The first thing that I noticed that morning was my contact lens.
I wore disposable extended wear, which I routinely left in overnight. Sometimes, they dried out a little and had to be rewet. I ran my hand across the nightstand, but didn't come up with the familiar shape of the eye drop bottle. I blinked a few more times to try and moisten them with tears and one fell out.
"Damn." I whispered.
I cradled the fallen lens in my hand and stumbled into the bathroom. I didn't look at the mirror much, but failed three times to put the lens back in. Finally, the other one popped out. Now cradling them both in my hands, I dug out a lens case and dropped them in. "Deal with these later, after I'm awake." I opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out my very thick, very heavy, very uncomfortable gold framed glasses. I wore them about three times a month, but everyone who knew me knew those glasses. They looked like they could stop a bullet.
I put them on and blinked a few times. My vision still wasn't right. It was like I was overcorrected or something. I leaned a little closer to the mirror. "What the hell?"
My eyes were yellow.
Frantic, I looked as carefully as I could. Since I was entering optometry school in the fall, I'd been doing research on eye disease. I thought that I had a bacterial infection or something. But there wasn't any clouding, no pain, and my vision seemed a little better, not worse. What the hell was going on? I mentally recalled the images I'd pulled off the net last month, images of diseased eyes for my senior project. Nothing looked like this. The iris was completely sharp, just yellow. Other than that, it looked normal.
I ran my fingers nervously through my short hair and got another surprise. It was full of downy white feathers. I looked at them clinging slightly to my hand. I walked back into my bedroom and looked at the bed. Now, I did own a down comforter, and it did have a tendency to leak feathers, but I'd never seen anything like this. The sheets were covered in them. I took off my T-shirt and looked down at myself. Down feathers were clinging all over my body.
When I tried to brush them away, I discovered they were attached.
It was at that moment that I first felt a change. I was surprised that there was no pain. I stared at my torso in morbid fascination as hundreds of dark brown feathers began to sprout and grow. I felt my glasses shift uncomfortably, and realized my head, which used to be wide, had narrowed a bit.
My legs still looked normal, though a little thinner than I though they should. I rushed back into the bathroom and looked again. My hair was gone, but in it's place were hundreds of small white feathers, from my shoulders up. My face looked largely unchanged, though my neck was shorter, and my vision was even more wrong. I experimented by taking off the glasses for a moment, but decided that it was a little better with for now.
My feet felt cold, and for a moment, my body shivered. What was I turning into? What was happening?
I heard a muffled shout of surprise from the next room, and suddenly remembered my roommate, Nelson. The door to his room flew open and he barreled into the bathroom, stopping when he saw me. I'm not sure who was more surprised.
It was obvious that whatever happened, or was happening, we were going through it together, but in different directions. His entire body, save where it was hidden by his pajama bottoms, was covered in a brown and white pelt with white dapples on it. His ears were larger, but not peaked. Other than that, his face looked the same.
"Brian?", he asked.
"Yea, who else?" I asked sarcastically. "What's new?"
He pushed me aside and looked into the mirror. "What in the world… What's happening to me, to us?"
"I don't know. I'm sprouting feathers like crazy!"
He smiled nervously, which is when I noticed the slight snout for the first time, "You know, you kinda look familiar."
I looked back into the mirror. It hadn't occurred to me before, but there was only one bird than came to mind with that particular color pattern, "Yup, you've probably seen my picture in finer U.S. government buildings everywhere."
We walked out of the bathroom into the living room. Nelson tried to get the TV working, but the cable company was out. "Do you think that we're the only ones?", he asked.
"I don't know. Maybe we should try 911."
Nelson dialed it, but after about fifteen rings it was pretty clear that there wasn't going to be an answer. I turned on the radio, most stations were static, but I finally got the local all news station, which carried the audio feed from The News Channel in the early morning.
"…hooves. There are reports from our London bureau that these effects are being seen in that city with the same veracity as here in Atlanta. Reports from Paris, Vienna, Moscow, Madrid and Sydney are all the same at this hour. No word on a cause and at the moment, no word of panic. Due to intense phone usage and massive traffic on the satellite telecommunications net, we cannot contact several major world cities. These include Mexico City, Seoul, Hong Kong, Oslo and Rome. The President of the United States has announced that he will make an address…"
I looked at Nelson, "We're not alone."
Then the next wave hit. I didn't notice what was happening to me so much because I kept looking at Nelson. Before my eyes, his face elongated and his eyes turned dark brown. His ears, still rounded, pushed higher on his head and his nose turned black and damp. He lost probably four inches in height as well. He was beginning to look like some sort of deer, but there was something not right about it, not the least of which was the lack of antlers.
