dull the pain, he thought. He’d taken a couple of beatings from Billy the Bull before, and they’d hurt every bit as much. But this time, his old enemy seemed infuriated that Joey was no longer the fat, pudgy punching bag he used to be.

“Note to self,” he muttered. “Learn kung-fu. Being big isn’t enough.”

The warning bell sounded, echoing through the hallway. He sighed, then stepped up to one of the nearby urinals and unzipped his fly, letting his elongated penis flop out, nearly scraping the drain. He closed his eyes while the stream sprayed against the porcelain, steadying himself with his left hand.

“Jesus,” said a soft voice behind him.

Joey froze. He cut off in mid-stream and quickly reeled his penis back in and zipped up his zipper in one motion, then hit the flush bar. Without turning around, he stepped over to the sink and nonchalantly washed his hands.

“I... I, uh, think this is yours,” said the timid voice.

He turned to see a smaller blond boy, stunningly handsome. His hair was several shades lighter than Michael’s—almost silver, with shaggy, thick locks hanging down to his shoulders. The boy looked very young, with piercing blue eyes and delicate, almost-feminine features. He stood with his hand out, then dropped a small object in Joey’s palm.

Joey peered closer. It was a bloody tooth, cracked on one side.

“Can’t be mine,” he said casually. “I’m okay. Billy the Bull just knocked me down. Look, see for yourself.” He opened his mouth. All the teeth were fine—perfect, in fact. It’d taken less than ten minutes to re-grow the two molars.

The boy stared at him curiously, a little awe-struck. “You’re big.”

Shit, he thought. Here we go.

“Apparently, still not big enough to fight Billy.” He glanced down at his watch. “Shit—gotta go. Uh, nice meeting you...”

“Aaron,” the boy called after him. “Aaron Butler.”

“Right. I’m Joey. See you around, okay?”

God, he thought as he swerved to the right and jogged down the corridor leading to his homeroom. At this rate, I’ll be lucky to be alive by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, back in the restroom, Aaron felt the flakes of blood on the tooth’s roots and felt a tingling in his fingertips. “If that wasn’t his tooth,” he murmured, “then whose is it?” His pulse began to quicken and he turned toward the door. Gotta find out where this Joey lives, he thought, instantly aroused. He might be the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.

“So we’ve only got one class together this semester?” Michael said, sliding into a chair beside him in the cafeteria. “That sucks.”

More than 400 students crowded down the aisles, while the latest Justin Bieber pop hit blared on the overhead speakers.

Joey nodded, stabbing a piece of meatloaf with his fork. “Yeah. We’ve got Sociology for sixth period, but all my other classes are advanced—except for Phys Ed at the end of the day.” He lowered his voice. “I still haven’t figured out how to hide myself,” the boy said, glancing around nervously. “I feel like some kind of freak.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Michael said cheerfully. “People’ll just think you’ve been eatin’ your Wheaties.”

The boy gave a derisive snort. “Yeah, right. Look, you can get away with it—you’re on the team, and people know you. I’m just...”

“I know, I know,” interrupted Michael. “You’re the fatso faggot.”

Joey’s face reddened. “Don’t call me that,” he muttered.

His friend reached out and gave his shoulder a light, affectionate punch. “Hey, c’mon. I told ya—I’m gonna talk to Coach and make sure Billy leaves you alone. If he gets suspended for fighting, he’ll get kicked off the team. Maybe even expelled.”

“Yeah, sure. The assholes that run this school always look the other way. You forget the time he and his pals threw me and Jimmy Kausler in the dumpster back in May.”

“I rescued you, didn’t I?”

Joey reflected for a moment. That was true. Michael had been his friend and protector for most of their school career together. He sat, chewing thoughtfully. They were an unlikely duo: the straight-A dweeb everybody ignored and the popular, handsome jock everybody wanted to know. But their friendship had endured for more than eight years. Best friends forever.

“Look, Joey—I...” Michael abruptly stopped and then looked over his head, his face lighting up in a wide grin. “Whoa! Hey, Charlotte!”

“Hey, Michael!” said a female voice. “Wow, don’t you look great.”

The boy turned around to find the table surrounded by a half-dozen cheerleaders, each admiring Michael’s physique.

“Madre de Dios!” clamored one girl. “Mikey, you look so caliente! Please, make a muscle for me!”

The boy complied, and the girls squealed with delight. “Oooooh!” said Charlotte, fanning herself comically. “You are so awesomely hot, I’m almost boiling over!”

Joey shot his friend a glance. Michael smiled and shrugged helplessly.

Joey sighed. He scooped the last few morsels from his plate into his mouth, ignoring the soap opera in front of him. Just like always, he thought. Even if our bodies are almost identical, Michael’s still got the looks, the personality, and the charm. It’s just not fair.

“See you around, Michael,” he muttered as he stood up, grabbed his tray, and headed for the exit. “I’ll meet you by your locker after school at 3:30, ‘kay?”

His friend muttered something in response but was quickly drowned out by the din of the lunchroom and the squeals of the girls. Joey slipped through, barely noticing a couple of teens who reacted to his own newly-muscled physique. He dumped the dishes off his tray onto a stack, then slid it onto a side cart and made his way over to the door, nearly bumping into a small figure on his right.

“Hey,” said a familiar voice.

Joey looked over to see the handsome blond boy from earlier in the morning. “Oh—hi,” he said. “Sorry. You’re... ah... Alan?”

“Close. Aaron—from the bathroom, right before homeroom this morning.”

“Right, right—Aaron. So, ah... see you later.”

“Wait!” the boy said quickly. “I thought maybe we could... I dunno, hang out sometime.”

What’s this all about? Joey thought nervously. “Do you know me?”

“Kinda. We’re in second period AP English together, Mrs. Minor’s class. I’m two seats behind you.”

“Right,” Joey said. He gave the boy a curious glance. “You’re in 8th grade?”

Aaron shrugged. “Yeah, I know. I guess I’m a little... small for my age. I’m still waiting for my growth spurt. But I make up for that with my sparkling wit and dashing repartee.”

They both laughed. In the distance, a girl let out a shriek. Joey turned to see Michael standing, letting his muscles bulge through his shirt, pushing out his chest in a ‘most muscular’ pose. Several students clapped and cheered.

He turned back and Aaron was still staring at him. The boy nodded towards Michael.

“You’re almost as big as he is,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Joey nodded sadly. “Yeah. But size isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Aaron smiled slyly. “It is to me. I think you look... really hot.”

The room seemed to be getting warmer. “I uh... I really have to get to my next class.” Joey pushed his way through the lunchroom exit door and out through the corridor, while the smaller boy scrambled to keep up with him.

“AP Science? With Mr. Gibbons?”


“Cool—me, too! Can I walk with you? Maybe we can sit together—if that’s okay, I mean.”

Joey glanced at the boy, who looked at him with pleading eyes. He sighed. Oh, what the hell.

“Sure,” he said finally, grinning. “C’mon.”

Aaron’s face lit up. “Thanks,” he said, his heart beating a little faster.

By seventh period, Joey’s stomach was growling. He and Michael had carefully prepared for the day, after consulting with Noble. According to the scientist’s calculations, they had to eat at least six times during each 24-hour day. Although they’d managed to consume the equivalent of two lunches at noon, he still had to make it to 3:30. And that was after eating a triple-breakfast at 6AM:eight scrambled eggs and two protein shakes, plus a ration of bacon.

Probably gonna have to eat an entire cow on the way home, he thought, as he made his way down the hallway that led to the gymnasium wing. I’m absolutely starved.

Joey entered the locker room and was relieved to see only a few stragglers left. He made his way over to a seldom-used wing of lockers on the far right side and set down his gym bag.

“Gentlemen!” called a loud voice. It was Coach Rambert, poised with his knuckles on his waist, glaring at them from his office doorway. “You’ve got exactly four minutes to change and get your fannies out on the field. Either that, or you’re gonna run laps all period—your choice.”

Joey nodded glumly. The other boys quickly disrobed and pulled on their school-issued T-shirts and shorts.

He stood off to the side, tugging off his pants but leaving on his jock, which helped keep his large package under control. He threw his clothes in the locker, then glanced around. Only two boys were left, and they were huddled together on the other side of the room. Joey held his breath, then quickly tore off his loose-fitting shirt and pulled on his phys ed T-shirt, which was an extra-large. He laced up his running shoes, slammed the locker door, then jogged outside and joined a crowd of about 50 boys, who were sitting in a grass circle by the track. A tall wooden platform with a horizontal bar and a long rope stood nearby.

The coach blew a whistle, which momentarily pierced Joey’s eardrums. Whoa, he thought. This supercharged hearing of mine isn’t always an asset. He rushed to assume an empty spot at the back of the crowd, keeping as inconspicuous as possible.

“Listen up, boys!” the man barked. “Roll call!” He checked his clipboard and recited a series of names, answered by an occasional “here” or “present.”

“Hartford, Joseph,” the man called.


The coach paused. “Hartford. Were you in my class last year?”

The boy nodded. The coach eyed him, then pushed through the crowd.

“Stand up for a moment.”

Joey grimaced, then stood up. A few boys in the crowd reacted with hoots and whistles when they noticed his muscular body.

The coach grinned from ear to ear. “Outstanding!” he chortled, clapping Joey on the back. “Look at Hartford, here, boys. This is what you can do when you really apply yourself.” He reached out and gripped the teen’s bulging arm. “Holy Chri... I mean, my goodness. You’re how old?”

“Thirteen. Fourteen this coming November.”

“And how big are your arms?”

The boy winced slightly and muttered.

“Say again?”

“I said fifteen inches.”

The man examined his bicep. “Gimme a pose.”

Joey complied, and the other boys murmured, momentarily stunned.

Coach Rambert pulled the sleeve to the boy’s shoulder and nodded approvingly. “Closer to sixteen, I’d say.” He leaned closer. “You doin’ the juice, son?” he asked quietly.

Joey shook his head violently. “No, sir. Just working out real hard. Me and Michael Spears—we’ve been doing it... I mean, we’ve been exercising all summer long. Eating a lot, too. All natural.” Well, he thought, aside from the Cerulean formula.

The man walked around him, eyeing him from head to toe as if he were appraising a horse. “You ever thought about participating in any sports activities?”

“No, sir. I’m really... I’m really kinda clumsy.”

“Swimming? Wrestling? Gymnastics?”

The boy shook his head. “Not really my thing.”

The coach thought for a moment, then turned back to the class and walked halfway through the seated crowd, then clapped his hands together. “Alright, boys. Today, we’re going to do some fitness tests: rope climbing, pull-ups, and sit-ups. We’re going to work on this in preparation for the National Fitness Report in two weeks. I want to see some improvement from each and every one of you.” He turned back to Joey and pointed at him. “You—Hartford. Let’s see how many pull-ups you can do.”

Joey blanched, then cautiously approached the horizontal bar. It was a thick black metal post, roughly two inches in diameter, extending across a sandy pit about ten feet wide. He extended his arms up. The pole was less than a foot away from his fingertips, exactly seven feet off the ground.

“Can you jump up and grab it?” the coach asked. “We can bring over the stepladder, if you need it.”

“I can reach it,” Joey said quietly. He leapt up and grabbed the bar. It was warm to the touch, reflecting the hot afternoon sun of the barren southern Nevada desert. He hung there momentarily, his powerful legs dangling a foot off the ground.

Coach Rambert turned to the crowd of onlookers, most of whom stared curiously at the muscular hunk dangling from the bar. “Watch this, boys,” he said. “I bet Hartford here will surprise you.”

You’ve got to fit in, reminded the voice of Dr. Noble from the day before. If you do anything out of the ordinary, let them even glimpse your abilities, they’ll immediately be suspicious.

Joey sighed. He slowly began to lift himself up, pretending to falter, then shook slightly.

“Come on!” shouted the coach. “Hartford, I want to see at least ten reps! These should be easy for you! I know you’ve got the strength!”

The boy slowly rose up about halfway, then paused. I have to do this, he thought to himself. Noble is right.

With that, Joey let go of the bar and crashed to the ground, landing with a dull thud in the dirt, rolling backwards on his ass. A chorus of hoots and jeers erupted behind him. He dizzily lifted up his head, glaring at the crowd. The coach extended his hand and helped him up to his feet.

“Well,” the man said, shaking his head, “I guess size alone isn’t an indication of strength—or athletic ability.” He raised an eyebrow. “You okay, son?”

Joey nodded, fighting back tears. “Yeah,” he said in a small voice, brushing some of the sand off his backside.

“You were PATHETIC!” the coach roared. “Get out on that track and run! I want at least 20 laps before the end of the period.”


“You heard me! Get out there—now!”

Joey felt miserable, but nodded and jogged towards the track, wiping away a tear from his right eye. Gotta keep my speed down, he thought. From past experience with Michael over the summer, he knew both of them could run nearly fifteen miles an hour without hardly breaking a sweat. Better keep it down to half that, he thought, his tennis shoes pounding a steady rhythm down the asphalt surface.

