The morning of the Change was one of the most traumatic I have ever had. I had arrived at the university much earlier than I needed to, there was almost an hour until my first lecture. It was an accident, I swear; I had set my alarm too early and I hadn't missed any busses. So I went to the Bio-sci computer lab to browse my newsgroups and kill a bit of time. There was one other guy there that early, sitting across the lab from me. Ten minutes later the first sign of trouble suddenly hit when I heard him grunt in surprise, and then begin screaming his head off.
"What!? What!?" I jumped from my terminal, neglecting to log out.
The man looked wildly about, screaming in fear or agony. I stared at him in astonishment, then let out a bit of a scream myself. He was rapidly changing into some sort of monster, his skin darkening with fur, a pair of horns erupting from his head. "Eeeaaarrrooo!" He screamed as his back arched forward and his hands fused into hooves. His clothing split and fell off as he grew to several times his former size. He had become some sort of huge bull-like animal.
And he was apparently mad with fear, from the look in his eyes. Bellowing and snorting, he proceeded to smash the row of terminals he had been sitting at, tossing computers and desks into the ceiling and walls with his horns. And unfortunately, he was closer to the door than I was. I screamed again and backed into the far corner of the room, trying to keep away from him.
Screaming was a mistake, and the monster looked up from the wreckage to stare at me. I shut up and stared back. I admit that I wasn't exactly thinking straight at the moment, but I thought I could see a sort of pleading expression in his eyes. Then madness flooded back in, and he bellowed with anger and charged at me.
I'm not exactly an athletic person, but with an enraged bull smashing though the computer lab like a juggernaut coming straight at me I somehow managed to dodge around him and run for the door. Motivation is everything, as they say. I got out into the hall and slammed the door behind me, trapping the monster in the room. He slammed into the door an instant after it latched, but fortunately all the doors in BioSci were heavily constructed and his huge horns didn't even penetrate. A good thing, considering that I was leaning hard against it.
After a few more halfhearted attempts, the bull stopped trying to shove the door down. I peered though the tiny window to make sure he'd given up, then I staggered to the other side of the hall. I sat down hard, suddenly shaking and slightly delirious as the adrenaline wore off. The sound of more muffled bellowing and smashing came through the door, and I laughed hysterically. I guess I didn't need to worry about anyone using my terminal while I was away. "Oh thank god," I sobbed, and tried to breathe deeply to calm myself down. This was far too much for me to deal with, especially this early in the morning. As I rested there and slowly recovered, I reached under my shirt and scratched an itch that had built up on my chest.
My fingers encountered thick, curly hair that had definitely not been there before. What the... I tugged on it and winced in pain, confirming the hair's attachment to me. "Oh shit," I muttered and started running my hands over my suddenly- hirsute torso. A big triangle of thick, curly hair covered my chest, and it also ran over my shoulders and down my spine. Panic beginning to rise again, I took my shirt off to get a look at what was happening to me. The shirt caught briefly on something as I pulled it over my head. I reached up to feel what it was.
It took a moment for it to fully register, and then I started screaming even louder than I had when first confronted by the enraged bull. Horns! Oh shit no! They weren't very large, but that other guy's had started out small... I sat there screaming for a moment longer, and then struggled back to my feet and ran. I didn't know where I was going, but I didn't want to stay here; I wanted to get as much distance between me and the lab as possible. The monster's inarticulate animal noises had taken on an even more terrifying significance than simply the threat of being gored to death.
I should have realized that I couldn't outrun what was happening to me, but I didn't really have the presence of mind to do much analysis of the situation. I ran to the zoology wing, up two floors of stairs, and then back into the center wing again. Screaming all the way. I skidded to a stop in front of the Department of Biological Sciences student services desk.
There was a woman behind the desk, kind of. She had patches of black fur sprouting on her face, and she was sitting there feeling them with clawed fingers. We screamed at each other for a moment (I must admit that I started it, though I'm usually much more level-headed than I was acting at the moment), and then I set off running again. This time I burst into a bathroom, perhaps looking for a hiding place. I don't clearly remember my exact intentions. There was no one else inside, so I finally managed to calm down a little and stop screaming so much. It took a while. Finally I was calm enough for the exhaustion to catch up with me, and I sat down to try to rest and think a bit.
The hair on my back was thick enough that I didn't feel the tile wall I was leaning against directly on my skin, and I wove my fingers through the curly mat that covered my breast. It was a very strange feeling, since I'd never had much hair there before. I noticed that it was white in color, not brown; what did that mean? I groaned in confusion and rubbed my head. And jerked my hands away as if burned; I didn't like to even think about the horns. But I was drawn to touch them, as a loose tooth draws a probing tongue. "Oh man," I whispered in awe.
They sure felt like they were part of my skull. I tugged on them lightly, then with a little more force, and found them very firmly anchored. I didn't want to pull too hard, worried about possibly hurting myself. My skin was puckered tightly around their bases, they were actually sticking through my scalp! I simply couldn't comprehend what was going on. They didn't seem to be growing any more, though, so perhaps I wasn't going to turn into a monster after all...
I pulled myself to my feet and went over to the sinks to look at myself in the mirror. I spent a long time standing there and staring; I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was altered in more ways than just growing hair and horns; my facial features had subtly changed. My nose had widened and flattened, my lips were thicker, and my jaws projected slightly. I had pointed ears, and mixed amongst the straight brown hairs on my head were more of the short, white curly ones that covered my torso. I wouldn't have recognized myself if I hadn't known it was me.
Leaning against the sink, I tried to gather my thoughts. I had no idea what was going on, but this was the Biological Sciences building; as ridiculous as it seemed, could some sort of weird transforming virus have got loose and infected me? I often used things like that as plot devices in the short stories I wrote, but I knew it made no sense in real life...
Hallucination. That was it, I must be hallucinating. It made a lot more sense for some unknown but at least physically possible psychoactive gas to have been released in the building than for a clearly impossible transformative agent to have been. Just stay calm and don't do anything rash, I tried to tell myself, hallucinations can only hurt me if I do something stupid because of them.
I tried to keep telling myself that when all of a sudden I began changing further. "It's not real, it's not real," over and over until I believed it as firmly as was possible under the circumstances. It sure looked and felt real. But I knew that it couldn't be, so I managed to observe the effects with a sense of detached interest. After all, this sort of effect is what some people took recreational drugs for, wasn't it? Though I didn't go in for that sort of thing myself, I should at least try to make the best of it now that it was happening.
The thick hair on my torso got even thicker, spreading over the rest of my skin with a prickly ticklish sort of feeling, and I realized that I now had the same sort of hair sprouting on my arms and legs as well. Either it was new, or I simply hadn't noticed it until now. Or rather, I hadn't hallucinated it until now. I didn't pay a lot of attention, though, since my head was changing even more. The horns were growing, thickening and curving backward as they went. My lower face pushed out into a short muzzle as my forehead sloped back, and my ears migrated upward as they grew even longer and pointier; I suddenly realized I looked a lot like a goat or sheep. A bighorn sheep, I specified as I touched those amazingly thick horns. They didn't yet curve all the way around like the bighorn sheep I remembered from my vacations in the Rockies, but they were close enough. Perhaps if they grew some more...
The changes stopped again and I shook my altered head in wonder. This hallucination was truly the most bizarre thing that had ever happened to me in my life, and now that I had managed to suppress most of the fear I decided to cautiously enjoy it. I ran my hands all over my head and chest, savoring the weird feelings. My hair was a layer of thick wiry wool, I had to weave my fingers through it to reach the skin below and confirm that it really was mine. I was actually getting a little aroused by it all, but forced myself to keep focused. I noted that my old straight brown hair had disappeared rather than fallen out, another clue that this was probably a hallucination. Mammals didn't normally reabsorb their old hair, they just replaced it.
Somewhat reassured and with my curiosity satisfied at least temporarily, I decided it would probably be a good idea to get out of the building before whatever gas was in here affected me any worse than it already had. My mind seemed clear to me, but I was hardly an objective judge and I had no idea what long-term exposure might do. I walked back out into the hall and retraced my steps, noting that the girl behind the desk who I had thought was growing black fur was already gone. I must have scared her out of her wits with all that screaming, I realized with embarrassment. There was no one else around; it was very early in the morning, and perhaps the building had already been evacuated without my noticing it. I went downstairs to the computer lab where this had started to pick up my shirt.
It was right where I had left it. But I could also hear the bull moving around behind the closed door, shattered computers and splintered wood crunching under his massive weight. Now that I knew that I had imagined his whole transformation, though, I wondered why the guy hadn't simply opened the door and left. He didn't think he was a bull too, surely. But perhaps he was in trouble, affected even more strongly than I was. He could be incoherent, or perhaps unconscious. I reached to open the door and see if he needed help, but I hesitated. The monster in there sounded so real, even though I knew it wasn't, that I couldn't bring myself to let it out. But the guy might need help...
I heard another computer being knocked to the floor with a crash, and turned away. If he was really smashing up the room like it seemed, then he might very well be dangerous even if he wasn't a bull. I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and resolved to simply tell the paramedics about him when they got here. I started heading for the front door, intending to wait for them outside, and tried to pull my shirt back on.
"Tried" being the operative word; I discovered that the neck hole was now too small to fit my altered head through. I stopped to struggle with it, checking to make sure I wasn't just being clumsy, and found that I really couldn't do it. My horns just wouldn't fit, they were too wide. A sudden thought hit me, and I stopped my struggle as my stomach sank. How could hallucinatory horns be able to block a real shirt? It was really my shirt, I had picked it up from exactly where I had left it, and there wasn't one lying there now. I could understand how I'd imagined snagging it briefly on my horns when I'd taken it off, but this...
I shook my head and cut off the speculation; of course the horns were an hallucination. I'd figure out the details later. Taking my shirt off again so I could see where I was going, I continued outside and sat on a bench by the front door. I realized I must look a little silly sitting there without a shirt on, but no sillier than I would have if I was wearing it without putting my head through the neck hole. And once the ambulances and hazardous materials teams arrived, I'm sure they'd understand.
I waited there for several minutes, hoping that the fresh air would clear my system of whatever I was on. Unfortunately, though the world otherwise seemed relatively normal, I remained solidly convinced that I had a sheep's head. Not only that, but I noticed one or two people walking in the distance or driving past that also looked part animal. Judging from their behaviour they seemed to think they were transformed as well, yet how could they have been exposed...?
Pain suddenly lanced through my feet and I gasped in surprise; my shoes felt like they were squeezing tighter, getting shorter and crushing my toes. "It's not real," I said fiercely to myself, "it's not real!" I managed to ignore it, though the sensation of pain was real enough to hurt intensely. I clenched my eyes and teeth, trying to will it away.
It worked, apparently; there was a sudden tearing sound and the pressure stopped. I sighed in relief and tried to wiggle my toes, but something still felt wrong. I opened my eyes and took a look.
My shoes hadn't been getting shorter after all. My feet had been getting longer, and they had split open the fronts of my shoes in the process. They were still stretching as I watched, pulling my socks farther down my ankles and out the holes they had made. "This is new," I muttered to myself, and reached down to feel one. It was definitely a new level of weirdness; my toes were fusing together and changing shape under my fingers. I pulled one of my socks off and saw my two remaining toenails thickening and changing rapidly into cloven hooves. That explained my failure to wiggle them.
In addition to the alterations in my feet, my pants were beginning to bulge and bunch up as my lower legs shortened and my thighs thickened; my legs were becoming digitigrade. Fortunately my arms and hands seemed totally unaffected, apart from coloration and the coat of curly hair they were still perfectly human. I was turning into something like a satyr, it seemed, only white and with a sheep's head. The transformation finally stopped again and I sighed in relief. I noticed the tips of my horns for the first time in my peripheral vision, and realized that they had grown to full size during this last surge of transformation. I hoped that meant it was finished, this hallucination was getting too weird for comfort. My legs felt totally different, and I was sitting on a lump of a tail.
Then I remembered how I had taken my sock off, and I felt a coldness seize my heart again; I had pulled it though the hole in the end of my shoe. I carefully pulled the other sock off in the same fashion; it would have been impossible to do unless the hole really was there. My shirt really didn't fit over my head, and my shoes really had been split open in front. Could this change really be happening to me? I rose unsteadily to my feet, actually standing on the tips of my hoofed toes. Leaning on the bench to keep my balance, I pulled my shoes off and allowed my pant legs to slide past my raised heels to extend almost to the ground again. It seemed I hadn't lost any net height, though my legs now had completely different proportions. Or at least, I thought they did. But I wasn't sure any more. I couldn't wait for the paramedics to arrive; the university hospital was within walking distance, I would go there now and settle this question. Unsteadily at first, I set off across campus.