That's when I noticed the three rocks in my mouth. I spit them out into my hands and took a look. They were oddly shaped and dull silver in color.
I realized suddenly that they were my fillings.
I ran my fingers over my face and mouth. My teeth had all grown together. I ran into the bathroom, Nelson following behind.
I stared at my face again. It was a little blurred. My glasses were still not working right. My…beak had started to grow, that was clear. It hadn't taken on the classic look of the bald eagle yet, but I had a strong feeling it would soon. It looked like the skin from the top of my nose to my lower chin had turned hard and yellow, but it hadn't protruded very far, yet.
Nelson was looking at himself, "Will you look at that? Nothing compared to you, but wow."
I looked at him oddly, "What do you mean?" It was strange talking all of a sudden, like my voice was coming from deeper in my throat.
"What? You didn't realize you grew tail feathers or something?"
Three things in quick succession all shocked me. First, I turned my head nearly all the way around to look at new, very long white tail feathers growing out of the base of my spine. Second, I fanned them out without thinking much about it. Third, in my surprise, a small pair of wings flapped on my back.
I looked back at Nelson in shock, "I didn't even realize!"
He had an approximation of a smile, "I noticed them when I followed you in here. How big are they?"
I stepped into the living room again and unfolded them. It was a surprise just how…natural that was. I looked over one shoulder and the other. They were small and didn't look fully formed yet. There were obvious flight feathers already in place, but some gaps where a few seemed missing. The total span from tip to tip was only about three feet.
"I guess it's pretty clear what you're becoming, but what about me?", asked Nelson.
I looked at him again. My first impulse was to say deer. The coloration was right for some type, anyway. But he lacked any hint of antlers, and his ears, already fairly large, were not peaked. They almost looked mouselike. There was something familiar about him, something I was sure I'd seen before, but I couldn't place it.
I shrugged, "I don't know." Then an idea hit, "We should head off to Cal Poly!"
"What? Why? There won't be any classes today."
"Yea, but the professors in my department will be there, I can almost guarantee it. Something like this… this… change will be all they can think about! Maybe they'll even know what's causing it. At the very least, we should be able to get you identified."
"Sure, but I want to try and call my parents first, let them know that I'm all right."
I nodded and agreed. We had separate phone lines in the apartment and both tried to get through, All I got was a message that the system was overloaded. After almost a dozen tries, I gave up. I changed my outgoing answering machine message though, "This is Brian Coe. I'm all right, but seem to be about halfway to bald eagle at the moment. I'm over at the Cal Poly Life Science department now, so you can reach me there."
I walked into Nelsons room and saw that he was having similar luck. "Maybe we should just get dressed and get going." I said.
He agreed and we both went in to get dressed. I had gained a little height, and was still as large as ever. The layers of feathers and the small set of wings didn't help. I decided to forgo the shirt and just threw on a loose pair of shorts. My legs were largely unchanged at the moment, so at least they didn't pose a problem. The tail feathers were a little bit of a bother, but I just let the shorts hand low. I slipped on my boots and waited for Nelson.
Nelson, it seemed, was a little better off. His form was smaller, and as yet he had no tail. He'd still been able to put on shorts and a shirt, though his shoes were unnecessary, he was walking on small deer-like hooves.
I started to grab my keys, then looked around the still fuzzy room. "Maybe you'd better drive." He nodded and took his own keys.
The parking lot in front of our small unit was quiet. It was still early, only about 7am, and perhaps most people were still asleep. San Luis Obispo wasn't a town that woke early. I did hear some sound from some units, but had a hard time making them out. Nelson, though, seemed more than a little disturbed by them.
We jumped into his battered Toyota pick-up. That was the first time we really could tell how different sized we'd become. Just last night, Nelson had been about two inches taller than me. This morning, he couldn't touch the peddles of his car without moving the seat forward. My head on the other hand was touching the roof. I shifted a bit in the seat.
"What's wrong?", asked Nelson as he started the car.
"Oh, nothing." I replied a little absently, "Just got my tail feathers in a bunch."
He rolled his eyes, "Oh, great. An old cliché with a new meaning!"
I just looked at him, "Just drive!"
He shrugged and backed out of the lot. We discovered that Higuera Street was nearly empty, not all that strange this time in the morning. But we did see a small group of people standing in front of the gas station on the corner. Nelson slowed a little as we passed. It was the first time we'd actually seen anyone else changed. The most striking one of the three was one who was going reptilian. I couldn't identify the species, but his tail was at least as long as his body, though his head looked normal. Another had an almost perfect ravens head, though his shirt was still on and I couldn't see if he had wings. The last, and most changed, had taken on a definite horse-like look. His brown and white coloration was familiar, but it took me a second to place it. As I did, he saw us and waved.