Forty-five minutes later, Joey heard the whistles blow in the distance and watched the other boys crowd towards the back of the gym.

“Shit,” he muttered, wiping a thick trail of sweat from his brow. He dreaded this moment.

“Hit the showers, guys!” yelled one of the assistant coaches. “Five points off to anyone who doesn’t shower! Let’s go! C’mon, hustle!”

Joey jogged back to his locker. His T-shirt was soaked with perspiration. Better avoid touching anybody, he thought, moving away from the crowd of half-naked boys on the left. Most of them were nearly dressed already. With luck, there’d only be a few remaining in the shower. Much to his relief, there was only one boy by the far right-side locker area, and he was looking away, texting someone on his cell.

Joey quickly disrobed, using his towel as a temporary shield, then tossed his sweaty gym clothes into his locker and trudged over through the shower door. It was a group shower, with enough space for about 20 people. The air was thick with steam, and he took care not to slip on the soaking wet tile floor. He carefully stepped over to the far right, which was relatively empty, and turned on a faucet, letting the stream blast off to the side.

Alright, he thought, keeping his back to the rest of the stall. I just might get through this.

He slipped off the towel and snagged it on a nearby metal hook. The water pelted his skin and felt soothing. Although he’d enjoyed the run, five miles in 90-degree weather was still somewhat exhausting. He leaned up against the shower wall for support, letting the water soothe his muscular back. God, he thought with a flood of relief, that really feels great.

“Yo,” yelled a voice from the entrance, followed by a towel-snapping sound. “Anybody got some shampoo?”

“Shit,” Joey muttered to himself.

He kept his back to the voices, afraid to move. Joey looked down. His dick didn’t stir; though it was still fairly large, it stayed limp, swaying freely back and forth. The boy willed himself to think of anything non-sexual: African insects... prime numbers... the periodic table...

“Hey,” said the voice, a little closer. “Mind if I grab some shampoo? I’m all out over here.”

Without turning his body, Joey moved his head slightly to one side, making sure his groin was out of view as he rinsed off. “There’s some over here,” he said, pointing off to the stall on his left. “It’s all yours.”

“Thanks!” A wet, naked boy jogged over, nearly slipping on the tile floor. He was a bit skinny and pasty, several inches taller than Joey, and his back was riddled with acne. Scott-something, he thought dimly, trying to recall the name.

The boy squeezed off a handful. “Thanks, dude,” he said, starting to turn. “I just needed... holy shit!”

Joey froze. He looked up, and the boy next to him was staring at his crotch. Shit. Joey’s flaccid penis was enormous by comparison. It began to stir. Okay, he thought quickly. Hydrogen’s the most common element, followed by helium. Then oxygen. What’s next: carbon or iron?

“Jesus,” the boy whispered reverentially. “You’re really big. Huge, even.”

Joey turned away. Carbon. Then neon and iron. It was working. His cock stayed still.

“So, uh...” the boy said, casually shampooing his hair, his eyes glued to Joey’s chest and thick arms. “You must work out, huh?”

“Yeah. In fact, I gotta get back to that real soon. Uh, take it easy, uh...” Joey fumbled with his towel, wrapping it quickly around his waist.

“Scott!” called the boy, soap momentarily stinging his eyes. “Ow. Scott Orensky.”

Joey hurried back to his locker. Only six boys were left. Three of them ignored him, while the others glanced up, momentarily surprised. One of them punched one onlooker to get his attention, who turned his head and actually gaped. Joey ignored them, then quickly dressed, keeping his now-throbbing cock out of view, shoving it down into his underwear, then slipping on his baggy sweatpants and shoes.

He grabbed his gym bag, then pushed his way out of the locker room and back down the hall. “Made it,” he said out loud, in a voice filled with relief. “One gym class down... only 159 more to go.” He shook his head grimly. “Jesus.”

Joey caught up with Michael at his locker. “You all ready?” he said breathlessly. “I barely made it out of phys ed alive.”

Michael laughed. “I had a blast in the locker room this morning,” he boasted. “Three or four of ’em hadda touch my arms—they couldn’t friggin’ believe it! A bunch of the varsity guys are already doin’ deca – that’s one of the big steroids, all the UNLV athletes use it – but I told ’em me and you were workin’ out naturally.”

That had been the cover story Noble had given them, and they would stick to it for now.

Joey looked around to make sure the coast was clear, then leaned forward and lowered his voice. “So, you have any problem with the... uh... dick situation?”

His friend grinned. “Nope. I had to excuse myself from class for five minutes to, y’ know—take care of business. But nobody saw me. And I kept it limp.”

“Yeah. Me, too. You want to go back to my place?”

“Can’t,” Michael said. “I’m meeting Charlotte at the Ritz Cafe.”

Joey’s face fell. “I thought we were heading to Subway for the special:three foot-longs for $12!” That had been their usual habit over the summer, keeping their protein intake up as per the doctor’s orders.

“C’mon, dude,” the blond boy protested. “Charlotte’s like the hottest girl in school! She’s a 9th grader! I bet she’d give me head and everything.”

“Yeah. Better she gets used to a smaller dick like yours than a big one like mine.”

Michael glared. “Shut up. You’re just jealous.”

“Am not.”

“Go get your own girlfriend. That’s unless you want a boyfriend instead.”

Joey felt as if his face had been slapped. “How could you... after everything we’ve been through this summer...”

“Look,” Michael said, starting down the hall, “I gotta go. See ya tomorrow morning, ’kay?”

The boy turned away. “Fuck you, Michael,” he spat, continuing down the hall.

“C’mon, Joey! Don’t be like that! We still gonna work out later?”

Joey didn’t answer. He weaved his way down the empty corridors that led down to the bike racks on the west side of the school. His was one of the few left, chained to a metal post. He strapped on his backpack, then unlocked the bicycle, hopped on, and rode off in the alley behind the lunchroom, towards a side street.

As he got to the corner, he looked back forlornly at the school, then caught a glimpse of the climbing rope and horizontal bar at the very back of the gymnasium building, the area deserted. He quickly rode his bike over, hopped off, and leaned it against a nearby brick wall. The coast was clear. The boy stood under the bar, eyeing it carefully, then leapt up, grabbing the bar with his strong hands.

Almost effortlessly, he began to pull himself up. “Six, seven, eight...” he counted, moving through a quick set of fifty reps. At last, he dropped back down on his feet, then felt the pump surge through his body. Feels great, he thought, relishing the burn. Remind me to do more of these—good for the deltoids and lats.

He stared up at the bar again. I wonder...

This time, he jumped up and held on with just one arm and slowly pulled himself up. In less than twenty seconds, he completed ten chin-ups—but it took much more effort. He dropped back to the ground, triumphant, catching his breath.

“Fuck you, coach,” he spat, staring at the back door to the gym.

He hopped on his bicycle and began riding towards the horizon.

I bet Peter Parker has days just like these, he thought glumly.

By the time Joey’s bike made the last turn onto Valley Verde Drive, then onto the cul-de-sac that led to his own house, he felt a little weary. Not so much from the three-mile trip from school; his physiological changes made up for that. The boy had a growing feeling of beingalone.If Michael grew apart from him as the years went on, what kind of future would he have?It’s not like there’re that many other super-human mutants out there to pal around with,he thought.

He slowed down, then steered the bicycle to the left to avoid a swimming pool service truck parked two doors down. It was the same truck that had been there for several days, and there was a woman sitting inside who eyed him curiously as he passed by.

Joey raised an eyebrow.That’s weird,he thought. Maybe the Ritter family across the street was going to put in a swimming pool. But if they did, it was only going to be about four feet wide, given the postage-stamp size of their backyard.Not much of a pool.

Joey felt for the garage remote in his backpack and clicked the switch, pausing while the door slowly lifted. Both cars were gone.Guess Mom’s at the store, he mused, pulling the bike up and parking it on the far right side.Hope she remembered to stock up on more protein and chicken.

He walked by the weight set, a mass of gleaming chrome and steel in the dull light of the afternoon sun. The boy checked his watch—it was only 3:55, and Michael usually didn’t come by to work out until 5PM. He felt his right bicep and made a tentative squeeze, and the baseball-sized lump instantly swelled, the peak slightly higher than the last time he’d examined it several weeks earlier. Noble had been right. Despite their greater overall body mass from the Cerulean formula, the exercises helped chisel their features into better shape, giving them better definition and tone.”More like the ideal man,” Noble had said, “even greater than Michelangelo’s sculptures.”

Joey entered the house, not noticing that the door was unlocked, his mind momentarily distracted by art history. He’d read an entire website on the Italian Renaissance over the weekend, and had committed images, names, and facts on nearly every great work of art of the 1500s to memory, thanks to his new-found abilities. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel... The Pieta... the statue of David.A great man,the boy thought as he trudged up the stairs that led to the bedrooms.And he was gay, just like me.

Suddenly, he stopped. Something was wrong. His hyper-senses detected a noise—someone breathing—in one of the upstairs rooms. Joey stared down the hallway. The sound was coming from inside his darkened room. He inched off the top step and crept closer to the doorway. A shadowy figure was inside, leaning back in a chair. The boy held his breath as he approached the room on tip-toe, his mind whirling. Maybe it was Michael, getting ready to surprise him. Or maybe it was Dr. Noble, with news of some new malady that was about to strike them.

At last, he shoved the door open with a loud ‘bang’ and flipped on the light.

“Whoa! Jesus, dude, you scared the crap out of me.”

He stared into the eyes of a short, shaggy-haired blond boy, who had been leaning back in his chair, listening to an iPod Nano, idly clicking on a Nintendo DS. It was Aaron, the boy he’d met earlier that day in school.

Joey frowned. “What are you doing here?”

Aaron looked at him quizzically, then grinned. “Sorry,” he said, snapping the earbuds out and dropping them in his pocket. “Didn’t hear you come in. Your mom let me in the house about ten minutes ago—she said you normally came home about 3:45.”

The boy gave him a suspicious look. “It would’ve been nice if you’d warned me.”

“Don’t you remember? At the end of science class, I said I’d come over later so we could do some homework.”

Joey’s mind did a quick rewind. The formula had slightly altered his brain to give him near-perfect recall of events, sounds, and images, but some of them were clouded with emotion and confusion. Noble had warned them of their need to concentrate, lest the distractions of life interfere with their abilities.”Your enemies are only as powerful as your distractions,”he had warned.”Pay attention, as if your very life depended on it. Someday it will.”

“Shit,” he said, apologetically. “Yeah... I remember now.”

Aaron grinned and his whole face lit up. He was dazzlingly handsome, considerably smaller than Joey, but nearly as tall, with a lithe body and delicate features.

“Sorry,” Joey said, dumping his schoolbooks onto a nearby chair, then sat on the corner of his desk. “We left it kinda vague. I thought you meant later on this week.”

“No—like later ontoday,”the boy said with a laugh.

Joey eyed him warily. “How’d you find out where I lived?”

Aaron shrugged, laid the Nintendo on the boy’s desk, then reached down and opened his science textbook. “I got the home team advantage. My mom’s the vice-principal. I took a peek at your school records.”

“You’re spying on me?”

Aaron giggled, his laugh almost musical. “Not exactly. I swear, all I looked at was your street address—nothing else.”

He leaned closer and Joey could smell his scent. It was a slight musky odor—a little sweat from the hot afternoon day, along with a trace of fragrance.Gotta be Tag cologne, he thought, his mind speeding through the various scents catalogued in his database-like mind. He felt a mild stirring.And he smells wonderful.

“Ah...” Joey said, clearing his throat. “Okay. Just wanted to make sure you weren’t... you know, a stalker or something.”

“Far from it. You got something to drink? I’m dyin’ for something cold.”

This time, it was Joey’s turn to smile. “And I’m totally starved. Let’s hit the kitchen, then dive into chapter 1.”

By 5PM, they’d made it through all thirty questions at the end of the chapter, sitting together at the kitchen table, with several now-empty plates sitting off to the side.

“Whoa,” Aaron said, taking another sip of Diet Coke. “If I could just rip through homework like this every day, I’d ace this class for sure. It’s almost like you have the material already memorized!”

The muscular young teen grinned. For the last few years, it seems like all he did was study, eat, and go to school. Occasionally, he’d hung out with Michael, who was technically his best friend, but everyone else he knew beyond that was just an acquaintance, at best. It was cool to have a kid like Aaron in his house for a change.

“Not that that was ever a problem for you,” the boy continued, pushing his blond bangs out of his eyes. “I mean—you’ve been in National Honor Society for, what... two years? And you got straight A’s last semester.”

Joey nodded. “Yeah. But...” He stopped and gave Aaron another suspicious glance. “Hold up. Have you been going through my records at the school computer?”

“Hey, I made all-Honors three times myself. We’re both on the list.” The boy raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, chill. Are you always this paranoid with new people you meet?”

“No. I just... I don’t really know a lot of kids at school. I mean, I see ’em in class and so on, but I kind of keep to myself.”