The walk was a strange and dreamlike thing. The buildings and landscape were still completely ordinary, but scattered throughout were people twisted into fantastic shapes. They behaved as if what I was seeing about them was real, and though I still couldn't quite believe it I was no longer sure. And then there was me, of course, walking barefoot on the tips of my toes across campus. It felt totally wrong, far too comfortable, and there was the constant sound of hooves clicking on the pavement. The way my pants hung on my legs, the horns and muzzle visible in my peripheral vision, the feel of wind in my woolly body hair, it all felt so real. Every detail was sharp and consistent. I was beginning to doubt my own insanity.
Arriving at the hospital's main entrance, I didn't need to make an appointment to have that doubt confirmed. There were dozens of panicking people in here, with more coming in all the time; they seemed to think my hallucinations were real too, and there was no way they could have known what it was if it had been all in my mind. The bird-people yelled about feathers, the deer-people caught their antlers on doorframes, and a large bear- person was trying to pull out handfuls of his own fur. I sat quietly in a corner and held my head in my hands, emotionally drained and at a total loss. I wasn't imagining all this, or if I was it was so elaborate a delusion that it might as well be real. So what should I do next?
I couldn't think of an answer myself.
Fortunately some of the hospital staff had the presence of mind to try to take charge of the situation, despite their own transformations. A vaguely badger-like woman in a doctor's uniform showed up and with drill-sergeant efficiency began clearing the uninjured out of the waiting room. That meant virtually everyone there at the time, and most of those still pushing their way in, so the job wasn't easy; everyone was demanding answers and attention.
I was overlooked down in my corner, and waited out the commotion obliviously. I spent the time thinking, my mind racing endlessly in a little circle; there were no possible explanations for all this left that made any sense. Finally I was startled out of my reverie by a touch on my arm. "Are you all right?" a nurse who looked a bit like a horse asked.
"Wha...? Oh. I was just thinking." I cleared my throat uncomfortably, my voice sounding much deeper to my ears than normal, and realized that I hadn't tried speaking until now. I was glad I still could.
"Well, if you're not injured, could you -- oh, excuse me!" He broke off as a squirrel-man staggered through the door supporting a badly cut-up tiger. The hospital staff hurried to get him onto a stretcher and into the emergency ward, and I realized that these people were far too busy already to help people with less urgent problems like mine. Besides, the strong smell of blood in the air made me feel rather nervous all of a sudden. I roused myself and walked outside again.
With my hands in my pockets and my shirt tied loosely around my neck like a cape, I continued walking aimlessly for a while. I had no idea where to go next, but walking usually helped me think. There was a lot of activity beginning to boil up around campus, even at this early hour; I watched the parade of human/animal hybrids with fascination, no two were exactly the same. There were a lot more bird hybrids than I would have expected, and reptiles and other non-mammals too; it seemed all of phylum vertebrata was represented. In fact, my own amazing transformation was almost mundane compared to some of the people I saw hurrying or wandering around out there. I hadn't taken any zoology courses yet, so I couldn't even identify most of them.
I noticed there was a complete absence of emergency personnel and vehicles beyond those at the hospital itself, and I began to wonder just how wide-scale this strange plague of change might be. Could it be city-wide? For a moment I thought I might head to a computer lab to log on and see if there was any news, perhaps on TNC's web site, but then I remembered what had happened in the last computer lab I was in and shuddered. Besides, I was close to the Student's Union Building; there were televisions in there, and a free phone for students too.
When I got there I was disappointed; the TVs were all showing test patterns or static, and despite the large number of people desperately trying to use the phone it became apparent while I waited that none of them were able to get through. Not that I would have been likely to have a chance to try myself, considering the near-brawl over the phone every time the current user gave up or spent too much time trying to reach someone. The room was filled with a thick pall of fear and tension, I was feeling extremely nervous and twitchy just being nearby. There was no way I was going to barge through that crowd myself; some of those... creatures were quite frightening, especially given their apparent bad mood. I didn't want to be pressed up against them in a panicky mob.
Hurriedly exiting the Student's Union Building and finding a quiet bench with no one nearby, I sat quietly for a moment to try to calm down again and think my next step through. My trip to the SUB had revealed at least one thing, I reflected; the city was in trouble. The TV stations were down and the phones overloaded, so this phenomenon wasn't localized on campus. And considering how the panic levels were rising in there, would there be a riot? I'd never been in a riot before, a new experience that I didn't want to try. Horns, hooves, and the rest of my altered features were enough new things for me to deal with already. I decided that the best thing to do would be to go home. I would feel much safer there, and my dad would probably be getting worried about me by now.
Unfortunately, I was pretty sure the busses wouldn't be running any more. Even if the drivers were still human and dedicated enough to try following their routes, the traffic was probably impossible; I could clearly hear a cacophony of car horns in the distance. I would have to walk, and it normally took about an hour and a half to get home on foot. And I have absolutely no idea how long it will take on hoof, I thought as I looked at my altered legs. I wasn't sore or tired from walking around the campus, in fact walking on my 'bare' hooves had felt quite comfortable so far though it had been a little hard to balance on them at first. But walking all the way home on my toes... I certainly hoped my ankles were up to it.
I set out in the direction of home, passing by the hospital again on the way. It was even more swamped than before; I was glad I didn't seem to have any emergency needs. I guessed that any sort of authoritative answer about what had happened to me and everyone else would be a long time coming. I checked my watch and was surprised to see that it was only 8 o'clock; only two hours had passed since I'd changed. It had seemed longer than that somehow. Sighing and setting my jaw, I continued onward. I had left my backpack in the computer lab, but I certainly didn't intend to go back in there for it and I had wasted enough time already.
After several blocks I sighed again, this time in relief; I was leaving the bulk of the campus behind and entering a more suburban area without crowds. There were still a few intersections with frightened motorists yelling and blowing their horns at each other, especially at the intersection of 61st avenue and 111th street where a multi-car accident had blocked most of the road, but when I detoured down the side roads and pedestrian paths around them things looked almost normal. I could still hear the commotion clearly, a symptom of my enlarged ears no doubt, and an occasional car would drive past with a desperate half-human at the wheel, but I could let those things fade into the background and focus my attention on some heavy thinking.
Since I didn't have a clue where to start I didn't bother pondering the hows and whys of my transformation; I was more concerned with the whats. What, exactly, had happened to me? Some of it was pretty obvious, of course; I spent a while continuing to run my hands over my head and body, exploring every detail I could reach while still maintaining both my pace and my ublic decency. But many other less obvious changes had taken place as well, like my unusually acute hearing for example. I found that I could rotate my ears to some degree, like antennae attempting to locate a signal, and noted that their range of motion fit quite well within the bordering curl of my horns.
My other senses were noticeably different too, on closer examination. I discovered that I was possibly slightly nearsighted. It wasn't particularly noticeable, really, but I might have to get my vision corrected again. In compensation my field of view was much wider, even with the annoying obstructions of my muzzle and the tips of my horns blocking parts of it. I couldn't be sure, but my sense of smell also seemed more acute; either that, or everyone had chosen today to mow their lawns and set their cars on fire. I guessed that it was all probably consistent with the senses of real bighorn sheep, it seemed a reasonable enough assumption. In fact, the only things that didn't seem consistent with my being an anthropomorphic sheep were my almost completely ordinary hands and the thick woolliness of much of my body hair. I had just now remembered that the bighorn sheep I had seen in the rockies had had straight brown fur, not curled white stuff.
Minor details, I told myself. Real bighorn sheep don't walk on their hind legs or think about Star Trek either, and I'm doing that right now. I idly wondered what sort of animals the cast of Deep Space 9 would most likely turn into. Then I wondered if they really had turned into animals, and realized that if they had it would screw up the production of the show completely. "Damn."
That speculation abruptly brought the seriousness of the situation into clear view; this inexplicable change might very well have affected huge areas all over the globe. I would normally have expected to know if a catastrophe of such size had happened, but how could I tell by myself without the media's help? I picked up my pace slightly, breaking into a trot. I felt a suddenly renewed need to watch the news channel.
I spent the rest of the trip worrying about the broader implications of what might be going on. If it was widespread enough, the government wouldn't have the resources to send help everywhere; if things broke down here, we might be on our own to hold it all together. That was quite a scary thought, since I was one of the victims myself and I didn't have any idea what to do about it. My fears were slightly allayed as I passed Southgate mall; far from being the focus of yet another disordered mob, the parking lot was nearly empty. It could simply be because the mall wouldn't open until 10 o'clock and no one had been here when the change hit, but even so I half-expected to see looting.
In fact, on closer examination there was a looter; I saw a lone, furtive, red-furred figure carrying a VCR or something similar from the mall to his car. I stopped to stare at him, along with a few other passers by, and when he noticed us he suddenly seemed overcome with embarrassment. I think he almost turned around to put his stolen goods back! But instead he got into his car and drove recklessly away, and the small group of observers dispersed with snorts of derision and much shaking of heads. I felt the same way; what kind of idiot stole a VCR at a time like this? I moved on.
As I approached my house I started to become nervous again, though for a different reason. There were no apparent differences in the local conditions here; this neighborhood had been affected too. My dad and my brother had probably been changed, then, and I was about to find out what they were. And they were going to find out what happened to me as well. It was very disconcerting to consider, but as I walked up to the front door everything seeming perfectly normal except for the clack of my hooves on the sidewalk. I hesitated, then opened the door and went in. "I'm home!" I called.
Princess tore excitedly up the stairs from the basement and scampered around my legs, sniffing at me with wide eyes and frantically wagging tail. I grinned and scratched her behind her ears; I didn't know if she recognized me since this was her reaction to virtually everyone that came to the door whether she knew them or not. But at least she wasn't afraid, and she was the wimpiest dog in existence as far as I knew. Then I heard someone coming down the stairs, and I temporarily lost all interest in Princess.
My dad was a rhinoceros. Thick grey skin was visible through the split seams of his office clothing; he must have had time to get dressed for work before the change hit. His feet were hoofed, and his massive hands were nearly so; everything about him was coarse and bulky and huge. His head was even more altered than mine, with a long muzzle and a huge horn rising from his snout. Two horns, actually; a small one was just behind the larger one in front. "Bryan?" He asked in a voice worthy of James Earl Jones.
I nodded numbly. "Yeah. Dad?"
He nodded back. "Well, at least you're safe. I was worried about you."
"Me too." There was an uncomfortable pause as we stood there examining each other; what else could one say under those circumstances? 'So you're a rhinoceros then?'
"Who is it?" A scared-sounding voice called quietly from upstairs.
"It's Bryan!" Dad called back, then spoke to me again. "Collin's changed too. Some sort of... canine, I don't know what exactly. Apparently, everyone's changed in some way. It's all over the news on ITV; it happened everywhere all at once."
"Dad?" Collin called again, sounding even more scared.
Dad sighed. "I'll be right back," he told me, and trudged back upstairs. I understood; Collin wasn't the most secure person at the best of times, he was probably a wreck right now. I doubted seeing me would help any, so I went downstairs to turn on the television. TNC was still on the air, despite the transformation of their anchor into an elk. I sat down to soak up as much information as was available.
It was true; whatever had happened, had happened all over the world. Everyone past puberty had changed into an animal to some degree, some more severely than others. My degree of change was above average, dad's even moreso, but we were both fairly lucky; some people had apparently changed all the way, including mentally. Like the other guy in the computer lab, I realized. I shuddered at the thought; the poor man must have lost his mind, and I had been right there when it happened. I resolved to keep a close watch on my own thought processes, just in case, though I didn't know what I could do if I found anything wrong...
I heard movement upstairs, and then dad and Collin came down to the living room. I went to the doorway and looked in; Collin saw me and started. "Bryan?" He asked nervously. I nodded. He was indeed a canine of some sort, with large erect ears and a slender muzzle, but I didn't immediately recognize the species. He seemed less drastically changed than dad or I, his basic shape remained human under that fur. I was impressed with his self-control, even though it had now been about four hours since the Change I would have expected him to still stay hidden in his room.
"I'm going to call mom," he said as he reached for the phone.
"I doubt you'll be able to reach Ottawa, even the local lines are overloaded," I warned him as he dialled. As I had expected, he listened for a few seconds and then hung up.
"I'll try again in a few minutes," he said and sat in the armchair to wait, leaning forward slightly to keep from kinking his tail. I was doubly impressed; he was obviously scared, but he retained control of his emotions. That wasn't like him.