I burst out laughing. Nelson looked at me as we passed and asked, "What's suddenly so funny?"
"That guy on the corner is defiantly going to be employed when football starts back up. He's a spitting image of a mustang, the school mascot!"
Nelson didn't say anything, just pulled onto the freeway and drove. The school was only a couple miles away. We didn't see many other cars on the road, though. I tried the radio, but as I found the news station we felt the next change start. "Better pull over to the side, just in case."
Even as the car slowed, I felt a horrible pain in my feet! "Oh God! Stop the car! Stop the car! Stop the car!" I shouted.
In a panic, Nelson slammed on the brakes, barely guiding the car onto the shoulder. "What's wrong?!" he asked, his eyes suddenly wider than I'd ever seen them before.
"My feet! It hurts!! Help me get these boots off!" I was clawing at them desperately, but couldn't get the laces undone. My hands were changing, and I simply couldn't get them around the laces.
Nelson jumped from the car and ran around to my door. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his hunting knife. In a flash, he slit the laces off my boots and helped yank them off. Then we both stared at my feet for a minute.
They had completely changed that time. The reason for my pain became clear. My toes, or at least three of them, had grown several inches out into an orange scaled talon, with an additional toe facing backwards. My total foot length had nearly tripled. "Wow." Was all I could say.
I glanced at my hands and back at my feet. They weren't exactly mirror images, but they were close. I had only four fingers now, and my thumb was more or less facing backwards. I experimented a little with them and discovered that these orange scaled hands were at least as dexterous as my old ones, though I doubted that I could touch-type anymore. There wasn't as much feeling, either.
I pulled the trucks sideview mirror into position and looked at my face. Oddly, it looked unchanged from earlier. The beginnings of the beak were there, but so still were my ears.
I looked at Nelson. He seemed basically unchanged that time, though now he had a pair of small tusks on his upper jaw. "I guess you're almost done. I guess I still have a ways to go." I leaned back into the seat and jumped. "What the hell?" I got out of the car and flexed my wings. They had grown a lot in the last change, and looked complete. My wingspan from tip to tip looked like nearly twelve feet.
Nelson looked at them admiringly, "Think you can fly with those?"
I couldn't take my eyes off them. I also couldn't see them all that well. My vision was still rotten, and my glasses were getting progressively useless and uncomfortable. "I don't think so, right now at least. Maybe when I talk to someone who knows." I folded them back up. They compacted down nicely, but the tips of some of the feathers went as low as my knees.
He started walking back to his side of the truck, "Like who? Big Bird? Com'on, get back in. We're almost there."
I looked at the seat and shook my head. "I'll ride in the back if you don't mind." I popped open the camper shell and climbed in.
The familiar voice on the radio was talking again, "What's that Chris? Okay, thanks. We've just managed to get contact with Oslo, and have confirmed that they are undergoing the same changes, including a similar ripple effect that we just experienced here. We have been attempting to get in touch with various world experts, but as you can imagine, this has been difficult…" At that point, the anchor just began a recap of news we already knew.
In just a few minutes, we were driving past the dorms. It may have been early, but I could see dozens of people milling around outside. I just couldn't make them out just yet. I hoped that my vision would correct if I went though another change. I dreaded having to find glasses that fit over a beak. At least I still had my ears to hold them up. Nelson seemed more than a little nervous when we passed Yosemite Hall. My vision was clear enough to make out three bipedal canines standing and talking on the steps. I began to wonder just how much he, and perhaps they, had changed.
Nelson parked in the staff lot next to the science buildings. As I expected, there were several cars already in the lot with staff stickers. I jumped out of the truck bed and began walking into the Clyde P. Fisher Life Science Building.
The first thing I discovered is that walking on flat surfaces was going to be a bit of a problem. I found myself mimicking my parents parrot, sliding one foot slightly out and forward to set it down flat. The large talons were a problem, they didn't let my feet sit flat. Each toe was bend upward slightly. It took a little bit to get the hang of it, but I managed. The stairs were the next bit of fun. I was up two steps before I decided to just take the elevator for now.
I went straight to the fourth floor. That's where the DNA labs had been since they started years back with the insects in amber experiments. That research was particularly well funded, and it had some of the most advanced equipment available. I heard a three voices talking from down the hall and looked at my roommate, "See, told you someone would be here."
