Ripple
by Trey McElveen

1997


The amber glare from the oscilloscope's monitor cast an eerie gloom upon the sleeping form of Dr. Damien Castir. His unending hours of experiments, calculations, and patience had taken their toll, and after setting up yet another attempt of his quantum parsing, he fell asleep in his chair, the instrumentation still reading nominal.

In the experiments, using theories he had devised in the atomic physics classed he had taught at MIT, he had used every element possible the team of engineers could perceive: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and now beryllium. The purpose was simple: to make one atom exist in two separate places at one moment in time. To accomplish this, Castir had theorized that isolating an atom with lasers them bombarding them so their two quantum states, spin-up and spin-down, existed simultaneously. This was accomplished easily. But what had eluded the minds that pondered over this was the final laser's polarity, the one that would spread apart the two quantum states, making the one atom in two different places at one time.

The implications of accomplishing such a feat were astounding. Granted, one atom existing at two coordinates would not make any practical sense at the present time, but the scientific community would be aflutter with the news. Research and experimentation on how to perform such a feat on a larger scale would be easily received, and industry would find uses for it almost immediately. It was a lofty goal, one that the scientists at MIT, headed by Dr. Damien Castir, believed was achievable.

Once, the team believed that they had done it, but instead of pushing the quantum states away, it sent the atom hurtling out of the containment field. It had been a dismal failure, and the thing that the team could least afford was failure. Funds for the project were running dangerously low. A couple of the physics professors at MIT, who had at one time maintained an interest in the project, were now moving for the removal of the experiment from the campus, due to the extreme amount it detracted from the university's reserves.

But, if there was one crime Dr. Castir was guilty of, it was persistence. He pleaded for one more attempt at the experiment, and he was granted his wish. And after a late-night session at the equations with a colleague named Trevor Eaive, they thought they had found it; the polarity at which to strike the beryllium atom to parse it. Dr. Castir himself set up the experiment for the final run, and when done he had almost went ahead, but instead he waited one more day, when the team would be assembled for the last time.

The firing was set at 8:00 AM EST.

"Dr. Castir!" Eaive said, "Dr. Castir, it's almost time to start!"

Dr. Castir awoke stiffly in his chair, the uncomfortable position from sleeping in a fold-out letting him know that he was indeed alive, even though he could have lived with out the pain. He nodded to Trevor and stood, stretching out to shake away the sleep and yawned.

"You been here all night, Dr. Castir?" Trevor said. He was already dressed in his white lab coat, embroidered with his name over the heart, a small pen and notepad sticking out from the pocket on his right side.

"Apparently so," Damien answered, a dull, throbbing pain still pulsing through his muscles. "I was setting up today's firing and I must have fell asleep."

"Well, at least you're dressed for the occasion. You fell asleep in your lab coat." Trevor answered. Damien looked down at himself and gave a silent chuckle when he saw that his assistant had been right.

"Well, so I am!" Dr. Castir said, "Now, shall we get on with it?" Trevor nodded, and they exited through a small door that led out of the instrumentation room into a large observation area, where all the data collected from each run of the experiment was amassed in real time and analyzed by the team of scientists working on the project. The three technicians chosen to help out today were already at their posts, making sure that the containment field had not deteriorated overnight, and that the atom was still encased therein.

At the north end of the room was a large window that looked directly into the experiment chamber. Red lasers that shone from large cylinders criss-crossed the spherical cell, and a faint, glowing light in the form of an irregular globular shape seemed to hover amidst the network of lasers. When the glowing spheroid seemed to move astray of its central position in the chamber, the lasers would take over and nudge it back to its rightful place. The sight was truly astounding, and each time the team had come to this point none were able to tear their gaze away from the incredible vision.

But what caught Dr. Castir's eye this time was the small group of men staring in gaping disbelief at the observation window. They were all dressed in business suits, some navy blue, some black, a couple gray. Each one had their head turned, eyes popping, mouth gaping at the window, and without averting their sight from it, they would whisper comments to each other about what they were seeing.

One of them managed to overcome his awestruck demeanor and address Dr. Castir, "I'm James Markow, from the Board of Regents." The man extended his arm in a handshake, which Dr. Castir accepted. "I'm heading this party of investors on the Quantum Parsing Project. We're down here evaluating where all our money has been going to for the last year or so."