Things seemed reasonably under control, so I went up to my room to change into a shirt that would actually fit over my head. Fortunately I had one, and fortunately my tail was short enough that I didn't have to worry about cutting a hole in the seat of my pants, so in short order I was dressed almost normally again. I couldn't see myself wearing socks, though.
I went back downstairs to try to get more details from the TV. I briefly tried logging on to the internet, for all I knew there might even have been a newsgroup about the change already created by now, but I couldn't even connect to the university server. It was probably down, or else far too busy if it wasn't. I briefly considered asking dad to try his freenet account, but it was probably in even worse shape and he was busy upstairs talking with Collin in any case. I would have to settle for the news.
There wasn't much new news since last I'd checked. All I learned was that a state of emergency had been declared, that most of the military was working to supplement local authorities, and that although I could comfortably sit in the chair if my tail was tucked neatly, I couldn't cross my legs because my thighs weren't long enough any more. It kept me on the edge of the seat, though.
I was fascinated by the incredible variety of body shapes that went by on the television, they covered almost every class of vertebrate and the degree ranged from fuzzy humans to nearly indistinguishable from the normal animal (though the size of people that had changed into very small animals was often scaled up). Many of those who had completely changed had lost their minds; I remembered the bull back at the university again and shuddered again. I wondered if they were somehow aware of what had happened to them, or if they were really just "gone".
So it went for several hours, with much speculation but no solid answers. I finally gave in to curiosity during that time, and went to the bathroom to strip completely and get a good look at myself. The feeling is hard to describe. Without clothing, I was simply an unfamiliar humanoid animal; it was both disturbing and exciting to contemplate, and I didn't exactly understand the reasons behind those emotions myself. I spent a long time in there and would have spent longer if the power hadn't failed around one o'clock; there were no windows in the bathroom, so I scrambled to get dressed and back outside where there was light.
Fortunately the power only stayed off for half an hour, though ITV suffered from fatal technical difficulties afterwards. Collin finally managed to get through to mom, and we learned that she was an ocelot. That was very hard for me to imagine, I must admit. Mostly we just sat tight and waited, trying to get used to our new bodies and hoping things would get sorted out on their own because there wasn't much we could do about it ourselves.
Eventually, we began to get hungry. This was a rather more complicated issue that it ordinarily would have been, since we didn't know what we were supposed to be able to eat any more. I suggested simple experimentation, since although we didn't have an incredibly wide variety of food in the house there was enough to make a balanced meal with all four food groups represented. We would try it all and see what tasted okay.
It was almost a disappointment when dad and I found the meat to be quite good, and Collin had no complaints about the vegetables either. I had half-expected us to be limited to liking our "racial" food sources (though I knew that many canines were omnivores, so in Collin's case it wasn't much of a surprise). I did discover that my tastes were somewhat different, though. For example, I usually found celery bland and stringy but now it was quite appealing and tasty. I ate quite a lot of it.
Afterwards, we went back to watching TV. ITV was still having problems, so I switched to TNC; their coverage was more global in any case. I laughed when I saw that the president had turned into a bald eagle morph; it was too appropriate somehow. I wondered if the prime minister was a beaver, or if the Russian president was a bear; that would surely indicate some sort of non-random determination of species. It later turned out not to be the case, which was fortunate in a way; I couldn't figure out any reason why I would have been "chosen" to turn into a bighorn sheep. I had never displayed any sheep-like tendencies before, as far as I knew, bighorned or otherwise. Dad and I also spent a lot of time discussing the change, and as the resident biology expert I was put in the hotseat a lot. It was frustrating to have to answer everything with "I don't know" or "I wouldn't accept or reject that yet", but I felt a duty to approach this scientifically. And the entire body of scientific knowledge had so far never even hinted at anything like this.
Later that day, I began to realise my stomach felt strangely unsettled. Not queasy or ill, but definitely unsettled. I wondered if perhaps I shouldn't have tried eating meat after all, even though it had tasted fine at the time; I could have waited a few days until there was some sort of official advisory about herbivore-morph diets, at least. I went up to the bathroom again, wondering if I should now risk trying pepto-bismol as well. I didn't think that was wise, even if I really had felt like throwing up; if meat was potentially bad for me, then pharmaceuticals were right out. I tensed my diaphragm experimentally to see how sick I really was.
Without any extra effort or fanfare, I promptly threw up. Or so it seemed; a wad of food came up my throat and I spat it out into the sink in disgust. It was some of the celery I'd stuffed myself with earlier... and nothing else. I didn't even taste bile or stomach acid; it was simply a warm saliva-soaked mass of pre- chewed celery. I was suddenly struck by an absurd possibility; could this be cud? "Oh yuck," I muttered disbelievingly, "that's gross."
I tried tensing my diaphragm again, and easily brought another wad up my throat; this time I hesitated to spit it out right away. It didn't taste bad, though it had a somewhat unpleasant texture. Gross, I repeated to myself. But I had to see. With an expression of incredulity and revulsion, I slowly began to chew. Ick, it actually tasted good. I spit that mouthful out, too. I might have to learn to live with it... but not right now. I cleaned out the sink and resisted the urge to bring up any more.
I ended up learning to live with it later that evening. The sensation of having a stomach full of unchewed cud slowly became more and more uncomfortable, sort of like a strange reverse hunger, and I had nothing else to keep my mind occupied. Eventually I went back to the bathroom and spat out all the celery I had so happily wolfed down earlier that day, berating myself from eating so much of it. However, I noticed that I didn't bring up any of the meat or other non-vegetable foods that I had tried; in a way it was almost the exact opposite of what I had expected to result from my experiment. On the other hand, it was probably better this way. The concept of "meat cud" made me even queasier than bringing up the vegetable stuff had.
The rest of the day continued without incident, and though I was getting quite hungry I skipped supper. I didn't want to try falling asleep with unchewed cud in my stomach, or do anything else with unchewed cud for that matter. Collin and dad didn't seem to be having any troubles themselves, though dad didn't eat any meat this time around. Then I went to bed. Though I would normally have lay awake for hours thinking, I was quite thoroughly worn out from the day's stress. Trying to get comfortable with those horns wasn't easy at first, they didn't even let the back of my head touch the pillow, but at least with the way they were curled they didn't really get in the way much. I quickly fell asleep.
The next few days were remarkably boring, all things considered. All my classes were cancelled, and would probably stay that way for a long while. Dad also didn't have to go to work, since the department of Western Economic Diversification was hardly a vital government agency in a time like this. We basically just hung around the house soaking up as much information as we could, waiting for things to sort themselves out. I tried going to the local library, but that was closed too.
Fortunately the telephone and internet services were slowly recovering and the news broadcasts were starting to become more helpful, at least as far as practical information went. There were still no good theories explaining what had happened, though crackpots abounded. I was living in "interesting" times, as the ancient Chinese curse would have called them. In a few places order had already been lost and in others it seemed on the verge of going.
On the other hand Edmonton itself was a fairly calm and orderly city, though there were small-scale disturbances scattered within it and the utilities were still a little unstable. I couldn't do much with my internet account, the modem connection time limit had been reduced to ten minutes due to the immense demand and despite that it was still always full, but I got what information I could pull down the line. The newsgroup alt.fan.furry alone had about 18,000 new postings on it, most of them personal observations on being whatever particular species the poster had become. There were a lot of both disappointed and ecstatic furries out there.
But when it came to scientific theories about what had caused all this there was virtually nothing useful to be heard. One thing was clear, however; we would need to throw out most of the laws of physics and genetics that until now had served us very well. Silly little things like the conservation of mass/energy, conservation of momentum, Mendelian inheritance, and so forth. And I had just started to think we understood how the universe worked fairly well, too. Bummer.
Eventually I began to get bored. I'm not sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I certainly didn't want to sit around the house just watching the TV any more. After tidying my room and doing some other household chores, I tried mowing the lawn and discovered in the process that grass tasted quite good to me now. I wouldn't want to eat much of it, though, since it was fibrous vegetable matter such as that which gave me cud. I had figured out which foods would bypass my rumen on their first trip down so I could avoid those that didn't. As a result I no longer had to worry about having the urge to bring up cud every time I tried to relax.
Housework didn't help much, though; I felt like ranging farther afield. So I drove down to Heritage mall to look for some replacements for the shirts that I could no longer wear due to my horns. More comfortable pants would help, as well. As I had expected the demand for new clothing was very high and there wasn't much selection left. But I did manage to find a few suitable button-up shirts, a pair of pants large enough to fit nicely with a little home tailoring, and a good pair of shorts too. I usually didn't wear shorts, but they seemed very practical now; they weren't picky about the shape of the wearer's legs.
Later, I wandered down to the University again looking for something more to do. The library there was open, but not surprisingly all the good reference material on vertebrates was already in use and there were long lineups waiting for them. I didn't have the patience to wait, so I decided to try getting on the internet from one of the computer labs. I thoughtlessly headed over to the BioSci building.
Oops. I had done my best to forget what had happened here, despite it featuring in nightmares that had left me panting in terror when I woke, but as I walked down the hall I remembered that my favorite computer lab had been destroyed. Drawn by morbid curiosity, and with a certain sense of uneasy dread, I went to the lab's door and stepped inside to have a look. The mad bull was gone now, but the evidence of his rampage was still here; there was a huge pile of smashed desks and computers pushed against one wall, waiting for a proper removal, and the walls were heavily gouged. Around the sides of the room the few terminals that had survived and been salvaged had been set up, and all were already occupied. I walked in anyways, looking at the half-cleaned-up devastation in a bit of a daze. I think I must have been behaving a little odd, since several people stopped typing and watched me nervously.
There, partly buried under a pile of splintered wood, was my backpack. I pulled it out of the rubble and brushed it off, holding it tightly. Ever since I got my initial panic under control during the Change I had remained stoic and controlled, but now I felt tears burning in my eyes. I guess it felt a bit like I had found my own corpse, the last remnant of my old familiar life. Nobody in the room spoke but by now they were all watching me; I left hastily in embarrassment. It was very unsettling.
I got a grip on myself reasonably quickly. The past was irrelevant, I told myself, only the future really mattered. I went up to try the fourth-floor computer lab instead. It was full too, though it normally would have been even before the Change. Giving up on the internet again for the moment, I sat in the hall to think about what to do next and to watch the people walk by. People-watching was a fascinating pastime since the Change had hit. I never got enough of the weird and wonderful variety of forms that we all had now. I still hadn't become completely used to my own altered body yet, either; it was just as fascinating.
But that still didn't cure my sense of restlessness and boredom, I wanted to do something. Something that was actually important and useful. And watching the activity of the researchers rushing around gave me an idea. I went over to the Department of Biological Sciences student services desk, and when I called for assistance a high-degree otter came. He was wearing nothing but his thick, sleek fur, and although I still did my best to maintain my own modesty I had already begun to not notice when other people didn't. In fact, I thought he probably looked better that way.
"Hi," I told him, "I'm only a second-year genetics student, but I was wondering if any of the professors needed, you know, lab assistants or something."
The otter laughed. "Depends on a whole lot of things, and considering this mess it may be a while before they're all sorted out. Have you worked in any labs before? Do you have an application?"
I sighed and rubbed my horns; I could have sworn I felt them throbbing slightly in anticipation of the bureaucratic stress- headache. "I just want to know which labs could use an extra pair of hands," I told him.
"Okay," the otter replied abruptly, and rummaged around briefly for a piece of paper. "Try Dr. Pilgrim, room G-518. He's doing something about crossreferencing old gene libraries with the new ones we're getting, he'll probably agree if you ask him. Say Jerry sent you."
Surprisingly, it was as simple as that. I asked Dr. Pilgrim for a job, and he immediately gave me one without even asking for any forms or details beyond what I provided up front. He seemed to be at a loss for a while as to what specifically I should be doing beyond just generally 'working'. But since everyone else in the lab had lost at least some manipulative ability to the change, not the least of which was Dr. Pilgrim himself with his mitten-like flippers, there were a lot of things I could do better than the others purely on account of my completely human- like hands. I didn't mind that it was all just manual labor, considering that with only a second-year undergraduate education there wasn't much else I was good for yet.
As the one-week anniversary of the Change approached, however, I began to start having a few difficulties. I seemed to be coming down with some sort of flu, and it was fortunate that I didn't need to concentrate to do most of the tasks I was given. I didn't have a fever or anything, but my digestive system was having a very bad time. I will spare the details, suffice to say that I ended up rushing to the bathroom a lot more often as the days wore on and my stomach was constantly rumbling just on the edge of pain. I eventually managed to make a brief appointment with a doctor despite the huge backlog of people wanting to see him. Going to a doctor for a seemingly simple problem like this was not something I would have done before the Change, but I felt it prudent considering that I had no idea what sort of diseases bighorn sheep could get.