I walked into the lab and saw the three talkers. Off-hand, I couldn't recognize a single one. One didn't appear to need to bother with any clothes, he was encased in a heavy green turtle shell. From the rough shape, I guessed he was a Galapagos tortoise, but he was obviously still bipedal. The other one standing was female, and was wearing a tightly fitting T-shirt and shorts. It seemed overkill, though. She was completely covered in the heavy fur of a grizzly bear. The one sitting in the chair and looking though the lens of the Nomarski scope, though, was one that I couldn't get a handle on. He was reptilian, but not exactly lizard-like. He had a long tail, but it was somewhat rounded at the end, and his neck and head seemed to have gone lateral, more appropriate for a quadruped. He had to bend his body down to look through the scope.
The turtle was the first to notice us come in. He turned and held up a scaled hand, "Wait! Don't tell me. You're Brian, right?"
I looked at him. "How'd you know?"
He smiled a familiar grin, which pegged him instantly as Dr. Richardson, my invertebrate zoology professor and senior project advisor. "You're the only one I know who'd still need glasses as an eagle."
I touched the glasses a little self consciously and said, "Hopefully not for long. If I change anymore, my vision might hit 20/20 or so."
"Well, let me introduce us all again for the first time," he said with a smile, "I'm your project advisor Dr. Richardson. Our personal Gentle Ben here is Barbara, the department secretary. Our friendly thereaspid here is, naturally, Dr. Caan of the extinct DNA lab." Caan waved his hand, er, claw in my direction but never looked up from the scope.
I suddenly started laughing again. "Barbara, you look like Fred!"
She gave me a dirty look. Fred is the department "mascot". A young grizzly bear mounted in the traditional rearing pose. Some years back, someone hung a sign that said "Hello, my name is Fred, welcome to Life Science!" from it's neck. It's been sitting next to the department secretaries office for as long as she was there.
"So, Mr. Coe, who and what did you bring along?"
My suddenly shorter roommate walked into the room. "I'm Nelson Safer, Brian's roommate. As to what I am, I'm not sure. Some sort of deer, I guess."
Barbara walked over and put an arm around him and started leading him from the room. "I'll take you down to see Dr. McDonnell. He's the resident expert on deer species."
They left the room and I looked back at Dr. Richardson. "Think she'll tell him that McDonnell is a big game hunter?"
"Not likely, but doesn't matter. I doubt that he'll be going hunting soon anyway. Seems that he's gone a bit antelope."
I somehow found that image particularly funny and doubled up in laughter. As I did, my glasses slid from my head and hit the floor. I'd changed again and my ears had pulled in. I felt my beak push out and hook down wickedly. I felt it with my hand and though idly about how many inches of steel I could penetrate with this thing. Then a realization hit.
I looked into the hallway and saw a cute, barely changed girl walking to the lab. I thought that I recognized her as a classmate, but wasn't sure. She bore the brown fur of a hare, topped off by the ears and tail, but that was about the extent of it. As she approached, I tilted my head slightly from side to side. I think that I made here more and more nervous as she got closer. "What is wrong with you?", she suddenly asked.
I stopped and smiled as best I could around my fully formed beak, "You know that you have 79 lashes in your left eyelid?" I turned back to the two professors behind me, throwing my glasses in the wastebasket with a bit of flourish, "Won't be needing those anymore."
Within the hour, five more of the professors and half a dozen students arrived. All of them were changed to varying degrees. Some brought spouses and children, who I was surprised to see hadn't altered in the slightest. I did catch a glimpse of Dr. Watersons 13 year old son. I'm not sure they'd noticed the slight alteration of his eyes yet, but I made a silent prediction that he'd go feline at some point in the future.
Ought to make Dr. Waterson real happy, since she was pretty far gone into a white rat.
There was a mutual decision among the professors to just take data and leave the major analysis until later. Everything that they could think of. Blood and tissue samples, DNA analysis, brain wave and heart rhythm scans, full body MRI's and CAT scans, laser topography of the cornea and retina, and everything else that could be done at Poly. Barbara had managed to contact five other state universities and confirmed that they were almost to a one going full swing. We'd just collect all the early data possible and worry about analysis later.
One thing that was quickly pointed out, though, was the strange distribution of animals among the staff and present students. There were five different dinosaur morphs: two types of therespid, one who bore a strong resemblance to a duck billed dinosaur, and two raptors. The media had led us to believe that dinosaurs were apparently very rare. This many in one setting certainly shattered probability and possibly suggested a cause, or at least contributing factors.
It was also clear that there were more exotics here than in the general community. Nelson had been identified by Dr. McDonnell as a chevrotian, a relatively rare animal that was a link between deer and swine, though it bore a passing resemblance to a small musk ox. It was also a ruminant, which disturbed Nelson to no end. Historically, it never had a wide distribution, and it wasn't found many places anymore, save for southeast Asia, parts of Africa and India.
