The Thorn of the Hybrid Rose by James Rumpel

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The Thorn of the Hybrid Rose by James Rumpel
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Perfect. What Jane could see of the man sitting on the opposites side of the desk was flawless, from the top of his luxurious head of auburn hair to his sinewy torso and everything between.

Beautiful. Portraits of gorgeous women and handsome men peppered the walls of the small office. Any direction Jane turned her head, her eye fell upon an example of human magnificence.

Inadequate. Jane thought of herself as she was certain everyone else did, somewhere on a continuum between unattractive and unsightly. She was not what most people would call obese, but she carried enough extra weight that no clothing fit her properly. Embarrassing lumps and rolls seemed to protrude at all of the least flattering locations; the worse being the prevalent blob of fat that hung like a stalactite below her rounded chin. Her hair, the color of overused dishwater, was tied back in a lifeless ponytail. Other women had hair that was bouncy and vital; Jane’s was in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Her face, pale and blotchy, did not possess a single redeeming characteristic: her nose was crooked, her lips lusterless, her eyes small and beady. Jane had entered this room with a devastating poor self-image. Everything within this chamber served to tear that image down even further.

“I have to ask if you can afford the process. You do realize genetic redefining is very expensive?” The salesman’s immaculately white and impeccably proportioned teeth actually appeared to sparkle when he smiled.

“Oh, yes,” replied Jane, embarrassed by her mousey, non-melodic voice. “I recently received a large inheritance. I also have been saving for a couple of years. I have the money to pay for the procedure without having to finance. I am going to surprise my husband. He will be so happy when he sees the new me.”

“Excellent. There are certain steps that we always follow to guarantee you get the best possible results and understand exactly what is going to happen.”

“Well, I hope you are going to make me beautiful.” Jane wanted to smile at her comment, but self-consciousness prevented her from doing so.

The man flashed another magnificent smile. Jane could swear there was harp music accenting the gesture. “We will do everything possible to make it happen. As you know every human has forty-six chromosomes and each of those chromosomes contains hundreds of genes. Those genes contain the DNA which makes you the person you are. We have made significant breakthroughs that allow us to do much more than outdated concepts such as gene therapy or gene editing. We perform gene redefining.” Jane found it impossible not to trust this man with all of her heart and soul.

“What we do is pinpoint the genes that affect certain characteristics and, how can I say this, permanently alter them. We redefine them to produce the desired results. If, for example, you want brighter blond hair, we can introduce a new genetic code that will produce blonder hair. We really can’t control the degree of change, but we can, in effect, reprogram the gene to give you the color of hair you desire. The procedure may only change your hair color slightly or it might give you the most brilliant hair your genes are capable of producing,”

“Well, that doesn’t sound fair. What if I pay this huge fee and end up with only minor improvements?”

“Oh, don’t worry. We have a money-back guarantee. In some cases, we can do the procedure a second time and attempt to edit the genes further. We also allow you to redefine multiple genes. If by some incredible stroke of bad luck, your hair does not improve, you might still have a dozen other enhancements. Believe me, we do not get unsatisfied customers.”

Jane could feel her heartbeat increase in intensity and tempo. “Great, can I start telling you all the things I want to have changed. I want my. . .”

“Hold on. You will get to fill out a checklist when you meet with our psychologist.”


“Yes. We have to make sure every customer is capable of dealing with the life-changing experience that enhancement will provide. Also, we want to be absolutely certain the changes are right for the individual.”

The sales consultant didn’t see it, but Jane smiled on the inside. She thought to herself, “You only have to take one look at me to see the reasons for me wanting changes.” What she said out loud was, “OK, take me to the psychologist.”

“I will shortly. We have one other item to take care of. There is a waiver you need to read and sign.” Jane marveled that his tight-fitting dress shirt didn’t burst as his muscular arm slid a paper across the desk. “It simply states that you understand that there is a slight risk of unpredicted alterations.”

“What do you mean by unpredicted alterations?”

“You see, we have the thousands of genes mapped nearly completely. However, on rare occasions, when we alter one gene, another gene in that general vicinity gets edited. We have never, and I, emphasize, never, had any adverse effects. Heck, my partner swears that my sense of humor improved with my last procedure. You just need to sign and date on the dotted line.”