“A loner,” Aaron said thoughtfully. “The tough, super-strong teenage loner with the intellectual capacity of a computer!” He laughed. “That sounds like a superhero movie concept to me.”

“Hardly,” Joey said with a snort. “Trust me—I can’t fly or shoot webs or anything. I’m just... I’m just a guy.”

The boy reached out and caressed Joey’s massive arm. “With a body like that? C’mon, dude—you’re totally hot. Even if nobody else at school notices, trust me:Inoticed.”

Joey’s face reddened. “I just exercised over the summer and ate all the right stuff. Nothing special,” he said, turning away.

Aaron’s fingers ran down the bulging arm, then down and across to the boy’s massive chest, gently kneading the firm flesh beneath the shirt. “And you pumped a lot of iron, right?”

Joey gulped. “Yeah,” he said, his voice in a hoarse whisper. He felt his groin throb in response.

“I can tell. You like this?” the boy said quietly, gently exploring his arms and shoulders.

The muscular teen hesitated, then nodded.

Aaron reached out with the other hand and felt the raw musculature of the teen’s chest. “Man,” he said, almost reverentially. “You’re really big.” He looked up into Joey’s eyes. “Big everywhere. I caught a glimpse this morning, back in the restroom.”

Joey winced.So he did see me,he thought.Dr. Noble’s gonna kill me.He began to breathe a little heavier.

“Listen,” Aaron said quickly. “Don’t punch me or anything, but I kinda picked up a gay vibe off you back in the cafeteria at lunch. I had a boyfriend last year, but he and his folks moved to Barstow over the summer. You wanna... I dunno—do some stuff?”

Despite his effort, Joey’s sweatpants were bulging out, almost comically, protruding almost a foot from his lap.

Aaron looked down and giggled. “I’m gonna take that for a yes,” he said, smiling shyly.

“We really don’t have...”

“Just a quickie,” the smaller teen said, pulling him out of the chair and towards the stairs. “Just for fun. I need to get off, too.”

Breathlessly, the two boys scrambled up the steps, then skidded through the doorway, slamming the door behind them. In seconds, their clothes were off and they were kissing.

“Mmmmmph,” Joey said. In the dozens of times he’d had sex with Michael over the summer, most of those had been quick, furtive encounters—just two young guys desperately trying to get their rocks off. Michael had kissed him maybe a half-dozen times... but never like this.

“God,” Aaron whispered, his flesh covered with a slippery patina of sweat, his thin arms passionately exploring the muscular teen’s body. “You’re even bigger than I thought you’d be. You’re always kinda... covered up at school.”

Joey nodded, then leaned down and kissed Aaron’s neck. “Yeah. I was kind of a fat slob last year. I still weigh almost the same, but now—”

“—now you’re a total hunk,” the boy interrupted. “You’re completely ripped.” His hand slipped below Joey’s thick, rounded pecs and down the flesh to his lower abs, then encircled his throbbing erection, which was almost hot to the touch. “And fucking huge.”

Joey moaned. He hadn’t had an orgasm since 10AM. Even with the control formula, he had to climax at least four times a day—and that was down from the seven or eight he’d initially needed after the transformation.Noble said it was something to do with our excessive testosterone levels,he thought dizzily, feeling the electric waves of pleasure tingle down his cock as the boy began to stroke him.

The boy kneeled in front of him. “Lie back and let me take care of you,” he said huskily.

Joey leaned back on his elbows. The boy lightly ran his fingertips down the ridges of taut abdominal muscles down his stomach, letting his thumb stray among the faint hairs growing below his bellybutton. Aaron leaned forward, placing his erection alongside Joey’s; it was like comparing a compact car to a truck, dwarfing his by a good six inches.

“Jesus,” he whispered. “I thought mine was pretty big, but yours is... almost impossible.” He hefted it and let it balance in one hand. “This thing must weigh a pound—maybe two.”

The muscular teen was almost in a frenzy. “Please,” he whispered. “I’ve really gotta...”

“I know.”

Aaron crawled forward and lay on top of Joey’s massive body, then began to rock back and forth, their erections rubbing together. Joey reached out and gripped the boy’s tight, rounded ass, and began to moan. Their movements became faster as they instinctively moved as one, the pace of their breathing blending together, beat for beat. Aaron leaned forward and forced their mouths together, inhaling Joey’s tongue, his breath warm on his lips and chin.

Joey moaned again. “Oh, god,” he moaned. His right hand moved up the boy’s back, which was now slippery with sweat, then moved up to the neck, letting his fingers intertwine through long strands of Aaron’s thick blond hair. The boy’s mouth tasted wet and sweet, a mixture of cinnamon and the Diet Coke they’d shared just a few minutes earlier.

Their sweat was flowing freely now. This time, Aaron moaned, more like an animal growl, the boy pumping his hips faster. Their erections thrust together, rubbing against their abdomens, the perspiration providing a perfect lubricant. The blond boy’s bangs fell onto Joey’s face as he kissed him deeper, even more passionately than before.

At last, Joey felt the volcano begin deep in his groin, rumbling through his body like an impending explosion. He cried out, his toes curling with the sensation, his hips thrusting spasmodically. At the same time, Aaron whimpered, then let out a short cry as he erupted. They came together in a delirium of pleasure—once, twice, three times... on and on, as the bed gently rocked back and forth. A sticky wetness splattered onto the grooves of Joey’s chest and stomach, the remnants trickling down his sides and onto the white sheets. At last, their convulsions began to subside, their chests heaving together. Aaron rolled off to the side and let out a long sigh, struggling to catch his breath.

“God,” panted Joey, his vision momentarily blurred. “That was...”

“ least a 7.9 on the Richter scale,” finished Aaron. “Totally great.” He leaned over, then maneuvered his arm across the muscular boy’s chest, narrowly avoiding a sticky puddle in the crevice between his pecs, then nuzzled Joey’s shoulder with his nose. “Earth Science was never this much fun before.”

“What?” Joey said, still a little dazed.

“Homework. You remember—downstairs, ten minutes ago?”

The boy laughed. “Sorry. I almost forgot.”

Aaron grinned, then let his right hand explore Joey’s body. “Jesus,” he said, sucking in his breath. “I saw a guy on the Summer Olympics a year ago who had a body like yours. But he was like 17 or 18. You’re... what, three years younger, right?”

Joey nodded, a little embarrassed. “Actually, I’m 13. I’ll be 14 in two months.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “Jesus! You’re a year younger than me.” He looked down. “And this piece of meat down here,” he said, using his fingertips to explore the softening cock below, “it’s like... like some kind of...”

Joey scowled. “Just say it. I’m a freak.”

Aaron’s face fell. “No. That’s not what I was gonna say. You’re almost like a god. You’re awesome.” He let go of the thick shaft and it flopped across the boy’s muscular leg, hanging over the edge. “Listen, Joey. I used to see you in the halls, last year. I remember you—you hang out all the time with that cute guy. What’s his name—Mike Spears?”


“Yeah, Michael, the football player. I saw him this morning in 3rd period phys ed. Your bodies are almost identical now.” Aaron grinned slyly. “I swear, a half-dozen guys popped boners in the shower when they saw him naked. Including me.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“You two guys are totally hot. But you don’t seem to be the type,” he said, using his fingers to curiously explore circles around one of Joey’s nipples. “I mean, I got the idea you were more like me: you know, the sensitive, introspective, intellectual type. Not into sports—well, except maybe indoor sports.” He nuzzled Joey’s chest and gently tongued the nipple into hardness.

“Whoa,” Joey said, feeling his cock stir again. “Don’t tell me you want to go again!”

Aaron leaned forward and kissed Joey’s ear, then nibbled his earlobe. “I’m insatiable,” he whispered.

Joey started to respond, then heard a door slam downstairs.

“Joey?” called a familiar voice. “I’m home! I have some of that new boneless chicken, if you want to eat now.”

“Shit,” he muttered.

“You don’t look boneless to me,” said Aaron, playfully tugging at the thickening erection that started rising just above the boy’s muscular thighs.

“Don’t start anything you can’t finish,” warned Joey, then laughed, in spite of himself, as they both hopped off the bed. “Maybe tomorrow, okay?”

“Anytime. That’s the best afternoon I’ve had in, like... ever.”

They hurriedly wiped themselves off with one of Joey’s old T-shirts, then slipped on their clothes.

“Joey?” called a voice coming up the stairs. His bedroom door pushed open, and Mrs. Hartford looked in and smiled. “I can have chicken ready in ten minutes. Oh—hello.”

“Hi,” the now fully-clothed boy said, leaning back on the bed, a textbook casually perched in his lap. “I’m Aaron. Me and Joey are in AP Science in 5th period together.”


“Aaron Butler,” the boy said, hopping up and extending his hand. “My mom’s the assistant principal over at Arroyo Grande.”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “I met her at a PTA meeting in the spring. My, that must be uncomfortable for you, having a parent as part of the school staff.”

Aaron laughed. “Yeah. Sorta like being the preacher’s son: you’re either a saint or a sinner. And you can guess which one I am.” He turned to Joey and comically wiggled both eyebrows.

Joey let out a guffaw.

Mrs. Hartford joined in the laughter. “Well,” she said, smiling, “We’re glad to have you here, Aaron. Would you like to stay for dinner?”

“Sorry,” the boy said, picking up his backpack. “I gotta get home. See ya tomorrow, Joey. I’ll look for you in 2nd period English in the morning, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” Joey said.

“See ya!” Aaron called, racing out the door and down the steps. They heard the front door open and then slam in the distance.

His mother turned to him. “You want to eat after your workout?”

Joey was still staring off into space.Something was wrong here, he thought.But I can’t put my finger on it.

“Joseph—are you listening? Is Michael coming over soon for your workout this afternoon?”

“What? Oh... I don’t know. He said...”

Suddenly, his phone chirped. As if on cue, it was a text from Michael.

Sorry dude—got tied up.

Meet U at 8 @ Noble’s, K? C U then.

Joey rolled his eyes, then texted backWhatever.”Doesn’t look like it. I can eat now, if that’s okay.”

Mrs. Hartford looked at her son. “Is something wrong, Joey? You look... a little confused.”

“I’m just a little tired. Some food would help.”

“Coming up. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

She left, and he sat down at his desk, pulling up his usual email accounts and websites, but he still felt restless. After a few moments, it finally hit him.

Wait,he thought.Aaron said that Mom had let him in the house. But she acted like she had no idea who he wasThat made no sense. Either Aaron was lying, or his mother had forgotten—which was impossible.Or else...

“Or possibly it wasn’t your mother at all,” said Dr. Noble on his webcam, a minute later. “Remember what Sherlock Holmes said: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is most likely true.”

“But who else would be here?”

“I haven’t the foggiest. Tell me, Joey: is your room exactly as it was? Has anything changed?”

Joey looked around. It looked the same as always: six rows of books, neatly arranged on a shelf to the side. His desk, a little disorganized, with a recent-vintage iMac and keyboard. His iPod stereo speakers sat next to his bed. He compared it to a mental image of the room from the day before; it was a near-perfect match, except for a pair of socks on the floor.

“Not that I can see.”

“Let’s discuss this later. I have some work to do. You and Michael should meet me at 8PM for your injection.”

“Alright. Listen, Dr. Noble... I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?” the man said, momentarily panicked. “You aren’t experiencing any side-effects, are you?”

“What? No, no. It’s just that... I met somebody today.”

“Someone suspicious?”

“No. I don’t think so. Just a kid from school. We’re friends.”


Joey bit his lower lip.”Specialfriends.”

“Ah. I see,” Noble replied. “Well, you shouldn’t experience any complications like the clothing salesman from two weeks ago,” he said. “Your saliva, perspiration and other emissions are practically back to normal. But you can’t risk exposing your blood to anyone. The results could be catastrophic.”

“No,” the boy quickly replied. “No blood. And we’re just fooling around—safe sex. Nothing... involved.”

“Keep it that way. Listen, I don’t trust this line. Let’s talk later.”

The connection went dead.

Joey clicked off the phone and leaned back in his chair. “But maybe I need to get involved,” he said to himself. Michael was definitely interested in girls. To him, Joey was just a quick way to get off—that much hadn’t changed, even since their transformation. They’d each used the other, just a means to an end.”Friends with benefits,”as Michael had put it.

But Aaron was... different, somehow. Joey thought of the boy’s delicate features, his dazzling smile.He must spend an hour each morning getting his hair to look like that, he thought.Like a male model, or something.Was it possible to fall in love that fast, with someone he just met?

He let out a sigh, then smiled. “Maybe a little bit,” he said softly.

“There,” said the doctor, withdrawing the needle and wiping off Joey’s firm, muscular ass with an alcohol swab. “You’re good for another week.”

There was a thump outside of the trailer as a bicycle bumped against the corrugated metal wall. The door quickly opened and Michael jogged in, breathlessly.

“Sorry,” the teen said, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. “I got a little involved.”

Joey rolled his eyes. “Charlotte,” he muttered.