All it took was one question to find out what was wrong, and I didn't like the answer. "I've seen this a lot in moderately changed ruminants like yourself over the past few days," the doctor told me. "Simply put, I think you need a lot more natural fiber in your diet. Grasses would be ideal, but leaves and such could also work."
"No way," I said. "That gives me cud." The doctor just stood silently, and after a moment I sighed in defeat. I didn't need him to spell it out, and I guess I was mature enough to accept it; cud-chewing was something I would probably have to live with despite my general disgust with the idea. I wasn't completely human any more, and my new body needed a balanced diet.
Bleah. It was somewhat degrading getting used to it, but after only a few days I was feeling much better. Not only did my intestines get back to normal, but my stomachs felt much fuller after eating a mixed meal than after a purely non-ruminating one. And I have to admit, my reluctance was all psychological; cud actually tasted okay.
I still say bleah, though.
Despite the fact that the change in diet quickly solved my intestinal problem, I worked in the lab for only another week after that. Now that I could pay full attention to it, I realized that my job was still somehow unsatisfying; I sometimes felt that Dr. Pilgrim and the rest were only humoring me, giving me pointless makework when there wasn't enough real work that could use my nimble fingers. It got quite frustrating, and finally I confronted Dr. Pilgrim and asked him outright whether I was actually needed or not. The question seemed to confuse him, but when I pressed him for a straight answer he told me I wasn't. That was okay; I wanted to look for something real to do, and I guess there wasn't anything here for me.
The next day my strange restlessness was even worse. I didn't regret leaving the lab; I had important things to do. I wasn't exactly sure what they were, but I could now look for them freely. I decided to get some more shopping done, and see what came up. The trip to Heritage mall was uneventful, as was the shopping, but on the way back home I kept having trouble. Even though the route was utterly familiar, I kept feeling like I was going in the wrong direction for the entire trip. I ended up taking several wrong turns based on that faulty gut feeling before finally getting there. Dad commented on how twitchy I was behaving, and I certainly couldn't argue. It was very difficult falling asleep that night.
Despite getting to bed very late I woke early the next morning, and after failing in a heroic effort to fall back asleep I got up and quietly dressed. If anything I was even more restless than I had been yesterday, and the day hadn't even really started yet. I needed to find something to do. I quickly ate breakfast; toast and willow leaves, with a bit of parsley for added taste when breakfast came back for more chewing later (bleah).
Finishing breakfast, I began to roam the house picking up stuff to take with me when I went out; for some reason I felt like I might be gone for a while. I figured I'd try for a library again, and also do a bit more shopping. Dad was up too, getting ready to go back to work; his department's management had finally come up with some plans for helping to finance the huge number of new products that would undoubtedly be developed soon, and he had to go make sure they weren't being stupid about it. I stopped to talk with him for a moment before leaving, unsure of what to say but feeling the need to say something important.
"Uh... I'm going out for a while and I might be some time, I've got to go someplace," I said, then nervously cleared my throat and rubbed my throbbing horns. Why was I so stressed by this? And what was I talking about, anyways? "Please don't worry, okay? I..."
Dad nodded his massive head understandingly. "Okay. But keep in touch, all right?" I nodded back, went out, and got in my car to drive to Heritage mall.
When I got there, I didn't feel like stopping. By that afternoon I was in Calgary.
As I checked into the motel that evening, I must admit to a certain amount of confusion. I didn't know why I was here, or where I was going, but I knew that it felt like I was doing the right thing. And dad hadn't seemed curious where I was going either. Most strange.
I shrugged and put it out of my mind. I was here; I would rest tonight and then tomorrow I could move on. For now my nagging restlessness had been satisfied by the day's travel, and I needed to get something to eat. Despite the long drive, farther than I had ever driven by myself before, it was still not very late in the day. The motel was near a mall, so I decided to go for a walk to look for a restaurant. Many of the stores were still closed, though; regular hours of operation and life in general hadn't settled down yet after the Change.
Nor would it for a very long time, I mused, but at least life went on no matter how strange that life had become. I reflected on that as I searched for the food court, my hooves clicking on the tile floor; I hadn't worn shoes since the change, for example, and I realized that it was almost beginning to feel normal to me already. Unlike most of the others that had wound up with hooves I had no traction problems with the smooth tiles, my feet having features designed to help climb barren rock surfaces much more treacherous than this. I still missed the ability to feel much of the texture of the floor, but that was no different than if I had been wearing shoes.
It was the other people around me that seemed the strangest now, the myriad of alien forms and the subtle behavior patterns they exhibited. Many seemed to be carrying on as normally as possible, some out of healthy resilience and others out of rejection of what had happened. Others still seemed in a daze even after all this time, and I suspected that many of those were at least a little bit unbalanced. Even scarier were those which seemed, either psychosomatically or out of actual neurological change, to be exhibiting the instincts of their animal halves. I had had first-hand experience with an extreme case of that, and found the concept to be highly disturbing to say the least. The groups of herbivores that gravitated into small temporary 'herds' weren't terribly threatening, though I carefully guarded myself against any urges to join them that I might suddenly experience. The predators that watched everyone predatorily were a more obvious source of concern...
The clothing people wore was almost as diverse as their bodies. Some of the dramatically changed were forced to wear inexpertly tailored patchworks in order to have clothes that fit, while others wore little or nothing at all. Fortunately, despite my highly altered leg structure, I was still able to wear normal jeans on them.
I found the food court, and was pleased to discover that many of the food stores were open. In fact, someone had set up a crude information booth with a sign reading 'dietary advice', manned by a somewhat tired-looking low-degree bird morph of some sort. I didn't need any, my troubles having ended since I had reluctantly taken the doctor's advice to heart and switched to a more balanced diet that included cud-producing food. I had been aided by the sharp increase in meat prices since the Change, above and beyond the increase in the cost of the other food groups. It was understandable considering the existence of exclusively carnivorous people now, and the fact that meat required more resources to produce and process than vegetable matter.
I bought a bowl of soup, and a salad containing clover and the stems from some other unidentified plant in addition to the more conventional vegetables. I hadn't figured out yet whether such additions were really useful, or merely a way for the restaurant to pad out a costly salad with less expensive ingredients; I'm sure that before the Change there were restauranteurs who would have dreamed of having customers that willingly ate grass. I hadn't descended quite that far yet, though I was physically capable of it...
"Mind if I join you?" A young man carrying a tray asked as he stopped by my table. He was also a sheep morph, though of lesser degree than me; most obvious were the differences in his head, which was more humanlike than mine. In particular I noted that his horns were much smaller, not nearly as thick and not even making half of a complete curl. His specific morph species might also have something to do with it, he wasn't a bighorn like I was.
I took a moment to very carefully examine my mood before answering. I hadn't been able to look up any detailed references, they were constantly in use now, but I knew that rivalry between males was a big feature of bighorn life. Fortunately, I couldn't detect any inexplicable hostility or other unusual emotions in either of us, beyond the normal curiosity and caution present when confronting strangers. "...Okay, sure," I said at last, and the man sat down across from me.
"Thanks, my name's Vincent," he introduced himself. "Us sheep gotta stick together 'round here." I grinned slightly; if predators were going to succumb to any hunting instincts, the food court would be the appropriate place for it to happen. I didn't think for a moment that there was any real danger, of course. Things felt too well controlled around here for there to be trouble. I was more worried about herding instincts.
We chatted idly as we ate, comparing a few of our experiences of the Change. I'm not much of a conversationalist, but after a while I realized that the food court served as a social gathering place and so I tried to keep talking in that spirit. It was actually somewhat easier for me now than I suspect it would have been before the Change; I had noticed that since the Change I had become somewhat more open and outspoken with the people around me. I didn't know if it was due to the feeling of anonymity derived from having a perfect "disguise", or the fact that everyone was in much the same boat that I was, or even if it was due to an actual change in my neurochemistry, but I had decided that it was probably not a bad thing. It wasn't as if I had lost my mind after all.
Vincent's story wasn't particularly interesting, especially considering that I had gone through much the same or worse myself, but it was good to compare notes with people; back in Edmonton the only close friend of mine that had been in town at the time was Adam, and I hadn't been able to meet with him recently. He was a high-degree ferret now, and had become quite busy with other things. Adding the internet's incredible congestion on top of that resulted in me having very few people to talk to, so even a stranger such as Vincent was welcome. Even considering his apparent lack of any ideas of his own; I spent most of the conversation expounding my theories and having him nod in agreement. It was a good thing I liked presenting my ideas to people, or I wouldn't have enjoyed the conversation much.
Vincent must have not minded either, he stayed long after he had finished his own meal to continue listening to me while I finished mine (I'm a slow eater when I'm talking). By the time I was finished, though, I was getting quite tired and I had developed a throbbing headache and a dry throat from it all. I excused myself and parted company, buying a small coke and taking a walk through the less-crowded part of the mall to relax. Few stores were open now, as the hour was getting late, but even so I managed to stop at the drug store to pick up a few essentials that I had left behind in Edmonton. Once again I realized that I had been behaving rather strangely in spontaneously driving out here like this.
When I returned to my room to settle in for the night and rechew my salad, I promised myself that I would head home tomorrow. There was really no logical reason for me to be out here.
The next day I hit the road, and despite last night's resolution I found myself on the highway heading south. I couldn't help it; going back north just felt wrong. I'm sure there was a good reason for it, I just hadn't figured out what it was yet. I decided that I would ponder it as I proceeded on the trip.
Yesterday was the first time I had driven for any appreciable distance in my new form, and my highly altered feet made it feel strange using the pedals. My hooves were smaller than my old feet, making it easier to miss them entirely, and the fact that I was digitigrade made their arcs of motion completely different. Fortunately I hadn't even had any close calls yet, but I had still been quite eager to stop when I had reached Calgary as a result. Now that I was a little more used to long distance driving, I was able to focus more attention on other things today.
I thought about a lot of things. One of the ones foremost in my mind was the question why I was on this trip in the first place. I had the horrible sneaking suspicion that I might be discovering some sort of bighorn sheep instinct which was affecting me strongly; I couldn't remember if they were migratory or not, but that might be one explanation. I didn't really think so, however; the need to travel south felt more intellectual than gut-level. It was as if there was a perfectly good reason for me to be doing this, but I just couldn't remember what it was.
Oh well, I thought with resignation. If there's a good reason, I'm sure I'll figure it out sooner or later.
Shortly thereafter I arrived at the Canadian border, somewhat surprised at how quickly the time had flown. I pulled to a stop at the customs booth. "What's your business in America today?" a customs agent, apparently a baboon, asked me.
"Uh, um... just visiting, I guess," I stammered, caught off-guard despite my long period of thought on the subject. I hadn't thought of any good stories to cover my own lack of an answer to that question.
The customs agent obviously took my hesitation badly, and asked for my ID. I handed it to him, jaw clenched to keep myself from panting nervously. Local authorities in some areas had had to become quite strict in keeping order since the Change; I didn't know if this was one such area, and didn't want to risk making any trouble. The agent glanced at it, then asked "Do you have a new one with your picture on it?"
"But that does have a picture of me on it" I objected, an instant before realizing that my old picture didn't exactly match my new appearance.
The agent checked my ID again. Then, amazingly, he nodded and handed it back to me. "Of course, sorry about that," he apologized. "So, you're a Canadian citizen?"
"Yeah," I replied, a little confused.
"Alright, then, remember that everything's the same as it was before the Change. Do you have any Canadian oranges or other fruit with you?"
So it went, and after a few more questions he waved me through and I drove on into the United States. Then I pulled over at the nearest fuelling station to examine my ID for myself. The picture of me was unambiguously human; there was no way it could be mistaken for my sheeplike face. I rubbed my horns, a nervous habit I had picked up since the Change, and I tried to figure out what had just happened. For some reason, all I could think of was the scene from Star Wars where Obi Wan Kenobi had used the force to convince a squad of stormtroopers that "these aren't the droids you're looking for." Could it be that I...?
I had of course heard of the powers some people had developed since they had changed, even seen a few in operation here and there, but I had never seriously thought that I might have one myself. Now I wasn't so sure. I decided to test my theory, got out of the car, and went into the nearest convenience store. This close to the border they still took Canadian money, and I had an idea. I bought a sandwich for $2.99, and paid for it with a $5 bill. That is a $10 bill, I thought at the cashier, trying to put the force of my will into it. She rung up the sale and gave me my change. I counted it carefully.
