Fiction

The Pocket-size Project

By: John F Zurn

There exist many experiments that remain unknown because of the desire for government secrecy.   However, many secret programs are kept secret because they are so provocative – or foolish – that few would believe they could actually exist.  Considering these projects to be expensive and lacking any chance of success, the government scientists and military leaders refrain from discussing their research with the public.

One such government project took place several years ago at a time when some of the world’s most vulnerable animals were in danger of disappearing forever.  Identified as the “Pocket-size Project,” it was the creation of Dr. Wells, a senior government scientist.  He appeared short and stout with an engaging personality that concealed his anxious nature.  Despite his anxious disposition, however, Dr. Wells’ breakthrough experiment the “Pocket-sized Project” seemed aptly named because it described his ability to design a machine that could miniaturize living beings.  Over a period of many years, Dr. Wells carefully built and tested this device with astonishing success.  By incessant trial and error, the scientist eventually miniaturized anything that passed through his complex apparatus.  First, Dr. Wells experimented with inanimate objects by guiding them through his machine.  When this succeeded, he also reduced insects and mice.  Because of these successes, the military leaders and government officials eventually gave Dr. Wells the enormous task of miniaturizing endangered animals such as tigers, cheetahs, and elephants.  Since these animals, and others like them, were rapidly headed for extinction, they would be reduced and preserved as tiny clones, exactly the same in every way except for size. 

          Obviously, the challenges could be overwhelming in following through with this vision.  For example, finding, trapping, and transporting so many creatures seemed an almost impossible assignment to accomplish.  Then there was the essential need for a suitable compound to warehouse the specimens.  The miniaturizing machine itself would need to function flawlessly for many days.  In addition, Dr. Wells could only pocket-size test subjects; he hadn’t discovered how to restore inanimate objects or living beings back to their original size.  Regardless of this glaring limitation that might severely limit the success of the pocket-size project, they continued moving forward with the concept anyway.  Since the ultimate success of the project depended on restoring and returning these creatures back to their homes  at the appropriate time, the plan might be destined to fail before it had all the elements successfully in place.

          Since Dr. Wells understood that as lead scientist, he couldn’t coordinate the entire project alone, he called on his friend, General Mustdo for help.  An ambitious military leader with a towering physique, the general often took part in the experiment and had eagerly assisted with logistics. 

          “General, are you absolutely certain the transport planes are large enough to convey the different varieties of animals?” Dr. Wells asked nervously.

          “Absolutely,” the general automatically replied. “We have plenty of planes and lots of room.  But there has been a change in orders.”

          “What change in orders?” Dr. Wells wanted to know.

          “We’ve decided against capturing a few animals of each species,” the general began.  “Instead the field experts believe they can trap a huge number of each group, so eventually we’ll have a greater chance of ultimate success.  If some animals die during the project, there will remain other specimens to replace them.

          “Dr. Wells”, General Mustdo continued, tactfully changing the subject.  “Are you sure your pocket-size device will prove to be large enough?”

          “Yes, general.” Dr. Wells answered.  “We have built a small functional machine, and then we built our new much bigger one.”  Now it was Dr. Well’s turn to change the subject, “By the way, I understand the government has declared Eminent Domain in a large forest down south that has been turned into a compound for our project.  I also heard the military has built cages and perimeter fences for all the animals before they are transformed.”

          General Mustdo knew he must answer the question, but he didn’t feel the scientist really needed to know every detail of the project.  “Yes, we’re ready,” he replied carefully.

“Now here’s a question for you, Dr. Wells,” the general probed.  “When do you think the final element of the miniaturization process will be operational? The ability to shrink the animals is useless if you can’t restore them later.”

          “Not any time soon,” Dr. Wells hesitantly answered. “My lab colleague, Dr. Whitaker, has been studying the problem earnestly, and we have discussed it frequently.  I firmly believe, however, that it’s not a matter of if we’ll accomplish the reversal but when we can.”

