When they left I realized that I was ravenous. I went into my kitchen, claws clicking on the tile floor, and looked for some good meat. Meat was the only thing I thought I could eat. There was a small beef tip-loin steak in the 'fridge, and when I opened the wrapper the smell gave me a hot taste in my mouth. I forced myself to cook it a little, and wolfed it down, ripping off medium-sized bits off the steak with my sharp teeth and hand claws. There were two more steaks of more than two pounds each that I ate without even cooking, but I was now satisfied.
The Doctor spoke up. I've analyzed your new digestive tract and biochemistry. You have a gizzard, like a bird. I've replicated some gizzard stones to grind the meat. Your digestive tract itself is somewhere between dinosaur and human. I think you can still digest stuff like dairy products, nuts, sweets, processed foods, and of course meat; but I don't think any kind of raw plant matter would be a good idea as a snack. You'd probably throw it up. So much for an after dinner salad. But I had a chocolate bar, which smelled and tasted better then ever. Taste is mostly smell, after all. Now I was really tired.
I had trouble finding a comfortable position. I ruled out sleeping on my back because of my tail (which had actually gotten about a foot longer and a bit thicker while the rest of me was finishing). Sleeping on my stomach was just as difficult because of my new pelvis. My side was a good compromise, and I dozed a little.
I awoke about a half hour later in all kinds of cotton batting. I'd turned over while dozing and when I did so I must have flexed my feet and ripped open the mattress. Damn. I gathered some sheets and went to the couch, I wedged my back between the cushions and passed out.
I was awoken early in the morning by a terrified whinny. I was taken aback for a moment, not realizing who it was, then there it was again. There was only one person I knew who possibly make that sound. "Bob!" I flung open my front door and ran to Bob's. Or what was left of it. It had been ripped off the hinges and was laying just inside. And the next door down was broken out the opposite direction. Something big, with big claws had knocked it down. It was very dark, and I could barely see even with my enhanced night vision, I smelled something coming from the bedroom. What I found inside was Bob cowering in front of a big grizzly bear that looked like it was about to strike. "Stop!" I yelled. It came out as a challenging raptor's scream. The bear paused and turned around. Bob had just pulled in on himself in fright, the whites were showing in his big brown eyes. Then I looked more closely at the bear.
The bear's eyes were a dichotomy, on one hand they had a bit of humanity in them, and that part seemed, well, drunk. On the other hand the animal side in those eyes had not a fleck of sentience in them. The human part made me reluctant to hurt him. But for some reason that made me angry. I was suddenly seeing everything in slow motion. The bear started to charge, I almost felt as if I was going to change completely (oddly enough, it felt like I was doing it, not those primitive nanites) and do something I was going to regret.
Just before that happened, the energy that was to go to my full change was shunted somewhere, along with my anger. I felt an incredible force building, centered on my tail. Control was jerked away from me, just as the bear reached me I spun around, my tail swept in a wide arc that would connect with the bear's side. The Doctor had turned my head around enough so she could aim right. It was then I saw the leading edge of my tail was surrounded by what looked like a slight distortion, like a bubble underwater. When I hit the bear/man's side, he went flying into the wall and broke through it right into Bob's living room. Well what do you know, it worked, the Doctor said smugly. I decided to ignore that for now, quickly checked to see that the bear was still alive, and went in to check on Bob.
Fear-smell exuded from his hide, and his ears were plastered against the back of his head. By the look of his eyes his fear instincts had overtaken him, as my rage instincts had almost done me. I got closer to him and he almost whinnied again in terror. I yelled, "Bob! Snap out of it! It's me, Dave." That did not work, he only saw another predator. I shook him a bit. That seemed to bring him back to his senses, I could smell his fear subsiding. "I, I'm s-s-orry Dave. Guess I lost my head for a moment. Not used to these new instincts, I suppose." His ears came back up, and he seemed relieved.
"Don't worry about it," I said. "You just let your them get the best of you, that's all. All you had to do was punch him in the head once and he'd of been out cold." My tail twitched reassuringly. That had definitely replaced smiling for me, it was in general pretty stiff, but the end was rather flexible. Bob untangled himself from the sheet he'd been clutching. "Who do you think he was?" I asked.
