"Congratulations on your promotion, Dr. Dendron. I still can't believe they're moving you to a new office," the cheerful student, a curly-haired duck named Maddie, told the distracted scientist as they lifted files from one of her desk drawers into the moving box on top of it.
Rhoda smiled at the girl; Maddie was one of the work-study students she particularly liked working with. She was always friendly and upbeat, and rarely complained about being asked to do the non-academic or scientific tasks that were a part of university research. It was mid-June, so the school was emptier than usual with only summer students around. Maddie was between her junior and senior years, earning work-study credits for her major in biology and minor in food science. She had chosen to work in the botanical and food sciences department due to their ongoing research in the genetic engineering of fruits and vegetables. It was a project that Rhoda had been participating in for months and one that was the basis for a paper she had recently published that had gotten her the promotion Maddie was talking about.
"I'm surprised, too. My desk has been in this room for almost three years. It'll be so nice to have an office that's right off one of the labs rather than halfway down the hall from my bench work. And to think that when I moved in here, I thought this was an upgrade." A rueful smile formed on her bill. "You should've seen it when I first came in here. There were four researchers crammed into this office sharing desk space with one floating desk for interns and students. At least with just me and Warbrin in here, and you students when we've got one of you, I have more than three drawers for myself."
"I'm surprised Dean Tightwad let you have it without sharing it with how he is about," she lowered her tone in a mockery of the dean's voice, 'an efficient use of resources and space.'"
"That's Tightbill, you know," Rhoda chided with a hint of a smirk. "The man really has no sense of humor, so I doubt he'd appreciate your nickname if he heard it."
Maddie giggled. "Don't blame me, blame Dr. Aveshine," she said, naming the other researcher that sat with Rhoda. "That's what he called him the other day when he couldn't get the labeling printer to work right. He said if he'd been allowed to buy the model he wanted, he wouldn't have to spend half a day screwing with it or make me to label his flats by hand when it didn't work."
"Well, Warbrin says quite a few things he shouldn't. No one ever said that scientists were a model for social skills."
"Or fashion. Did you check out those neon socks he had on the other day? Ug-ly with a capital 'ugh!' I bet he was a huge dork in high school."
Rhoda let out a light laugh. "Most of us here were."
"Nah, I bet you weren't. I wasn't, either. Not a big one like my brother, anyway. He used to play Demons and Dragonfighters all the time after school, and went out in costume with his friends sometimes. Oh, I was so embarrassed if I was seen with him."
Rhoda shook her head a bit at Maddie's remarks and moved on to sorting the things on her desk while Maddie reached into the top cubby above one of the unoccupied desks. Like every other spot in the small office, it had been claimed as overflow by either Rhoda or her office-mate Dr. Warbrin Aveshine. Maddie's beak twitched a little when she noticed the substantial layer of dust inside, and when she pulled out a stack of file folders and binders, she paused to wipe the dust that had stirred out of her eyes. "Yuck. Don't you two ever dust?" She set the dusty pile down with a loud thud. "This has last year's date on it," she said, glancing at the folder on top.
"Don't throw it out; it might need to be archived. You know the rules, raw data—"
"Has to be saved," she finished for her. "No problem. I'll box it… after I dust it."
"Thanks." Rhoda examined the contents of one of her drawers, trying to decide if there was anything that should be tossed rather than moved. "I think there's some of that air in a can over on Warbrin's desk."
"Wow, someone's got a bunch of notebooks here," Maddie said suddenly, and when Rhoda looked over, she saw her holding a stack of university-issued lab research notebooks. "Are these all yours?"
"I don't know. How many are there? I have a few older ones that're full that I still need for reference on the Cucumis melo project."
Maddie brought them over to Rhoda, who set her moving box aside to look at them. "There are four."
"Four? That's odd. I know I don't have that many." Rhoda took the stack that Maddie handed her and looked them over. "These three are mine, but I don't recognize that number," she said, handing the fourth back to Maddie. "See if it's Warbrin's and if it is, put it on his desk."