“I trust you used precautions,” the doctor said, filling up a new hypodermic syringe with serum—Control 17,according to the label. “Bend over.”

“Yeah, sure,” Michael said, as he bent over and pulled down his jeans and waited for the inevitable pinch.

Joey turned away, a little nervous about seeing his friend’s extremely muscular back and buttocks.I wonder if I look that good now,he thought.Aaron said I did, but I’ve never really compared our bodies that closely.

“I gotta use two Magnum XL’s as it is,” Michael complained, flinching slightly as the needle entered his flesh. “And a lotta lube. Otherwise they break.”

“And when did you figure this out?” Joey asked.

The other boy’s face reddened momentarily. “Uh, a couple hours ago.”

“Oh, great,” the other boy snapped. “So when you were supposed to be working out with me, you were—”

“—workin’ out with Charlotte in my bedroom,” finished Michael. “So who the hell are you supposed to be? My mother?”

Joey fumed but didn’t respond.I’m just as guilty as he is,he mused, reflecting on his late-afternoon romp with Aaron.

“Now, now, boys,” the doctor said, tossing the spent syringes into a medical waste bag. “You need to get along, especially given your condition.” He gave Joey a look. “You haven’t encountered any mood swings lately, have you? Momentary flashes of sudden, uncontrollable rage? Depression? Blackouts?”

The boy shook his head. “No. I’m okay.”

“How did things go for your first day back at school? Anyone notice your new appearance?”

They both nodded. “You could say that. Joey got into a fight.”

The scientist shook his head. “Don’t tell me you hit anyone!”

“Far from it. Some jerk broke my nose and knocked two teeth out.”

Noble carefully examined the boy’s mouth, poking around on the right side. “Yes,” he said, partly to himself. “Canine and first bicuspid, almost completely regrown. Their color is imperceptibly lighter than the others, but otherwise normal. And your nose is exactly as it was.” He turned to the boy. “I trust it didn’t hurt too much.”

Joey shrugged. “Actually it did, for a minute or so. I don’t think the guy even realized how hard he hit me.”

“Any blood?”

“Some, but I cleaned it off.”

The man leaned closer, concerned. “As I asked you earlier: did any of your blood get on anyone?”

“I dunno. I mean, it all happened in a blur...”

“Think, Joey!” Noble insisted. “Did your blood get on anyone else? Even a drop?”

The boy considered this. “No—not really. I mean... maybe on Billy’s hand. But I can’t say for sure.” Suddenly, he remembered something. “Here’s a tooth,” he said, pulling a chip of bone out of his pocket and handing it to the doctor. “I found it on the sidewalk in front of the school as I was going home.”

“Hmmmph. Too little dried blood on it to matter,” the scientist said, examining it under a magnifying glass. “I’ll hold onto this, if you don’t mind.”

“Yeah. Like the Tooth Fairy’s gonna visit anytime soon,” Michael said with a smirk.

The man leaned back, momentarily lost in thought. “I didn’t anticipate having to be concerned about this so soon. Both of you should keep an eye out for this Billy character for the next few days. If he was directly exposed to Joey’s blood, there could be... unanticipated complications.”

“Complications?” asked Michael. “The guy’s already about six-foot, 200 pounds. Don’t tell me he could get bigger.”

Noble grew silent, then stood up and glared at him. “One of our Ultra soldiers from the 1980s stood more than eight feet tall and was over 400 pounds of solid muscle. It took eleven men to subdue him.”

Both boys were wide-eyed. “All from... exposure to blood?”

The scientist shook his head. “It’s highly unlikely this could occur. The necessary combination of factors to cause this kind of massive growth are nearly impossible. Just promise me you’ll avoid any more fighting.” He affectionately squeezed Joey’s shoulder. “Stay out of harm’s way. Don’t let these bullies make contact with you, if you can.”

“Easy for you to say,” Joey muttered. “I bet I could knock his fucking head off.”

“The problem is... you quite literallycan,”Noble said quietly. “But that would be terribly difficult to explain to your schoolmates, as well as the Henderson police department or the Las Vegas FBI.” He pushed a table to the side, clearing off a space in the living room, then motioned for the boys to join him. “I want you to observe something. Michael, I want you to throw a punch at Joey.”

The boy seemed shocked. “No! I mean—he’s my bud. C’mon, doc!”

“Joey!” the man barked. “Pay close attention to what Michael does.” He turned to the other boy. “Just do it.”

Michael assumed a boxer’s pose, then his right arm shot out in a blur. Almost instantly, Joey’s head leaned back, the fist missing his chin by a fraction of an inch.

“Again,” commanded Noble.

This time, Michael tried a one-two combination. Completely by instinct, Joey stepped aside, the fist barely glancing at his abdomen, while the other hand whistled by his head.

“Bravo,” the scientist said, applauding. “You see, Joey, if you don’t let yourself become distracted, your speed and agility alone can protect you.”

“It’s like...” Joey said wondrously, catching his breath, “it’s like I saw his fist move in slow-motion.”

“Exactly,” the scientist agreed. “If the bullies can’t actually make contact with you, you won’t be injured. No injuries, no blood; no blood, no possibility of... side-effects.”

The boys stared at him, both slightly winded from the brief exertion. “Si-side effects?” Joey asked.

The man waved them off. “We’ll save that for another time. So far, most of those problems appear to be negligible. Let’s hope they stay that way.”

Michael grinned. “Good to know.” He idly scratched his forearm.

Noble stopped him. “You’re itching?”

“Yeah. Must be a mosquito in here.”

The doctor raised up the boy’s muscular arm and peered closely at the skin. “Hmmm. You appear to have broken out in a slight rash. There’s some raised welts here, very small but noticeable. I want you to keep an eye on that, and let me know immediately if it gets any worse.”

He walked the boys outside through the door, then down the steps to the sandy path below.

“But it’s just a rash,” Michael protested, hopping onto his bicycle. “I’ve had these before. No big deal.”

“I thought we were immune to everything,” Joey commented, rolling up alongside him. “‘Practically invulnerable,’ right?”

“Under most circumstances,” the doctor replied. “Unless... youhavebeen keeping up your workouts, haven’t you?”

“Sort of.”

“Yes or no?”

Michael looked down, a little guiltily. “I guess I skipped today.”

“Don’t do that,” the man warned. “The control formula can only do so much. Without regular workouts, the cellular hyperplasia in your bodies could morph into something... most unpleasant.”

“I thought you said the workouts would just give us more definition—and keep the muscles stimulated,” Joey said, straightening out the sleeve on his bulging bicep.

“Yes. But without continued daily stress on the muscles...” Noble shook his head. “Just take my word for it. It’s necessary.”

“Gotta run,” Michael called, his Haymaker mountain bike bouncing over a pothole, then gathering speed as he disappeared into the darkness. “See you guys!”

“Hey, wait up!” cried Joey.

The man held his hand out to stop him. “Keep an eye out for Michael,” he said quietly. “Make sure he sticks with your workout regimen. I expect you two may outgrow the weights in your garage before too much longer. You may want to start working out at school, or perhaps in a real gymnasium.”

The boy winced. “The head phys ed coach at school hates me. And most of the guys who use the weights after school are thugs, like Billy the Bull. He’s the one who punched me this morning.”

“Then perhaps a public gym membership is in order. I’ll look into it for you.”

“Thanks, doc.”

“And let me know if you develop a rash like Michael.” He stared thoughtfully down the dirt road, then back to the boy. “You’re the sensible one, Joey. He’s very brash. You need to look out for him.”

Joey nodded. “Right. I’ll text you if there’s anything going on.”

Noble watched until the bicycle bounced along the sandy path and onto the paved road that lead to American Pacific Drive, then wearily walked back inside the trailer, closed the door, and sat down in front of his laptop computer. He opened an email window and begin to type.

Have additional sample ready for pickup. First bicupsid, some dried blood. Send messenger in the next hour. Test subject #1 may have dermatitis herpetiformis; will investigate in the next 48 hours.

He clicked the send button, then leaned back, massaged the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes.

Much to Joey’s relief, Michael was back the next morning at his house for their 7:30AM bike ride to school, as usual.

“C’mon, dude,” he called. “We gotta get goin’.”

Joey shrugged. “The later we hit homeroom, the less chance I have of running into Billy again on the way,” he observed. “I’m in no rush.”

“Yeah? Well, I’d kinda like to hang out with... well, you know.”

“What? You going to try to hump Charlotte in the hall closet?”

Michael grinned slyly. “Oh, you’re just jealous.”

Joey slipped on his backpack and hopped on his bike. “Fuck you, Michael.”

“I think you already did that.”

“Besides,” Joey continued nonchalantly, “I don’t really care. I’m seeing somebody myself.”

“Like who?” the boy said, as they began to roll down the driveway. “Like your right hand?”

“No. I met somebody yesterday.”

“What’s her name?”

“Hisname’s Aaron. He’s like the hottest guy I ever saw.”

Michael nodded. “Oh, yeah – that blond kid. I saw him in the crowd at the fight yesterday morning.” He shrugged. “I guess he’s cute... if you go for that kinda male model thing.”

“What? Hot? Perfect hair? Dazzling smile? Great personality?”

“Like I don’t have all that?”

Joey sighed, then steered his bicycle up on the sidewalk. “It’s not the same,” he said.

They pulled up at a traffic light and skidded to a stop.

“Hey, listen,” Michael said, giving his shoulder a light punch. “It’s okay. Look, if you like him, it’s no big deal.” He grinned. “But we’re still best friends, right? You and me?”

Joey looked up and couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah. C’mon—race you to Arroyo Boulevard.”

By third period, Michael’s itch seemed to have become a little worse.That’s odd,he thought.Yesterday, it was just on my forearm. Now, it’s crawling up to my shoulder.He made a mental note to get some Neosporin ointment on the way home from school.

Meanwhile, in the B-wing of Arroyo Grande Middle School, Joey had a more urgent problem.

Whoa,he thought, watching a strikingly handsome 9th grader cross his path.That guy is at least a 10.His groin immediately throbbed in response. He checked his watch.Two minutes to American History. I can be late.

Joey walked quickly down the hallway, strategically holding his notebook over his bulging groin, which was becoming almost painful. He ducked into a nearby restroom, which was luckily deserted. He darted into an open stall, slammed the door shut and locked it, then dropped his pants. His erection sprang free, almost aching with need.

“Gotta get this over with quick,” he muttered. He leaned back and began caressing his stiff cock. In the distance, the bell rang. “Shit,” he said in a half-whisper, panting as he felt the approaching orgasm rise up from his groin. His large, pendulous testicles began to quickly tighten, and his strokes became a blur.

In his mind’s eye, he saw Aaron’s face—kissing him, slipping his tongue deep into his mouth. He remembered the boy’s taste, his smell. He remembered the sensation of burying his face deep in the boy’s thick, luxurious blond hair, inhaling the fragrance of a fresh orchard.Beautiful,he thought, his heart pounding with the memory of their warm skin sliding together, slick with sweat.

Suddenly, he saw the face of Michael—his best friend for the past decade, now just as muscular as he was. Michael was angry, punching his body, covering him with bruises, then began to savagely rape him, forcing his enormous cock into him from behind.

“No,” he said in a low voice, then whimpered as his hips thrust uncontrollably, over and over again, splattering the formica stall door with a steady stream of semen. He felt a little dizzy, then sat back on the toilet and caught his breath as the last few drops dribbled down his hands.No,he thought.Michael would never hurt me.Besides, his friend had told him earlier he was glad he found somebody.Somebody to love.

Joey quickly cleaned up, removing any trace of his brief escapade from the wall, then arranged his softening cock back into his sweat pants. He tossed the tissue down the drain, then hit the flush valve and exited. The boy gave himself a quick once-over in the bathroom mirror. “Close enough,” he said to himself, pushing the bulge a little further down.Almost back to normal,he thought.

Suddenly, the bathroom door burst open. It was Coach Rambert, wearing a blue nylon jacket, a whistle perched around his neck. He stepped up to the urinal, then gave him a glance.

“You—Hartford. You’re late for 2nd period. Get your ass to class, kid.”

Joey nodded meekly and darted out into the hall, letting the door slam behind him.

Peculiar boy,the Coach mused.Another modern kid who won’t live up to his potential. Something terribly wrong with that one...

Much to Joey’s relief, the rest of the school day was uneventful. Aaron walked faster to keep up with him in the hallway, almost like an adoring puppy. Michael found this amusing at lunch.

“So,” he said quietly in Joey’s ear, after Aaron got up to get dessert. “I see you’ve got your own little personal butt-boy.”

“Shut up, douche,” he snapped, with more than a trace of real anger.

“Sorry, sorry,” Michael said, raising his hands in mock defeat. “Jesus, Joey—I didn’t realize you were... you know, serious about him.”

The boy let out a sigh. “I don’t know. Look... all I know is, Aaron’s hot, we get along, and we’re friends.” He gave Michael a curious look. “What’s with your face?”