"My alcoholic neighbor," Bob replied. "We'd better get out of here." Apparently the Change had affected everyone differently, changing some more than others. All the noise had brought people out of their apartments for the first time in a day. Jack was the first one in, asking "What happened?" We told him.
It was dark in Bob's bedroom, and two nervous people (one a rabbit, the other a raccoon) came in ill-fitting clothes. They obviously had not counted on their enhanced sense of smell, and the smell-of-fear was still quite strong. It must have masked my scent, or they would have bolted.
"Wh-wh-what's going on?" said a scared female voice from the rabbit. There were people starting to mill around outside Bob's door. "That," Jack responded, pointing at the unconscious bear. The two almost jumped out of their furry hides. Then they started sniffing the air, smelling something else. I'd been panting off and on (dinosaurs were warm blooded, but I guess some had no sweat glands, so I panted) and I must have had morning breath. Then I smelled their nervousness become more like fear. The raccoon turned on a light, then saw me in full.
In my rush to get to Bob's apartment I'd neglected to put on some clothes (I guess I had none that would fit me anyway) so I was standing there panting in my scaly gray/black/tan, tiger-striped glory for all to see (which was nothing, really). First they saw my teeth, then the claws on my hands, but at the sight of the four-inch sickle-claws on my feet they fainted dead away.
We could not stay in Bob's apartment so we decided that Jack and Bob would carry the ladies up to Jack's place. There was no telling what their reactions would have been if one woke up while I was carrying her. I stopped at my own apartment to put on some clothes (and to have a conversation with the Doctor) and go up later.
While I was cutting a large hole in some baggy shorts for my tail (the clothes-making function of the suit was off-line) I asked her, So what exactly did you do there?
I've been making a few modifications to the suit, she replied in lecture tone. I know that if you ever change fully in a state of rage you might do something you'd be sorry for later. Therefore I've put in a temporary shunt for all that rage into a field of physical potential energy. When that field contacts what you are hitting, it releases about fifty times more force than the blow itself would have delivered. That's why he flew through the wall. You can also focus it in other places besides your tail. She still sounded smug.
You've abrogated our agreement about not taking control without my permission, I retorted.
It was either through the wall or rip his guts out. I thought you'd want the former. And if I'd used your fist or claws, then the highly focused force would have killed him, on your tail I was able to spread it out so it would only stun, she thought, sounding injured. I'm not finished with my mods yet. When I'm finished you'll be more than just a natural shapeshifter. You have latent codes in your new DNA that are unknown to me, and perhaps are the instructions for mutant powers like in those X-Men comic books. The force-wave was one of them. It seems that this is a new thing, all three universes had these Powers in potential, but it took all three of them together to bring them to the surface. I'll let you know when I'm finished. She was gone again.
When I left my apartment (in a trench coat and hat) there were people of various species milling around in the hallway, including one that looked half grizzly bear rubbing painfully at his sides. "Man," he said groggily, "What did I do last night?" Clearly shapeshifting itself was going to be a "mutant power". I was glad I had not gutted him. Many of those that I saw were in various states of dress or undress. Most were trying to hide their appearance as I was, ineffectively most of the time, but I'd had quite a bit of experience with this, so all I had to do was blur my outline a little with the coat.
While I was walking to the elevator I saw an otter, a squirrel, a skunk (everyone was keeping their distance from him), a mule deer (who'd caught his antlers in a doorframe), a gray fox, two coyotes, a hawk, and a meadowlark. About a quarter seemed to be birds, I noticed, some had wings and some not. I definitely could not hide my tail, I guess they assumed I was some sort of reptile.
In the elevator (which was going down, I'd stepped into the wrong one) I noticed a guy who seemed bundled up for winter, and it was June. Looking closer as I stepped in I saw a snouted face covered with pebbly green scales, with loose skin hanging from his chin and neck in a dewlap. He was an iguana. He'd obviously seen my scaled countenance, because he turned to me and said, "Hey! You're a lizard too! Glad to meet you!" He extended a splayed hand that had small claw-like fingernails. I saw the end of his tail twitching madly in excitement. I reached out and shook his hand and quite surprisingly he did not flinch when he saw my much longer claws. "I'm a velociraptor, actually," I replied. All he said was, "Everybody's got to be something."