It was only $2, not $7 as it would have been had I been able to convince her of the higher denomination. I didn't know if I was disappointed or relieved; on the one hand it hadn't worked, but on the other I realized that I had in effect just tried to steal $3. I know that $3 wasn't much, but I would still have felt guilty about it if I'd succeeded. I was funny that way.
Still, I thought that I must have done something to that customs agent's perceptions. And as I thought back, there had been a series of events since the Change that weren't individually that puzzling but which together now appeared to be a pattern. People had been agreeing with me too much. I hadn't really noticed it until now, it hadn't seemed strange compared to everything else that had been going on lately.
It seemed I hadn't yet figured out everything that had happened to me, and I wondered what else I might have somehow overlooked. I would have to work it out as I went, I decided. I got back out on the road, headed deeper into the U.S.
The event had left me with even more uncertainties and questions, but at least now I had a sandwich.
By about three o'clock that afternoon my urge to travel quietly relaxed; it seemed that I wasn't in much of a rush to get wherever I was going, though I still wanted to maintain a steady pace. The long drive through Montana had given me lots of time to think, and travelling alone through big sky country gave me absolutely nothing to focus on except myself. I was becoming increasingly convinced that there was something wrong with me, since I simply couldn't figure out why I was out here. I knew that in theory I could decide to turn around and go home at any time, there were no mental barriers to stop me, but for some reason it just wasn't an acceptable option. I hoped I would be able to figure it out when I found a motel and stopped for the night.
As for my potential power, there was very little I could do to test it while on the road. I did manage to come up with a number of hypotheses based on what I could remember about possible past uses, though. I was actually surprised that I hadn't noticed it until now. It seemed likely that I couldn't really telepathically control people, that what I actually did was somehow nullify their credulity. I would exert my power on someone, and then while I was doing that anything I told them would be taken as completely true. Or at least so it seemed; I would have to experiment to be sure.
I eventually pulled into Idaho Falls to find a place to stay for the night, having made very good time on the limitless interstates of Montana. I found a motel, ate a light meal at a nearby restaurant, and then I went to a local mall.
I was extremely careful in my experimentation, at first because I still wasn't sure that there really was a power at work when I tried to convince people of things that weren't true. I didn't want to be seen as a crackpot if there wasn't, so initially I stuck to telling people trivial and innocuous half-truths that wouldn't draw attention or seem out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, because of that they also didn't do much to confirm that I was able to force anyone to believe them.
However, as I slowly worked up my courage and progressed to more outrageous statements that should have been obviously untrue, I became convinced that I did indeed have some sort of power backing me up. I was actually able to go up to people, tell them I was a wallet inspector, and they would trustingly give me their wallets to "check"! I always gave them back immediately, but I could have just as easily walked off with them and told them not to worry about it.
I stopped experimenting at that point, my theory was confirmed and I definitely needed to do some heavy thought. As I considered the implications I actually became a bit frightened of my ability; I began to picture disastrous scenarios where a casual slip of the tongue caused people to hurt themselves or others, or simply screwed up their world view. I had no idea just how powerful this might turn out to be, and I was reluctant to test my limits beyond what I had already established. Could I convince someone to do something against their basic nature? Would people ever recover from what I made them believe? I didn't want to do what would be necessary to find that out.
Despite that, a small part of me was eager to indulge in a childish power trip. Anything in the mall was mine for the asking, and no one would even object. But the rest of me restrained that part, embarrassed to be thinking such objectionable thoughts; I was above all else a moral person, I told myself, and I wasn't about to turn into a supervillain because of this.
I shook my head at that thought, finding this kind of difficult to accept even though I had convinced my self that the effect was definitely there. I had a superpower. Me, a perfectly ordinary guy (discounting the horns, hooves, fur, and so on). Of course I had tried to levitate and throw fireballs after I had first heard rumors about such things being possible, but those hadn't been serious attempts. I mean, who would have taken it seriously?
As I wandered through the mall, having tested my ability to convince people as far as I dared, I wondered whether there was anything else I could do. I didn't seem to have any other psionic powers, I couldn't read minds or move things with my thoughts; I couldn't even send words to people, I had to talk to them verbally.
Well, how about other stuff? I pondered. Perhaps I have the mighty power to turn my hair pink at will. I didn't bother to test that one, I had tried it already when I first heard of superpowers; it had been kind of an in-joke between me and my friends from long before the Change. But I did hold a hand in front of me and tried to see if I could manage any other changes.
It happened so quickly that I barely had time to feel it; my mental 'push' broke a barrier that I had never known was there, and a strange sensation surged through my body like a torrent of water through a burst dam. My hips suddenly buckled, no longer able to hold me upright; I toppled forward, desperately throwing out my hands to break my fall. Before they could even make contact with the ground they changed into a pair of hooves. I landed on all fours with a jarring impact, legs splayed unsteadily to keep my balance.
It was my nightmare come instantly to life, the thing I had dreaded in the back of my mind since the day the universe Changed; I realized that I had somehow finished completely changing into an animal. Just as I had done when I first discovered myself growing horns weeks ago outside the computer lab, I completely freaked out.
Bleating and bucking in a blind panic, unable to even scream properly, I jumped wildly about in the mall's hallway. The people around me could still scream okay, and some of them did so as they scrambled to get out of my way. I lashed out wildly at anyone who got too close, I was completely out of control. The initial burst of mind-numbing terror took perhaps a minute to even begin to dissipate; I didn't have the presence of mind to time it very precisely. When I finally got enough of a grip to begin thinking again I found myself standing backed into a corner facing a large crowd of people (who kept a very respectable distance), shivering in fear and confusion.
The tableau remained frozen for a moment as I slowly tried to recover enough of my wits to think straight. Well? I finally asked myself, Have I lost my mind yet? Another long moment stretched out with no apparent answer. Well!? I demanded. Again, no answer presented itself. I began to realize that I was still thinking clearly, that I hadn't lost my mind, and that even the fear that gripped me was slowly being replaced with perfectly ordinary embarrassment.
Correction, it was being replaced with extraordinary embarrassment. I began to realize just what I'd done, and that everyone in the mall was now staring at me. I must have been blushing harder than I ever had before, and I was thankful that my fur probably hid it. Feeling extremely foolish, I tried to calm myself down enough to repeat the mental 'push' that had triggered this whole mess. It took a few tries to do it, I had to keep myself from panicking and trying too hard, but was finally composed enough to manage it and the feeling surged through me again. I was suddenly crouched on my hands and knees instead of standing on all fours.
My hands. It was such a wonderful thing to see them again that I didn't dare move, as if they might be an illusion that could be dispelled at any moment. But I couldn't stay on the floor forever, and everyone was still watching me. Panting and extremely unsteady, I struggled back to my feet. Or more specifically, back to my hooves; I was in my hybrid form again. I have never been so relieved as I was just then to be only part bighorn sheep.
"Uh, are you all right?" Someone asked, and I glanced up at the concerned crowd; some of them were cautiously coming closer now that I was apparently under control. A high-degree boar tried to offer support, but I was doing okay leaning against the wall for now.
"I'm okay," I mumbled, still out of breath. I desperately wanted to escape the embarrassment my little display had caused me, and quietly added "Please, go away."
"Did you lose control? Don't worry, it's happened to me before, too," the boar tried to coax me gently. I felt my embarrassment creep up another notch; I didn't need to be treated like a basket case.
"I'm okay," I said more forcefully. "Look, please leave me alone. I'm okay."
"Oh, good." the boar sighed with relief, and the crowd muttered in agreement. Then they began to disperse. Oh, crap. I realized. I must've accidentally put the whammy on them. I found it hard to get too upset about it, though, considering the circumstances. So I can also change into my 'norm' form, I thought dully. I'd actually heard that was a fairly common power, but it was one I'd never thought to try. I think I'll try to avoid that particular joy for now, though, thank you very much. I allowed myself to slide back to the floor in exhaustion, sitting against the wall to rest and think for a while.
It was then that I felt the cold tiles on my furry butt, and I realized I had split the seat of my pants when I'd changed. Bummer. I'd burst my fly and torn my shirt a little, too. After several minutes my panting was more under control and I had regained some of my strength, so I struggled back my feet again. At least I was already in a mall, so I should be able to get a new pair of pants easily enough; there was a department store just down the hall. I covered my rear as I walked toward it, not trusting my tail to provide totally adequate modesty. The crowd may have dispersed, but the bystanders were still watching me carefully, once again causing me acute embarrassment.
I found a suitable pair quickly enough, since I could still wear unmodified clothes if I needed to. But when I got to the checkout I realized that I didn't have enough money on me at the moment to pay for it. I hesitated, silently debating with myself over how to proceed. I now knew how to make the cashier think a one dollar bill was a twenty, or I could just tell the cashier I'd already paid for it... I shook my head firmly. I had more money back in the motel, I wasn't about to start stealing things. My fur would just have to serve me for the trip there and back.
By the time I got back to my room the second time around with a new pair of jeans, it was getting late and I was completely exhausted. But despite my exhaustion I had a hard time falling asleep that night, perhaps an even harder time than I had the first night after I Changed. I was simply too shaken up by the events of the day, unable to stop thinking about what had happened to me. And also what I now knew I could do, both physically and mentally.
Eventually, though, exhaustion won. And so ended another long day.
I was rudely awakened the next morning by the nightmare of being chased by the bull in the computer lab; this time there had been chains all over the floor, and I had kept tripping and falling to my hands and knees when I tried to run. I didn't stop shaking for several minutes after I woke until I had very thoroughly checked and convinced myself that I hadn't turned into an animal in my sleep. At least, I hadn't changed any further into one than I usually was. My shapeshifting experience last night had definitely unsettled me.
Fortunately, once I had finished waking up and had recovered from the residual fear, I managed to put the nightmare behind me again; I remembered that I had more important things to worry about at the moment. Despite everything that had happened yesterday I didn't want to give up on my quest, and my need to keep moving helped me focus.
Packing my meagre collection of travelling essentials, I grabbed breakfast from a drive-through and was on the open interstate again in no time. I didn't give myself time to think about my journey, I had already decided that this is what I wanted to do and I didn't want any doubts to distract me from my objective. I spent the time pondering my power instead.
There were a few specific powers that seemed to be fairly common, such as the ability of many bird morphs to fly despite their apparent bending of the laws of aerodynamics. And, of course, the ability to change into the normal animal form of whatever one's phenotype was. But other powers, such as the one that I seemed to have, were apparently much rarer. The statistics I'd heard so far claimed that anywhere from one in ten to one in a hundred had such extraordinary powers, though at this stage of the game no one had been able to do a very thorough survey of things, or even come up with widely accepted standards and definitions. My own personal estimate had been on the rare end of that range, but although I knew it was fallacious reasoning the fact that I had a power made me want to revise that upward. It worried me. Even with one in a hundred, could society possibly recover from this? If it did, I suspected that it would look a lot different from the way it did before. People like me would have to be regulated somehow. I didn't like the sound of that, but it was probably true.
I decided that it would probably be in my best interests to keep quiet about my power. All the possible legal problems aside, I suspected that if people I met knew that I could alter their thoughts at will they wouldn't be able to avoid feeling uncomfortable around me. I know I certainly wouldn't, were the situation reversed, and even with the situation the way it was I kind of agreed with them. I'd always been a strong believer in freedom of thought and expression, despite the fact that I very often thought that most people out there were totally wrong. I didn't want to force anyone to think differently.
That was assuming I wasn't completely overreacting, of course, and blowing my possible capabilities out of proportion. It could turn out that my ability caused only a superficial, temporary effect; I would feel a lot more comfortable using it if that was the case. It could even be fun, a guilty fun perhaps, but at least harmless in the long run. I wondered if Vincent still believed all the stuff I told him back in Calgary...
Sheesh. considering some of the wild speculation I'd indulged in, I really hoped not. If I wasn't careful I could start a religion or something.
By the end of the day I was feeling much better. I drove long and hard, reaching all the way to Las Vegas before becoming too tired to drive farther, and managing to leave most of my troubled thoughts behind in the process.
Las Vegas was indeed an incredible city. By the time I arrived at the outskirts the sun had already set and the sky was glowing with citylight; I had never been to a place quite like it. The strip was still lit as flashily as ever, I doubted that they had turned the lights off even for the Change itself. Of course, having just discovered mind control powers the previous day, several obvious ideas promptly came to mind; I just as promptly chuckled and discarded them. However, after grabbing a bite to eat and a little rest in my small hotel room, I decided to visit a casino or two anyways. Just to have a look around and be able to say I'd been there.