“It looks a little puffy today. You allergic to any of this stuff?” he asked, gesturing to the enormous spread of food on the boy’s tray.

“Naw,” Michael said, grabbing two brownies and cramming them into his mouth. “Mmmph, schnorckle, mmm-schack,” he said.

Joey rolled his eyes. “In English.”

The boy chewed some more, then swallowed. “Sorry. No—no allergies, except maybe to poison ivy.” He stopped and scratched at his arm. “This thing is gettin’ worse. Look—these red bumps are going right up my shoulder. Burns like shit, too. But it’s only on the right arm so far.”

Joey examined his friend’s left arm. It seemed a little softer and lumpier than he remembered, not as well-muscled and defined as before.Probably just the bad lighting in the cafeteria,he thought.

“Yeah,” he said with a nod. “You should probably see Dr. Noble right after school.”

Michael grabbed a can of Coke—his third during lunch—and took a long swig. “That guy is such an a-hole. He thinks we’re just some kind of experiment, not people.”

“He does not,” Joey snapped. “He’s trying to keep us alive. Otherwise, we’ve only got maybe five years.”

“Five years for what?” said Aaron, as he sat next to Joey, sliding his lunch tray along the table.

Both boys looked up at him, momentarily startled. “Uh... I guess we’ll both be in college by then,” Michael said, mumbling.

“Actually, in four years,” Joey added quickly. “And to tell you the truth, I’m going to try to get on the accelerated program—maybe even start when I’m 17, if I can keep my grades up and get a good enough score on my SATs and ACTs.”

“He’s the brains of this outfit,” added Michael, then bent his arm to emphasize his bicep. “And I’m the muscle.” He grinned ear to ear.

Aaron chuckled. “Seems to me Joey might have you beat there.”

Michael’s face fell. “What? No way.”

“Hold your arms out,” Aaron said to the two of them. “Side by side.”

The two muscular teens did so. Much to Joey’s surprise, it was clear that Michael’s left arm was a little smaller than his—not by much, but noticeably less-defined, with fewer striations and a noticeable loss of sinews and thickness.

“That’s... that’s impossible,” Michael sputtered. “We were identical over the weekend.”

“He’s right,” Joey admitted. “If anything, I think his chest has always been a little better than mine. I might have him beat on abs, but only barely.”

Aaron eyed Michael from top to bottom. “You’re looking a little saggy, if you ask me. Maybe putting on a little extra body fat.”

“Am not! I benched 315 on Sunday. Ten reps, strict form, too.”

Aaron grinned and slipped his arm around Joey’s shoulder. “Maybe so. But I think the bookworm here might just beat the all-star jock,” he said.

“Fat chance of that,” snarled Michael, getting up to his feet. “I’m outta here.” He leaned over to Aaron. “And you can kiss the darkest part of my tight white ass.”

“Dude!” called Joey, as his friend darted through the crowd. “C’mon—Aaron was just kidding!”

“Let him go,” the smaller boy soothed, as Michael stormed away. “Look, I told you: you’re totally hot. You don’t need him.”

“He’s still my friend. We’re in this together.”

“Inwhattogether?” Aaron asked suspiciously.

Joey hesitated. “Nothing. We’ve just known each other since pre-school. Our moms are best friends. We’re like automatically BFFs, you know?”

The smaller boy shrugged. “BFJ, if you ask me. Michael’s a big fucking jerk. I mean, let’s face it: how much do you two really have in common?”

The muscular teen thought for a moment, then chewed another mouthful of meatloaf. “Well... we both like science-fiction movies. We’ve seenAvatarlike 20 times.”

“Yeah,” Aaron said, stabbing a piece of cake with his fork. “Crippled little guy becomes huge, ripped alien. Who’s gonna believe that? It’s like a cartoon.”

“And we ride our bikes around all over town. In fact, Michael taught me how to ride.”

“Sounds like fun. But does Michael know what goes on in your head, like what you read? I saw all those Stephen King books on your shelf. He’s great, huh?”

Joey nodded. Aaron held out a white plastic device.

“I’ve got 35 Stephen King novels on my Kindle here.” He leaned closer to Joey. “And I saw your iTunes library. They’re like 75% identical to mine. Plus we’re both on the honor roll.” He grinned slyly. “You and I have a lot more in common, if you ask me.”

Joey frowned. “This isn’t a contest, Aaron,” he said. “Look, I only just met you.”

Aaron tiptoed his right hand down the boy’s muscular left arm, then intertwined their fingers together under the table.

“Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “But I really like you, and a lot more than the way Michael does.”

Joey managed a small smile. “Yeah. Me, too.”

In the distance, the warning bell sounded.

“We gotta split,” Joey said, stuffing the last few bites into his mouth. “You got that email I sent you last night?”

Aaron nodded as both boys emptied their trays into the trash. “Yeah—thanks for the help. Old man Cooper’s a killer on geology. Your notes definitely helped.”

They pushed their way out into the crowded hallway. “You really meant what you said back there?” Joey asked.

The smaller boy grinned. “Yeah. I really like you.”

“No, no—I mean about Michael’s body.”

“Definitely. He’s looking... I dunno, kinda pudgy today. I bet if you both stripped off and stood side by side, you’d see it immediately.”

Joey smiled. “Oh, I bet you’d like that—an Aaron sandwich, huh?”

“Hey, a guy can dream, right?”

Joey laughed out loud. It felt good to laugh, especially to see Aaron’s face light up.

“So you wanna... I dunno, get together after school?” the boy said a little lustfully, as they made their way into the science classroom in C wing and over to their seats. “Maybe more homework?”

“Maybe. But me and Michael have to keep up our workouts. Doctor’s orders.”

“Doctor? Doctor who?”

Joey stiffened. “It’s just a private joke. We’re just on this weightlifting program, you know... bulking up. Staying big.”And trying to avoid any Cerulean side-effects,he thought with a growing sense of dread.Whatever those might be.

By 3PM, Joey was thoroughly pissed off. He’d managed to be late to his phys ed class, only this time, the assistant coach penalized him by making him run the track for the entire period—yet again. In the middle of his run, his cellphone went off. It was a text from Michael.

Got football practice starting 2day. No workout until 6P tonight at the earliest. Sorry—C ya. –M

Asshole,he thought, flipping the phone shut.Another workout day shot. Maybe we can change it to 6AM.Like Michael, Joey was wide awake 24 hours a day, no longer having any need to sleep. He had been using the period from 4AM to 6AM to meditate, using the texts Noble had bought them. It wasn’t exactly sleep, but it was... restful, at least mentally. The feeling was similar to the bliss he felt after a particularly hard workout, when the endorphins were released into his bloodstream. Even Michael had agreed it was almost a kind of high.

He glanced over at the back of the gym building, where the rest of the boys were beginning to push their way back inside, their T-shirts damp with sweat.

“The hell with it,” he muttered to himself. The more they got used to seeing his body the way it is now, the better off he’d be. Maybe they’d just ignore him after another week or two.

Joey pushed his way in through the crowd, reached his locker, then yanked his shirt over his head, tossed it into his gym bag, and turned around. Three other boys stood nearby, all gaping in disbelief.

“Fuck, dude,” said the tall boy on the left, staring at Joey’s bulging arms and chest. “You’re like... totally ripped.”

“You did that over the summer?” asked the middle boy. “How?”

“Clean living,” Joey quipped. “Just say no.” He then turned around and pulled off his shorts and jock in one quick motion. He whipped the towel around his waist and pushed through the throng of half-naked boys and made his way to the showers. Thick clouds of steam billowed out, shrouding the area in a dense white mist.Good,he thought.At least that’ll make it harder for anybody to see my dick.

Joey stopped between two other boys at adjacent positions on the far side of the group stall and fired up the faucet. He hung his towel on a nearby hook and let the hot jets pelt over his aching shoulders, wrapping his body like a warm, soothing blanket. His traps and delts were seriously sore from the previous night’s workout, where he had added another half hour of shoulder exercises. Formula or not, he could still feel pain. Joey grabbed a handful of soap from the dispenser and lathered up his body, finally relaxing in the heat.

Well,he thought,if I can’t see Michael this afternoon, maybe I can text Aaron and at least have him come by the house.He grinned, remembering the make-out session they’d had the day before. Aaron might have been a little short, but his body was tight and wiry—far from the scrawny kid he initially seemed to be.And his cock was definitely big. Alright, not nearly as big as my oversized monster, but still very respectable for a 14-year-old.

Joey idly soaped up his chest, momentarily gripping the tough mound of muscle, letting his hand dart under his sweating armpits, feeling the small boyish tuft of hair. He instinctively flexed and felt his bicep peak.Definitely more definition there than two weeks ago, he mused. His cock instinctively throbbed in response. His mind flashed back to Aaron, who had practically worshipped his body the day before. He thought of the young boy’s fingers, gently exploring his massive body, tracing the striations and veins that spider-webbed out from his chest, then to the ribbed abs below. In his mind’s eye, Aaron leaned forward and sucked greedily on his tongue, then passionately kissed him. Before he knew it, he was fully hard.

God,Joey thought, his mind in a panic.Now I definitely can’t turn around.

“Whoa!” yelled out a voice. “Look at this! Jensen is totally boned!”

“Am not, dick head!”

Joey froze.What’s going on here?

“Sure, Dennis,” the first voice said. “Like your cock is always that stiff. Homo!”

The boy in the stall next to him moaned. “Shit,” he murmured.

Joey turned to see the young Hispanic teen next to him, almost in a stupor, his erection sticking out at a sharp angle, throbbing upwards towards the showerhead.

The muscular teen slowly turned his head, his heart pounding furiously, hoping to catch a surreptitious glimpse of the others. At last, six other boys on the far left were in full view. All of them were suddenly frozen, dazed—and each sporting a serious erection. Some man-sized, some boyish... pink, brown, pale, or black, all in various states of maturity, but each one as stiff as iron, hard as rock. Their mouths were open, their eyes glazed over, seemingly stupefied.

Joey felt a surge.It’s me,he thought, with growing realization.It’s like we’re all plugged into the same electric circuit.He turned back and looked down, watching the rivulets of water dance among his pectorals and abs, trickling down to his own erect cock that stood out below. He let out a small moan, and the other boys moaned as well, their voices echoing against the tile walls.

Better get this over with before more people show up to the party, the muscular teen thought, his mind racing. He summoned up all of his concentration. The blood began to pound in his veins, then he felt his arms momentarily inflate as he flexed, feeling the sheer power of his muscularity, the strength flowing from his broad shoulders all the way down to his thick calves. The shower splashed on the head of his cock, causing it to momentarily bounce and throb.

Now,Joey thought, feeling the pressure boil from his groin.This is itHis back automatically arched and he felt an enormous surge of pleasure rocket out from his groin. As if on cue, he heard moans all around him as his shaft erupted, sending a huge white stream rocketing up and splattering onto the wall. “Mmmph!” he groaned out loud, as he felt a wave of release. Several more jets spurted out, splashing amongst the warm water, then swirling to the floor and into the grain.

He turned just in time to see the boy behind him moan and fall to the floor. Within seconds, every other teen in the shower collapsed to their knees, groaning with the intensified pleasure of the shared orgasmic experience. Several cried out at once, then fainted dead away, collapsing on the wet tile floor. After a few moments, the shower was silent except for the steady spray of water.

Joey leaned on the wall, hanging on to the showerhead for support. “God,” he murmured, as his erection dwindled and began to soften. At last, after a few seconds, his vision cleared. To his left, one of the boys murmured and tried to struggle up to his feet.Uh-oh,he thought.Better get out of here.

He quickly shut off the faucet, then wrapped his towel around his waist and stepped back on the path to the shower entrance, deftly stepping over two boys as their eyelids fluttered.

“Wha?” one of them asked dizzily. “Was that... was that an earthquake?”

“Gentlemen!” called out the coach from down the hall. “C’mon, we don’t have all day! Dry off and get out of here. That was the final school bell. Ten minutes till the busses leave.”

“Shit,” moaned another boy. “Is this jizz on my leg?”

Joey nimbly tiptoed away, not turning back as the other boys behind him slowly rose to their feet, leaning on the tile walls and each other for support. Several other teens coming into the shower stared at the eleven naked boys sprawled on the floor and cursed at them, assuming they were playing some kind of practical joke.

As he reached his locker, he checked his cellphone. No messages yet. He quickly texted Noble’s preset.

Just ran into a side-effect. Must see you at once.—J

The answer came back almost instantly.

Don’t panic. Wait for me. I’ll pick you up on the south side of the school in five minutes. –N.

As Joey dressed, he scrupulously avoided eye contact with any of the other boys. As he grabbed his gym bag and notebook, he scurried out. Two of the red-faced stragglers were whispering nearby.

“What was that shit?” the first boy said, rubbing the side of his head, as if awakening from an embarrassing dream.

“I dunno. I just came in about :30 seconds—for no reason.”


“You shut up! You did, too, you fag!”

Joey ignored them, kept his eyes on the ground, and scurried out to the hallway. As he exited the gymnasium area and entered D wing, he began to jog down the corridor.