Dr. Castir's heart raced. The stakes had just gotten a lot higher, "Well, let me be the first to welcome you, Mr. Markow." He released the man's hand and directed him back to the observation window, "What you all see is the containment field that houses a single beryllium atom. In a few moments, we're going to strike that atom with the lasers that are currently holding the field in place to make the atom's quantum states, named spin-up and spin-down, exist at the same time."

One of the men in the group called out, "And then the final laser is placed?"

Dr. Castir was pleased. At least the audience knew what he was doing here, and that made him feel a lot better. "Yessir. And, if the laser is at the correct polarity, it should spread apart the two states so that they are at two completely separate coordinates at the same time."

"But, so far, you've not been able to do that in the number of times you've run the experiment?" another man said from the audience. His voice had a sarcastic, accusational tone that set Dr. Castir on edge. The people may know what he's talking about, and that made them all the more dangerous. He and his team were on trial.

"So far, no sir, we haven't. But we do believe that we've found the correct polarity now, and we're ready to try again, ah," Dr. Castir turned away from the audience to Mr. Markow, "That is, with your permission."

Mr. Markow was hesitant, but nodded, "By all means, Doctor. Fire away."

Eaive, who had been letting Castir do all the talking unto this point checked is watch, and read that it said 7:55 AM. He nodded to a technician that was hovering over a glowing touch-screen, almost too eager to give the command to start the automated bombardment process.

Trevor smiled, "You heard the man, Jason. Fire at will." The technician addressed pressed a button, then watched as the lasers swung out from their net and into the containment field, shattering it with a flash of brilliant light and focusing each of their beams together on one point in the chamber, almost at the peak of where the field had been one second ago.

"Capture!" another scientist said at the end terminal across the room. "We have capture!"

"What's capture?" one of the investors said.

"We caught the atom in the laser's focus," Dr. Castir said, "Now we've just got to put up another field, and then hit it with the last laser."

"This sounds almost too simple, Castir," the man that had accused the doctor earlier said in the same demanding tone.

"All experiments are easy, sir. It's the calculations behind them that are the work." He then turned his attention to one of the workstations and asked, "Can we get the secondary containment field up?"

"Already working on it, doc. Give me a few more moments," the man at the station said. He tapped a few commands on the console and then looked up. Suddenly, there was another bright flash of light, and a second sphere appeared around the focus of the lasers, with the focal point at the center. This field, unlike the first was an almost perfect orb, stable and rigid, but the irregular blob the last one had been.

"Incredible," someone indistinguishable said.

Trevor checked his watch and called out, "One minute! Are the states ready?"

"Yessir!" Jason called out.

"Swing the last one into position!" Dr. Castir shouted, excited. He knew he had it this time. He had to, or else make a fool of his team and himself in front of these people. He checked the small group again, and they had all reassumed their positions of gawking at the experiment taking place before them. Damien allowed himself a wry grin.

"Doing so now, doc," the second technician replied, typing commands while doing so. In the observation window, a lone laser broke away from its position and placed itself so that it was pointed directly at the center of the field.

"On my mark, gentlemen," Dr. Castir said. He checked his own watch and counted down the seconds, each one seeming to be just a bit slower than the last, until five seconds before the firing, he could swear that each tick of his wristwatch vibrated throughout his body. "Four! Three! Two! One! Zero! Fire!"

"Fire!" Jason said, and hit the glowing red button on the monitor screen. Instantly, the last laser erupted into action, sending a light blue beam directly into the center of the focal point. There was a white glow from the centrioid, and the instrumentation on Jason's console went crazy.

The clock read 8:00 AM. And three seconds.

"We did it!" Trevor screamed, "We did it, Dr. Castir! Look!" He pointed a finger at the readouts and noted that the two quantum states of the beryllium atom were indeed apart by a few billionths of a millimeter. "We did it!"

There was a cry of elation that echoed throughout the room, and the applause was deafening. Even the small group of investors were forced to smile a little bit. Damien Castir hugged his assistant and then went around to each of the technicians, shaking their hands and congratulating them on a fine job. He offered dinner at his house and stole back into the instrumentation room to bring out a bottle of champagne, which was promptly and celebrationally opened.

Jason took his post again to maintain a watch on the experiment. He looked up at the observation window and started for a moment at the sight on the other side.