Amazingly, it was in the casinos that I found the first reassuring evidence that society could return to some semblance of order despite the disruption of the Change. The crowd seemed very thin, at least compared to my limited memory of what I had seen on TV before, but many of the games were up and running. The few operating slot machines had signs that warned they had "telekinesis alarms" installed, the house rules for the card games till running had been subtly altered to try taking ESP and telepathy into account, and scattered here and there were staff members which I suspected were telepaths themselves. I wondered if it were even possible for me to use my power in here; for all I knew, they'd figured out how to jam that sort of thing already.
Although I didn't intend to try anything, I left the casinos very quickly; I didn't want anyone rummaging around in my head. Even if it turned out that I could jam telepathy myself, I probably didn't know how to do it yet and I wasn't keen to practice. Las Vegas offered many other sights to see besides casinos, and I wanted to see what I could tonight; tomorrow I would be moving on and I didn't know when I'd next have the chance.
I also wondered if many of those sights would be able to remain open for much longer; despite the apparent adaptations the casinos had made, it seemed to me like too much effort for too little business. I suspected that even if powers could be easily neutralized, until solid facts and theories could be established the mere possibilities would be enough to scare people off. How did the gamblers know the house wasn't telepathically cheating? I was surprised there were as many people still playing as there were, once I thought about it. I guess it's hard to break old habits and behaviors, even (or especially) after a change as big as this.
I was quite groggy the next morning, I hadn't yet given myself time to fully recover from the incident at the mall two days ago and had been running mostly on adrenaline ever since. But I forced myself to get up; I felt that I must be getting close to my goal, and I didn't want to stop now. I barely even wondered what my goal was any more, it was hard enough work to keep my eyes open while I got back on the road again without wasting energy on thoughts like that. The road that headed in the direction I wanted to go wasn't an interstate, it was too small and poorly travelled for that. I must be getting close if something like this led to my goal.
Once I was on the move and settled back into familiar routine, I was able to wake up a little more fully and have a light breakfast snack as I drove. The terrain wasn't very rough, the most it could really be described as was "hilly"; I was travelling through the heart of the Rocky Mountain's central plateau now. It was very arid out there, and I was very glad I was only passing through. I didn't like deserts even before the Change and now there was added unpleasantness from thinking about the grass and scrub out there as something I might try to eat. Yuck. I had tried hay only once since the change, and I couldn't understand how anyone could eat something that dry...
I rapidly blinked and shook my head in an attempt to clear it; I had almost nodded off there. My ears twitched nervously as I realized what might have happened if I had, I was driving pretty fast. But fortunately I had caught myself in time, and after a scare like that I knew I would be more attentive in the future. I rubbed my muzzle blearily, trying to dispel the last of my drowsiness.
It worked, for a while. I managed to get quite a ways into southern California until finally, in a moment of inattentiveness, I drifted too far onto the shoulder. I hit something an instant later, and suddenly I was struggling to keep control of the car as it shuddered and tried to swerve off into the ditch. I was was wide awake now, of course, but it was too late.
I have no idea how I managed it. All I really remember was a mind-numbing instant of terror, and then I found myself sitting in a stationary car. It was off the side of the road, tilted to the right as it rested halfway into the ditch. I had a death grip on the steering wheel, my hoof was rammed down hard on the brake pedal, and I was panting like I had just run a marathon. I wished I could still sweat properly, I was getting lightheaded from the heavy breathing alone.
It took me several minutes to calm down to the point where I could let go of the wheel and try to get out of the car to inspect the damage. I was extremely wobbly on my legs, my difficulty standing exacerbated by the relatively small size of the hooves I was trying to stand on; I had become used to my new legs under most normal situations, but I was still not a natural at it. I let go of the side of the car to try standing on my own, and fell to my hands and knees. Now would definitely be a good time to be four-footed again, I thought to myself...
I grabbed the side of the car and pulled myself to my feet, propelled by a surge of panic. My God, what am I thinking!? I demanded hysterically. Leaning heavily against the car, I struggled to keep calm and fully consider my situation. I did not want to turn into an animal, especially not out here alone in the wilderness! If I lost it and wandered off, I might never be rescued. I suddenly felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice and had been momentarily tempted to step off it.
"Okay. It's over now. Calm. Calm." I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was going to be fine, all I had to do was see what had happened and if I could get the car back on the road. Walking around to the other side of the car, I winced at the damage. Both tires were flat, and hung in midair over the ditch. I had hit some sort of metal post from the looks of things; the front corner of the car had a good-size notch in it, though it didn't seem to have hit the radiator. I knelt down and looked at the underside of the car, and then grunted in dismay. It looked like the stump of the post had torn a lot of stuff up as I'd driven over it, and though I knew virtually nothing of car mechanics it didn't look good at all. I realized that the engine had stopped at some point after the impact, it might very well be dead. An attempt to restart the engine confirmed it.
I stood back up and surveyed the highway in both directions. There wasn't another car in sight, and I hadn't passed many while I'd been driving; I might have to wait a while for help to come by. I wasn't desperate enough to try walking out, at least not yet. I pounded a fist on the hood in frustration. I was so close! I felt that it must be only a few hour's drive now to wherever it was that I was headed. I gave the battered car a kick, my cloven hoof eaving a pair of satisfying dings in the already-dented metal, then dejectedly sat down and leaned against it. At least I wasn't seriously hurt, I sighed. Then I rubbed the root of my hoof, realizing that I'd probably bruised it when I'd given the car that kick.
I tried to get comfortable while I waited for someone to show up.
I was awakened by the sound of a car pulling off the side of the road near me, not even aware that I had fallen asleep until I was fully alert again. Yawning, I pulled myself to my feet and limped stiffly over to see who had stopped.
The driver was a very large man, probably some sort of bear morph; there was no one else in the car. He stuck his head out the window and called "Hey, there! Need some help?"
"Could I ever! I'm afraid I've got myself stranded out here. I really need a lift, it isn't far..."
The man fumbled with the passenger side door for a moment, obviously having difficulty operating the latch with his large clawed hands, and then pushed it open. "Hop in," he invited.
I smiled and thanked him as I hurried over and climbed aboard. I was only momentarily concerned about the possibility that the bear-man might be some sort of psycho; no matter how physically imposing he was, I felt reasonably confident that if he tried to kill or rob me I could just use my power and tell him that he couldn't do that. I suspected he wasn't too worried about me either, considering that he probably out-massed me by a factor of three or four and had great big claws and fangs to boot. I decided not to warn him, though; if he found out what I could do he'd probably dump me and take off as fast as he could.
"So, where you headed?" He asked jovially.
I gestured vaguely ahead of us. "That way. I'm actually not too sure myself, but it's not far and I'll know when I get there."
The man nodded. "Yeah, I've heard there're a lot of folks like that since the big change."
I perked up, suddenly very interested. "Really? Do you know where I'm going, then?"
He laughed. "Nah, I just meant lots of people have taken the opportunity to cut their ties and move on to find a new place in life. I guess I've done a bit of that myself; I figured I had to build a new life for the new me. Not easy, that. Yourself?"
"Actually, I don't think that's what I'm doing. I just need to head south, there's something important about it but I can't remember what it is." I rubbed a horn in puzzlement. I had put the problem out of mind for the past little while, and had come no closer to solving it...
The bear just nodded. "Fair enough. I can take you as far as you want to go."
I frowned, suddenly suspicious of how easily he'd accepted an explanation that even I didn't really buy. "Aren't you curious why I need to travel?" I asked him.
"A bit, I guess. But it's more important that I just get you there, isn't it?"
I realized I had been using my power on him without even noticing it, and grimaced as I mentally berated myself over it. After I was done that, I carefully asked him where he had been headed before he picked me up.
"Los Angeles," he replied. "I'm going to visit some relatives up that way, assuming I can find them. Things got pretty messed up in some parts out there, I hear."
I sighed in relief; he was headed in about the same direction I was, it wouldn't be a big imposition if I tagged along at least for a while. I was certain that wherever I was going, it was closer than Los Angeles. I decided to leave things alone for now. I took a tight rein on my power and directed the conversation onto harmless topics just in case I slipped again. We drove onward.
Several long hours later we entered hillier terrain, and I began to get very edgy. I could tell, I was almost there! It was as if Shangri-la might be just around every obscuring bend in the road, just waiting to burst into view.
My companion (whom I had learned was named Terrence) was getting pretty edgy too, but at first I thought it was simply a reaction to my own mood. We had stopped talking some time back and the tense silence was stretching to the breaking point. At last it broke, and Terrence blurted "I'm sorry!"
"Wha--?" I began to ask in confusion, but I was cut off as he slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. We came to a stop and I watched him carefully as he sat there, breathing heavily and staring at the road ahead.
"I can't go on," he said at last. "I just can't. I'm not supposed to be here."
I resisted the urge to order him to continue driving, he was obviously in distress for some reason. "I have to go on," I explained instead.
Terrence nodded. "I know. Look. How about this..." He unbuckled his seat belt and began pawing at the door handle. "You take the car and go on, I can stay here. Hell, I can walk back to the filling station we just passed; that was just a few minutes ago."
It had actually been more like half an hour, but there had been other houses since then. He was a big guy, I didn't think he'd have trouble on his own out here. Then I realized what I was thinking and put a stop to it; I was letting this silly need to override all other considerations. I activated my power and told him "Actually, you can continue on this way. You're allowed to."
But instead of recovering from his reluctance, the expression of conflict only worsened. "No, I can't," he protested. "I can't go this way. I don't want to stay behind, but I can't."
I sighed. I didn't understand what the problem was, but I could see it was causing Terrence a lot of trouble and so I decided to relent. Still using my power to enforce my words, I said "Okay, you don't have to come along. Don't worry about it, I'll be fine. And you can trust me with your car, too; I'll return it as soon as I can." That last statement really was the truth, even though I was forcing Terrence to accept it; I wasn't about to steal someone's car like that, I assured myself that I was only borrowing it. I'd definitely arrange to have it returned to him soon.
Terrence smiled, the conflict gone. "Good, I was a little worried about that. But you have to travel somehow, I guess." I smiled back as he finally got the door open and climbed out, and I switched over to the driver's seat. It took me a moment to readjust it for my smaller frame, then we said our goodbyes and I pulled back onto the road and left him behind.
I would be very glad when I had finally settled this and I could go home again. This trip had become quite a burden. But all that was quickly forgotten only a few minutes later, my vigor renewed by the sight of a small sign on the side of the road; "Morrisville, population 500." I finally knew that this was where I had been drawn to over the past week, and that I would finally find the reason why I had dropped everything to come here. The road twined past one final curve through the hills, and I saw the first houses. I had arrived.
As with most such small towns, Morrisville was largely built around the main road through it. I cruised slowly down that road first, observing the place carefully. There wasn't much traffic, but there were some people and parked cars about; the place certainly wasn't deserted. On the other hand I was drawing a fair amount of scrutiny from the populace that I passed, suggesting a lack of visitors. Some of the people who saw me seemed almost fearful. I definitely got the feeling that something strange was up, but I had trouble putting a finger on it.
As I continued out past the far side of town, I got my final confirmation: I felt the urge to turn around and head back. I was now sure that this town was where I wanted to be. I wondered if I should simply leave, resist the urge and go home. I felt certain that I could, I was getting quite sick of the whole thing. But if I did, then I would never find out what had caused me to come so far. The curiosity would drive me crazy.
I drove back into town, and looked for a good place to park. I chose the motel, it had vacancies and I had been practically living in places like it since leaving home. I parked and walked to the front desk, enduring the inscrutable stare of the people that watched me from their rooms. I could tell that they knew something. I wanted to grab one by the shoulders and shake him until he told me something, but I suspect that wouldn't have been the best thing to do under the circumstances. The tension was palpable, and highly infectious.
And then I finally put my finger on at least one source of the place's strangeness. I hadn't realized it until now, but since coming into town I hadn't seen a single carnivore. Or avian. Or anything, in fact, except other sheep. There were male and female, high degree and low, exotic and common phenotypes. But they were all definitely sheep of some kind.
Not knowing what to make of that, and not wanting to reveal any suspicion just yet, I continued into the motel office. A young girl was at the register, she was low degree but from the thick wool I could tell that she was probably an ordinary domestic sheep of some kind. She didn't even have horns. "I'd like a room, please," I told her.
She looked at me for a moment, appearing almost as nervous as I was, and then consulted the rack of keys. "Uh... room twenty five," she told me hesitantly. She seemed to want to say something else.
I glanced furtively around the office. There was only one other person in here and he was sitting in the back corner, apparently inattentive. I activated my power and quietly told him "excuse me, there's nothing unusual or wrong going on here, but you should leave us alone for a little while. This is private." He gave a start at my sudden address, then nodded reluctantly and went outside. I turned back to the register. "You can tell me now," I told her, giving my words a boost to make her feel more at ease.