          Just as the general was returning to his staff car, Dr. Whitaker appeared at the back door. She was tall and slender with dark brown hair.  She also wore a lab coat that gave her an air of intelligence and seriousness of purpose.  “Was that General Mustdo?” she called to Dr. Wells.

          “Yes,” answered Dr. Wells, “And he is anxious about our progress in restoring the animals to their original state when it’s time.”

          “That may take a number of years, if at all.  The natural environments of the endangered animals are dying out quickly.  Maybe the government will eventually relocate some of the animals to Canada or the Southwest,” Dr. Whitaker asserted.

          “At this point,” Wells continued, “Let’s worry about what we are able to accomplish now.  All these animals will begin to arrive tomorrow, and we must make final preparations for them.  Do we have enough technicians to help?”

          “Yes,” responded Dr. Whitaker sarcastically.  “The general seems so concerned about the complete success of this project, that we have technicians falling all over each other.”

          “Good,” Dr. Wells answered.  “Let’s start up the pocket-size apparatus.  General Mustdo will be here permanently starting tomorrow.  This could be a logistic nightmare.  First the endangered animals will begin to arrive, and then we must miniaturize them.  Finally, we have to ship them to the compound.”

          “Don’t worry about the logistics,” Dr. Whitaker reassured.  “The creatures will be much smaller after they’re here for a while.”

          Dr. Wells smiled.  “That’s true, but I still wish we knew how to return the animals to their original forms when we need to do it.”

          “I’m working on the problem,” Whitaker suddenly retorted.  “Let’s just turn on the machine and get to work.”

          Dr. Wells turned the apparatus on, and it began making a loud groaning noise that indicated the machine was functioning normally.  They allowed it to run for several minutes before finally shutting the machine down.  “Tomorrow is a big day,” Dr. Whitaker asserted, “and I think we’ll be ready.  Did General Mustdo give a tentative list of animals to be minimized?”

          “Yes,” Dr. Wells answered. “The list includes a mountain lion, five cheetahs, and two polar bears.”

          “I’m a little concerned.  Isn’t it possible the animals will attack each other at some point?” Dr. Whitaker wanted to now.

          “Don’t forget, Dr. Whitaker, the animals will be heavily sedated when they arrive.  After that they will be the size of a small kitten once they pass through the pocket-size machine.”  Dr. Wells said soothingly.

          “Of course,” Dr. Whitaker replied, concealing her skepticism.  “We better go home and relax.  Tomorrow will be an historic day.”

          The two scientists returned to their separate residences at about midnight but neither could unwind.  Too nervous to sleep, they both returned to the lab after a few hours.  Then they rechecked the miniaturization machine to review their strategy and prepared some cages.  Before long, dozens of scientists, technicians and military personnel appeared at the government laboratory.  A half hour later, General Mustdo, himself, stood in the doorway and announced that the transports were arriving.

The general’s dramatic entrance and arrogant speech betrayed his fondness for self-aggrandizement.  “Begin the procedure,” he bellowed as he approached the pocket size machine.  “The animals are here!”

          Despite Dr. Wells’ reservations about General Mustdo’s leadership style, he waited patiently for the first target animals to descend to the lab.  With the list in hand, Dr. Wells and Dr. Whitaker adjusted the machine and then stood ready when the endangered animals began to appear.  Finally, while the sedated animals remained in their cages, they were placed in the machine and then were passed through the assembly line.

          Amazingly, as each animal passed through the apparatus, they became miniature in size, and Dr. Whitaker carefully liberated the tiny animals from their now grossly oversized cages.  Then she cautiously placed them into much smaller ones.

          Since each miniaturization attempt required only a few minutes to complete, it became obvious to General Mustdo that the entire process of reduction could be accelerated.  The faster the animals arrived at the lab, the quicker the whole process could progress. Shipping the endangered species seemed less of a problem now because the creatures could wait in a holding area for only forty five minutes.  When the whole process began to mesh, hundreds of exotic animals passed through the pocket-size machine and then were warehoused.