The containment field, which was supposed to be stable and rigid, was rippling like a pool of water. He looked down at his instrumentation, which only confirmed the view. The stability of the containment field was fluctuating at a rapid rate, oscillating between the values of pi above and below normal stability.

It was rippling like a sine wave.

"Dr. Castir! The field is breaking up!" The celebration ceased and all eyes turned to the window.

There was nothing to be seen that was out of the ordinary. The white luminescence at the focus of the lasers was still there, the firing laser was still in place, and most important, the field was still holding.

"What do you mean, Jason?" Dr. Castir said.

Jason was dumbfounded, "I -- I don't know! I looked up there, and the field was like the surface of a pond. It was rippling! And now, it just disappeared! Like that!" He snapped his fingers for effect.

Dr. Castir came over to the technician's terminal and scrolled back for the stability values of the last few minutes. He was joined by the rest of the team and a few curious investors. Sure enough, there was a steady oscillation in the stability of the field for the duration of about five seconds. But the fact that caught Trevor's attention was the amount it had changed each time before returning to normal.

"Pi," Eaive whispered, "It changed by pi each time. Calibrate the nominal setting to zero, tare it off!" Jason did so, and the data changed. "Look at that! Three-point-one-four-one-five-nine-two-six-five-four-five and on and on! That's pi!"

"Incredible," Dr. Castir mumbled. "It's too perfect for any simple fluctuation. The numbers should be chaotic."

Just then, with everyone huddled over the terminal, the fluctuations began again. Steadily, they grew in amplitude until they reached pi, but they didn't stop there this time. They grew in magnitude until the number was easily six or seven pi. Jason pushed an astonished face out of his way and pointed to the observation window, shouting, "Look! There it is!" Everyone turned and gasped.

The sight was absolutely ethereal. The lasers held steady, including the firing laser, but as they entered the containment field, they began to waver violently. The surface of the field rippled just like the pond that Jason had described, each wave just like the one that had proceeded it. The bright white glow that was at the center of it all was trembling between a pinkish hue and a dark blue that matched the navy of some of the business suits worn by the men.

And then, the numbers spiked. Jason suppressed a shriek as they jumped up so high that the entire field seemed to invert upon itself, dissipate into the waves that agitated it.

Dr. Castir felt an incredible discomfort in his stomach, as if all his innards just instantly liquefied and were jumbling around inside his skin. He clutched his stomach and bent over, feeling the undulations through his abdomen. He staggered for a moment, not in pain but discomfort. There were other sounds that he was hardly aware of: screams, curses, the occasional groan, but the sound of his blood rushing in his ears drowned out most of these.

Jason was staring at his terminal through his hands. The numbers kept jumping between incredibly high multiples of pi, but that was not his worry at the moment. His hands were outstretched before him, and they were covering themselves with a light gray fur. His fingernails sank into his skin, and he could feel them curl around and suddenly unsheathe again as short, black claws from the tips of his fingers. His digits retracted a bit into his hand, and large, black, rough pads sprouted out of his palms. He gaped in horror as his thumb thickened and gained a claw like the others, and the fur spread up his wrist and his forearm. The muscles thickened, becoming more powerful and bulky as the change went on.

Trevor, on the other hand was gripping his head, feeling a long thick snout grow out from his face. His lips thickened and became extremely manageable, almost prehensile. His teeth grew in size and flattened somewhat; the canines were increasingly isolated by an expanse of gum on each side. His nose spread itself out on his muzzle, and his ears grew pointed and spread themselves higher up his head, so high in fact, that they were actually on top of his cranium. Almost unconsciously, he swiveled them and noticed that everyone else was undergoing a similar change with his new hearing. A fine layer of hair covered his face, but it wasn't like the rough bristle that constituted beards. It was soft and almost silky, and it replaced the shock of brown hair that he had as the change crept along him as well.

And just as suddenly, the numbers fell on Jason's terminal, and the room was thrown back into some semblance of normality.

Dr. Castir felt a little weak, but other than that, the picture of health. The rest of the room, however, was not the most appealing sight he had seen. The gathering of investors all seemed to be discussing what had happened to themselves rather heatedly. Out of the six that had attended, including Mr. Markow, two had horses tails, one was clearly some sort of feline from his new facial appearance, one had antlers and nothing more. The accusing man flailed his stiff, reptilian tail around behind him, his pants ripped into shreds to accommodate for the new growth.

