I felt terrible, but my stomach was full. Of what, I did not really want to know. Before I opened my eyes, I did a body part check. There was something different... No more tail. Therefore I was human again.
But just where was I? There was bright light shining on my eyelids, that much was certain. The only area I'd explored underneath the strange house that had that much light was the Costume Shop. And lastly, I was rather cold. Doubtless because all my clothes had ripped off when I'd become something that had not been around for millions of years. A velociraptor.
I opened my eyes. Yes, I was in the Costume Shop. In the middle of the dinosaur section, in fact. I sat up stiffly, or tried to, and looked what I was lying beside. It was one of the larger dinosaurs, Iguanadon. And from the looks of the sides I'd done some serious slashing with those huge claws on my feet. They were really cut up.
I decided to do a visual body check. I was not fully human. Scales still ran up the tops of my hands and arms, and in patches on my legs. I was wrong about the tail. I still had one about a foot long, but I could see it shrinking. My teeth felt sharp, and my face still had a noticeable push forward. It felt like I had a cold. I had hair on my head. My hands had five fingers with short claws. But I was still stuck with three toed feet, and if I stood up I was sure I would stand tip-toe.
I sighed. Can't have everything I'd come to the conclusion that nothing could be gained by panic. Almost. I allowed myself a few seconds of panic. But as I was doing so I started to change back. The shrinking tail suddenly leaped out of my behind and I had three fingers again before I got a handle on it. Then it stopped. I did another body check: four foot tail. Fully changed feet. Three fingers/hand. No hair at all. Lastly, a longer muzzle. For some reason whatever-it-was that caused my to change was responding to my emotions. But the biggest thing I noticed was that the buzzing that had compelled me to eat that bogus bar was gone.
I forced myself to relax. Sure enough, the changes reversed themselves. My scalp itched as hair grew back. Tail shrunk. Muzzle shortened. Reeeeelllllllaaaaaaaaxxxxxx I was no Zen Master, but I could try. I opened my eyes. I was even more normal then when I woke up. The columns in the shop were mirrored, so I looked at my reflection. Everything was normal. Almost. My eyes were still slit-pupiled. But everything else was there.
Having solved (I hoped) the more pressing problem of staying human, I decided to find some clothing. This was a costume shop, so there should be something here that I could wear. Those animal costumes looked promising, though I was sure there was some risk involved. Especially in this crazy place. After I found something I could wear I could then explore the place and find a way out, though I had not found one in my earlier search.
Several of the dinosaurs in this section were shredded like the first, though some looked like they were somehow healing themselves. I walked along the pathway between displays before I came to a very ornate display. It was an ordinary male mannequin with what seemed to be a wetsuit with a hood on it. There was a placard on a pedestal that said: NEW! OUTWEAR 3000. PUSH BUTTON TO TRY ME AND FIND OUT MORE!!
It looked like the most normal clothing in the place, though I wondered what it might be like to try on some of the costumes. None of them had hands, however, and I was sure I'd be needing them. For some reason any thoughts of caution against doing or eating anything in this place felt curiously suspended, even though that buzzing had disappeared. I pushed the button. The suit sort of collapsed in on itself with the zipper undone.
Getting into it was rather straightforward. One leg, then the other. The material seemed to mold itself to my body. But this was a wetsuit, wasn't it? Sure, and RAPTOR RIPPLE is just a granola bar I pulled on the arms and inserted my head into the hood. To my surprise the zipper sealed itself. Then even more so it seemed to be absorbed into my body, and I was naked again.
I felt as if I was paralyzed. I could not move a muscle. Then a voice seemed to speak in my head, Congratulations on your purchase of a OUTWEAR 3000 environmentally adaptive nanite apparel. Please be patient while the AI assesses your likes and dislikes concerning animals in different environments. This will take a few minutes. Thank you.
What was that supposed to mean? I felt my memories being sorted through. I liked dolphins, eagles, crows, deer, horses, lions, wolves, dinosaurs and many others. Something seemed to hover over those particular memories, stop, and continue. Now what have I gotten myself into? Why did I put this thing on?
Will you be quiet? A dry voice said, you have a very disorganized mind, and I'm having trouble sorting through everything. So will you be silent for a sec?