And the Cal Poly Museum, where one was mounted on display.
After that was realized, it was quick to see that the changes were not totally random. Of the twenty professors, fifteen students and three staff members present, more than half, including myself, could find a resemblance to either something in the museum or the extinct DNA lab.
They put me to work preparing the electrophoresis gels for DNA analysis. There was some completely automatic equipment to run these DNA typing on, but they could only handle one set of samples at a time. Even though the equipment was top notch, there simply wasn't enough of it for all the sampling that they wanted to do. So sometimes, the old ways work best. Hand prepared gels took longer, and were tough to do, but dozens could be prepared while the machine whirred away. Since it was a basic experiment in the cellular biologies, there was enough equipment for sixty students to work at the same time.
They put me in a small special projects lab with a couple students, one guy slightly altered into a skunk (thankfully, no scent glands and no tail) and a girl who was pretty far along into a doe. She was having problems handling the equipment with her altered hands and kept twitching whenever a predator walked past the door. There was also a biochemist, Dr. Marcovich. He was dubbed the most ironic transformation of the bunch. He'd always dressed like a slob, no matter the occasion. He had an extensive collection of T-shirts that hadn't been updated since the Nixon administration.
So naturally, the entire department collapsed in laughter when he showed up an Emperor Penguin. From slob to built in tux in one day.
I managed to tune them all out as I prepared the gels. I had never managed to have concentration like this! My field of vision had changed, too. I learned quickly that eagles have two fovea's, the region of the eye that you focus light on. That being the case, I could literally focus on two objects at the same time. That, combined with the slightly wider field of view from my different head shape meant that I didn't even have to budge my head as I moved the sample pipette from vial to vial, slowly draining the contents into the tiny formed pits in the submerged tray. I did fifty without making a single mistake. Since I could see the small pits in the gel so clearly now, it was easy.
Suddenly I heard, "Hey, he blinked!"
I glanced up to see Maria, the doe, looking at me. A longer looked reveled that all three were staring at me and smiling. My concentration still not totally broken, I slowly turned my head back and continued my work.
Dr. Frederick, geneticist and timber wolf, walked into the lab with a small cooler, "I found some cold bottles of Coke in the fridge down the hall. Anyone want one?"
We all walked over to him, though Maria was more than a little hesitant. For a minute, I thought she was going to bolt. For a longer minute, I wondered if Frederick would give chase. She stood behind me and reached past to get a bottle from the cooler.
He pulled out a cold glass bottle, then slapped his slopped forehead with a paw. "Damn! Do any of you have a bottle opener?"
Four pairs of eyes slowly turned my way.
I was doing more gels while Frederick looked for an opener when I felt someone yank a feather from my right wing.
I screeched in pain and turned my head around without moving a muscle on my body. I found myself glaring at a large female beaver.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to startle you! I'm Dr. Talbot from ornithology. I just got here and saw you while I walking down the hall. I just had to look at one of your feathers under a microscope. You seemed so intent that I didn't want to disturb you…"
I didn't move a muscle, just glared some more.
"Right, well. I must say you have wonderful plumage…"
"Well, okay. I'll be around later to tell you the results…", and she quickly hurried off, her fat tail knocking over a stool in the process.
A moment later, Marcovich waddled down the hall after her with his unopened bottle of soda, "Susan, have you got a minute!"
I glanced over at the other students who were back to staring at me.
I wiped the beaver slobber from my bottle and started trying to drink it. Straight in didn't work, I couldn't pour it down my throat, and I didn't have a long straw handy. I eventually settled on tilting my head to one side, sealing the lower half of my beak with my tongue and pouring it in the other side. Between gulps, I muttered "There has to be an easier way to drink this…"
I looked around the room again.
Dr. Parsons arrived at around two o'clock that afternoon. He was the resident absent minded professor. Brilliant mind when it came to ecology, but tended to forget little things like what kind of car he owned.
He showed up sans clothes, but it was clear that it was out of necessity. He was more porcupine than human, another animal found in the museum. His quills had bits of fabric jammed onto them.
"Sorry I'm late," he said as he came into the lab, "but I was stuck to the bed this morning."
The penguin started to prepare to take a blood sample, "Really?"
"Yes. I sleep on my back. It took me hours to work myself free. Then I got in my car…"
Marcovich looked at him askance.
"Yea, I didn't think about it. I was stuck in the parking lot until Barbara found me."
"Tom, you've had a bad day. Take a seat and I'll get the rest of the samples from you."