Mr. Markow was approaching Dr. Castir. He seemed perfectly fine, until one step towards him revealed that his feet were now gray and leathery, and most noticeably of all, webbed. Markow stopped for a second and scratched his new feet, then remembered himself and stormed up to the doctor.

"What the hell happened?" the man demanded.

Dr. Castir shrugged, "I don't know! Your guess is as good as mine!"

"Your damn experiment did this, Castir," the man with a crocodilian tail said.

A voice from the terminals spoke up in defense. It was one that was strangely foreign, and yet somehow familiar. It was a low bellowing tone that was a few octaves lower than what Dr. Damien Castir remembered as the voice of Trevor Eaive, "You have no way of knowing that, sir, or proving it!"

All eyes turned to the man that had spoken, and they saw the head of a horse-like creature poking its way out of a white lab coat. The animal was a dusty beige in color, with large, flaring nostrils and two deep set, but infinitely brown pools for eyes. Its lips were thick, and the whole of the expression was spread out over a long muzzle that extended from the person's head. Two thin, tall ears swiveled around, seeking out noises to detect. On the lab coat that the man wore were embroidered the words "Trevor Eaive."

"Trevor?" Dr. Castir breathed.

The great head nodded, "It's me, Damien. I'll be damned what that was, though."

"Whatever it was, it had something to do with that experiment!" the feline in the congregation had hissed. The antlered man in the business suit nodded agreeingly.

Dr. Castir shook his head, "Maybe, maybe not. We don't know for sure..."

The reptile was not swayed, and he shouted across the room, "Castir, you're going to pay for..."

His words were cut off by Jason hollering from his station, his clawed finger pointing at the window, "Here it comes again!"

The ripping effect was moving its way through the containment field again, but in a subtle, slow manner. Panic suddenly gripped some of the men in the room, but Trevor kept a cool head about himself, even though he could hear voices that were his own, and yet not his own screaming at him to run, "Now everyone, calm down! It's only going to hit us when it spikes, if at all! Let's calm down and just watch. There's nothing that we can do about it."

"Nothing you can do about it?!" the lizard shouted. "What are you talking about? This is your experiment, and you're saying that you can't do anything about it?"

Dr. Castir composed himself, and replied as calmly as he could, "This was not our experiment, sir. Our experiment was to pull apart two atoms and make them in two places at once, not to transform you into a six-foot iguana. I can't think of a way that our experiment would cause such a thing to happen."

"But you," the lizard said, advancing on Damien, "You haven't changed. There's not a bit of hair on you, or a scale!" The man pushed aside Markow and was pointing his finger in Dr. Castir's face. "There's nothing on you, Castir! Explain that."

Despite himself, Damien smiled. "On the contrary, mister... uh, mister..."

"Stelts. Frank Stelts."

"Ah, Mr. Stelts. I have changed. Feel my heart."

Stelts hesitated, thinking that playing into the scientist's hands would cause another change in himself. But, against his better judgment, he placed his unchanged hand over Dr. Castir's left breast.

And felt nothing.

"What in the world?" Stelts gasped, a sound that seemed to echo in the room. Jason began to grip his chair with his new paws as the numbers on his terminal began to spike slightly.

Dr. Castir took the man's hand and moved it down his chest, to where it rested just under the left side of his ribcage. There, Mr. Stelts felt the rhythmic pulsation of Dr. Castir's heart. "There it is, Mr. Stelts. The next spike should have something you can see."

Stelts smiled.

"Which should be any moment now, doc!" Jason said loudly from his seat. The other two technicians had taken their respective places, and Dr. Castir could see Jason's furred hands at work on his console. The other two helpers had undergone some pretty drastic changes. One had a large growth pressing tightly against his laboratory coat, so tight that the pattern of a turtle's shell was imprinting itself upon the fabric. The other technician was at least six or seven inches taller than he was; his feet now out of their shoes and mutated into some sort of solid hoof that made him digigrade.

Jason quelled the doctor's examination, "Another surge coming! Hold on!"

It struck like the same one before. The containment field shattered in the window, yet somehow still retaining it shape after every ripple that roared through it. The sine wave disturbance kept it harmonious as the bright light inside the field shone a steadily changing spectrum of colors.