"Who is that?" I said tersely.
A friend. Just be quiet, OK? It felt like someone was rummaging around in my head as if in an attic. Done. Now for the rest of you. There was a pause. Oh no, he didn't! He made you eat one of those ancient nanite bars! No wonder you're so screwed up. Well, I'll just have to integrate them into myself. It'll take some time... then I can get some real work done.
While it was doing that I found I could move again. As I sat up I found I was wearing my favorite jeans, T-shirt, and shoes. Somehow the AI-thing had known, then made the clothes. My muscles were twitching, so I sat down and waited. Done! it said, now, David, shall we test a couple of your favorite animals? Besides the dinosaur. Oh, incidentally, you can also become that if you wish. Not to mention the changes are going to happen if you want them or not. A kind of diagnostic and familiarization thing. And I know everything about you. I think I can clear some things up.
I could not find any argument against that. That curious suspicion-suspension again. I was in an extraordinary situation, and any info I can get would be valuable. Especially if it got me out of here. Sure. Seems OK. Especially since I had no choice in the matter.
My legs started moving on their own. Hey! What are you doing?!
Thought we might try a bottlenose dolphin first. The environment should be ideal for the little revelation I have for you. What I had taken for a wall at the end of the pathway turned out to be a seawater tank. Just around the corner was a large window where I could see inside the tank. There were stairs further on the left. To the right, I noticed that the displays were mostly of birds. We might try one of those later, the voice intoned, Only if you want to, of course.
I can't say the prospect of becoming a dolphin was especially frightening. The experience of being something other than human had given me a new perspective. I just hoped I would not lose my mind like the last time. I was at the top of the tank. I noticed along the edge there were more animal displays, this time of fish, dolphins, and sharks, on a kind of shallow area. Like the other costumes, there seemed to be no way to get into them. But if the presence in my head was not lying to me, I would not need to try anyway.
My clothes disappeared again. The thing controlling my body executed a perfect dive off the edge of the pool. You'll love this, it said. I felt my legs fuse together. Feet flattened into flukes. My hair fell out again. Treading water became easier as the tail I now had became functional. It moved up my body, I felt a lump on my back leap into being, a dorsal fin. My arms shortened, becoming flatter, fingers fusing into a single mass. My head increased in size, reorienting to be parallel with the rest of my body. A muzzle pushed forward chin first, I felt a mass on my forehead, the melon. My eyes now faced completely different directions. I could feel a single nostril open on top of my head. Then it was over. I felt completely at home in the water.
The most amazing thing, I found, was a new sound-sense. Sounds were pictures. Through them I could see that the tank was not featureless. There were rocks, fish, sand. It was a mini-ocean. The most startling thing though was the way I was thinking. My thoughts had never been so clear! It was as if a cloud had been lifted from my mind. The buzzing background, and the suspicion-suspension had also gone. Now you see why I chose this form to start, the dry voice said. I'll start with a bit of history while we swim. I'll control first, then I'll give you control.
The voice seemed to settle itself into an almost lecture tone, and began.
You are from the Twentieth Century, so I'll try to be brief. Remember the copyright date on the Raptor Ripple wrapper? Good. You were half right when you assumed this place was a private amusement park. What it really is, is a kind of node for temporal tourism. Yes, you heard me right. Time travel is possible.
I thought so. Under the current circumstances, I'm inclined to believe you, I thought back. I was still slightly skeptical, but I really had no choice. Nothing in my century could possibly do this. But why are there no tourists around?
Simple. The latter half of the twentieth century is not a particularly exciting part of history to visit. This place was also used as a stopping point to points further back in the past. It was slowly giving me more control over my body, and with that I executed a perfect arcing jump over the water. Couldn't resist that, could you?
Nope. This was actually pretty fun! So why was the place abandoned?
It wasn't. It was merely sealed pending a grand reopening sometime in the early twenty-first century. But a closed facility is useless. Everything except the Lab was shut down. The voice sounded pained.
Well, that clears some things up. But how was I able to get in? I hit my head on a steel door! And what are you anyway? I now had full control. I was hungry, so I stunned some of the fish with sonar bursts and ate them whole. For some reason, it seemed completely natural.