I saw something else long and green swing over his near shoulder behind his head. He turned to face me more. He'd been wearing a hooded green jacket, so I did not notice the real lizard on his far shoulder. "Many say that people resemble their pets. Well, I'm a living example." He asked me a few more short questions while the elevator went to the bottom floor. One was rather awkward: "Did your, uh... um... well... you know... disappear?" he stammered. I just nodded. I inevitably had to show him my feet ("Cool," he said) but just then we hit bottom and the door opened. There were a few people there, most were herbivores and did not step on. "Well, I'll see ya around, man," 'Mr. Iguana' said. "You're actually going out?" I replied, a bit shocked.
"Yeah. Have to get on with life no matter what happens. Called work first and most are taking the day off. They need everyone who will work. Besides, it's triple time, the boss said. Can't pass that up. See ya!" He walked away with an odd, almost waddling gait. He was obviously now cold blooded, which explained the heavy clothing. As he was walking away I saw that his tail was quite a bit longer than mine, probably almost as long as he was tall. Damn, I should have gotten his phone number! I thought.
The only person who got on the elevator with me to go back up was a 5'2" Bobcat. "You've got cool claws, man," he said in a soft tenor voice. "But look at this," he flexed his paw-like hand and five small, sharp claws popped out of his fingertips. Then he went on and on about all kinds of things (I paid little attention). When I was about to get out at Jack's top floor apartment, I heard him say: "My kid likes dinosaurs a lot, man. There are at least a few more like you, but not around here. He's kinda hoping he'll turn into one, would you come over and see my kid?"
What a question! Especially since the Change had only happened yesterday. I stepped out the elevator and appeared to think it over. As the doors closed I said, "Sorry, no." There was a muffled, "But!" just as the doors closed completely.
I heard some muffled talking as I reached the door of Jack's apartment, which stopped when I knocked. I heard footsteps come up the door, and Jack's voice say to someone, "Now remember ladies, he's not going to eat you. Don't let your new instincts the better of you." He opened the door and I went in. I took off my trench coat and hat, leaving just the shorts. Jack introduced me, "Ladies, this is David Smith. David, this is Coonie," pointing to the raccoon. "And Michelle," pointing the rabbit. The first thing I noticed about Coonie was her fluffy gray-and-black striped tail. She was a little stocky, with slightly shorter legs and then a normal human. She had the characteristic black mask, perky ears, and pointed nose. Overall she was about as changed into a raccoon I was into a raptor. I shook her hand, "Pleased to meet you," we both said to each other. By the look of her eyes, I could see that she had the typical curiosity that raccoons did. She also had a voice that you would always remember, so distinctive it pulled you right in.
Michelle was a more like Jack in her Degree of change. The only thing she had in her eyes was caution. She was white-furred and very clean. Our greeting was therefore much more tense.
After talking a bit with our guests (it seemed that letting them talk about their Change helped a lot), I realized I was hungry and thirsty. They were not speaking to me at the moment so I got up and had a drink. I had to pour it directly down my throat because my lack of cheeks made it impossible to use a straw or just hold it up to my lips (yes, dinos did, or do, have lips). The only meat he had was some frozen hamburgers, and it was almost lunch time anyway. I held up the package and said, "Anyone want lunch?" Then I realized it was stupid question. They were all herbivores, after all. Quite surprisingly Coonie spoke up, "Sure, I'll have one."
"But.." I replied, puzzled.
"Raccoons are omnivores, and I'm not quite a full raccoon anyway. I'm sure I can handle it. I'll make lunch for Michelle, Jack, and Bob while you make ours." Sounded like a plan, so I went out and started up Jack's gas grill and cooked them. I sat sideways on a chair and watched the street below.
