Big ups to Zach Lefler to the one-word prompt (as seen above) that started this whole thing. It’s turning into a much larger project than I anticipated, so here’s the opener to whet your whistle.

“We’re doing great work here at the Avian Fecal Reclamation Project.” Carol eyed the beak-nosed, big-eyed man in front of her, and wondered vaguely if he’d always looked like that, or if working at the AFRP for so many years had somehow changed him. She’d recognized him instantly as Professor Robert Ybarra when he came up to her in the lobby.

“You must be Carol, correct?” he’d asked with his ear towards her, making him look all the more like a pigeon.

“Yes, sir, Prof. Ybarra,” she’d stammered.

“Ah, you know me, splendid. I despise introductions.” He’d opened the front door, and waved her in. The lobby was much as she expected, not much different from her own school’s labs. Clean, modern, decorated with pictures of the various teams who’d worked there over the years. The only difference was the heavy plastic sheeting at the back of the room, blocking off the main hallway. “We’re doing great work here at the Avian Fecal Reclamation Project. Useful work. God’s work. But it’s not exactly glamorous work. Can I ask what drew you to us here?”

“Well, new technologies is such an interesting field, isn’t it?” Carol replied eagerly. “Dealing with the future every day, practically crafting it yourself!” Ybarra looked unsatisfied, so she ventured, “And of course I’ve always considered myself a bird lover.”

This seemed to appease him. “Good, good. Wouldn’t do to hate our feathered friends, no sir. Now Carol, may I call you Carol? Word of warning, Carol. Your first time can be a little… powerful.” He grabbed the plastic sheeting and flung it back in a dramatic manner that spoke of a youth misspent wearing a cape.

There’s a thing about animals in large groups, in that the smell and the noise they generate seem to be competing over which one gets to hurt you first and hardest. In the AFRP, though, scent and sound must have reached some sort of armistice. The assault was coordinated, a beautiful dance. First came the noise, an artillery barrage of a thousand birdsouls crying out for freedom, or possible food and sex. Below it, slowly, cautiously, along came the smell, like a gentleman out for a lazy stroll in a familiar park. He sits down next to you on a peaceful bench, and only after you give him a cautious, yet friendly, smile does he whip out his sword cane and slash your throat with it.

Later, after the vomiting stopped, Ybarra tried his best to be consoling. “It’s actually a good sign that you’re purging. We’ve conducted internal surveys, and to a man, everyone who didn’t vomit their first time went absolutely bonkers within two years!” He leaned in, and in a conspiratorial fashion, whispered, “We’ve had to dispose of thirteen altars to the stench.” Carol eyed him cautiously, hoping it was some sort of joke, but his expression betrayed the fact that, in his mind, he’d just made major headway in building a sort of working trust. She wasn’t heartless enough to deny him that.

Carol stood up as proudly as she could and spat out the last of it. “Shall we give it a second go?”

  1. I’m vaguely terrified as to where you’re going with this, but rather enjoyed getting to where you are thus far.

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