"You should go!" she whispered fearfully. "I shouldn't tell you, but you're in danger! You'll be caught!"
"Caught by whom?" I asked.
"I can't tell you..." the girl trailed off, confused.
I was a little confused too; I had expected to be able to get cooperation when I needed it, but this was just like Terrence had been like back in the car. I put more force into my words, and told her "yes you can. You can tell me, there's nothing to prevent you from doing so."
"I... I... no, I..." the girl stuttered, her confusion growing to what appeared to be a painful level. After a moment I let up on the mental pressure, realizing that my suggestion was forcing the internal conflict, and just as suddenly her distress vanished. She took a shuddering breath, regathering her thoughts, then continued calmly. "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me. I don't know what's wrong, but I think you should leave. Please." I realized that although she clearly wanted to warn me of something, there was something extraordinary preventing her. Something perhaps similar to one of my own imposed suggestions.
Someone else with a power like mine was here, and had got to her first.
I took the key and went to my room to do some heavy thinking, suggesting to the girl that she could trust me to pay later, and that she shouldn't tell anyone that there was a stranger here. That last suggestion took some effort to force past her previous conditioning, but I was glad I made it; I definitely didn't want to get 'caught', whatever that implied.
I should probably have left town immediately, I was certain I could now force myself to overcome any compulsion or curiosity that might be holding me back. I admit that I was more than a little bit frightened. But I was also feeling much more than a little bit angry. It had suddenly all clicked into place; someone here had implanted a suggestion to come here. To that end I had dropped everything, driven all the way to California, wrecked my car, and then had virtually stolen another one to get the rest of the way here. All the while I had never really fully appreciated the strangeness of my behavior, since I had 'known' that I must have had a good reason to be doing it. Now I wanted that person to pay, or at least to give me a damn good explanation.
However, before I went off half-cocked, I forced myself to sit down and examine my decision-making process step by step. A compulsion to come here had been implanted in me; who knew what else was had been done to my mind? The curiosity that had caused me to actually stop in the town, for example, might have been a subtle manifestation of the call, necessary to reel me in when straightforward compulsion no longer worked. My angry desire to confront whoever was responsible might likewise be an effect of the suggestion, necessary to overcome my better judgement that told me to hightail it out of here immediately.
On the other hand, perhaps not. I had no way of telling where my self ended, and the possible effects of an implanted suggestion began. If I didn't know that I could do it to others, I might not even believe that it had been done to me. The human mind was excellent at rationalizing its own actions, no matter how illogical; without some sort of objective standard, I couldn't be sure of anything. But uncertainty like that was a useless attitude, so I had to settle on some sort of opinion as a reasonable one for me to hold under the circumstances. I decided that I really was getting angrier by the minute, the effects of mysterious mind powers notwithstanding.
I got up and started pacing, trying to work off my rising aggression. I had been violated, manipulated by someone. Someone who had also enforced his will on that girl at the front desk, and probably others as well. As if they belonged to him! I snarled and knocked a table over, smashing the lamp that had rested on it. Then I clenched my fists and tried to force myself to calm down; this wasn't going to help much either. I took several long, deep breaths. The anger slowly subsided into the background, still leaving me furious but at least back under control again. That was the most important thing; keep myself under control.
It was still early, I would see if I could get some food and do a little scouting before it got dark. As much as I wanted to, I kept telling myself that it made no sense to rush headlong into a confrontation without trying to find out what I was getting into first.
Despite the fact that everyone around here were sheep, I should have found it difficult to blend in; this was a small town, and as such everyone was supposed to know each other. Fortunately for some reason everyone didn't seem to know each other. I think I pulled it off fairly well, though it didn't help that even among all these other rams my horns were on the large side. As such they tended to draw attention, though it was not necessarily all bad; for the first time I felt a hint of vanity about them. Until now they'd mainly just been in the way. But even when I felt that I was managing to stay inconspicuous there was an undercurrent of tension in the town, a suppressed sense of... I don't know what, but it was making me jumpy. Everyone seemed on edge.
I passed a small park, and noted the presence of a large number of sheep hanging out in norm-form. Or perhaps they really were normal sheep, some of them at least; there was little in their behavior to hint one way or the other. One of them watched me pass with apparent interest, and I avoided eye contact; the idea that I could do that myself was still quite uncomfortable, and I preferred not to think about it right now. I had other things to worry about.
There were a few restaurants in town, I picked the one with the fewest people hanging out inside. It was a small roadside cafe, with an all-ruminant menu. Of course. I sighed and ordered one of the many 'salads' listed, resigning myself to some heavy cud chewing later. The waitress took my order with a suspicious glance; I think she may have suspected that I was a new arrival in town. I suggested that she not worry about it, and slowly ate while I kept an eye on the rest of the room.
A young ram eventually came in, sat next to me, and ordered a drink while trying to look casual. "You're not from around here, are you?" he asked at last. I felt a momentary twinge of panic, and if I could still sweat I'm sure I would have started doing so. But he didn't seem like a direct threat, so I forced myself to remain seated and outwardly calm.
"Actually, bighorn habitat stretches as far south as Arizona," I told him. I didn't know if that was true or not, but it seemed like an appropriate retort and it caught him off-guard, giving me a little more time to collect my thoughts.
"Um... Okay. So, are you going to be staying long?" He asked at last.
"Don't worry about that, it's not important." I told him, putting my power behind the words as solidly as I could. "You aren't really that interested in me." He made a non-committal grunt and returned his attention to his drink. "You must want to talk about yourself, though." I continued smoothly, wondering if I would encounter any implanted blocks in his mind. "This must be an interesting town, I'm sure you have lots of stuff you want to tell me about it."
"I guess," he replied. "I don't really know; I'm not from around here either. I'm from Los Angeles."
"Interesting. Why did you come here?"
"...I don't know. I just wanted to come." His answer was slightly strained. I nodded; it sounded like he may have been a victim of the same sort of call that I must have been. I wondered if every sheep here had come because of that call; it could explain a few things.
"That's reasonable, don't worry too hard about it," I assured him. "I'm curious, though. Are many other people around here recent immigrants? Where are they from?"
"Oh, yeah! Lots of folks moved here after the Change, mostly from other nearby towns but lots from Los Angeles too. I even know... someone from San Diego..." He was suddenly sad and reluctant to continue.
Odd, none of those places was anywhere near as far away as Edmonton. "Telling me about it will make you feel better," I told him. "What about this person from Los Angeles?"
"Frankie. He's cool, I didn't know him before we came here but... he challenged the mayor. I can't understand why he did that, it was so stupid... I still hang out with him sometimes, but it's not the same..."
Now I was onto something. "Who is the mayor?" I asked. "Don't worry, you can tell me."
"James Reimer. He's in charge... it's hard to explain, but there's just something about him. You don't want to mess with him."
"What did he do to Frankie?" I asked, morbidly curious.
"He... told him he couldn't change back," the young ram said fearfully. I frowned, puzzled; of course he couldn't change back, no one could despite the claims of magic cures that had popped up all over the world since the Change. Perhaps mayor Reimer used a promise of a cure to keep people in line...?
The young man suddenly seemed to realize something at this point, and winced. "Uh, I've kind of blown it. I wasn't supposed to tell you stuff like that, I was just supposed to..." he shook his head. "Oh, well. I guess I didn't really want to do this after all."
I let the conversation drop. Mayor Reimer must have 'suggested' to this guy that he wanted to find out more about me and I had apparently been able to neutralize that suggestion with one of my own, for a while at least. Or perhaps the guy really had just blown it; after all, just because he was ordered to do something didn't necessarily make him any good at it. But whatever the case, that little bit of good news was overshadowed by a much more worrying fact; this 'mayor' Reimer must have known I was here in order to have sent this guy to question me. I had hoped to find out more about what was going on before anything like that happened.
Setting aside my half-finished meal, I told the cashier that I didn't need to pay right now and told the erstwhile spy that it wasn't a good idea to follow me. They both agreed, of course. I hurriedly walked outside.
My heart jumped halfway up my neck and I froze in surprise and terror. There were two policemen, or rather policesheep, waiting for me on either side of the door with their guns drawn. "Oh boy," I muttered under my breath as I firmly took hold of my fear and forced it back under control. Gotta keep control.
"All right, now just lie down on the ground and don't move," One of the officers instructed as his companion got out a pair of handcuffs and approached me cautiously.
"You don't need to do that!" I told him, still on the edge of panic, "I'm not the guy you're looking for!"
My power worked, they immediately believed me and started looking around frantically for their 'real' quarry. "Where is he, then?" one officer demanded. "Did you see him? He looks almost exactly like you, he was in here..."
"That's him there!" I said, pointing to the guy that had been trying to question me. The two cursed and rushed through the door, obviously trying to figure out what could have screwed the whole operation up so strangely. "He's not dangerous!" I shouted after them, suddenly realizing that they might hurt him. Fortunately they just grabbed him and threw him to the floor, shouting orders as he protested with obvious astonishment. I took the opportunity to try quietly leaving the scene. I was starting to shake a bit; I'd never had a real gun pointed at me before. I could have been killed, and not necessarily by an accidental shot either. I finally decided that I wanted out of here, and out of here now.
But as I pushed past the gathering crowd of edgy bystanders, a limosine that had been parked alongside the road suddenly leapt into motion and pulled up in front of me, blocking my path. I turned and tried running the other way, but this time a crowd of passersby blocked me; I saw that it was growing rapidly, and some of them had weapons. My heart was pounding quite vigorously now, and I backed toward the limosine again. I realized that I was in big trouble.
The limo's door opened and a large ram stepped out. He was big both physically and in his strength of presence, and although he wasn't of bighorn stock like me his horns were larger; not as thick as mine were, but much longer and straighter. I felt quite intimidated.
"So, you've got some tricks up your sleeve," he said angrily. I mentally braced myself, somehow expecting something. It came. "You'd better surrender now and explain yourself," he suggested, "you're powerless against me."
Even though I had been 'ready' and was somehow able to block it, it took me a few seconds to sort my thoughts out and resist the powerful urge to obey the suggestion. I find it difficult to put the sensation into words; it was a lot like the impulse that had sent me here in the first place, only sharper and more intense. This time I had been prepared and knew it definitely wasn't my own desires speaking, however, and so I could deal with it a bit more directly. I shook the urge off.
Reimer's expression changed after the seconds passed and I didn't comply, registering surprise and anger. I guess that an expression of fear would have been too much to hope for. "You have the Power too, or at least something like it. I was a bit suspicious when Wynne didn't report your arrival at the motel like she was supposed to... No matter. You're not going to win, you know; all sheep are mine. I gathered them! I drove the others out!"
"I don't want to win," I told him, "I just want to leave. You're the one who called me here in the first place!"
"Oh?" He seemed not to believe me. "If it was my call that brought you here, then why did it take you so long to come? I sent the last summoning days ago!"
"Gimmie a break, I had to come 1500 miles!"
"Liar! How could you possibly hear me from so far away?"
"It's true," I suggested, and immediately cursed myself for slipping. A look of rage crossed Reimer's face; he'd felt me attempt to use my power on him, there was no way he'd believe me now. I guessed that I must have been able to pick him up in Edmonton because I had the same type of power he did, and because he was specifically calling sheep like me.
Not that that mattered much now; I had fallen for it, and now I was trapped. The people surrounding us were all under Reimer's control, and were extremely restless; the only thing that prevented them from rushing me was the fact that I was currently facing their leader, and if I turned tail I would forfeit that protection. Reimer was convinced that I was challenging him.
Actually, I guess I really was. To my surprise, I was getting rather caught up in the emotional rush. Everyone was, it seemed; the crowd had turned into an onlooking mob. After a long moment of thought, my own expression hardened. There was no need for further speech, a mutual understanding passed between us that went beyond words. I knew in my gut what we had to do; we would fight, there was simply no other way out. I wish I could remember more about sheep right now but I was fairly sure I would have a chance at getting out of an honest battle alive, one way or another. That was the whole point of evolving ritual combat in the first place, after all.
Considering this guy's mental powers, though, and how he had used them to control male and female alike, I wondered if the results of losing the challenge might be worse than death...
I stopped thinking about it, I needed all my attention focused now. Reimer and I circled each other slowly, silently sparring with our eyes. I think our powers might have been involved in that battle of wills, but it was hard to tell; I'd never been in psychic combat before. Hell, I'd never been in physical combat before, beyond a single game of paintball that I'd tried playing once. But I couldn't spare the time to think about what I'd got myself into.