There were surprisingly a lot of cars driving around, I saw a couple who were trying to somehow get themselves to fit in their car, but with their new shapes it just was not working. I saw those who'd changed into six-limbed birds flying around. One falcon pulled out of an amazingly steep dive just feet above the pavement, "yahoo!"-ing in excitement. I wished the Doctor had not had to recalibrate, because I knew I'd up there too.
While we ate, Jack turned his small tabletop TV to TNC. They were showing statistics of who had changed into what. Most had changed into mammals of one type or another, leaning more towards those native to the particular continent, with the random "exotics" scattered about. A small percentage of those changed had apparently changed completely, with no memory of ever being human. No one had become insectoid, the Square-cube Law still held. There was a natural proportion of herbivores to carnivores of approximately 10:1.
Then I saw something I'd gotten an indication of in the elevator. The fact that anyone at all had become a dinosaur was surprising, it seemed they'd been around for so long they'd left an indelible mark on Earth. "It is estimated that less than 50,000 worldwide have changed to dinosaur part-forms," the elk anchorperson was saying, appearing much more comfortable than before. The ones which had been discovered had gotten instant celebrity status. The one they were showing on screen looked like an iguanadon, and was surrounded by lots and lots of kids waiting for an autograph.
But I resolved that no matter what I was going to go out in public again. Bob looked at the empty plates around the table, clearly still quite hungry (seems he cleaned out his pantry last night). I volunteered to go out and get more food, I needed more meat at home anyway. Bob and Coonie wanted to go with me, and I agreed.
I borrowed one of Jack's shirts (I consciously chose a tank top that had the "Jurassic Park" logo), not bothering about shoes. Perhaps the presence of Bob and Coonie would keep others from prejudging me. "We'll take my car," I said. I went down to my apartment and got my keys and wallet. My car was parked in a secure lot across the street.
This was the first time I'd really walked a long distance in my new form unrestricted by concealing clothing. While I was walking, I noticed how my tail moved to balance my every step. I walked lightly bobbing my head on my elongated neck as well. My tail was under semiconscious control, like breathing. I could move it any direction I wanted to, but when I did not it unconsciously balanced my every move, and kept me from falling on my snout because I leaned forward about thirty degrees from the vertical. But it also made me feel like I was being followed; once or twice I'd turned around to look at something I'd seen with my (wider) peripheral vision. Bob or Coonie would ask, "What's wrong?" I'd tell them, and they'd say, "It's just your tail." "Oh." I might be smarter, but sometimes it did not show. The blacktop and concrete communicated rich textures, and heat, lots of heat, and I could hear the dull click, click of my claws on the pavement.
Bob walked along with obvious power, his hooves clip-clopping on the concrete. He still looked hungry, very hungry. "There's a feed and tack store on Fourth," he said. "I'll give you directions as we go."
Coonie walked with quick, short steps that easily kept up with us. She did not wear any shoes either, her feet resembled small paws.
When we reached my car I realized that I'd forgotten something. I could not sit to drive it because there was no tail hole in the front driver's seat. And Bob was too big to fit in anyway. Coonie saved us, "I have a van."
We went first to the feed store, I was sitting in the passenger side captain's chair sideways. Bob sat on the floor looking hungry. On the way there we saw a tent not unlike those at a swap meet where there was a handmade sign that said: TAIL HOLES CUT TO FIT, $2.00/GARMENT. A line was already forming. "Isn't it amazing?" Bob said. "Even a bare day after their transformations people are going back to work. They are not going to let a little thing like a tail and a furry face intrude on their normal, everyday lives. In a short time there will be a new normality as people reconcile with their new forms. Either we adapt or we die, and I think we're choosing to adapt. Lessons of the Plague learned well." Coonie only nodded.
There were a great many farm animals in the feed store exhibiting varying Degrees of Change. Coonie and I looked at the carefully stacked displays of hoof creme, tack, and other things, one of which I knocked over with my tail. I was still not used to it being there, and clumsy in tight spaces. "That's OK, that's OK," the proprietor (a red fox) said quickly, smelling and sounding nervous. They were all a little nervous with me around. A normal reaction to my scent, I guess. I heard Bob say, "Boy, that's more than I've got." So I offered to pay for whatever he needed. He gave me an equine smile in thanks, "you're welcome," I said. After that, all those in the store smelled less nervous.
