They’d laughed at school, when Vicky said she wanted to be a scientist. The boys found her girliness too threatening and the girls thought her geekiness weird. She was a separate species. At least, that’s how it felt.
Getting this job in the first place had been a battle, but getting promoted was all-out war. You had to be outstanding. She was sure she was. At least, everyone treated her like she stood out. When they weren’t ignoring her.
She often got landed with the laboratory paperwork. She was efficient and they trusted her to get on with it. ‘Of course,’ she replied, ‘leave it with me.’ She thought that hard work and willingness would make the difference. Until the paperwork started overwhelming the experiments, which were given to Bob, the other young scientist in the lab. He usually said things like ‘Not yet,’ and ‘I’ll do it later.’
She tucked magenta strands of hair behind her ears. The striplights hummed above the stark, grey benches and glinted off the storage units. This was her favourite time. She ran a manicured fingernail down the list of procedures, scratching an invisible tick by each.
Her supervisor came out of the decontamination booth, surprising them both. He frowned and pushed an arm into the sleeve of his goretex jacket. ‘Did you get permission for the trials?’ His mind was already running, like a paraglider, across the landscape of his future weekend. She made her usual response and watched him soar free of the laboratory without a backward glance.
She watched the hand of the clock move round, counting off a safe ten minutes before unlocking the store room door. Bob’s eyelids barely flickered when she flipped on the light. She smiled and shot her cuffs. Crouching down on her haunches, her rubber sole flats planted squarely on the floor, she hoisted him up and dragged him onto the seat where he lolled, chin on chest.
The technique was highly experimental. No ethics committee would ever touch it, but she knew her methods would always be unconventional. You needed to push the envelope if you wanted to be outstanding. She peeled Bob’s face off and then her own. She inspected both carefully for damage and then exchanged them. She did the same with the wigs – she’d really got a little tired of the magenta, it clashed with a lot of her clothes. She took Bob’s inert hands in hers. Her tongue peeked out as she painted his nails a peacock blue.
She was getting used to administering their injections. A sharp pain, a minute’s dizziness.
“Hey Vicky! Wakey wakey!” She leaned over the reclining body, loving the sound of her deeper voice. The head snapped up and the eyes focused on the white coat in front of them. “You’ll finish tidying the store room, won’t you, before you go home?”
Vicky looked at Bob and blinked. “Of course,” she said, her voice rising an octave. “Leave it with me.”