Chapter 1 - the spreadI realized then that it wasn't that my work wasn't exciting, it was just that people weren't paying enough attention to it. The virus hadn't been proven to lead to weight gain in humans yet, conclusively. I had to prove it. I could take samples of myself and my roommates' adipose tissue, and maybe show more fat cell differentiation. But enough time may have not passed yet, and the methodology would be very difficult. We'd all have to be eating the same, and we'd need a control group. Maybe some more cases will turn up and I'll be able to put something together without my roommates knowing, I thought. But then I knew: if I was to ever get the funding for something like that, I'd need preliminary results of my testing. I had to experiment now. In fact, I had to push the experiment's results towards what I wanted, and I thought I knew how.
My salary was fairly modest, but I spent most of it that month on booze, and slightly less on food for my roommates, insisting they cough up money for that once they were good and drunk. Unfortunately, so they didn't get suspicious, I had to drink and eat with them. It seemed all of us had gained at least 10 pounds or so, but nobody had yet broken the ice about it. Then we were all at a bar one night, feasting on cheap wings and beer, when Kristie did it. She had probably gained the most, so I almost understood.
"I have to stop doing this, guys. I need to be going to the gym way more often than to restaurants and bars. I'm getting ***ing fat."
"No you're not honey, you're beautiful." I said, expecting to be one amongst a chorus trying to comfort her. To my horror, it was the opposite.
"We all have been. Let's all resolve to change!" Sylvia shouted, clearly drunk and over-enthusiastic. This was not going to be good for my experimentation.
"Doesn't sound like much fun to me!" I tried to sway the enthusiasm in the opposite direction. "We need another pitcher down here! Make it two!" I shouted to the bartender. Over those pitchers, I heard all about the girls outgrowing clothes and feeling chubby. But Anna was quiet.
"I've put on 20 pounds." she said, suddenly. Everyone fell silent, and just looked at her. We all knew then she had put on the most. "And I like it." Sylvia laughed nervously.
"Well that's cool. You do look good." I said.
"No, I mean it. It's been great gaining this weight. And to be honest, I think all of you look better than ever, too." Yay Anna! I never thought I'd feel so close to her. Saving my experiment.. so nice.
"So that's why you've been making all that fattening food?" accused Kristie.
"I make what I make. Don't blame me for how much of it you eat." Anna shot back. We just had to change the subject in the end. Anna wouldn't change her mind and neither would anyone else. She kept cooking, and everyone kept eating her cooking, though it was definitely getting increasingly fatty and we all knew it. I got up one morning and was horrified to discover a roll in my belly when I was sitting, no longer a crease but a full roll. I touched my belly, and it was amazingly soft. I had just been trying to ignore it for weeks, even months now, just making sure it fit into whatever I was wearing that day, but that was leaving me with very few wardrobe options anymore. I put on a robe, and found I was now tying the sash above or below my belly, rather than just around it, and headed to breakfast a little self-conscious. I had been really overdoing it trying to get my roommates to overdo it, and I needed to remember there was a good chance any weight gained was more or less permanent.
Anna had a huge breakfast ready, and everyone was digging in. I found I too was unable to help myself, and ate 10 strips of bacon and five pancakes, loosening the sash in the middle. I went to go get ready for work, and my pants hit my ass and just stopped. I thought quickly, texted and let my boss know I'd be a bit late, put on some sweats that were getting tight and headed out for new work pants. I got a text back from the office saying they were swamped with work for me and needed me in. It took me 20 minutes to find a pair that would fit, having gone up 3 sizes somehow. I got changed into them in my car, which was a whole 'nother exploration of my new fat, feeling it squeezing around everywhere, getting in the way, and making the task significantly harder than it would have been just weeks ago. I probably should have gotten a larger work shirt, too, but I was just hoping my lab coat would hide my bulging bust and the bit of my belly that escaped through the bottom. It'd at least take care of the latter.
I got to the lab and saw a team of people I had never met, all wearing lab gear.
"I'm Dr. Michael Evans, and we're virologists from the CDC lab in Washington. We came in to assist." He said simply, holding out a hand. I shook it.