Frank Stelts groaned as he felt the awkward sensation of having his guts seem to drop out of himself and reorganize to his newly changing body. He suddenly stood more forward, his shoes bursting as they grew in size, the toes fusing into three separate digits. He looked down and yelled as each digit grew a small, yet wickedly sharp claw. His feet webbed themselves and he began to stand on flat on his archless feet. They covered themselves in thick, speckled scales colored every shade of green imaginable. The scales spread up his legs, where his calves muscled up and became very sinewy. He jostled a bit and pitched forward when his pelvis moved, dislocating his legs for a moment then reconnecting them in a procedure that was painless, yet too queer to comprehend fully. Stelts' pants burst as the new body that formed inside them was to large for them to accommodate, and they fell into a shredded heap on the floor at his feet.

Jason could feel his feet change in much the same way that his hands had moments earlier, but he dared not take his shoes off to look at them. Instead, he only felt his toes curl into his feet and the same claws that had poked out of the tips of his fingers did so from his toes, tearing his socks in the process. His ankles rode higher on his legs, and soon the feeling of the fur that grew pulling on the fabric of the socks was too much for him to bear, and he reached down and freed his newly changed paws.

The change had ridden up on his arms as well, spreading both down his chest and up his neck. Neither really changed much, except the neck was a bit more powerful now, and that it was covered with a thicker and darker shade of gray fur than his hands had been.

Trevor Eaive stripped off his lab coat and then the shirt he had on under it to watch his change. He was absolutely fascinated as the light hair that covered his face suddenly thickened and spread down like a heavy wool around his neck, which was growing longer by the second. His chest barreled a bit, and he could feel the queasy sensation of the shuffling of his organs as the change swept down him like a scanning device. Quickly, the wool spread along his chest and stomach, only departing from his midsection to cover his arms in the same thick hairs up until his wrist. Almost so fast that he didn't have time to react, his four fingers melded into two, retaining their color and a bit of their flexibility but when at rest, they reminded him of a supple, cloven hoof.

"You're a llama, Trevor," Dr. Castir's voice said with a hint of amusement. Eaive turned to look at his colleague, and started when he saw that he had removed his own lab coat and shirt, and had spread a pair of fully formed wings from behind his shoulders. They were a light shade of gray on the underside, and when Dr. Castir turned to show them the tops, Trevor saw that they were a much darker shade of the same gray, with a white stripe running down the middle of the wings.

"A mockingbird," Eaive concluded.

Dr. Castir nodded assent, "You're right, there." He turned his attentions to the rest of the room, and noticed that everyone had progressed in their changes: the investors were looking less like the men they had come in with and more like the animals they were transforming into. The man with antlers was for all intents and purposes now a deer from the chest up. The feline was a spotted yellow and black, with small flares of fur breaking from his cheeks that signified a species of lynx. One of the horse morphs was just starting any signs of facial change, but as Dr. Castir looked at him, he sensed a sort of completeness about the man; that the way he looked would stay that way, and not change any more, even though his muzzle was significantly shortened, and his ears weren't even up on his head or moveable.

Interesting, Dr. Castir mused, Differing levels of this mutation, perhaps?

Perhaps, rang a voice in Dr. Castir's mind that was clearly not his own, I was just noticing that myself.

What in the... Damien thought in his mind as his eyes searched frantically around the room. Finally, they noticed Jason, his chair turned towards him, a most amused expression on his face.

You caught me, doc. Looks like whatever has happened doesn't stop with our bodies.

"Simply incredible," Dr. Castir thought aloud.

And what's more, doc, it's only been an hour since we started, Jason thought to him.

"What is, Dr. Castir?" said Markow, who had not removed his pants, but had allowed for a small fluked tail to break its way through the material and form itself outside the boundaries of the clothing. He was scratching himself all over his legs, a look of extreme discomfort on his face.

"Are you okay, Mr. Markow?" Dr. Castir said with sincere concern. "You look like you're becoming a porpoise."

"I am, if I'm not mistaken," James Markow said in return, "And my skin is dry, I think. I'd better get to some kind of water, and soon." Just then, the experiment flared in a brilliant display of colors, and another ripple tore through the field. Markow doubled over as a dorsal fin split his shirt open, and the smooth, gray skin made its way up to his chest. The feeling of his nearly burning skin was unbearable, and he collapsed to the floor screaming.