While Rhoda briefly flipped through one of her notebooks before putting it in the moving box, Maddie opened the one in her hands. "This says it belongs to," the student's voice took on a startled tone as she read the name aloud, "Reginald Bushroot."
Rhoda froze in her swivel chair and her heart skipped a beat. She looked up at Maddie, who stared back at her as though she was, for a change, at a loss for words. That did not last long, however.
"Is that the same Reginald Bushroot that—"
"Yes." Rhoda's voice took on a distinct edge and an awkward silence filled the office. Everyone in St. Canard knew about the mutant plant-duck super-villain called Bushroot, and just about everyone at St. Canard University knew that he was an alumnus of and had been a researcher at the university. What he had done to Dr. Gary and Dr. Larson, what he had attempted to do to Dean Tightbill, and of course, his abduction of Rhoda Dendron herself had happened recently enough that many students, including Maddie, had been at the university at the time the scandal broke. The sordid tale was all the juicier with the involvement of the mysterious Darkwing Duck, and it was still Urban Legend Number One on campus. However, most were either polite enough to not or simply did not have the nerve to broach the subject with Rhoda herself. Maddie had never done so before because she did not want to be rude or jeopardize her grades over gossip, although she did have friends begging her to find out "the real deal" ever since she started working with Rhoda.
"Sorry," Maddie said quietly. "I didn't mean to—"
"It's all right."
Maddie opened the notebook. At a glance, there was nothing unusual in it; notes about chloroplasts, plasma, and different plant species, along with some observations, measurements, and various formulas that were too advanced for a student like her to understand. "Heh. Neat handwriting for a super-villain," she murmured. When Rhoda gave her a sharper-than-usual look a moment later, though, she snapped the notebook shut, her curiosity snuffed by the non-verbal reproach. "Um, so what do we do with this? Archive it? Is that what they did with his stuff?" She made a puzzled face. "I wonder how it got in with yours."
"Things are always getting lost in the shuffle around here. It probably got mixed up with some of my things and then got moved with them at some point." Rhoda stared at the notebook for a long moment. "Let me have it." When Maddie handed it to her she did not open it, but instead sat back down in her chair with a tired look. "Honestly, I don't know what they did with Reginald's things. Everything was already cleaned out and remodeled when I got back."
Rhoda felt Maddie's gaze on her, so she elaborated. "I took leave for a month after all that happened. I was due some vacation anyway, and it was as good a time as any, with all the… with all the ghosts around." A quizzical look crossed Maddie's features, but Rhoda cut her off before she could say anything. "Not real ghosts. Those stories about Dr. Gary and Dr. Larson's ghosts in the building or that silly one about them being the hedges planted outside are just ridiculous," she said with a shake of her head. "I mean the memories of everything. I had to get away from it and I was glad that it was all gone when I came back. Changed, redone, a fresh start."
"Yeah, I can see why. And I never believed that stupid story about the scientists being planted anyway. How morbid. Frat boys come up with the dumbest things to scare freshmen and get drunk girls to go home with them." She rolled her eyes. "Sad thing is, sometimes it works."
With the notebook still in her hands, Rhoda stood up and glanced at the clock. "Speaking of which, it's after four and it's Friday anyway. Why don't you take off early and get a head start on your weekend? You must have something fun planned tonight anyway, right?"
Maddie made a sarcastic face. "Technically. I'm hanging out with my boyfriend, but he and his roommate rented a couple of the Exterminator movies, so we're just watching them and getting pizza, and beer if they can get one of their friends to buy it."
Rhoda's beak wrinkled a bit in distaste. "Oh, I've never cared for most of those action-type movies."
"Me neither, but the guy who plays the Exterminator is kinda hot, so maybe it won't be a complete wash." Maddie grinned.
"Well, I hope it won't be a total loss then. Have a nice weekend." Rhoda gave her a smile before glancing down at Dr. Bushroot's notebook. "I need to ask the dean about this anyway, and if he asks I'll just tell him you came in early so he credits you for staying until five."
"Cool! Thanks. Are you sure you don't need the help moving?"