          The immediate success of the project could mean rescuing many animals from annihilation.  The miraculous machine created by Dr. Wells allowed for a unique method for solving the problem of extinction.  Nevertheless, several problems began to surface over time that suggested the entire project could be getting out of control.

          First, the drivers who transported the tiny animals from the labs to the compound had begun stealing a few animals at a time.  Since so many creatures had been collected and stored at the compound, the inventory procedures soon began to get sloppy.  This allowed drivers to pass off endangered animals to friends and relatives who waited on the road near the facility.

          In some ways, it seemed understandable that the thefts occurred.   The captive animals looked charming and surprisingly easy to control.  Tiny lemurs and pocket-size elephants could wander around the house freely as long as the knowledge of their existence didn’t reach the public.  Since only complete secrecy would insure the viability of the pocket-size program, any theft could ruin the entire project.

          Within six months, of course, rumors started spreading about the project’s presence and more precious specimens disappeared.  Some animals were sold to the wealthy by disloyal drivers and greedy compound employees.  Eventually, these miraculous creatures began to appear as pets on the arms of celebrities and in the automobiles of billionaires.  They were undoubtedly collecting these animals for their novelty and “wow” factor at dinner parties.

          General Mustdo soon realized this commercial misuse of his animals could bring disaster to his entire government enterprise, so he vowed to take care of the problem.  He shoved his way into the front of the lab one afternoon and shouted at both Dr. Wells and Dr. Whitaker.  “What’s going on here?” he shrieked. “Why are these animals being sold on the street?  There’s going to be an investigation into this flagrant theft of government property.  You can be sure of that!” General Mustdo threatened.

          “Calm down.  You’re overreacting,” interrupted Dr. Whitaker.  “As long as the lab and research remain secret, nobody will discover our location.  If we transfer the animals from the suspicious compound to a new more hidden place, no one will find it, and people will be free to spread whatever ridiculous rumors they wish.”

          General Mustdo wasn’t convinced by the doctor’s analysis; however, he felt so vulnerable because of his blatant shortcomings concerning his security plan that he had no choice but to agree with her.  Nevertheless, he felt obligated to greatly improve security.  Transporting the beasts to a new compound provided the perfect opportunity to discern who was stealing and then selling his animals.

          Dr. Wells, almost accidentally, took the criminality discussion to a more serious level.  “Anybody caught pilfering our specimens should be taken through the machine and pocket-sized like the animals!” 

          Dr. Whitaker snickered, but General Mustdo quietly considered the outrageous suggestion.  The general knew the two lab scientists would never participate in such a plan, but he knew how to operate the apparatus himself.  Besides, the punishment could be highly effective.  The general silently considered the viability of the idea, but since he remained outnumbered by his colleagues, he decided to laugh in apparent agreement.  Since General Mustdo’s career and the future of the “Pocket-size Project” appeared to be in significant peril, he began to create new protocols for his security teams.

          It wasn’t long before a significant breach in the new security system occurred at the original compound.  Vigilant soldiers, who were inspecting the fleet of trucks behind the lab, informed General Mustdo that a civilian driver had just abandoned his truck and stashed something in his car trunk.

          “Hey you,” the general roared racing to the scene.  “What have you hidden in your trunk?”

          The young driver bolted up in surprise and fear.  “It’s a gift for my daughter because she’s real sick.”

          “So, since your daughter is ill, it gives you the right to steal government property?” the general yelled.

          “Yes, I mean, no,” the terrified young man tried to answer.

          General Mustdo motioned to a couple of soldiers guarding the trucks and barked, “You men, take this thief to the shed and handcuff him to a strong pole.  I’ll deal with him shortly.”

          The soldiers did as commanded, and General Mustdo called Dr. Wells.  “Dr. Wells, I’ve caught a thief trying to load a miniature giraffe into his car.  I have an idea about punishing him and making him an example to the others.”

          “Fine,” Dr. Wells exclaimed.  “Bring him to the lab and we’ll discuss it.”