Trevor's reaction was swift, "Matthew! Brandon! Mr. Stelts! Help me move him outside where we can get him some help!" Matthew and Brandon, the two other assistants, sprang from their seats. Matthew showed amazing agility for someone who was almost completed changing into a turtle. Trevor, too was already upon the stricken man when Brandon appeared and easily hefted him into his arms.

The room hadn't noticed, but in the last spike Brandon had completed his transformation into a rather imposing anthropomorphic stallion. His coat was jet black, with a small diamond of white hair in between his eyes, and a stark white mane that ran down all the way to his shoulders. His hands were a three-fingered variant of a hoof; the nails hard and blackened by the change, and expanded to where they nearly composed the entire finger. He gave Matthew a nod and said in a nearly commanding tone, "Come on, Matt. Let's go." Matthew obliged and the three of them headed out the door that led into an exterior hallway out of the experiment complex.

"Brandon, give us a call when you get him to safety," Trevor said as the parted. The assistant gave a huffed reply of assent, and then left with the still moaning Markow in his arms.

The all stood in relative silence for a few minutes, eyes trained on the window, watching the containment field ripple with the distortions of the universe every few moments. No one looked around or wondered how everyone had come along. The investors once again gazed wondrously at the fruits of their money. Trevor Eaive collected himself and vainly ran his hooves through his wool. Mr. Stelts even disregarded his suspicions of Damien Castir for the time being. A subtle placidness had settled itself over the room, and each was left to their own thoughts. However, all was not silent in Dr. Castir's mind, as his telepathic conversations with Jason carried on.

Jason? Can you hear me?

Sure can, doc. Can you hear me?

Dr. Castir waited for a moment, his mind trained on Jason, trying to pierce through and access his thoughts. After many tries, he gave up and thought aloud, I can't. I think you can hear my thoughts, and I can hear yours only because you're broadcasting them to me.

Wow. This is crazy, doc. I think I'm becoming some kind of wolf, but I'm not sure. I'm almost done, too. I've been looking over the data carefully, and I've think I've found something.

What?

Well, seems like every slight disturbance in the field generates a change in myself. Anything above five or six pi and boom! A little more of me transforms into a wolf!

Go on, Jason.

Well, for you at least, it takes a large spike like the two we had earlier to change you, and the deer-man over in the corner seems the same way. But Trevor isn't nearly so severe. Something in the range of thirty to forty is enough to change him.

Isn't thirty or forty a good spike?

Jason visibly shook his head at his terminal, and thought back, I can't begin to imagine what multiple of pi constitutes a good spike, as you put it. It's got to be in the billions by this data here. Right now, it's stable at about point-one or two pi.

A question, Jason. Can you hear everyone's thoughts right now?

No sir. I can hear one at a time, but not everyone at once. I can tell you that Trevor's kinda pleased with his transformation, and that a couple of the men are. There was a slight pause, and then Jason thought in a way that almost seemed like a whisper, See that one man standing back in the corner? The draft horse?

Damien took a quick peek, and saw the man, standing alone and looking rather thoughtfully at the rippling containment field. He nodded for Jason.

He's an interesting fellow. Intelligent, charming, and all other sorts of complimenting adjectives.

Dr. Castir started, You're an empath?

Looks that way, doc. There's something strange about that horse, but not threatening. And if I were you, I'd be careful of Mr. Stelts. He's been pretty good at keeping to himself, if you know what I mean. He's a shady character, in my opinion.

I'll take that into consideration. Thanks, Jason.

No problem, doc.

Oh, and Jason? I'll want a ten-page essay on this in a month, okay? It was more of a statement than a question.

There was a mental grumble and then, Sure thing, sir.

Dr. Castir smiled to himself. No doubt that this would be an interesting thesis to dissect. He turned his gaze away from the terminal and addressed the crowd of half-men that were now conversing over the experiment for the first time. Jason stood from his station when he saw Damien's intent, keeping a watchful mind out for Stelts, "Gentlemen, I know things did not go quite as planned, but you can see your money has been put to good use. The experiment, through trial after trial, has finally proven a success. With your permission, I wish to conduct a further study on this phenomena, and this... rippling that the field seems to be undergoing."