Rhoda shook her head. "They aren't showing up until ten on Monday anyway, and Warbrin should be around then. I'll draft him into helping; he owes me a favor for holding his nuts on my lab tables anyway." She frowned as she finished the sentence; she had meant the potted nut trees he had been grafting in his research, but her words had not come out quite right. Fortunately Maddie did not remark on it, but Rhoda was fairly sure she saw her suppress a snicker.
"Okay. See you then." Maddie set what she had been holding down and headed for the door. "Have a good weekend, Dr. Dendron!"
"You too." After the door clicked shut behind her, Rhoda was left alone in the office with her thoughts. Her gaze fell on the notebook that once belonged to Reginald Bushroot. An inner voice warned her to not think too much about it and told her she should just leave everything in the past like she had been trying to do ever since it all happened. Her curiosity got the better of her, though, and she only held out for a minute before she succumbed to the temptation to look inside it.
When she opened the notebook she was flooded with memories. She saw the same things that Maddie had seen, the calculations, notes, and formulas. Unlike Maddie, though, Rhoda understood them and immediately recognized the experiments they pertained to: chloroplast infusion into animal cellular tissues. The early experiments had all been done in-vitro, and later some had been run with mice, but the initial results had proven inconclusive. Rhoda felt a shudder as she read his note about that, knowing what she did now about where his research would ultimately lead. Infusion numbers inconsistent as per statistical analysis report.(1) No clear overall relationship, but significant percentage of subjects with high metabolic tolerance. Recommend further investigation in specific test systems, advanced species, alternate methods of administration.
Rhoda frowned. "Somehow I don't think lightning on a greenhouse rooftop is what they'd have approved." She browsed some more, feeling both impressed and disturbed by what she read. The research itself was sound, and she found herself remembering how she defended Dr. Bushroot to Dean Tightbill the day that Dr. Gary and Dr. Larson set him up and got the funding on his project pulled for their own competitive purposes. Now, over a year later, it seemed almost a shame to see Reginald Bushroot's notebook and the scientific knowledge therein condemned to a fate of obscurity in archives because of the irrational and emotionally driven reactions of its bitter researcher. Rhoda imagined that perhaps years later someone else, someone more balanced, could find it and put it to the use she was sure Dr. Bushroot had intended when he first envisioned it. Someone much like she remembered him to be before he lost it, before he changed…
The loud tick of the clock alerted her that it was now ten minutes to five, and it snapped her back into reality and out of her contemplative silence. "That'll be for Dean Tightbill to worry about," she decided aloud, and hurried to his office in the hopes of catching him before he left. She found the dean standing by his desk with his briefcase open upon it as he got ready to leave for the weekend. "Dean Tightbill," Rhoda called in softly from the doorway, "do you have a minute?"
The short duck looked over at her and nodded. "Yes. Come in. What can I do for you, Dr. Dendron?"
She entered and lingered beside one of the chairs in front of his desk. "I need to talk to you about something."
One of his bushy eyebrows rose when he noticed her halting tone. "Nothing's happened with your research, I hope?"
"Oh, no. Nothing like that. That's all fine."
The dean relaxed. "Oh, good. I'd hate to hear you were having setbacks. Your genetic research in the Cucumis melo project has gone a great way toward putting the university's botanical sciences division back into the realm of respectability and prestige. Your enhanced honeydew hybrids are creating a buzz among the journals as well as the pollinators."
Rhoda could not help but smile at the praise, although his remark about the department's reputation made her dread changing the subject to what she had come to discuss. Dean Tightbill remained true to his name on more than the department's budgetary allotments; he did not like gossip or scandal and considered Dr. Reginald Bushroot a taboo topic. "Thank you," she started, but before she could say anything else, the dean interrupted.
"You're very welcome. I've been busy, but I fully intend to get up to that greenhouse with you soon and get a good look at your fine melons!"
"Uh… sure." That time the questionable phrasing was not Rhoda's, but she was certain that it did not sound right. Of course, the dean was not the type to make or even notice such crude innuendos, but he did not spend all day in the lab with college students, either.
