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Side Gig

by Janet Sever

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


“Don’t forget that non-disclosure agreement you signed,” Judith said as she counted out thirty-five $100 bills into Farren’s hand. Farren had a dim recollection of Judith and Dr. Gilbert talking outside the treatment room yesterday, but couldn’t quite call it up. She’d probably remember later, she thought.

Later, when Farren deposited the money into her account, she eyed the balance and was pleased to see that, with the extra Uber and bakery work along with the money from Bluff City Biologics, she was making a nice headway on the bottom line. As long as she could continue to live rent-free under the radar in the library, she was golden. Unfortunately, she still wasn’t having any luck on the “real job” front, but she continued to send resumes and make calls.

When she started to feel the bees buzzing in her upper back, a little sooner than she’d felt them the last time, she knew the kidney was growing; a kidney bud. Gilbert had warned her it might take longer this time but, after her second checkup, he said it was again going faster than expected.

“That’s good,” Farren told him, “because the bee feeling is much worse this time. Stronger.”

“Is it painful?” he asked.

“No... not exactly,” she said. “But I’m just aware of it all the time, and sometimes it’s really distracting. And it’s hard to sleep, especially on my back.”

“I can give you something. Nothing too strong, enough to relax you to help you get to sleep.”

“Thanks. And, I’m starting to feel the bees where I did last time, too.”

Gilbert frowned. “I think that’s probably just a referred sensation. You know, where you hurt one part of your body and sometimes you feel it in another part? Or maybe just a memory of the sensation you had when you were growing the pancreas. I really don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”

Judith was at the desk with the money, and she counted out three crisp $20 bills. “Everything OK?” Judith asked, with what Farren thought was a very fake smile.

“Just fine. I’m having a little trouble sleeping, but Dr. Gilbert gave me something,” Farren said, waving the prescription paper.

“Don’t forget about the non-disclosure,” Judith reminded her. “You can’t tell anyone. Not your parents, not your best friend, not a stranger on the street. Not your family doctor.”

“I got it, I got it.” At that moment Farren recalled the conversation she’d overheard during the implantation. “I’m not going to tell anyone, and I don’t care about the prices. I was just asking that time because I was curious. It doesn’t matter to me what happens to this thing once it’s out of me, just as long as it helps someone.”

And it was all true. Gilbert had been right: who would Farren go to with an offer? ”Psst... hey, buddy, wanna buy my third kidney?” How would she explain it? Besides, she was kind of proud to be part of this experiment that eventually could help a lot of people.

“Just don’t forget,” Judith said, “not for a minute.”

That pissed Farren off. She’d initially liked Judith; they’d had a few casual conversations, and Judith had seemed genuinely interested in Farren, what she’d studied in school, what her future plans were. But it was clear now that Judith saw Farren as part lab rat, part meal ticket and part adversary.

Farren didn’t care; she’d finally gotten a job offer yesterday. She wasn’t entirely clear what the job was, and the pay wasn’t great, but it was a paycheck, and benefits, and if she stayed with them for five years, they’d pay half of her student loan balance. No more Uber, no more bakery, no more sleeping in the library carrel, no more being a Petri dish for body parts. She’d accepted the job this morning and would start in six weeks. As soon as the kidney was finished growing, she planned to take some time to go see her parents then move her meager belongings to Oak Ridge and start her real life.

She smiled and counted the $60 and decided to treat herself to a Starbucks and a danish, something she hadn’t been able to do since her parents told her they had lost their jobs. For the first time in months she felt not exactly rich but no longer poor.

* * *

Both Dr. Gilbert and Judith came into the office. Gilbert looked concerned, but Judith was smiling — a genuine smile, not that phony one she’d been giving Farren lately.

“Well, I have some good news and bad news—” Gilbert began.

Judith interrupted him. “It’s all good news!”

“Um... maybe,” he said carefully. “The CT scan shows that the kidney is full size and ready to be harvested.”

“Wow! That’s, what, three weeks early?” Farren said, happy she’d get some extra time with her parents in Louisville. “I’m glad... the bee-buzzing thing is just awful. It feels like it’s all over my body this time. And not bees now, more like wasps or... murder hornets. I can’t wait to get those nanite suckers out.”

“Yes, well, that’s the other news,” Gilbert hedged. “It seems that you are also growing another pancreas. Actually, we think it’s two.”

Farren’s mouth gaped, but she didn’t say anything.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Judith gushed. “Now you can help more people who need transplants. It’s the best possible thing.”

Gilbert shot her a sharp look and she stopped.

“Can you just take them out?” Farren asked. “I... I don’t think I want to go through this again.”

Judith snapped, “Of course we’ll pay you what we did before, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Judith!” Gilbert admonished.

“No, that’s not what I’m worried about,” Farren said. “I finally got a real job, and I need to be there in five weeks, and I’m going to go see my parents...” She trailed off. “I feel bloated and uncomfortable. And I’m really, really tired.”

Gilbert patted her hand. “The body takes a lot of energy to grow new organs. That’s why you’re tired, and that’s why you’re hungry all the time, too. That’s why we recommended waiting after the pancreas, which we did, but apparently not long enough.”

The three of them looked at each other for a long moment.

“So, what do we do?” Farren asked.

Ultimately, over Judith’s objections, the answer was to harvest the kidney, drink the foul stuff to kill the nanites (a double dose this time) and then, once she was healed from the kidney extraction, go in and take out the half-formed pancreases. Dr. Gilbert said they couldn’t leave them there, as there was a chance her body could regard them as foreign objects and trigger a negative autoimmune response, or they could possibly turn cancerous.

Two weeks after the kidney extraction, her bags packed and in the car, Farren lay in the CT scanner one last time. Dr. Gilbert needed to make sure exactly where the pancreas buds were before starting the laparoscopic surgery, which was likely to be a little more complicated than the last one.

Farren heard a squeal from Judith in the adjacent room, even over the noise of the CT scanner.

“Both of the auxiliary pancreases have continued to grow,” Dr. Gilbert said. “They’re fully formed, and we’ll take them out today.”

Farren shrugged. “That’s fine. I assume people will get them that need them,” she said.

“Oh, they will,” said Judith, “and you’ll be paid as well.”

Farren nodded. At this point, she really didn’t care; all the scraping for money for the last few months was over; she was moving on to her new job, her new life, benefits and regular paychecks.

“Here’s the thing,” Gilbert said. “It looks like three new kidney buds have formed as well.”

He and Farren looked at each other, silent for a long moment.

“Well, take them out!” Farren finally cried. “I’m done with this!”

“Not only that,” Gilbert said, ignoring her outburst. “There’s evidence of a liver bud — quite good-sized, actually — a heart bud, two lung buds, and a bladder bud. The bladder and the liver are almost ready for harvest. We didn’t see them in the last CT scan, but they must have been there,” he continued thoughtfully.

“What?” Farren said. “Heart? I thought that was super dangerous. And I can’t imagine it’s safe growing a bunch of extra organs everywhere. Take them out. TAKE THEM OUT!”

Judith glided over and sat next to Farren on the exam table. Farren could smell the dark exotic perfume the lawyer always wore; she didn’t know what it was, but Farren knew it was expensive.

“I want to go over the terms of the agreement you signed,” Judith said. She pointed to the highlighted portion of the contract. “This states that the organs grown as part of this project are the property of Bluff City Biologics and are not the property of the host. And you, Farren, are the host. It further notes that we have ultimate say as to what happens to the organs grown in this facility.”

“Baloney. This is not what the deal was. You got the organs you were supposed to get, and even two extras. That’s it, I’m done being a lab rat.”

“I’m afraid not, honey,” Judith said with that bright, fake smile. “It explicitly notes that any additional organs or tissue that may arise as a result of this project are also ours.”

“Your stupid nanites didn’t turn off like they were supposed to,” Farren said to Gilbert.

He nodded. “Apparently, they didn’t. I think most of them shut off the first time, and then the second batch communicated with the ones left from the first batch — I told you they talk to each other — and then they sort of figured out they could make other organs using your body’s own stem cells. It’s really very exciting.” But then he looked sad. “Farren, I’m so sorry this happened. It was never our intention.”

“Take them out!” she said to Gilbert. “You’re a doctor. You know this isn’t right.”

He shook his head. “I’m bound by my own contract,” he said.

“Now, we will, of course, continue to pay you,” Judith purred. “I took the liberty of getting your checkbook out of your purse, and we’ll deposit the money directly for now. And we’ll also honor the $60 stipend for every day that you’re here, and deposit that as well.” Fake smile again. “You’ll be a rich woman when you finally get out of here,” she said.

“Finally?!” Farren yelled. “Finally?!

Judith signaled to an orderly outside the room. The last thing Farren saw was a gas mask coming toward her face, and she heard Judith say, “We’re going to have plenty of cash now for the next phase of the project.”

Farren never heard Dr. Gilbert’s response.

Copyright © 2021 by Janet Sever

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