There was a small clamor amongst the men as a small meeting was held to decide the fate of the project. Mr. Markow took his place in the circle and argued along. The men silently counted the pros and cons, not the least of the cons was the possible side effects of using this technology. Dr. Castir felt his wings bob in anticipation. He was on the verge of having his project's funds climbing through the roof, and he couldn't wait for the decision.

And it came swiftly. James produced a small check from his tattered suit pocket and handed it to Damien, "This, Dr. Castir, is payment of thirty million dollars, on the success of your experiment and funding for another three years of research."

Dr. Castir smiled ear to ear. He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn't hear Jason's screaming in his mind. But he did feel the touch of a cold gun barrel press against his lower left back.

"I'm glad you did tell me where you heart is, Dr. Castir," a rough, haughty voice said from behind. "Now I can shoot you through it if you or anyone else makes a wrong move."

Everyone froze in astonishment. Trevor made a move towards the gunman, but was quickly warded off by the priming of the hammer on the firearm.

"Back off, Eaive."

Damien didn't even have to think about who it was, "What the hell do you want, Stelts?"

"What do you think, Castir?" Stelts said in the same harsh tone, "I want the check."

Dr. Castir hesitated, and instead of giving him the money, he said again, "Who are you really? You didn't act like one of the investors earlier."

"How astute. But, unfortunately, I'm not about to give away my identity. You, on the other hand, or claw as it is now, will give away that check."

Dr. Castir screamed silently. So close, and to have some petty thief come into his lab and steal the fruits of his labor just as he received them. He wished that he was some kind of predator instead of a damned mockingbird so he could rip the guy's head off. But these thoughts were to no avail. Defeated all too easily, Damien held up the check, and it was quickly snatched from his fingers.

Suddenly, Jason chimed in mentally, Hold on, doc. Cavalry's on the way.

Before Damien could even question, he felt the chilled pressure of the barrel of the gun leave him as a rush of air swept over him in a huge gale. There was a scream, and a loud thwack as Frank Stelts was somehow flung headlong across the room, and into the solid concrete walls that made up the boundaries of the laboratory. The gunman cried out in pain, and then slumped down on the floor, dazed, but not unconscious.

The room was halted for a moment. No one made a sound or move, as if Dr. Castir still had a gun at his back. Then, from nowhere almost, was the hollow sound of hooves clopping on the floor. Damien looked up, and saw the lone horse appear from the shadows of the corner he had retreated to. He walked purposefully to Frank Stelts and took the check from his hand and calmly gave it back to Dr. Castir.

It was when he returned the payment that Damien and the rest of the room noticed that the horse's hand was smoking.

The horse picked up the bewildered Stelts easily with one hand, and removed the firearm with the other. Tossing the gun away, he produced a small wallet from his torn dress pants and flipped it open, where it promptly displayed a shiny gold badge and a photo ID.

"I'm Agent Halcer with the FBI, and you, Mr. 'Stelts,' are under arrest for numerous thefts and forgeries." The crocodile in his hoof merely groaned in defeat as the officer began to read him his rights.

"FBI?" Trevor said unbelievably, "How in the world did you know?"

Agent Halcer finished and cuffed him, then started out the door, "We've been tracking this guy for months. Got tips that he was headed here to get an easy hit, but I didn't know that it'd be this much. I'm sorry if I disturbed any of you."

Dr. Castir was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, "Thank you. I can't tell you how much I owe you."

Halcer was indifferent, "Thank whatever changed us. I only noticed this neat trick after about the second spike."

Damien had composed himself a little bit, and said, "But how did you hit him and not me?"

Agent Halcer smiled cryptically, the injured Stelts coming out of his confusion and beginning to squirm a bit, "I didn't want you to get hit." He turned his attention to his captor and whinnied at him, "Don't even try it, Stelts. I'm a lot stronger than you now, so it's useless." With that, and an ironic nod of politeness, he exited the laboratory with Frank Stelts in tow.

Trevor sighed in amazement, "This day has been incredible."

"You're telling us," the feline investor said. "I wonder what my wife will think when she gets home and sees that I'm a six-foot lynx!"

Jason grinned, "That could be a good thing, considering how your wife loves cats."

The man gaped, "How... How did you know?"

Jason shrugged, "Just intuition."

Dr. Castir moved to end the experiment, and shook hands with each of the men come to visit. They applauded him and his team for working together under such circumstances, and promised to be back when their next experiment changed them back into humans. Damien and the rest of the team laughed.