Simple, you got in because he wanted you to. You were led here because of me. The voice became hesitant. You asked what I am. In the late twenty first century there was a nanotechnology breakthrough. Nanites could be used to reshape human bodies. What you had was one of the old kind of nanite bars. The first ones became unstable after a while after ingestion. As you found out. They did not disintegrate after the proscribed amount of time. Instead they reacted to certain chemicals in the brain, changing a person back and forth between whatever animal was encoded into them, depending on mood or environment.
I continued to swim around, but I had not come up for air for a while. I felt another change happen. Suddenly I had gills, my tail now went side to side. I felt additional fins. My face shifted, my mouth was now below and behind my eyes, with several rows of teeth. I no longer had that sound-sense, but it was replaced with a "smell-sense". The blood in the water from the fish I'd eaten almost overwhelmed me. What! Did you do that?
No. It's one of my built in features. Instant adaptation to environmental stresses. A shark is closest in mass to a dolphin. I'll change us back. It did so. Now for the hardest part. There was another pause. As I said, you were brought here because they wanted you to get in. Simply, I am an untested, unwilling prototype of a new model of a clothing type that is popular in my century.
What do you mean "untested"?! I screamed mentally. You mean I could be going insane? Like this whole thing is some sort of nightmare? And what do you mean "unwilling?"
No, it's completely real. Too real. What is different about me is, well, me. All previous OUTWEAR products were limited in what they could do because the integrated AI's could not think beyond the logical. If it changed you into a logical animal for that environment, it might put you in danger. If you became a deer when you were surrounded by wolves, that would not be a good thing. I am different because... because he modeled me on a living person. Unwilling because he forced me under the downloading equipment, and I died in the process.
Died, what do you mean, died? You're right here. I paused swimming and floated to the surface.
I am a download, my "soul" if you will was torn from my physical body and forced in here. Look, all that matters is that they're treating us both as guinea pigs, and I won't stand for it. Neither should you. The ironic thing is I invented the whole OUTWEAR concept... her mind-voice had a bemused tone. And don't worry about dying. I'd been sitting on that force-field mannequin for a decade, and I think I managed to get most of the bugs out of the design. It took control again and swam over to the shallows. There it shifted my body back to my human self.
And while I was on that mannequin I managed to take control of the computer system, at least slightly. Your suspicions were counter acted when you entered the area around the house with mind-altering transmissions. That background "buzzing" was part of it. I'd walked down the stairs back into the main part of the shop. I was not able to prevent him from luring you in here, David, but I have fooled the monitors. He made you eat that bar because he was not prepared for your arrival. He don't even know that you've changed back yet. But he will soon. We need to get out of here fast, then we can find another node and find the guy who did this. She had a very determined tone.
How do I know you're telling the truth? You won't even give me control of my own body! Sure, the story had a certain logic to it, but what was I supposed to believe? All I really wanted to do was go home.
You know you're right, it thought. Why don't I give you choice of the next creature to change into? I'll give you a choice of those that are immune to the mind control processes.
As my own gesture of trust I took him at his word. My eyes seemed to light up with a kind of video screen. Make your choices from these, the voice said. There were four choices: BIRDS, MAMMALS, REPTILES, DINOSAURS. I chose the second. More choices popped up: HERBIVORES, INSECTAVORES, CARNEVORES, and so on until I reached my final choice, a mountain lion. A kind of calm came over me. I immediately started to shrink a little. Light tawny fur sprouted from everywhere, and I found myself squatting while my legs shortened, my smallest toe withered away, the other four gaining large retractable white claws. I looked at the palm of my hand. My palm lengthened, a black pad inflated like a balloon, along with small ones at the ends of my fingers. There was a jostling around my shoulders and hips. I was now comfortable squatting, it now felt normal. I was surprised to see a tail wrap around my front paws. I felt rather funny for a moment, I had a mostly human head on a cat body. Then there was a compression sensation as it, too started to change. My canines grew into my changing jaw. Hearing sharpened, and other senses as well. I wish I had a mirror!, I thought. I could actually get to like this shapeshifting thing.
Good choice, David! Cat senses are perfect for what I have planned. I'll take control temporarily, then you've got it. It was talking to me like I was learning to drive a car. I stood on all fours, stretched and yawned, and padded off to the exit of the shop.