Jesus,he thought, his mind reeling.I just made twelve other guys have a simultaneous orgasm.

“Most unusual,” said Noble, deftly steering his blue 1994 Toyota Camry around a pothole on South Gibson Road. “I’ve heard of phenomena like this before, but I can assure you this is entirely unexpected.”

Joey glared at the man. “Doctor—we’ve got a real problem if a dozen guys in the shower were somehow affected by me getting a little bit horny... without me even touching them.”

“Yes,” the man mused. “Almost like a living circuit, somehow connected directly to your libido.” He raised an eyebrow at the boy. “I think your rapid muscular growth, coupled with the increased activity in your brain, has resulted in a side-effect that actually radiates outside your body.”

“You said that would only happen if they came in contact with my blood.”

Noble let out a sigh, then scratched the scraggly 3-day growth on his chin. “All of our research was tied to soldiers, mature men in their early 20s. One was 19, but he died three weeks into the experiment. But I can assure you none of the 1980s test subjects experienced anything like this.” He made an exasperated gesture.

“Yeah,” Joey said, shaking his head with disbelief. “Spontaneous combustion—well, more like eruption.”

“Exactly. It must be tied somehow to your genetically altered adolescent state. That, combined with your elevated testosterone levels, must have altered the limbic system of your brain, just where it meets the brain stem and spinal chord.” The scientist allowed himself a bemused smile. “People think their sexual organs are where pleasure emanates... but it’s actually the limbic system, a set of nerve endings smaller than the size of your thumb. Or, more precisely, the nucleus accumbens. In this case, the big head influences the little head—contrary to popular opinion.”

Joey nodded. “I’ll read up on that later on tonight. Maybe I can figure out why my brain is different from everybody else’s.”

Noble turned the car on the street that led towards the Hartford’s house on Sterling Meadow Street. “The real question is,” the doctor said thoughtfully, “why would it happen today, more than three months after you boys were first exposed to the Cerulean formula?”

He pulled the car up to Joey’s driveway and stopped. “I still have your latest blood sample from yesterday,” he continued. “I think we need to perform some additional tests and determine how to mute this part of your brain. A direct injection might solve the problem, permanently paralyzing just that specific area.”

The boy shuddered as realization set in. “No way,” he said sharply. “Not if it means killing the circuit breaker on my orgasm switch.” He thought for a moment. “I have a better solution.”

Noble raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be?”

“I’m just going to have to learn to control myself more, especially when I’m around anybody who’s... well, naked.”

“You really think you can do that?”

“I’d rather do that then have you stick a needle in the back of my head.”

The scientist considered this. “Alright,” he said at last. “We’ll try your idea for the next couple of days. But at the first sign of trouble, you must contact me at once. For all we know, your mental abilities could be growing. The next thing you know, the entire school could erupt in an uncontrolled frenzy of...” He stopped himself, then stared at the boy.

“I get it, I get it.” Joey opened the door, then ran to the trunk to pull out his bicycle. Noble assisted him, setting the tires down on the pavement.

“Listen, Joey,” the scientist began. “This growing power of yours... you know, there might actually be potential using it as a weapon. For example, if you were surrounded by a group of enemy soldiers—”

Suddenly, the boy’s phone played an electronic melody.

“Hold it,” Joey said, holding up a hand as he checked the cell display. “It’s from Michael. He’s still at football practice.” There was a moment’s pause. “Yo! Dude, we still on for six?” The smile abruptly fell from the boy’s face. “Mrs. Spears!” He sucked in his breath with shock. “You had to take him where? Jesus, no!”

“What?” cried the doctor. “Tell me—what’s happened?”

“We’ll meet you there in ten minutes,” Joey said crisply, then snapped the phone shut and turned to the doctor. “Michael just collapsed on the football field at practice. They had to rush him to the hospital.” He fought back tears. “Dr. Noble, his mother was almost hysterical! She said he had some kind of skin problem... that he was turning into some kind of blob, like his bones were dissolving! They think it might be the Ebola virus!”

“My dear god,” the scientist said, shaking his head with dismay. “It’s happening all over again.”

As Joey pushed his way through the emergency room doorway, the halls seemed to be filled with an alarming number of patients. One stretcher held a thirty-something man, holding an oily rag to staunch a bloody wound on his leg; another had an elderly woman, who was gasping for breath and clutching her chest, sucking air through a hose from a metal tank. A woman with a hysterically-crying baby sat off to the right, silent tears streaming down her face as she desperately tried to comfort the infant.

This is a total nightmare, the boy thought, pushing his hulking body up to the counter.

“Excuse me, uh... miss?” Joey said, a little louder than he intended.

“You’ll just have to wait,” the nurse said, barely looking up from her station. “We’re a little overloaded this afternoon—as you can see.”

“Please,” he said, his voice catching in his throat. “I’m just trying to find out the status of my friend. His name’s Michael Spears. They brought him in less than 20 minutes ago, from Arroyo Grande Middle School.”

The woman audibly sighed and hit a few keys on her terminal. “Room E11, on your right. Down that hallway. But he’s in quarantine.” She looked up, her face momentarily softened. “I’m afraid he’s not doing well. An officer from the Las Vegas CDC is coming in—we’re concerned that it might be something serious.”

“Ebola,” the boy whispered. “The Ebola virus.”

The nurse gave a start and leaned closer. “Please! Don’t even say that out loud. We don’t want to alarm anyone. But yes—it could be a pandemic.”

He turned away and hurried down the hallway, his eyes stinging with tears. Michael had been as healthy as a horse yesterday. And hung like one, too, he thought ruefully. He was swept with a wave of regret, remembering their quarrel in the cafeteria a few hours earlier.

“God,” he muttered to himself. “My best friend is probably dying, and he’s probably still pissed-off at me from lunch.”

As he approached the end of the corridor, he noted several large, official looking signs on the wall: Warning: Biohazard Level 4. Safety Suits Required by Order of Regulation 3A-101. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention—Nevada Regional Division. A blue “CDC” logo was placed below, with an address on Maryland Parkway.

A security guard looked up from a small desk. “Yes?”

“The kid in there,” Joey said, pointing towards the glass-enclosed room. “Michael Spears. He’s a friend of mine.”

“Sorry. You can look through the window here. But no one’s allowed in—not yet, anyway. They’re going to take him over to the larger facility in Vegas in just a few minutes.”

Joey stepped up to the glass wall and stared in. A large, bloated body with Michael’s face lay on the hospital bed. His eyes were shut. His limbs were grotesque, bulging out like water balloons, the flesh distended, the limbs distorted. A medical technician covered head to toe in a white plastic suit leaned over and extended one of Michael’s arms. It flopped around as if it were made of rubber. Several diagnostic monitors displayed the patient’s current readings, casting splashes of weird yellow and red light across the room. The technician cleaned off a red, pus-like material that oozed from a dozen ugly sores on the boy’s forearm, and then began wrapping up the arm with a gauze-like bandage.

Even through the glass, Joey felt like he could smell a stale antiseptic aroma, tinged with the slight taint of alcohol. Hospitals, he thought with a shiver.

“Joey!” called a voice.

He spun around in time to see Mrs. Spears, a harried 30-ish woman in a white and blue cocktail waitress uniform. “Do you know how he is?” she cried, embracing him in a brief hug. She smelled like stale tobacco, and her face was pale, her forehead creased with concern.

“No, I just got here myself. What’s this all about?”

She wiped her eyes. “They called me from the school and said he’d collapsed during football practice. His right arm was bleeding with some kind of wound. Coach Rampart said his body was... moving, changing. He said it was as if there was something... alive under the skin.” She choked and shook her head. “It’s just not possible.”

Joey started to respond, then felt his cellphone vibrate. He checked the text display.

Act surprised. You haven’t seen me before. –Dr. N.

There was a small commotion down the hall, and he turned to see a physician in a blue-plastic smock pushing a cart down the aisle. “Step aside, please,” the doctor barked.

It was Noble, most of his head and shoulders covered in a protective hood, revealing only his eyes and mouth. He’d managed to shave and get himself completely presentable in less than 15 minutes. From his brisk manner and sharp speech, he immediately created the impression of a man in charge. He stepped up to the counter and began to snap on a set of sterile rubber gloves.

“I’m here to move this patient to the CDC treatment facility over at the University,” he said curtly. “The transport is waiting outside.”

The guard gave Noble a wary eye, then held out his hand. “Your I.D.?”

Noble flashed him a plastic card. The man scanned it, then nodded at his computer display.

“‘Garcia, Rueben, M.D.’ Alright, Dr. Garcia. You’ll need a mask. We suspect it’s a level 4.”

“I already have a respirator,” he said, immediately snapping a clear oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. “We already have an idea as to what caused the boy’s condition. It won’t require level 4, and there’s no potential risk of air-to-air contamination. But we’ll keep him contained in a sealed H2 suit for transport.”

The guard considered this. “Alright. We don’t get too many of these.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “I should hope not. The chances of this kind of infection are normally approximately five million to one.”

Mrs. Spears grabbed the man’s arm. “Are you going to take care of my son?” she said. “Is it serious?”

Noble nodded. “We’ve seen similar cases before,” he said. “It’s serious, but I think we can stabilize his condition in 12 hours—perhaps sooner.”

Joey stared worriedly at the doctor, whose face was almost 90% covered by the oxygen mask. The boy prayed that the Michael’s mother wouldn’t remember Noble as the same man who had picked both boys up as hitchhikers three months earlier. I’ve got to distract her, he thought quickly. Maybe calm her down a little bit.

“I just saw Michael at lunch,” Joey explained, as Noble disappeared into the room behind him, the electric air lock door hissing shut. “His arm was itching, but it didn’t look that bad. Just a rash.”

The woman shook her head wearily. “You boys know I’ve had to work two shifts, ever since Johnny...” her voice trailed off.

Ever since her husband went to jail for possession, Joey thought.

“I know,” he said quickly. “And I’m positive that Michael appreciates it.”

“I do the best I can,” she said in a low voice. “We’re just barely getting by, but we’re at least paying the minimum on all our bills. It’s been so difficult over the last few year, but we’re managing.” Mrs. Spears looked up at Joey and touched his face. “You’ve changed so much,” she said. “You’ve grown almost as big as Michael. That exercise program you two have been on this summer is really amazing.”

Before Joey could respond, there was a sudden click and hiss from the airlock door, and Noble began wheeling the stretcher out into the hall.

Joey looked down. Michael’s unconscious body was visible through a clear plastic tent, fed by an oxygen tank below. A blue-clad orderly walked over and helped maneuver the front of the cart through a crowd of onlookers.

“Move, please,” the orderly called. “Patient coming through.”

“Doctor, can you—” she began.

“Just relax, Mrs. Spears,” Noble interrupted. “We’ll call you in a few hours. Chances are, we’ll have a prognosis by 7PM.”

“Can I... can I come along?” she asked, her voice filled with concern, as they walked together down the hall.

“Sorry, ma’m,” he said, “The patient is in much too weak a state. His immune system has been stressed to the limit—even the slightest contamination could harm him. And there’s the potential risk of you getting infected by the bacteria as well.” He checked his clipboard. “We have all your phone numbers. We’ll contact you within the hour and keep you posted of his condition.”

“He’s right,” Joey said, thinking fast. “I’m sure they’ll do all they can.”

The woman began to tremble. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she sobbed. “I work my second job on Tuesdays and Thursdays... I couldn’t get over here any faster!”

The boy gave her a hug. “Hey, it’s OK, Mrs. Spears. Michael’s in good hands.”

“The very best hands,” echoed Noble, rolling the cart out through the hospital’s exit doors.

Joey and Mrs. Spears watched as the two men loaded the stretcher into a plain white cargo van at the curb.

The woman stared. That’s odd, she thought. That doesn’t look like any normal ambulance.

A strong arm reached out to give her a reassuring squeeze.

“Hey,” Joey said in a soft voice. “Michael’s gonna be alright. I’ll ride home with you if you want. In fact, I could use a lift. Maybe we can have dinner while we’re waiting for word on his condition.”

She nodded, then daubed her eyes and began walking towards the parking lot. First Johnny, and now this, she thought. How am I ever going to make it through the night?

The world was a blur: muted patterns of dull green, blurry faces hidden by hazy plastic, the voices echoed and unclear, like static from a distant radio station. His past memories were distant and vague, like something he’d seen in a movie.

I was at football practice, Michael thought, forcing his mind to concentrate. We were running the tire agility course. My arm began to swell and sting, then I felt dizzy.

Suddenly, he felt a lurch. His eyes opened. He was tied down on a stretcher inside a van, and a black man was hovering over him.

“Don’t try to move,” the man said. “We’re taking you someplace so you can get well again.”

“Hos—hos—” Michael rasped.

“Not exactly. But Dr. Noble is here. He’ll set you right.”

“Noble? Good.” He let out a long sigh of relief.