"So what's on your mind then?" asked Dean Tightbill. "Your office move?"
"No, although it's something that came up during the move. While we were packing downstairs, we found this in one of the office desks." She held out the notebook. "It's not one of mine or Dr. Aveshine's. It's—it's Dr. Bushroot's."
The dean recoiled from the notebook as if Rhoda had thrust a handful of rank manure fertilizer in his face. "What was that doing there?"
"I don't know. I guess it must've been missed or mixed in with some of my things when the labs were cleared out after… after everything happened."
"Ah. Yes, that's right, you were out at the time, weren't you? I guess I shouldn't be surprised that some things were overlooked without one of the lab staff supervising." His voice took on a distinct coldness, although Rhoda did not think it was directed at her. At the time Dean Tightbill had been sympathetic and understanding because Bushroot had targeted him also, albeit with different intentions.
"Anyway, I just want to make sure this goes where it's supposed to."
With a frown, the dean ripped the notebook out of Rhoda's hands and threw it into the wastebasket. "That's where it belongs, along with anything else of that loon's you find."
Rhoda gasped. "But you can't just throw that out!" She bent over and pulled it out of the trash bin. "It's raw data. Regardless of whose it is, it should be archived. That's our standard operating procedure."
"SOPs be damned, Dr. Dendron! Some things are better left to sensible judgment!"
"But it's still valid research," Rhoda protested. "Science isn't about destroying knowledge; it's about expanding it."
"You won't archive anything of that monster's in this department as long as I'm heading it, and that's final! I'd hate to think someone of your intelligence would question the judgment of the entire university board on the matter." He frowned. "And if you did, I'd have to question your judgment, and then mine in my confidence in you in as far as giving you that promotion." He eyed her sharply, but then lowered his voice to a less threatening tone. "You've got a brilliant mind, Dr. Dendron, but you're a bit idealistic at times. While that's an admirable trait, it'd do you good to remember that the same researcher's work you're trying to save for posterity is exactly what led him to abduct and try to mutate you in his greenhouse, and mulch me in my own office. It's not just me that thinks Reginald Bushroot's name is something that's best forgotten from this campus forever. The board was unanimous in their agreement to purge his work from our archives."
Rhoda's eyes widened with shock behind her glasses. "You're saying you threw out everything of his?" Regardless of what Bushroot had done, she could not fathom deliberately destroying so much work and research.
"You asked where his notebooks belonged, and I told you." Dean Tightbill closed his briefcase with an authoritative snap, and then picked it up. "Now if you'll excuse me, Dr. Dendron, it is five o'clock, and it's Friday. I'm leaving for the weekend. I suggest you do the same."
"But what about this?" She tightened her fingers around the notebook's binding. "You can't just put a research notebook in the trash can! Even the cleaning staff knows they're not supposed to be thrown out."
"No. I suppose you're right. Take it straight to the dumpster, then. No one'll fish it out of there before it hits the landfill! Or shred, burn it, even bury it for all I care," he said with a shrug. "It doesn't matter, as long as it disappears and can't ever turn up and be associated with this department or St. Canard University." He ushered Rhoda out of his office along with him, locking the door behind them both. "I'll see you Monday, Dr. Dendron. Good night."
"Good night." Rhoda remained in the hall while the dean departed, and looked down at the notebook again. It wouldn't be right to just throw it out. All knowledge is valuable…
She drummed her fingertips against the cover, frowning. She supposed she could stick it in a box of her own things going to archives, but that was not exactly ethical either. If it was discovered, she would be reprimanded for the breach of operating procedure and going against the dean and the university board's expressed wishes. Why should she risk that, especially for someone like Reginald Bushroot, and not just do what she was told?
The memory of her former colleague's sad face, the one she remembered so well from her time spent working with him before he went off the deep end and transformed himself, flickered through her mind. Because it wouldn't be right, Rhoda thought with a conflicted weariness. Whatever had happened, the knowledge itself—forbidden knowledge that some might consider it to be—was not evil.