Dr. Parsons smiled gratefully and pulled over a thickly padded vinyl office chair. He sat before anyone could stop him.
All four of us stared at him for a while.
It took me and Bill, the skunk, fifteen minutes to get Dr. Parsons out of that chair. As he walked out, a female otter entered. She looked at me more than a little nervously.
"I'm Carol. I'm your Bacteriology lab partner."
"Oh, hi! I see you came through this pretty well."
"Yea, right. I hate the water. I hate shell fish. Now look at me."
I folded my arms, "At least you still have teeth."
She shifted nervously. "Well, the reason I'm here is that some of the professors want to run some scans on you. They really want to know how those wings of yours attach."
I unfolded them a foot or so. "Actually, so would I. Where are these guys, and why didn't they come themselves?"
"They've got all set up in the physiology lab. As for why they didn't come… well, some of them are members of your prey species now."
My mouth, er, beak hung open a minute. "You're kidding, right? They think that I'll eat them or something?"
She smiled a little, "Dr. Talbot thinks so."
"Well, in her case…" I let my voice trail off.
She laughed. I was glad to see her own nervousness was wearing off. "Let's go. If I don't return in about five minutes, I think that they'll send Paul Clairmont after you."
"What? That junior from our ecology class? Why?"
"You didn't hear? He's a gorilla."
"Yea, but how'd he change?", I asked with a smirk.
Well, I wanted to smirk anyway.
The physiology lab room was a brightly lit classroom on the fourth floor of the neighboring Science North complex. Since I'd been in the basement of Fisher, we just walked through the underground connecting tunnel to the elevator and walked to the lab.
Carol was right about one thing, most of these people were eagle prey, or at least prey. The most obvious was a guy who had started to change into a fish. He was wrapped in wet towels, but apparently was able to breath air just fine. I recognized the coloration of his scales, with the familiar pink stripe, and recalled the specialties of the staff. I remembered that one had spent his life working on new ways to breed salmon. I decided to take a guess.
The salmon turned, and for a moment, I thought was going to run from the room. I realized that since I couldn't change my expression much, I looked like I was sizing him up for dinner.
"Uh, yea. Brian, right? Well, uh, we just want to run a few tests. We've already got your DNA and body fluids in the works along with everyone else's, but you have had the most unusual change of all of us."
I looked around the room for a moment. I saw a zebra, a thereaspid, a beaver, a squirrel and an African tree frog. I looked back at the walking salmon. "You're kidding."
"No, no! True, we all changed. In fact, it appears that some of us can change into the full forms we've started to take on and back again. We've all gained or lost organs, but they all came from existing structures. You're the only one of us to completely gain a new set of limbs."
I flexed the wings again. "No one else got something like this?"
He shook his head, "I wouldn't say that. Dr. Richardson said he saw what looked like California Condor flying a little while ago, but that it had arms. Heck, the President is apparently a winged bald eagle, too. You're just the only one that we have available to us."
I nodded. I was secretly a little happy about that. In a world where the definition of "freak" just went out the window, I didn't relish being one.
"Okay, what do you want me to do?"
They started with simple measurements.
I stood in the middle of the lab and unfolded my wings comfortably. I noticed a muscular contraction in my chest and back, some evidence of where the flight muscles were. I also noticed that my tail feathers, which were measured to be two and a half feet long, fanned out naturally and automatically.
"Okay, is this as far as you can open them?"
"No, this is just normal."
"Great. Let's see…eleven feet, seven inches. Okay, go to the maximum."
I stretched a bit more. It actually felt good. I hadn't realized that these muscles got tiered while I'd been sitting in that basement lab for almost eight hours.
Dr. Talbot measured again, "Wow, thirteen feet, three inches!"
I folded the wings back.
Over the next hour, they all poked and prodded me. I ended up flexing the wings constantly while they first felt where the muscles were. As soon as Dr. Cann finished scanning the five dinosaurs in the MRI, they were planning on sending me in to really get some data.
They stood me out in the hallway facing the far wall nearly 100 feet away. "Okay, what's the smallest line you can read on the chart?"
I looked at the Snellen chart, a standard eye chart that last night I would have of had to be five feet from to see the big "E".
I looked back at Talbot, "Are you sure you want to know?"
"Printed by Illinois College of Optometry Press, all rights reserved. Calibration Distance: 20 feet"
Talbot looked at me oddly, then down at Saki who was standing next to the eye chart. He bent over and looked at the tiny print at the bottom of the chart and looked up. "I don't think that you need to worry about passing your vision test at the DMV…"
When the MRI was finished with the last raptor, they brought me into that lab.