There was no way that Jane was going to come this far without seeing it through to the end, a glorious life-changing end. She quickly penned her name, even finishing with a slight flourish.

“OK, where is this psychologist.”


Confident. The psychologist introduced herself as Dr. Nahla Narang. Though she was not as aesthetically ideal as the sales consultant had been, she was still very attractive. It was her demeanor which convinced Jane that the young woman was genetically enhanced. Knowledge and self-assurance radiated from her like the effervescent glimmer from a flawless diamond.

Deficient. Jane had just finished the extensive questionnaire that Dr. Narang had assigned her. As she had, with complete honesty, answered the questions, she couldn’t help but feel that each of her responses was boring, unspectacular. Jane worried that her unremarkable life and personality was going to, somehow, default her the procedure. She didn’t deserve to be enhanced, though she needed to be improved.

“So, Miss Smith,” began the psychologist.

“Mrs.,” corrected Jane. The fact that she was married. The fact she loved and was truly loved in return was the only thing that allowed her to wake up each morning. Russel cared for her and wanted to be with her, despite her innumerable flaws. He was the best thing about her. She would do anything for him. She was doing this for him.

“Oh, my apologies. I knew that. It’s noted right here on your evaluation results. I want to go over the assessment with you and determine the reasons behind your desire to be genetically enhanced. Let’s see….” Her voice faded slightly as she perused the lavender-colored paper perfectly centered on her immaculate desk. “You scored very low on self-confidence and self-esteem. You also have a very poor body image. I am guessing, you want to be genetically enhanced to improve in those areas.”

“Not really,” replied Jane. “I mean, I would love that, but I am, quite honestly, wanting to do this for my husband. I want to do it for Russel.”

“Is your husband forcing you to do this? That is not acceptable.”

“Oh no, not at all.” Jane had to fight off visions of being thrown from the enhancement center. “He doesn’t even know I am here. I told him I was going to visit my aunt in Iowa for a couple of weeks. My uncle died recently and he thinks I am helping her out.”

“So, what do you mean when you say you want to do it for your husband?” The beautiful young doctor seemed to be searching for some specific detail in the results as she continued addressing Jane.

“My husband is a wonderful man. I owe all the happiness in my life to him. He loves me despite my obvious flaws. To put it bluntly, he deserves better than me. I want to give him the wife he deserves.”

“That is a noble plan and I see here that your devotion and affection scores, regarding him, are extremely high. Looking at the assessment results, I see no reason, since you have sufficient funds, that you cannot go ahead and undergo the procedure.” The psychologist smiled and offered her hand for a congratulatory handshake.

“That is wonderful,” said Jane as she marveled at the strength in Dr. Narang’s grip.


Amazing. Jane didn’t want to look away from the mirror. The doctor who performed the enhancement had told her that her alteration had been one of the most successful ever. Nearly all of the genetic redefinitions had achieved excellent results. Lustrous blond hair framed her nearly perfect face; the natural wave and body serving to accent her deep blue eyes. Full lips encircled a mouth that possessed just the right amount of pouty-ness to be provocatively sexy. Her nose was still crooked, but somehow it looked just right, bracketed by exquisite high cheekbones and surrounded by flawless skin.

Tantalizing. It was her body that Jane found most amazing. The procedure did not instantly remove fat. It did, however, allow the recipient to improve their metabolism or their athleticism. In the week since the enhancement, Jane found herself no longer craving the comfort food that she had once relied on so resolutely for solace. In addition, she found herself driven to exercise, working out for hours each day. She would push herself to the point of exhaustion on cardio machines and still want to do more. She found that she enjoyed the suffering, the pain.

She had also taken great joy in watching the other people in the gym suffer while trying to keep up with her. She would smile to herself whenever one of them doubled over, unable to continue. Jane had to bite her lip to keep from laughing when one of her workout partners lost his balance and fell from the treadmill, opening a large cut on his forehead.

All of the physical labor had been unbelievably worth it. When she looked at her reflection, she spied a perfectly proportioned body. The short red dress the agency had provided fit ideally, emphasizing her shapely curves and alluring long legs. She was beyond beautiful.