"Nice to meet you, and I appreciate the assistance, but as of yesterday, I had absolutely no work needing assistance. No work at all, really." I was very confused.
"We've had an outbreak of a virus in the area that could have profound implications. It isn't especially dangerous, but we believe it could actually make a large number of people overweight. You're familiar with adenovirus 36?" I nodded. "The local community college and university are both slammed with cases. As of now, they all believe it is just a common cold, but if this goes on, the freshman 15 at both institutions could permanently become the junior 150. The virus is spreading so fast, it's only a matter of time until it's simply a residual presence in the community." Apparently, my face registered the appropriate level of shock.
"What kind of containment is possible at this point? Beyond keeping the students locked down until they have recovered, and preventing anyone from visiting the campuses-" I began, before stopping myself. I knew that in order to do any of that, the public had to be warned. The gears were turning in my head. How long before they connected the dots and found me at the center of this?
"No, unfortunately, the nature of this thing.. well, it's our policy not to raise undue alarm, and technically, since the obesogenic nature of the virus hasn't been conclusively proven in humans, we're prohibited from a public health alert on that basis, and unfortunately, we would be laughed at for trying to institute a quarantine for the actual illness caused by it. We've been going over our options, and we don't have many. We've even spoken to the administrations of both schools, urging them to halt classes for at least a semester and vacate the campuses to prevent new students arriving and catching it."
"They've refused. Again, they think it's a cold." He seemed annoyed.
"Well, maybe our only option here is to research this and prove it. We've probably never had an opportunity nearly this good. I'd be happy to organize the research." Dr. Evans lost his frown.
"That's the only good idea I've heard all day. The damage may be done on these kids, and maybe even more, but if you can prove it leads to obesity, we can take stronger actions in the future." I saluted in response, and they began packing up to leave, telling me they'd apply for funding for the research for me. As soon as the door shut behind them, I was cheering to myself, overjoyed. This day couldn't go any better! I immediately posted requests for research participants on the websites of both schools, as well as on Craigslist, and began drafting up methodology.
I got home a little late, and didn't bother to buy any booze for the evening. I had new research subjects, hopefully, and didn't need to be spending money on my roommates anymore. I put on my sweatpants and a hoodie to lounge out a while, ate some dinner, and had an early night. I woke up early, grabbed four bacon egg McMuffins for breakfast from the drivethrough, and got to the university just in time to see scores of sick-looking young men and women making it to classes. I decided to do some interviews, asking about their symptoms, and trying to get samples with them, and see if they wanted to be paid participants in my research. I mostly just got coughed and sneezed on. I spent the afternoon at the community college with much the same results.
What few samples I did get, I compared with samples from myself and my roommates. It seemed like it was the same exact strain of the virus. I decided to do some mouse studies, and injected one of my live studies into a few mice, left a few alone, and set out devices that recorded their movement and food consumption. Over the next week, I monitored the mice, and nothing seemed to be happening at all.
Then I woke up sick. Again. I cursed my recent heavy drinking and bad diet for what it must have done to my immune system. I ran a few tests to see what it was. Influenza? No. Strep? Nope. ... Rhinovirus? No? ***... the hell happens after you've had this twice? The mice I infected seemed to be under the weather as well. I decided to go home early, and get some rest. I checked my phone for the time to see how early I was leaving, and saw I had a text from Kristie. Shit, it was Sylvia's birthday! I had forgotten all about it! I left immediately, ordered a large custom icecream cake and went to go grab booze as it was being made. I must have looked a sight, walking in with a cake in one hand, a handle of rum in the other, trying to balance both while sneezing everywhere. Luckily one of my roommates, I couldn't see who with my eyes watering, took both from my hands and pushed me towards the bathroom where I got all the snot off of me. I hoped I had managed to avoid the cake with any of it.
"Happy birthday!" I screamed at the top of my lungs as soon as I got out of the bathroom, and ran to give her a hug. She hugged me back warmly, then looked at me with concern.
4 chapters, created 9 years
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