"If my research is successful, someday we'll get our nutrition just like plants! We'll be able to snack on sunlight!"
Rhoda could hear Reginald's voice in her mind like he still stood beside her telling her about it so enthusiastically, only that time her face formed an expression of regret and sorrow instead of the admiring smile she had given him then.
"Someone could take this and make it what it was supposed to be, what he wanted it to be. Not what it…" She faltered as she voiced her thoughts in the empty hallway. "It'd be wrong to just destroy it!"
Her words strengthened her conviction, although it left her with the problem of what to do with the notebook if not destroy it. "But I can't keep it, either. Dean Tightbill said he doesn't want it anywhere it could be associated with the university. If it stays here, someone else will just find it and get rid of it… or worse, want to try the experiments on themselves." She shuddered at that thought. Imagining some inexperienced student getting himself killed trying to give himself "cool powers" with a houseplant and high voltage was not anything she wanted on her conscience either.
So what do I do then? Keep it somewhere off campus myself? Rhoda shook her head; that did not appeal at all. It was not even her work to begin with, and given her own personal experience with it she did not want reminders of it in her space for very long.
But if she did not keep or destroy it, who could she give it to? It would have to be someone she trusted not to abuse the information or destroy it. She also had her own career to think about; research was competitive and if she was caught giving out proprietary information bearing St. Canard University's name it would be the end of it. Who did that leave, then? Someone like Darkwing Duck?
She supposed that he was at least well-intentioned, if not a bit off-kilter. Then again, Reginald Bushroot was far from Darkwing's favorite individual, either. Assuming she could even find the mysterious masked mallard, Rhoda could not be certain he would understand her reasons for not wanting Dr. Bushroot's research destroyed. The more she thought about it, the more easily she could see Darkwing Duck taking the notebook and destroying it himself despite her protests. No, she decided, there had to be another answer.
Rhoda had just arrived back at her office when the obvious solution struck her. There was someone who would want that notebook, who could rightfully use the scientific knowledge therein, and who could not possibly put it to further ill use—because he had already done that, and more. Yes, I could send it back to Reginald. It startled her how easily she considered it, and more so that she did not feel compelled to dismiss the notion right off the bat.
"Well, it is his…"
As Rhoda returned to her desk, her gaze lingered on the part of the room where Dr. Bushroot's desk had once been. Even though the little office had not been damaged when Bushroot sought his revenge on his former co-workers, it too had been remodeled afterward, with new desks put in and the room re-painted, an indulgent expense that Dean Tightbill permitted in the name of putting the past behind them. Despite that, it was still easy for her to recall how it used to look even though those days were long gone. The memory swayed her idea to a firm decision. "That's what I'll do with it, then. I'll get it to him. Then if anyone asks, I can just tell them it's gone."
Deciding that left Rhoda with another dilemma, however. How was she going to get the notebook to Bushroot without risking her own neck in the process? Although he had once professed to love her and to want to marry her, Rhoda imagined that her rejecting him and screaming for help while Darkwing intervened would have cooled his affection, especially after it all ended with him under the blades of a mower. While Rhoda had never wanted to see Bushroot hurt, and especially not killed as she had thought until she had learned otherwise, she also had no idea how he might view the situation, and her. She had been relieved to find out that Bushroot had survived, but she was also glad that he never tried to find her again. But now, as she slid the notebook into her bag and turned off her desk light, she would have to find him.
She supposed that would not be too hard. She knew where his greenhouse was—that was where he had taken her when he abducted her, after all—and she also knew that he allegedly still lived on the property at least some of the time. Few were brave or foolish enough to trespass there, and she imagined that the reason police had never staked it out and arrested him was because they were afraid to barge in there asking for trouble.
Rhoda left the office and headed to her car. She decided that the most efficient way to handle it would be to just slip onto Bushroot's greenhouse property and quietly leave the notebook on his doorstep. She would not knock or give any indication that she was there, and by the time he would come out and discover it, she would be long gone. If she was lucky, she would not even so much as see him in the distance before she was out of there and the deed was done.