          Dr. Whitaker felt baffled when Dr. Wells repeated the phone call from General Mustdo.  “What kind of punishment does the general have in mind?”

          “You know,” Dr. Wells suggested.  “We’ve never tested the machine on humans.  Maybe the general wants to experiment with the prisoner.” 

          Dr. Whitaker’s confusion now turned to anger.  “Absolutely not! I will not allow General Mustdo to miniaturize humans!”

          “Fine!” Dr. Wells angrily retorted.  “You go home while I discuss the situation with the general.  Don’t forget, the success of this entire project depends on secrecy.  When employees are stealing and selling the miniaturized animals, it makes it difficult to save the project and our grants!”

          After Dr. Whitaker’s emphatic statement, General Mustdo and his prisoner, a man named Bart McKinnon, arrived at the lab.  When McKinnon learned of his fate, he profusely apologized for his crime and begged for mercy.  But the general – supported by Wells – grabbed McKinnon and positioned him on the miniaturizing apparatus.  When Dr. Wells switched on the device, McKinnon slowly shrunk in size until he looked pocket size.  Even as he screamed and cried, Dr. Wells and the general plucked him from the contraption and caged him.

          Viewing the human experiment as a success, Dr. Wells permitted General Mustdo to display McKinnon to the entire staff in order to point out the consequences for stealing.  The general immediately made the rounds and presented McKinnon to every employee. The tragedy of the shrunken man inspired all with terror and soon many workers either quit or abruptly disappeared.

          However, Dr. Whitaker returned to the lab and witnessed what was happening as she peered through the window.  Although she realized General Mustdo and Dr. Wells could believe the experimental punishment represented a wonderful achievement, she did not.  As soon as the general left, she returned to the lab and rebuked Dr. Wells.  “How could you allow that ruthless general to miniaturize Mr. McKinnon for such a minor crime?  Didn’t you say yourself that you wanted a pocket-size giraffe for your son?”

          “Saying something isn’t the same as doing it,” Dr. Wells replied.  “Stop judging me.  Don’t forget you’re a scientist in this lab too.”

          “Not anymore,” Dr. Whitaker answered cryptically.

          Then Dr. Whitaker prepared to rush out of the lab.  Unfortunately,  as she stormed toward the back door, Dr. Wells lightly bumped her from behind, and Dr. Whitaker accidentally slipped and fell directly into the miniaturization device.  In a matter of seconds she was shrunk to pocket-size. Believing he may have committed an assault or worse, Dr. Wells panicked.  The incident could be seen as a crime even though it was truly an accident.  He decided to place his fellow scientist in an empty cage and cover it with a blanket.  Dr. Whitaker begged for help repeatedly, but Dr. Wells deserted her until he could think about what to do.  

          Dr. Wells now realized he needed General Mustdo for advice and support.  He felt powerless to manage the crisis on his own, and he knew the general would have ideas and possible solutions.  Dr. Wells decided to telephone the general, and within an hour, they were together discussing the situation.

          At first, General Mustdo seemed appalled by the fate of Dr. Whitaker, but then he became more supportive.  “You were able to miniaturize another person?” he asked slyly.

          Dr. Wells felt disappointed and even frightened by the general’s tone, but answered, “Yes, General.  Dr. Whitaker would make two people.”

          “That is very good news,” General Mustdo enthusiastically replied.  “The government has been waiting for a breakthrough with human miniaturization techniques for a long time.  They believe pocket-size soldiers could make incredible spies, space travelers, and emergency physicians.”

          “But what will happen to all the endangered animals that are disappearing?  What will happen to them?” Dr. Wells pleaded.

          “The animals were only the first step,” the general replied diplomatically. “The animals were stage one.  Stage two has been shrinking human subjects.  The final stage involves enlarging miniature humans back to normal size.”

          Dr. Wells paused briefly and then asserted, “I guess that makes sense. Nevertheless, we still haven’t successfully restored the animals to their original state.”