An MRI is a fantastic tool. It makes a full body map, keeping track of soft and hard tissues and storing them into a computer. In the old days, they were clumsy and slow, and had to be viewed on a standard 2-D screen in black and white. Now, after a little enhancement, the image could be protected as a color hologram about the size of the subject. A computer assigned colors to an image based on set points for certain tissue types and could literally strip away the flesh layer by layer while you looked at it.
It was a little odd for such a machine to be present at Poly, since there wasn't a medical school attached. The machine was an older model, still perfectly good, that had been sold to the school by the larger, and better funded, University of California system. We used it to scan animal specimens, particularly fossilized and mounted animals, as a way to get baseline information before we did experimentation.
They stuck me in that machine and ran me through in the standard fashion, lying on my back. It was uncomfortable, and I found my legs seemed to want to point up a little, but I managed. After that, they had me stick my wings, one at a time, into the device to build an individual picture of them.
Then, I walked into the imaging lab and found myself standing face to face with myself, at least, sort of. The computer had assigned all feathers the color of white, which made my three dimensional image look very ghostly. Then, the assembled scientists started playing with it.
They stripped away the feather layer and there I stood in all my naked glory. The skin color, though, was human Caucasian, while my new skin was more gray. I looked at the visage for a moment. I had changed in general body shape a lot, even without the wings. My chest, never very muscular, looked huge. It was apparently the result of the flight muscles. My abdomen had withdrawn a bit, even though with feathers it looked normal. Of course, my legs, forearms and head were all different. Also, all my external sexual equipment was gone. I was certainly still male, it was just that the equipment was internal now.
So it went for the next hour. They stripped away later after layer. The skin went to the facia layer, down to the outer muscles, the inner muscles. They paused a long time at the skeleton, discovering that I had basically developed a second set of shoulders attached directly behind my more human shoulders. The muscles attached to a radically altered breastbone that combined aspects of the mammal and bird.
Most oddly, they found that I had hollow bones. I should have expected that, but I hadn't felt lighter. Even Dr. Talbot, the ornithologist, hadn't thought about that possibility. They weighed me right away, and I was shocked. I'd lost fully fifty pound, despite the new wings. I'd been overweight, nearly obese, the night before. Now, I had a nearly perfect fat to muscle ratio.
At least, we assumed it was. We simply didn't have enough data yet.
Oddly, though, there were only a couple other major changes. I'd developed a gizzard as a compensation for my lost teeth, but my digestive system was unchanged otherwise. In the coming days, tests would show that I had all the same digestive abilities. I was one of the lucky ones in that I could eat what I had before the change. Except that I'd lost about all my ability to taste. Birds, it turns out, don't have many taste buds. I also developed a craving for fish, a food I was never all that fond of. In the coming months, I found that the craving was always strongest when I flew.
My only other major internal changes were in my respiratory system. I'd developed air sacks attached to my lungs. Basically, a volume of air is pulled into the sack and held there until I breath out. Then, it passes though the lungs. My blood supply was always being oxygenated. It was a common factor in bird anatomy, used to keep the blood rich enough for flight as well as a way to expel heat.
I was actually happy about one other thing: They discovered that I'd lost my sweat glands. I hadn't noticed before, but I was panting slightly all day. It was a good thing, though. These feathers were so thick that there was no way I was going to be able to clean them every day.
Dr. Richardson walked into the lab. "Brian! Have you actually tried out those wings yet?"
Reflexively, I unfolded them a bit, "Not yet. I'm a little nervous to."
"Well, no time like the present. Besides, I've seen at least three others in the air. So I'm guessing you can fly. Com'on, we'll head up to the roof and see about getting you into the air."
I stopped, "The roof? Uh-uh, not a chance. I'm not leaping off the fifth floor for an experiment!"
He nodded his reptilian head, "Okay, how about the elevated walkway between Fisher Science and Science North?"
I thought a moment. It was only one story, but it was right above a concrete patio. Still, knowing these guys, they were libel to toss me off the roof if I refused, and secretly I did want to try these out. "Okay, that'll be fine."
We walked downstairs to the walkway and stepped out. It was the first time I'd been outside in hours, and the first time since my vision became eagle-like. I was amazed at how much detail there was! From fifty feet, I could see veins on the leaves of trees, ants on the pavement and the minting year of a penny lying on the ground. I looked across the courtyard and found myself looking into a math professors office nearly 100 yards away. At least, I guessed it was a math professor given the equations on his white-board.
I shook my head a little, "Okay, what do I do?"
Richardson looked at me, "How would I know? You're the eagle."