Excited. Jane left the enhancement center and proceeded to stroll to the bus stop. She could feel the eyes of every man and woman ogling her. It felt great. The distinct bounce in her step was not only because she had genetically induced energy, but also because she felt pure joy, an emotion that had been elusive for a disturbingly long time. Russel was going to be so surprised, so happy, so impressed. She couldn’t wait to show him the new her. She only hoped he wouldn’t get too clingy; he tended to be that way at times.

Amused. The bus ride had been thoroughly entertaining. A little harmless flirty and some jealous stares from other women made for a delightful trip. As Jane neared her apartment, daydreaming about how pleased Russel was going to be, her reverie was interrupted by the sound of an automobile horn. Glancing up just in time, Jane witnessed an autonomous car strike a squirrel which had attempted to scurry across its path. The poor creature was not instantly killed, but instead flopped around on the pavement for a brief time before passing. Blood and entrails sifted from its carcass. Jane grinned. She had never realized how entertaining, how provocative, witnessing an incident of that sort could be.


Proud. Jane was sitting by the window watching a fly trapped between the screen and pane. She smirked as she watched the insect unsuccessfully search for an escape route. When she spied Russel walking down the street, she moved to the sofa and struck a provocative pose.

Russel came home that evening to find a near-perfect woman waiting. He stood open-mouthed for the longest time. When he finally found the words to speak to his beautiful wife, he heaped compliments and gratitude upon her.

“You didn’t need to do this. I loved you just the way you were.”

“I know, dear,” she answered, “but you deserved so much more. You have always supported me. Now, I feel worthy of that love.”

“You were always worthy of it. You should know that. You were always beautiful to me, but now you are amazing.” Russel took her in his arms. “I don’t want to ever let you go.”

Jane sighed. “I was thinking we could go out on the town and celebrate. Show off a bit.”

“If you want to. Wouldn’t it be fun to stay in and just be together, the two of us?” Russel clearly wanted her all to himself.

“There will be plenty of time for us to be alone. Now, I want to show the world the new me.”

Russel nodded his head. “Whatever you want, darling. You have given me so much. I want nothing but your happiness.”

“Good, thank you, my love,” was her reply. She only hoped that Russel wouldn’t get too upset when she used her new feminine wiles to tease and shatter the hopes of a few men. The prospect of jolting them with disappointment was going to make the evening even more entertaining.


Yearning. Jaynie, as she had taken to calling herself, stood in front of the sink of her cluttered and unkept kitchen contemplating the emptiness she had felt. The desire was satiated for now, but she knew it would return. It always did, each time stronger and more demanding.

Unexciting. She heard the annoying heavy-footed trudge of Russel making his way up the stairs. Jaynie had convinced herself that she still loved him. He was a wonderful man, even if he was a bit unspectacular. Maybe she could get him to undergo the enhancement. He continued to dote over her, even now, three months later. The attention was great, but she was beginning to think she needed, deserved, more.

Incomplete. Her late-night excursions helped to satisfy some of her new urges and desires. She had not broken her marriage vow to Russel, but she had broken the hearts of many men. The moment when she unceremoniously dumped her unwitting dupes was the best. She reveled in their mortification at being tossed aside.

“I’m home, beautiful.” Called Russel as he stepped over the small mountain of mail cluttering the center of the entryway. As always, he proceeded directly to Jaynie, giving her a loving embrace and passionate kiss.

“I’m a little busy right now,” said Jaynie as she pulled away, ever so slightly.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Russel. “How was your day?”

“Pretty uneventful. How was work?”

“Not bad, we are pretty busy at the factory, but that’s a good thing. Oh, I ran into our neighbor downstairs, you know, the older lady. She said that another of her cats has disappeared. Have you heard or seen anything of it?”

“No, I haven’t,” answered Jaynie, slowly turning away from her dull husband. As she returned to the sink and finished scrubbing the stained butcher knife, a secretive smile appeared on her utterly beautiful face. “Nothing at all.”


BIO: James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has greatly enjoyed spending his additional free time rekindling his love for science fiction and the written word. He lives in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary.