At lunch, the professor launched into another one of his long-winded explanations, telling how the parts of our brains responsible for vision, movement and memory had been linked together by new strands of nerve-fibre. I listened with half an ear, paying more attention to the flavours of my food. My sense of taste was as enhanced as the rest of it, and there was something funny...
“Professor,” I broke in when he paused for a mouthful of his lunch, “what exactly did you put in this? There’s a funny undertaste.”
“Oh, if you’re talking about the pie, it’ll be the cyanide. The juice has the arsenic.” At his words, James made a truly magnificent spit-take, spraying his drink across the filing cabinets against the opposite wall. “They can’t hurt you, of course. I wanted you to know the taste, though.”
“In case of emergencies?” It wasn’t really a question. The Professor just gave me one of his little smiles. “What’s the dose?”
“Oh, quite enough to kill someone without your... special enhancements.” He nibbled at his sandwich, took a sip from his glass of water, and continued, “Of course, alcohol still affects you, because you’d hardly be very convincing university students if it didn’t, but I really will be very disappointed with myself if anything else does.” The arsenic might not have killed us, but it did lay low any attempts at conversation for the next few minutes, and it wasn’t until we were scraping the last of the food off our plates – the bitter taste of the poison actually enhanced the flavour a little, I think – that Alex piped up with a question.
“Mr Professor, sir, if we could get back to what we were talking about before...”
“Of course, my dear. No need to be so formal.” The man who said this, you understand, had actually tucked a napkin into his collar before eating his sandwich, and spoke with an accent that made my own, trained after years of Speech and Drama, sound almost rural.1
“How exactly did we learn to shoot that well so quickly? We had to practise breaking down a few times, but we got the shooting right first time.” The Professor considered this for a few moments.
“Well, I would assume that you did so well because you all had experience with firearms already. You yourself were trained by the US army to use weapons not too dissimilar to those out in the next room, and the boys here have both hunted rabbits since they were old enough to lift a rifle to their shoulders. That experience gave your brain everything it needed to provide the necessary skill.” I thought about that a lot over the next few days, wondering what other skills we had from before the change that might come closer to perfection now.
1Not that there’s anything wrong with rural, but people tend to take you more seriously if you sound like the BBC.