After a long, agonizing moment, some sort of intangible cue passed between us. I can't really describe what went through my mind, or how I knew what to do; I just set my teeth and did it. We walked toward each other with increasing speed, breaking into a short run, and then launched ourselves into each other head- first.
The force of the physical impact slammed through me, rippling down my neck and shoulders, down my spine, down my legs, through my hooves and into the ground. But although it lifted me clear off the pavement, the physical blow was nothing; it felt no more painful than stamping a foot.
But as our horns made violent contact, an equally powerful and violent mental blow blasted my into my brain. I collapsed, huddled and gasping, trying desperately to reorganize my jangled thoughts. He had struck into my mind! As I struggled to pull myself back together, my opponent backed off; I refocused my eyes and saw that he had a rather smug expression on his face. I allowed the anger to rise, even encouraged it since it helped me clear the disorientation and regain my focus. I wanted very much to wipe that expression out, and I gathered my resources to try again. I was sure I could do better. Snorting and straightening my shirt, I lined up for another run.
I was much better prepared that time, and I blocked most of the mental blow. I don't know how I did it, and I can't explain adequately in words; I braced my mind as well as my body for the impact. But still I felt it; this guy was strong. We circled again, regathering our strength and concentration.
That time was even better, I think I was getting the hang of whatever it was I was trying to do. He probably hadn't fought someone else with this Power before either, if I could somehow use skill to overcome his raw strength... I no longer worried too much about the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, I was feeling strangely exhilarated now. The crowd was just as exhilarated, watching us intensely although I'm sure this fight would have seemed almost comical to an objective observer. I didn't really understand our motivation myself; it must be a sheep thing. We carefully lined up with one another again, and then...
No significant damage was evident in either of us this time, mentally or physically. It was going to be a long fight.
I stumbled from the blow, nearly falling down. I had no idea how long the fight had been going on; I had lost track of the number of times we'd butted heads, let alone the time it had taken to do so. It could have been hours. There was a huge crowd by now, the entire town must have turned out to watch. They were all still silent, still watching the fight intensely. They seemed to know it was almost over, though. They were getting restless.
I didn't pay attention to them, I had my own problems. My legs were on fire, muscles burning with fatigue; I was wearing out. My mental defences seemed to be crumbling too, and I was becoming increasingly disoriented from the mental blows my opponent delivered each time our horns slammed into each other. His own endurance still seemed strong.
I knew with an increasing dread certainty that I couldn't win. I was simply too weak, my loss was almost inevitable. Submit! my instincts seemed to scream; Submit, or you'll get yourself killed! I thought of what had happened to the townspeople, becoming mentally dominated slaves in this twisted lunatic's 'herd'. The same would happen to me if I lost. I can't! I screamed back silently. I refuse!
Then fight!! Even the imaginary voice of my instincts sounded desperate, but despite that it was not despairing; despair was useless as far as my instincts were concerned. I tried to take that thought to heart, and scraped the bottom of my reserves for the strength to deliver one more blow.
I fell to my hands and knees. That time he had slipped something past my weakened defences and fading willpower; I felt an urge surge within me. I was shifting to norm form! I fought it down, struggling to force back the urge in a blind panic. I succeeded, and fingers that had just begun to fuse split back apart again. But the damage was done, I was terrified. My opponent grinned, tired but seeing the fear in my face.
"So, you're a shifter!" Reimer exclaimed hoarsely between panting breaths, the first words he'd spoken since we had begun butting heads. "I love that. I trap you there, on the other side; you'll never change back, you'll be stuck forever. Animal!"
"No," I groaned and pulled myself to my feet. I could barely stand, I was wobbling too badly to balance well. I finally realized what must have happened to Frankie, who those sheep at the park must have been. The nightmare burst back out of the prison where I had buried it; a man howling in anguish and horror as he changed, his eyes glazing over with bovine incomprehension as his mind died. Or perhaps he was still alive, buried inside his brain, just enough left to understand what had happened to him, helpless, unable to control or think, trapped...
"You... you can't..." I tried to put my Power behind my words, but it was utterly hopeless; I hadn't been able to affect him even before he'd worn me down to the bone. I felt a vast, yawning sense of defeat and despair beginning to well up; the strength of my anger was no match for it. I tried to hold it back just long enough for a final desperate plea. "Help me!" I called to the crowd, though it went totally against my instinctive grain. "Someone, help me!"
Reimer's grinned widened, and prepared to take another run at me to drive home my final defeat before I had a chance to recover. Unable to think of anything else to do, I tried to brace myself as best I could even though I knew it was futile. He tensed to charge...
I staggered forward, reflexively trying to react to the impact that I had heard but hadn't felt. I was suddenly terribly confused. What had that noise been? It hadn't been as loud as the previous impacts, and had seemed to come from somewhere farther away...
I suddenly realized that Reimer had fallen down. I stared dully at him, unable to comprehend what had happened; he had been about to win. What was wrong? But then it dawned on my battered brain; whatever the cause, he wasn't winning now! A delirious laugh burst from my throat, and I staggered the rest of the way toward him; he was coughing and groaning, but not getting back up. I kicked him lightly, and then a little harder. He still didn't retaliate. Somehow, inexplicably, I had won! I started laughing so hard I was crying. I kicked him as hard as I could, which wasn't terribly hard at all right now, and all he did was cringe feebly. Victory!
Then Reimer broke into a wracking fit of coughing, and my elation was suddenly clouded by a terrible coppery smell. He was coughing up blood, first in spurts and then in gushes. There was a hole in the side of his chest.
I stood bolt upright and looked around wildly at the crowd. The crowd was all either watching my fallen opponent in shock, or watching... I saw a woman numbly holding a smoking rifle, staring at it in horror. She'd shot him.
"Not... going..." Reimer gasped raggedly, and I turned back to kneel next to him. "Can't..." And then the sound of Reimer's labored, gurgling breathing stopped. I stared at him, eyes wide. He was dead. He had died right in front of me. And it was my fault.
"Get an ambulance!" I screamed, and all hell broke loose; people began running and shouting all over the place. I paid little attention, squatting next to the fallen man and pawing him frantically. I had no idea what to do, I couldn't think straight or remember anything about my CPR training. It wasn't surprising considering that I was panicking, and that I had just spent what seemed like an eternity ramming my head into a physical and mental brick wall.
I don't really remember much of what happened after that; confusion and noise and people crowding and shouting. If anyone spoke to me, I probably didn't understand it. I think I eventually passed out.
I woke in a comfortable bed, in an unfamiliar white room, with the splittingest headache I'd ever had. I didn't want to move, or even look around; I just wanted to lie there until I fell back asleep or died. So I just lay there.
An indeterminate time later, someone quietly opened the door and entered my room. I opened my eyes, unfocused though they were, and tried to get a good look at him. He was a sheep, of course, and was wearing a lab coat. Or a doctor's coat.
"100% cotton," I mumbled. "No, I mean wool. Coat. Oh, forget it..." I decided to wait until I was fully conscious again before I tried making any more jokes.
"You're awake?" The man asked quietly. "Are you okay?"
I carefully raised a hand to my face and rubbed my eyes. "My head hurts," I replied after a moment's pause. "I'm thirsty."
"I'll get you some water. You're already on a mild painkiller, uh, should I give you more? It might not be a good idea, if you could avoid it..."
I almost said yes, but despite the pounding sensation in my brain I realized at the last second that might be a mistake to override a physician like that. "Do what you think is best for me," I mumbled. The doctor nodded, and went to fetch my water. I don't remember drinking it, for all I know I may have been asleep again when he returned.
The next time I woke up, I was feeling a lot better. Relatively speaking, of course; my muscles were so sore that I couldn't stand on my own, and much of my body had simply gone numb from fatigue, but at least I was fully lucid. I called for the doctor, and he hurried in as if he had been waiting just outside. He probably had.
"You're awake again," he observed. "How do you feel?"
"Terrible," I groaned. "What happened?"
"There was a bit of a riot after the mayor was shot. It's all a bit confused, I don't remember too clearly. You might have been beaten up a little in the process, I don't know how many of your bruises were there already. When we tried to put the mayor into a stretcher you wouldn't let go of his hand. Then you passed out, and we brought you along."
The doctor nodded. "He's dead."
I had killed him. I had killed him! Clenching my eyes, I struggled to force back the tears. I didn't want to lose control.
"I... I think I want to thank you," the doctor said. I opened my eyes again and looked at him questioningly. "It's been so long, I barely know what I think for myself any more, but... I don't know how long I would have had even that uncertainty. I'm glad he's gone, anyone else would be better than that."
I shook my head, wincing slightly at the pain the movement caused. "No. Don't."
The doctor frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean... Oh, right. You might not want to take over his position, thank god. I keep forgetting to hope for that."
"What?" I rubbed my muzzle groggily, trying to figure out what he was talking about. "I just want to go home..."
The doctor sighed. "Good, at least that. I'm sorry, I guess you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm Dr. Samuel, I'm a psychiatrist. The only sheep-type doctor Reimer managed to pull in here. It helped me survive his control relatively intact, at least I hope it did..."
"No, what was that on his position?"
Dr. Samuel took a moment to consider his thoughts before carefully answering. "Reimer... implanted sheeplike instincts in everyone, I think. Or enhanced them if they were there already, I don't know. He set himself up as the dominant male, as if we were all really just sheep. Then you beat him, so most of the people he controlled have switched their loyalty to you."
I groaned. "Oh my god. I don't want that!"
The doctor smiled in relief. "I'm glad. Hopefully no one else will have the initiative left to take the position, and I don't want it, so perhaps everyone will have a chance for recovery..."
I tried to smile too. But I wasn't relieved yet; everyone here was still under the influence of Reimer's suggestions, and I somehow doubted they'd just 'recover' from them. At least, I didn't know that they would. I could tell Dr. Samuel was doubtful too, and he'd actually had more experience with the effects of Reimer's power than I had even though I had some of them myself.
I asked Dr. Samuel to leave me alone for a while, and he complied far too easily even though I was sure I didn't use my power on him. I had a lot to think about. After a while I summoned one of the police officers waiting out in the hall, noting that he wasn't one of the two I'd encountered earlier. "I want to see the woman that shot Reimer," I told him. "Take me to her."
She was sitting in the holding cell at the sheriff's office, looking dazed and forlorn. An unrecognizable expression briefly replaced that look when she saw me come in, and then she returned to hopelessness. "There she is," Leonard said with disgust. I guessed it must be a very bad thing for a female sheep to attack the dominant male, or something.
"Hello. Uh, what's your name?" I asked uncomfortably.
"Linda," she replied lifelessly.
"Linda. Uh..." I licked my lips, hesitating; I feared the answer to my next question. "Why did you shoot him? You can tell me."
"I... I didn't want..." A spasm of pain crossed Linda's face; she obviously didn't like the answer either. But she felt that she could tell me, of course. "...I didn't want him to win, to keep making me want to do things..." Linda was obviously very perceptive to have recognized that. But it didn't tell me what I needed to know.
"Did you shoot him for yourself, or did you... do it for me? Because I told you to help?"
Linda was silent for a long time. "I don't know," she finally said, tearfully. "I wanted to, I think, but I don't know if I could have actually done it if you hadn't asked..."
I spent a long while lost in thought, then I spoke. "Let her out," I told Leonard. "She wasn't responsible for her actions." Leonard nodded and complied. As he led her out of the room, I stopped her for a moment. "Linda, don't feel guilty. It wasn't your fault. You shouldn't feel guilty for what you did." Considering how much strength I put into my power, I doubted that she would. I let them go, and sat alone in the room for a while.
I had made Vincent believe my opinions, but that had been an accident beyond my control. I had stolen Terrence's car and left him on the side of the road, but that had been because of Reimer's influence driving me onward. I had used my power to make Linda shoot Reimer, but that was because he had forced it to be him or me, and I hadn't exactly specified what sort of help I needed...
Very good, Bryan, I thought to myself mockingly. All nicely moralized and rationalized. It wasn't your responsibility at all. And the next time you screw up, who's fault will it be then? What will your next excuse be?
It had to be my fault. I couldn't let myself blame it on anyone else.
"Don't feel guilty, Bryan," I said out loud to myself. "Reimer was a psychopath, you did what you had to." Then I sighed. I couldn't use my power on myself; I'd have to use other means to find peace.
I would do my best to help Dr. Samuel undo everything that Reimer had done to these people, and I would never use my power for anything else other than that again. There would be no chance for me to do more damage, no possibility for more excuses. Feeling very tired but unable to rest just yet, I got up and went to look for the doctor. I had a lot of work to do.
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