          General Mustdo responded succinctly, “Now that our government  knows you can miniaturize human subjects, they demand that you work day and night to reverse the process.  Begin experimenting with animals and the apparatus.  If that fails begin dissecting them until you succeed.  If that doesn’t work, experiment with McKinnon, the thief.”

          Dr. Wells again felt anxious.  “What if I still can’t figure out the process?”

          “This project is essential for our country’s survival!” the general snapped.  “Do autopsies if you can’t understand the human reversal process!”

          Now, Dr. Wells lost his nerve entirely.  “I can’t do that! I won’t do that!”

          General Mustdo remained unruffled.  “Technically, you murdered Dr. Whitaker.  Only if you’re able to restore her will you escape your own fate.”

          Dr. Wells understood he couldn’t refuse General Mustdo’s orders, so after the general departed for his office; Dr. Wells began to recalibrate his powerful machine.  Without any protocols, and in a desperate attempt to save the endangered animals, he began to experiment.

          Regrettably however, no matter how Dr. Wells tinkered with the gauges and levers of his machine, he remained powerless to reverse the effects of the pocket-size process.  In fear for his life, Dr. Wells finally began to kill the endangered animals so he could study the remains more closely.  Desperately seeking answers, Dr. Wells eventually destroyed several dozen specimens including grizzly bears, turtles and polar bears.  Then in complete abandonment of his scientific ethics, Dr. Wells began experimenting with Mr. McKinnon by pushing him through the machine.  When even this failed, Dr. Wells prepared to euthanize and autopsy his prisoner.

But just when Dr. Wells appeared ready to begin, he received a bizarre phone call from the new compound.  According to the supervisor, the endangered animals were miraculously returning to their original size.  One by one, they began breaking through their tiny cages, and as they grew, they reacquired all of their natural instincts.  The entire compound seemed to have been under a curse that had now been magically lifted.  The staff were soon overwhelmed, and it became impossible to control the specimens and keep them locked behind the facility walls.  Within a few days, the entire herd of life size animals had escaped into the countryside, and they were terrorizing the neighborhoods.

          Since the original miniaturization process lasted only for a short period of time, even Mr. McKinnon and Dr. Whitaker were favorably affected by the miracle as well.   First, Mr. McKinnon returned to his original size and when he felt whole, he sprinted out of the lab.  Not surprisingly, nobody ever saw or heard from him again.  Dr. Whitaker returned to normal soon after, and she also had no wish to remain at the lab.  But she still couldn’t resist cursing out General Mustdo and Dr. Wells for their ambition and cruelty.  “You are both monsters!  Do you think you can control the world and even God!  You’re hardly human at all! You can’t rule the world with unfeeling machines.  I feel mortified that I have worked with you at all!”

        After her harangue, however, Dr. Whitaker traveled to the far north and lived in a fishing village where she worked at a health clinic.  Acknowledging her part in the dreadful experiments, she dedicated the rest of her life to helping others.

          However, Dr. Wells and General Mustdo became “scapegoats” for the entire debacle.  Since the endangered animals continued to terrorize the public, they were initially targeted and put down.  But after a week of slaughter, some people demanded the government recapture the creatures and return them to their country of origin.  Ironically, the government paid a high price to capture them and then an even higher price for the animals to be returned.  Even though hundreds of endangered creatures had been killed, thousands of others were safely returned safely. 

      Dr. Wells and General Mustdo were forced to accept full responsible for their reckless actions concerning the endangered animals, and they had no believable justification for their negligence. In addition, once the miniaturization machine had been completely destroyed by a raging elephant, it became clear that Dr. Wells had no tangible proof that the machine actually had functioned as he claimed.  With no human subjects to prove the experiment’s results, it fell upon General Mustdo to justify his exaggerated claims about the project, and to explain the countless discrepancies.  In the end, both men received their own cages at the government  security prison..

          In actuality, the endangered animals seemed worse off when the government and its scientists intervened so forcefully.  Yet, Dr. Wells, General Mustdo and the other egotists of the world choose not to understand the end from the beginning:  Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Categories: Fiction

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