I decided to just go for it. I leapt into the air, giving my wings a tremendous flap. I felt oddly lighter all of a sudden. I climbed about four feet in that jump, more than enough to clear the walkway railing, and dove over the side.
In retrospect, I suppose, it good thing that I didn't go to the fifth floor. My head slammed into the picnic table below so hard that I heard a board snap.
I was standing and clearing my head before a veritable zoo of people were around me. I hadn't even noticed that most of the people who showed up to work today had turned out to see my attempt to fly. Even though there had been others sighted in the air, most of us had been inside all day, and I was the only one in the group with wings.
I rubbed my head for a minute, but felt fine. I hadn't been going that fast when I fell.
Dr. Talbot walked nervously over to me. "Uh, Brian. I, uh, think that you should take off into the breeze, not with it."
I looked at her and glared again, this time out of reflex. It seemed that my face had lost most expression save for that glare. I briefly pondered what beaver tasted like. I shook my head of that thought and climbed (stumbled) back up the stairs to the walkway.
This time, I took off in the opposite direction. I felt the breeze this time, and it felt right somehow. I flapped a few times, caught the wind under my wings, and was off!
I kept pumping my wings into the breeze, and gained a few feet with each flap. I cleared the top of the two adjacent science buildings and the shifting breeze mellowed out a bit. I tentatively let my wings go flat, and was soaring for the first time.
I circled the science building and looked around. I saw the upperclassman dorm buildings across the street. The grassy courtyard was full of student's in various levels of morph. I looked to the student union, where there was some sort of impromptu concert going on. It seemed that five coyotes had already managed to get a band together. The small crowd was getting into the music, but I couldn't hear well from this distance. I clearly saw some of the professors below wielding cameras. I gave a light wave and pumped my powerful wings again. I wobbled a bit in the air, but instinctively adjusted my tail feathers to compensate.
I caught a thermal when I passed over the street and started going up. I gained a couple hundred feet of altitude. As I climbed, I was amazed by the level of solitude. I could hear a little from the ground, but the sound of the rushing air was magnificent and deafening. In a flash, I could switch my vision from the entire landscape to the smallest movement on the ground or under the water. I guessed that I was at 1000 feet (mental note: pick up an altimeter tomorrow), but could still read license plates and at one point even a newspaper headline. It was a San Luis Obispo Tribune Extra about the changes that morning.
I looked into the distance and saw the coastline, and over the hill to see the Cureza Plains, a vast, dry salt lake. (Another mental note: buy a better camera.) I could see the checkerboard of farmland and pasture land. I could even see a couple of horse and cow morphs grazing out there. That made me a little nervous. Up to then, I hadn't though about food. I simply was to busy to be hungry. I also knew that bald eagles ate fish and small animals. Given my sizable bulk, I would have to eat a lot of fish and rabbits to keep myself sated. Personally, I preferred burgers.
I caught a strange cross wind and lost a couple hundred feet in a hurry. I realized then that I wasn't flying so much as soaring, and I needed to practice this a little closer to the ground. Preferably over something soft. I decided to land for the moment and look at the video that had been shot, see what I did right and wrong. I pumped my wings a few times, adjusted myself in the air and slowly folded them a little forward, bringing my brilliant white tail feathers down as a sort of air break. I wasn't loosing speed fast enough, so I spread my wings out farther like a parachute.
As I approached the elevated walkway again, I saw that a couple more people had wandered out there. One was Dr. Frederick, the timber wolf geneticist, who was planning on catching my landing on the departments new holographic video camera, and the other was a small chipmunk morph just making her way from one building to another. I don't think that she was even aware of my flight. The rest of the department seemed to be mulling around the lower courtyard watching me.
I adjusted myself for landing on the bridge, and was about twenty feet above the chipmunk, my talons down, when she looked up.
Now, it was clear that I wasn't attacking her. Even she said so later. I was going to be landing behind her in fact. But in that moment, she hit the deck and sent… something my way.
It felt like I bounced off a stiff rubber ball. I twisted, screeching in the air. Instinctively, I folded my wings in, brought my head down and pulled up my talons as my momentum sent me hurling though the tempered glass window in the second floor landing and into a display case showing off the images from the new scanning electron microscope.
I lay there dazed amid the shattered bits of glass. Amazingly, I wasn't cut. Turned out later that when the adrenaline was pumping, I couldn't be cut. I could still feel a blunt force injury, though.
The first one standing over me was the chipmunk. "Oh God, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do that! I don't even know what I did!"
I just looked at her meekly for a moment before I passed out on the floor. By the time that I came back around, and they told me that I was amazingly uninjured from the crash, it was already past midnight.
I made another mental note: buy a helmet before flying again…
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