"Maybe! Who knows?" Dr. Castir said to the departing group. He thanked them, as did Jason and Eaive, and when the final one left, Trevor let out a very un-llamalike "Whoop!" of elation, to which Jason added his own.

The phone rang, and Dr. Castir moved to a desk to answer it, "Hello?"

"Dr. Castir? Matthew here."

"Matthew! Is Markow all right?"

"He's fine, doc. We got him down to the aquarium, and he's swimming along with the other dolphins now, but the craziest thing is everyone's changing! Everyone we've seen is some kind of half-animal! Even fish!"

Damien's jaw dropped, and he looked to the still rippling containment field, "Everyone?!" Trevor and Jason perked in interest.

"Everyone! And Markow, when we dropped him in the water, he just seemed to... meld into a real dolphin!"

"Excuse me, could you say that again?"

"He just transformed into a real dolphin! But he seems to recognize us and understands what we're saying. Some people we've met have done it too. Horses, cats, dogs, bears, everything. They just think about it, and poof, they're that animal. And then there a morph again! I'm even experiencing what can only be the instincts of a turtle! It's incredible!"

"Matt, take down everything you see and get back to the lab as soon as you can. I think we've got a long road ahead of us here, and this is only the beginning!"

"You got it, doc! Bye!" The phone hung up. Damien did the same.

"What was that all about?" Trevor asked.

"It seems everyone is changing, not just us," he paused for a moment, "And that some people can shift between a full animal and a morphic one. Even instincts. Somehow, I don't think that our experiment caused this at all."

Trevor thought on this for a moment, then said, "But if we're not causing these ripples, then what is? I mean, we just can't discount that our experiment didn't cause all this."

Dr. Castir shook his head, "Be realistic, Trevor. Our experiment, if indeed it did cause us to change, couldn't do so on a citywide level, maybe even a global level. And what does the parsing of an atom have to do with animals and anthropomorphism? Nothing comes to mind."

"I think that Damien is right," Jason added, "I think that what we're seeing with the ripples is some cosmic event that's interfering with the containment field, but doing it so harmonically and so perfectly that it stabilizes itself as soon as it's wronged."

Trevor nodded, accepting this, "I suppose that's as good an explanation as any."

"It's the only one I can think of," Jason accentuated.

Dr. Castir nodded and looked out the window, towards his creation, probably the one thing in the world that could detect these spikes, surges, and ripples of the cosmos. He mused in his mind at how the entire world was changing, and what had caused it. But now, he had the funds, and the ability to research that question to its fullest, and he wasn't about to let that chance slip away. As Damien came out of his thoughts, his eyes grew wide and his wings fluttered as he looked through the window and saw the field begin to dance with the rippling effect once again as it signaled another surge.

Jason looked back to his terminal and confirmed it. Damien noticed that it was already past Jason's tolerance level as his nose and mouth were pushing into a pointed muzzle; the teeth lengthening and sharpening themselves to fill out his new lupine grin, "Here comes a spike. I think I'm just going to enjoy this."

Trevor turned towards the window and smiled, waiting for the ripples to explode, "I think I'll join you in that."

Dr. Damien Castir said nothing, and only watched in wonder as the field collapsed upon itself and appeared again, the light of the parsed atom flickering between every known color. He closed his eyes as the feeling of change overcame him: feathers popping out of his chest and legs, his chest filling out with new flight muscles for his wings. His teeth fused and moved out of his mouth to form his beak. His ears retracted into his head, and without even thinking, he used his clawed hands to pull off his pants to allow room for his new tail feathers. The dancing lights from the surge filled the room, and he stretched out the new appendages in freedom, the want to just take off and fly home, to see the world from above almost overpowering him.

The lights died down, and everyone had almost finished changing. Damien was a little off balance as his pelvis had not shifted to his new form. Jason was waiting for his midsection to complete itself, and Trevor was combing out his wool, the only thing left on his person that was human being his feet.

"How long can we hold that field, Dr. Castir?" Jason asked.

"I'm not sure," Damien said, noticing that his voice came from the throat, not the beak. It was a high, melodic tenor now. "But I'd like to keep watching it for a while."

There was no dissension in that decision, and the three waited patiently for one final ripple.



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