Bob easily hefted the six 100 pound bags of feed, three at a time, into the back of the van, and we went off the butcher. This time it was Bob and Coonie who were nervous. There were predators of all kinds, but mainly canines and felines. There were a couple of falcons in there too, one I recognized as the one who'd made the dive. He (she?) was standing next to a larger falcon. There was a vague feeling/scent of competition in the air, but the proprietor of this store was limiting how much each could buy to 10 lb. Therefore the competition was for the best meat instead of quantity.
The falcons were in the back of the line talking. They spoke exactly like parrots do, from the throat, but their voices sounded completely normal. They were of the peregrine falcon variety, I could see that their feet were not unlike my own, with sharp talons, but with a single reversed toe. Their hands looked like more smaller, more dexterous versions of their feet, both hands and feet were covered with bright yellow scales. Tail feathers sprouted out their backsides. Logical, I guess they had to be able to control their direction somehow in their air. They wore no clothes, just a belt pack, as their feathers covered everything. Bob and Coonie decided to wait in the van. The smaller one looked at me. "Are you what I think you are?" in a baritone voice. Then I remembered, with birds-of-prey the male is often smaller than the female. "Yep, guess I watched Jurassic Park a little too much, eh?" I saw their totally black eyes light up with mirth, and they flapped a bit.
The line was going slow. The lion up front was haggling in a growling voice with the owner (a buffalo!) about the price of his purchase, tufted tail whipping back and forth with each point he made. We talked quite a bit while the line went down. They'd chosen new names for themselves, hers was "Skydancer," and his was "Windcutter." We talked about our personal Change experiences, how we changed, what we could eat. They turned out to be having problems digesting, and I made them aware that they needed gizzard stones (and produced a few from my pocket, courtesy the Doctor). Then their turn came up, so we quickly agreed to meet on my apartment building's roof the next day.
By the time my turn came the line was out the door, so I chose fast. And as I walked out the door with my purchase I noticed that some of the other carnivores were looking at me in envy! I did not know if it was because of the meat I was carrying or what I'd become.
We stopped at the supermarket. And there I wished I had not gotten out of the van. I got mobbed by kids wanting to touch me, pull my tail, and ask me questions. I was really careful not to move too quickly, lest I cut them with my feet, which the kids would feel. This instant stardom was going to be a problem. One or two of the kids were old enough had a patch of fur.
I was still awkwardly knocking over displays with my tail (one of which hurt quite a bit, it was a carefully stacked display of canned peaches, Ouch!), but as I waited to help put one back up I got a look from the acting store manager (a Dalmatian) that plainly said, "don't worry about it, we've been dealing with it all day." I noticed they were shorthanded, so there were still knocked down displays everywhere.
I managed to pry myself away from the kids at checkout with the help of parents, who's smell changed from nervousness to relief when they saw how careful I was, and we left to go back to the apartment building.
On the way back, Coonie turned on the radio. It said, "This just in. The Indian government in Calcutta has given Dr. Chandra, the man who says he knows how to find a cure for the 'condition' every adult has, has gotten full funding and a state-of- the-art facility to move on with his research. Most other scientists are baffled and skeptical that one would know so much about what's happened so soon, and scoff at his guarantees at a treatment within a year.
"In other news, incidents with those unfortunate enough to have transformed completely continue to be a problem. Incidences of people manifesting unusual abilities to protect their loved ones from these unfortunates, such as creating a 'force-shield' out of thin air, have also occurred. Scientists are still at a loss to explain it." She turned the radio off.
"Dammit! He's in India, he's got funding, and I have no wedge to get in there!" It was part me, part the Doctor who'd said that. I ripped at the armrest with my claws.
Coonie spoke up, "I've got a friend in Los Angeles who works for the US embassy. Jack and Bob told us the whole story. I believe them. We've got to get this guy."
"Thank you," I replied. Bob nickered his agreement, as he was muzzle deep in feed at the moment. I had the money, she had the wedge. We were going, and that was final.