Suddenly, he felt a pinprick on his wrist, and he sensed a cold fluid trickle up into his shoulder. Michael felt a momentary sense of euphoria as he fell into an abyss, and a black curtain abruptly descended.

Joey stared at the outside of the warehouse. “This is no hospital,” he muttered, looking around the ugly tan brick building. He glanced again at his cellphone.

Come to 2001 West Horizon Ridge Parkway, Unit 12. 5PM. Tell no one. –Dr. N.

He rode his bike around the corner, checking the numbers from unit to unit. Not much of a secret headquarters, he thought, remembering the villainous lairs of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, or Blofeld’s palatial retreats from the old Bond films. But then, Dr. Noble isn’t a villain.

Joey pulled up to an abrupt stop. “Or maybe he is,” he murmured thoughtfully.

No—that made no sense. He ran down the list of reasons why he had no choice except to trust Noble. Everything the scientist had told him and Michael over the previous four months had been true: the effects of the Cerulean serum, the control drug he’d given them to restrict their massive growth, the details on the side-effects, like their limited life-spans... it all added up. But what did they really know about Noble, other than the files and what the man told them?

I’ve got no choice but to trust him, he thought, hiding his bike behind a dumpster near building 12. Noble’s the only one who can save Michael.

Joey trudged over to a large, roll-up metal door, the corners of which bore slight signs of rust. A “for lease” sign was plastered right above it, followed the name of a commercial realtor and a Las Vegas telephone number. The boy rapped on the aluminum surface, a little louder than he intended, and heard it rumble and echo on the inside.

“Yes?” asked a clipped voice, from a nearby speaker box.

The boy stepped over and clicked the button. “Dr. Noble? It’s me... Joey. Can you—”

Without warning, a conventional door off to the side suddenly burst open, and a black man grabbed him and yanked him inside.

“HEY!” Joey cried, pushing the man back as hard as he could. The man sprawled on his back onto the concrete and slid back nearly ten feet.

“Joseph!” yelled another voice from the back of the room. “Kindly stop that racket and close the door. I’m trying to work in here.”

The boy blanched, then quickly shut the door behind him. “Sorry,” he said, helping the black man back up to his feet. “You didn’t give me much warning.”

The tall man caught his breath, then dusted himself off. “Yeah. Maybe I owe you an apology.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ray,” he said, extending out a large hand. “Ray Mitchell. I was Dr. Noble’s assistant back in... back in the old days.”

Joey nodded. “Yeah. At the Cerulean Project.”

The man winced and waved his hands. “Don’t even say that out loud. We just called it the Project—leave it at that.”

“Raymond!” called the scientist. “I’m almost ready here.”

The man and Joey made their way to the back of the warehouse. It was a large, rundown concrete building, with a corrugated metal roof. Small piles of sand and dust were scattered over the floor, and clumps of weeds sprouted through cracks in the cement. Joey guessed it was at least the size of his house, roughly 3000 square feet. Several laptops were set up on a folding table positioned next to a hospital gurney, flanked by a series of computer displays and readouts. A dozen beakers and flasks of colored chemicals stood on stands nearby, two of them bubbling softly over bunsen burners.

The room was dim, but there was enough light to make out the details of the unconscious figure lying naked on the hospital bed. It was Michael: hideously distorted, his head nearly twice its normal size, his face puffed-out and enlarged like a grotesque horror-movie version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Michael was sweating profusely, and his mouth hung open, a trickle of drool coming out the left side. His body pulsed and throbbed like a water balloon, the skin rippling in waves.

“God,” Joey said, fighting the urge to panic. “What happened to him?”

“We’re not exactly certain,” Noble said, adding a green liquid to a yellowish solution, swirling it around thoughtfully in a glass jar. “But it’s clear that Michael’s genetic structure has been radically altered.”

Joey stared at the bloated figure. It looked like a caricature of a human being: saggy arms, distended stomach, almost as if it were entirely made of rubber. All his muscles are gone, he thought, his eyes widening with horror. Like some kind of horrible melted doll.

“Would... would another injection of the Cerulean formula fix this?” the boy asked hopefully. “You know—make him like he was before?”

The scientist shook his head. “No. I was initially concerned that we were encountering some of the same phenomena we observed back in 1988. But I’m happy to say, I was wrong. There’s something in his bloodstream, some foreign contaminant that’s interacted with my formula. It’s essentially mutated all of his muscle tissue and temporarily turned it into fat, and also made his bones flexible. Look at this.” He reached over and grabbed Michael’s right arm, then slowly bent it back into a sharp V. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Remarkable, isn’t it?”

Joey shuddered. Michael’s formerly-handsome face was now twisted and deformed, like a rubber mask left outside too long in the hot desert sun. Tears filled Joey’s eyes as he reached out, letting his fingertips brush against his friend’s formerly-handsome face.

Michael moaned, then his eyelids fluttered open. “Pain,” he said in a muffled voice. “Hurts... hurts all over. Help me... I’m dying.”

Noble quickly turned to a roll-around machine connected by plastic tubes to Michael’s right arm and hit a button. The machine let out a series of short beeps, and he turned back to the patient. “There,” he said soothingly. “The morphine will reduce the pain to a manageable level.” He lightly touched Michael’s shoulder. “I promise, you’re not dying. Once I can stabilize your cellular structure, I’m confident I can restore you to normal. Unfortunately, I warn you, the recovery process will be quite painful.”

“Just do it,” the boy said in a whisper. “I can’t... I can’t live like this.”

The scientist nodded, then returned to his workbench. The bubbling green solution he’d been mixing in the beaker slowly dissolved to a turquoise color.

“How could this happen?” Joey asked. “Michael had just a little rash on his arm two days ago. I can’t believe it could turn into this.” He pointed his own muscular arm towards the fat blob on the stretcher.

“I think I have the answer,” said Ray, who slid a duffle bag across the table. He held a bottle of pills in his hand and shook it for emphasis. “These were in the side pocket. Apparently, Michael took some of these pills right before practice: ephedra and a bunch of other stimulants. They sell ’em over-the-counter all over town—quick energy pick-me-ups. Football players use ’em all the time to keep their edge.”

Noble took the bottle out of his hand, broke one of the caplets in half, tasted a small sample, then nodded and spat it out. “Yes,” he said with a thoughtful nod. “That could most definitely cause this kind of reaction. We specifically forbade any of the original Ultra-soldiers to use caffeine-related stimulants of any kind. Guarana, ephedrine, caffeine... each of these chemicals tends to increase the metabolism and causes unpredictable reactions with the Cerulean formula. Especially in high concentrations like this.”

“But what’s happened to his body?” Joey cried. “He’s like some freak in a bad horror movie!”

The doctor sighed. “In a way, that’s not far from the truth. Essentially, all of his myofibrils—that is, the core of his muscle cells—have metamorphosed into liboplastic tissue.”

“Into fat, you mean.”

“Yes, exactly. His muscles, the tendons, all that subcutaneous tissue... everything is disintegrating into fat.”

“But what about his bones?” the boy asked, shuddering at the sight of Michael’s arm bending almost double, as if it was part of a rubber doll.

“Yes, that is quite puzzling,” Noble agreed. “But it’s all somehow related. I’ve stabilized the cellular disintegration, and now that I have this missing piece of the puzzle, I’m confident I can come up with a modified formula to change him back, using the modified pattern already imprinted upon his DNA. My calculations will be complete in a matter of minutes. In truth, I think he would eventually change back on his own, but it would take at least two days. And we need to change him back quickly, before anyone asks any questions.”

From behind them, Michael let out a gurgle and began to choke.

“Doctor!” called Ray. “I believe the boy’s going into cardiac arrest!”

“Get the defibrillator!” the man snapped.

Quickly, the black man opened a gray case and pulled out two plastic grips, which were connected by black coiled cables, then flipped a switch. In less than ten seconds, the machine hummed to life. Ray leaned over Michael’s pasty, bloated body and parked the paddles on the boy’s chest.

“Clear!” he ordered.

There was a sharp electronic crack and Michael’s body stiffened. At once, the readouts on the left began to pulse in response. Noble checked the displays and nodded approvingly.

“That was only a momentary arrhythmia—a reaction to the formula. His body is fighting the cellular change, which is good. I’m confident his heart muscles were not affected. Only his skeletal muscles were affected by this reaction.”

“How long before he... he goes back to normal?” Joey asked in a small voice.

“We’re going to keep him here overnight,” Noble said. “Ray here will assist me.”

“Just like the old days,” the black man said with a wry chuckle.

Joey gave him a wary eye.

Ray turn to the boy and shrugged. “I was only an intern at the project. Really, just a low-level Specialist, barely above Private. Dr. Noble here showed me the ropes.”

“You were there? When the place... when the project blew up?”

“Yeah. I was there. But let’s not talk about that now.” He gently put his arm across Joey’s back, turned him around, and began leading him away from Noble’s makeshift laboratory.

“But—I really should stay here,” Joey protested.

“Your parents will worry about you,” Ray said quietly as they walked towards the exit door. “We’re going to have to come up with a cover story to explain what happened to Michael. Sanford – that is, Dr. Noble—will keep an eye on him and will call you later with an update. We’ve already removed all the evidence from the hospital and the real CDC.”

“This is going to work,” called Noble from a distance. “The treatment should start within the next twenty minutes.”

“Alright,” Joey said, rubbing his eyes at the bright afternoon light as they exited the warehouse. “But I still have a lot of questions. Where’d all that equipment come from? How did Dr. Noble get that ID card? And how did you survive the fire in the 1980s?”

The man smiled. “That’s a long story. Short version: I still work as a medical technician right outside Vegas. I had access to the equipment at short notice, and I owed Dr. Noble a favor. Maybe a few favors.” He nodded towards the building. “He’s a good man. I know he might come across as a mad scientist to somebody like you, but trust me: he’s brilliant. Noble got a raw deal from the boys back in Washington.”

Joey nodded, then hopped back up on his bike. His T-shirt rippled in the wind, revealing a little more of his muscular physique.

Ray smiled approvingly. “Man,” he said, whistling. “Son, you are definitely ripped. You’re... how old? 16?”

“I’ll be 14 in November,” he said, flipping up the kickstand with his heel.

“You’ve got the build of an adult middleweight boxer, yet you’re 13,” the man said, shaking his head with disbelief. “How big are those guns?”

“You mean my arms? I think I hit 16-1/2” a few weeks ago.”

“Impressive. And your mental acuity?”

Joey grinned. “Page 143 of the New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007 edition: ‘The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from about 542 million years ago to 488million years ago. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the classical name for Wales, where Britain’s Cambrian rocks are best exposed.’”

“Impressive. And who was Sedgwick?”

“One of the founders of modern geology. Lived in England in the late 1700s and 1800s. Pretty cool guy, but very old-school.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “So you have an idetic memory.”

“Yeah, almost like a photograph. I’ve already made it through the C’s. I figure I’ll have most of the encyclopedia memorized by the end of the month.”

“That’ll come in handy in school.”

Joey shrugged. “I was already getting all-A’s before the... well, what happened to us. But Noble told us not to try to get noticed.”

“Definitely. Keep it on the DL.” The man thumbed back towards the door. “We’re gonna have our hands full with Michael. We’ll contact you before midnight. Between Sanford and myself, we’ll come up with a story to give Michael’s mother. Keep her calm until then, and don’t let her call any hospitals or the police.”

“What about the school?”

“Tell them you’ll know more in the morning. Tomorrow, you’ll have a convincing story to tell them.”

The boy thought for a moment. “A friend of mine is the vice-principal’s son. Maybe he can help.”

“Just don’t tell him too many details.”

Joey shook his head. “I know what to tell him.”

The man opened the door again. “We should be finished by midnight. Either Dr. Noble or myself will contact you the moment we know more.”

“Thanks. Good to meet you, Ray.”

The man waved as the boy rode off, his bicycle bouncing over some rough concrete and through a dusty, rocky path. After a moment, the man pulled out a Blackberry and began quickly typing a message.

Patient 2 is asymptomatic at present. Definite signs of idetic memory and high IQ. Physical characteristics transformed from endomorphic to mesomorphic. No initial signs of sociopathic or narcissistic behavior. Strength and reflexes very high, as expected. Resistance to disease: still be determined.

He clicked the send button, then turned. Noble stood in the doorway, frowning.

“Filing today’s report, Ray?”

The man shrugged. “That was the agreement. The General won’t have it any other way.”

“‘General,’” Noble scoffed. “Ridiculous. Mycroft never even served in the military.”

“He has his own de facto army. Come on, Doctor—we need to keep this boy alive. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The scientist nodded, then held the door open as both men headed back into the warehouse, the door clanging shut behind them.

Joey avoided most of his parents’ questions during dinner. His mother and father had several tearful conversations with Michael’s mother, who sobbed for more than an hour in their living room. The school coach had called once to inquire about Michael’s progress. Throughout, Joey kept his mouth shut, remembering Noble’s precise instructions.

Promptly at 7PM, Mrs. Spears’ phone rang. Noble—posing as Dr. Garcia—explained to her that her son was “improving,” and would be sent home before midnight to recuperate.

Joey’s parents reluctantly let him ride with Mrs. Spears back to her house to wait for Michael’s arrival. “Only for tonight,” his father warned. “And I still want you back at school first thing in the morning.”

A few minutes after midnight, Joey’s cell buzzed with a text message:

Coming up the street now. Help Ray take Michael inside. –Dr. N.

“Where are they?” fretted Mrs. Spears as she paced back and forth. “They should’ve been here ten minutes ago.”

The boy feigned a yawn. “Don’t worry. The doctors said an hour ago that Michael was practically back to normal.” It didn’t seem possible. The blobby, misshapen freak he’d seen that afternoon was a far cry from the sleek, muscular athlete he’d known all summer long. It’d be a miracle if they could get him even close to human, Joey mused.

His hyper-sensitive hearing detected the truck coming up the road. Joey glanced at his watch. “Should be any minute now.”

As if on cue, there was a door slam in the driveway. Moments later, there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Spears immediately burst into tears, frozen with fear.

“What if... what if he still looks like...”

“We’ll deal with it,” Joey said soothingly, walking her to the door. “Michael built himself up once—he can do it again.”

They opened the door to see Ray’s smiling face. “Here’s our patient,” he announced. Michael’s arm was around the black man’s shoulders. The boy’s face was a little pale, and he walked somewhat unsteadily, but seemed otherwise alright, his physique unchanged from the day before.

“Hey,” he said, smiling weakly. “Good to be back.”

Michael’s mother let out a small cry, then ran over and embraced him, practically knocking down Ray in the process.

“Whoa,” the man said with a laugh. “Be careful. Your son’s still a little weak, but we’ve cleared up the infection.”

Joey helped Ray walk Michael in, then sat him down on the couch.

“You feeling OK?” Joey asked. He had a million questions, and barely knew where to start.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “I’ve only started to come out of it in the last hour.” He turned to the woman. “Hey, mom? Could I have a protein shake?”

“Make it a double,” added Joey. “I’m starved.”

“The doctor approves,” Ray added. “Dr. Garcia was insistent that Michael stay on a high protein diet.” He reached in his pocket for a list. “He’ll also need these nutrients and supplements over the next few days, to build up his strength.”

Mrs. Spears daubed her eyes. “Is that all? I mean, shouldn’t he be taking... what are they called—broad-spectrum antibiotics? Would that help the ebola?”

The man shook his head. “Actually, there is no cure for the ebola virus. That’s certain death.”

The woman covered her mouth. “Then what...”

“Michael had a sudden allergy attack,” he said firmly. “It was unusually severe, but that’s really all it was. It wasn’t anything as serious as ebola. The original ambulance crew simply overreacted and misdiagnosed.”

The woman raised her eyes in surprise. “But he looked...”

“His face was badly swollen, and his body showed signs of traumatic edema, along with the rash on his arm—all due to an allergy. But it was only temporary, as you can plainly see.”

She put her hands out and tentatively felt Michael’s face and shoulder. “The coach told me that one of his arms was twisted and the bones were completely shattered!”

Ray shook his head. “His shoulder was dislocated, but not broken. His arm’s still a little sore, just a bad sprain, but otherwise as good as new. Michael will be somewhat weak for the next few days, but I think he can go back to school by Thursday or Friday. Make sure he sticks to that diet.”

The woman looked relieved but somewhat puzzled. “This is all so strange,” she said, almost talking to herself. “I mean... his father never had any allergies. And I’ve never so much as sneezed in the last five years.”

The black man walked over to the doorway and paused. “Allergy attacks this severe are uncommon here in Nevada, but it happens.” He turned to Michael. “And don’t forget what the doctor told you back at the clinic.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Michael said. “No caffeine, no energy drinks.”

“Bad for your stomach,” Joey added, giving his friend a knowing look.

Michael nodded, his face grim. “Yeah. Bad news. Never again.”

“Caffeine?” Mrs. Spears said. “But what...”

“I have to get back to the clinic,” the man interrupted. “Call the contact number on this form if you have any further questions. And for all of us, I’m very glad this turned out to be a false alarm. Nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious,” both boys repeated.

“I’ll be sure to call the school in the morning,” Mrs. Spears called as Ray disappeared out the front door. “Thanks again!”

As the woman closed the door, Joey heard the van start up, the wheels crunching backwards down the rocky driveway, and move off into the night.

“Very strange,” Mrs. Spears mused, sitting next to the boys on the couch. “I really don’t understand this.”

“What’s that?” Joey asked. “I mean... Michael’s here, he’s okay. No problem, right?”

She stared at both of them. “No one ever even asked me for any insurance information. I never filled out a form... nothing. It’s a good thing, too—we haven’t had any health coverage in over a year.”

“Uh, the CDC is part of a government facility,” Joey said, thinking quickly. “I’m positive there’s no charge. Your tax dollars at work.”

“But the emergency room...”

“No, they said it’d all be taken care of,” Michael said. “Hey, can we talk about this while we eat in the kitchen? I’m really dyin’ here.”

Joey and Mrs. Spears glared at him.

“Just an expression!”

Joey laughed, and even Mrs. Spears finally joined in, laughing with relief. It was good to see Michael back—the one who looked like a muscular teenage boy, not the blobby, amorphous monstrosity from this afternoon.

“So, ya think she bought it?” asked Michael, as he stretched out on his bed.

Noble had managed to work miracles. The scientist been able to filter out all the chemical stimulants from Michael’s blood over a period of four hours, then had given him a transfusion and a small booster shot of the Cerulean formula to bring him back to normal. Michael shuddered as he recalled the amount of discomfort he endured during the second transformation, but at least this time, he had several gallons of intravenous protein available as nutrients, along with some morphine to ease the pain.

“Yeah,” Joey said, sitting in a nearby chair. “There’s some holes in the story, but if we’re lucky, your mom won’t look too far. Ray’s going to make all the hospital paperwork and computer records disappear, like some kind of Jason Bourne movie.”

“Sounds like a whole lot to sweep under the rug to me,” Michael said thoughtfully. “I mean—what if the newspapers found out?”

“This’d be all over TMZ in five minutes. People would ask too many questions. It’d be a total freak show.”

The boys fell silent. They both realized the enormity of their secret, along with the havoc it could wreak on their lives, those of their families, and everybody they knew. For all they knew, the government would take them out to the desert, dig a deep hole, and throw them and Dr. Noble in it, followed with a metric ton of dirt.

“So what’s the story on this guy Ray?” Michael asked.

Joey’s mouth fell open with surprise. “I thought you were going to explain him to me! I mean... he was taking care of you for the last eight hours.”

Michael snorted. “I was delirious for most of that time. All I got out of him was that he was some kinda assistant for Noble in the 1980s, like Igor and Dr. Frankenstein. Nowadays, he works for some place called the Mycroft Life Institute on Maryland Parkway in Vegas—some kind of fancy-schmancy clinic for fat-cat millionaires.”

“Mycroft? Mycroft who?”

“How should I know? What do I look like... Wikipedia?”

Joey flipped open the laptop on Michael’s desk, then launched a browser and typed a few keys. After a few moments, he stared open-mouthed at the screen.

“Jesus,” he said, momentarily stunned.

“Jesus Mycroft?” Michael asked, exasperated.

“No,” Joey said, spinning the laptop around. On the screen was a large display webpage for the Mycroft Institute, with a spinning logo filled with streaming circles and a colorful, hypnotic design. “Alexander Mycroft. He’s the ninth-richest guy in North America. He owns a dozen tech corporations, along with these health clinics in twenty countries—something to do with life extension. Mycroft claims he can make people younger, cure diseases, even extend their lifespans.”

“Sure,” the boy scoffed. “And I’ll believe Paris Hilton’s tits are real, too.”

“No,” Joey said. “This is the real deal. I think he’s somehow connected to Noble. That lab operation they set up in that warehouse—there’s some serious money going on with this thing.”

“Yeah. And yet Dr. Noble’s living in a trailer and drivin’ a 20 year-old clunkmobile. Somehow, I don’t think he has that much cash in his piggy bank.”

Joey got up from the desk and sat on the bed. “Hey, listen,” he said softly. “I was really worried about you. The way you looked eight hours ago...” He made a vague gesture and turned away, brushing a tear out of his eye.

“I’m okay now. Check this out.” Michael pulled the sheet down, exposing his chest. It was every bit as massive as before, with two large meaty pectorals, sharply defined down the middle, with veiny striations in the center. The nipples were small and pointed, and the skin was smooth and blemish-free.

Joey tentatively lifted his friend’s arm. It was thick and heavy, with only a slight mark where the bloody rash had been hours before. The bicep was broad and well-defined, with a thick, rounded head, and a ribbed vein etched down from the shoulder.

“I think I still beat you on triceps,” Joey said slyly.

“Yeah? Check out these abs. I’m fuckin’ ripped.”

Joey pulled the sheet down further, revealing the boy’s flat, muscular stomach. Sharply-etched lines were carved into the skin like a statue. Light downy blond hairs covered the lower part of the stomach beneath the bellybutton, leading down to a V-shaped light brown tuft below.

“So, uh... does everything still work?” Joey said, his voice slightly hoarse.

As if in answer, Michael’s tremendous cock began to stiffen and rise upwards, the shaft rapidly thickening. In less than ten seconds, it was fully extended, pushing up nearly a foot, throbbing several inches off his belly.

“I’m gonna take that for a yes,” Joey said huskily, then leaned down.

Michael moaned as his friend took him in his mouth, reveling in the immediate jolt of pleasure. “God,” he murmured. “Sick or not, I’ve really needed to do it for the last twelve hours. I’m way overdue.”

Joey momentarily came up for air. “You and me both.” He pulled down his pants, letting his own erection spring free. “Would you mind if...”

“Shut up and suck,” his friend ordered. “Let’s get this over with.” He moved further down on the bed, allowing Joey to reverse direction and lie on top of him. The boys’ altered physiologies allowed them to engulf each other’s enormous cocks with almost inhuman skill, plunging deeper and deeper.

God, Joey thought, his mind almost consumed with pleasure. I thought I wanted Aaron... but maybe it’s always been Michael. He let his hands stray on his friend’s sweating flesh, as tight and muscular as that of a young god’s. As if by some secret signal, their hips began to thrust automatically, pistoning in and out like a machine, their bodies in perfect synchronization.

Michael’s smell was warm and familiar, a subtle mixture of musk and salty sweat. His heavy balls began to tighten with the impending orgasm, and Joey began to pick up the pace. He let his tongue lap gently around the engorged head, his mouth momentarily expanding to accept its wide girth. He sucked on it greedily, feeling it immediately twinge in response, then basked in the simultaneous pleasure of Michael inhaling his own member.

At last, Joey began to feel a warm sensation rising up from his groin. It was as if a volcano erupted, belching molten lava across the horizon. Again and again they thrust, like mirror images of Olympic statues moving in unison, the electric sensation rocketing through their bodies, their hips bucking uncontrollably. Joey’s mouth overflowed with hot fluid, and for a moment he nearly blacked out with pure, unrelenting pleasure.

At last, Joey rolled over, gasping for breath, still trembling with the last throes of his orgasm.

“Holy shit,” Michael murmured, wiping off his mouth with the bed sheet, then lay back panting, thoroughly exhausted. “That was fuckin’ incredible! For a minute there, it was like I was inside your head—feeling what you were feelin’, like I was somehow hardwired to your cock and my cock at the same time.” He caught his breath, then rolled over to stare wondrously at his friend. “I guess that’s what happened with you in phys ed yesterday.”

“Shit,” Joey said embarrassedly. “Has the whole school heard about that?”

Michael shook his head. “Naw. Hector Ramirez was standing in the stall right next to you. Hector knows you’re my friend, and he told me right before practice that he had some kind of crazy hallucination with you in the shower.”

“He told you that?”

He shrugged. “Well... not in so many words. Hector was too embarrassed to give me the details. But he was only five feet away from you. I think he got hit with it first.”

Joey raised an eyebrow. “Hit with what?”

“Something in your brain. I felt it myself—it’s like you almost forced me to come, in less than a minute.”

“Wait a minute. You’re saying you and I just had a simultaneous orgasm?” Joey asked.

Michael laughed. “Better than that. You came before me and I felt it. And it was so intense, then I had my own, like a double-whammy. I almost fuckin’ blacked out. It was like... I dunno, like your cock and my cock were the only things that existed in the universe. That never happened before.” Michael sighed, then chuckled. “You really oughta patent that. You’d be a lotta fun at parties.”

“Yeah,” Joey said thoughtfully. “Or as a weapon.” He hadn’t forgotten the conversation he’d had with Noble earlier that afternoon. “Toss me a kleenex, will you?”

As the boys cleaned themselves up, Joey made a mental note of all the questions he had for Noble in the morning. We’re going to get some answers, he thought. About Mycroft, about this guy Ray, and what it all has to do with us.

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