click "Gooood morning LA! It's seven a.m. and it's a beautiful morning, so get your tails out of bed! Traffic on the ground and in the air is still light for now but if I were you I'd drive or flap off to work now before it gets too bad. Now for weather..." I unconsciously moved my tail. WHAP! CRACK-TINKLE. "Grrrr," I growled. Damn, there goes another clock-radio. I kept doing that. Even after months of Martial Arts I still could not control my tail when I'm sleepy. That was the fifth one this week. Oh well.
I rolled out of my round bed. A month ago I'd finally found a bed that I liked. Sleeping on the floor can be hard, if you take my meaning. I'd had it custom made to look like the nest-bed in the first Dinotopia book. Kind of appropriate, I thought. I'd filled it with soft pillows covered with a fabric that would not rip, and had a small blanket too. After I got it I stopped using my norm because of those dreams. I still got them in morph but they were not nearly as intense.
My Change and living in California with a (moderately) successful portrait business had altered my morning routine only slightly. After scraping a block of wood with both hand-claws and foot-claws to keep them sharp, I got in the shower. I'd been wrong about not having a smell when I was wet. Scales are dry but not that dry. There are still body oils that react with water and give off an odor. Coonie had complained after we both took a dip in the ocean. However, I did not wash too much because scent is so integral to how others react to you, and it is considered polite for someone to tell how you're feeling by smell.
In the shower I had an embedded voice-command computer with which I looked over the day's appointments. Voice command had taken huge leaps in the past few months, probably due to the fact that no single keyboard design would work for everyone. Today I had five appointments, a full day. Mostly the less expensive one-hour shoots, but a couple were two-hour ones on the boat. Hawkeye had only one. Funny, he's sometimes more popular than I am.
I'd hired Hawkeye after my business had grown so much I could not keep up with demand. He is a red-shouldered hawk morph, the six-limbed kind. ('Flighted' was the common term for those with wings, 'non-flighted' for those without. Not meant as derogatory, just as a fact.) He has sharpest eyes I've ever seen. I hired him because his artistic sense was just as good as his vision (and he does aerial shots, too). I continued to look over my e-mail as I scrubbed my tail. It was too long for me to reach all of it, so I used a long handled brush.
Out of the shower, I brushed my teeth. It takes me three times as long as it used to. At least I have no trouble reaching them all. I feel sorry for Bob, though. Then I used a stiff brush to scrub my claws. I usually wore some kind of easy-to-remove protection on the edges of my foot claws to keep from damaging floors, or people I may bump into.
As the tailstrap appeared where it was supposed to, the phone rang. It was Jack. "Where have you been?" I asked. I had not seen him in two weeks. "Oh, here and there," he replied dryly.
I knew that he would not tell me anything when he said that. "So, how are you? What have you been up to?" I asked.
"I'm fine, Fox & Co. are good teachers," he replied "I'm with Bob right now though. He told me to say that he has something very important to tell you."
"Really? Already?" Bob had gotten his team together only a month ago, then I gave him two million to get started. They ended up getting a space at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. It was amazing that they had. Fox had friends in high places, it seemed. A couple million was enough for his small team of ten to work for about a year. Cheap, considering. But I was not the only one contributing. The FedGov also gave about $200,000 per year for anyone who could show they could do legitimate research, (a result of the so-called Science Boom of the '60's) and there were several large donations from other people in addition to my own. He was set for several years of research. "Meet us at the Del Mar Racetrack, before post time if you can," Jack said.
"Jack, I've got five appointments today, and now that I check my schedule again I see that I've got a Meso Club meeting at seven. How am I supposed to do everything all in one day?" What could possibly be that important? I'd finally settled myself into a nice routine. As normal a life as I could manage.
"Bob's made a breakthrough," he said simply. "If you want to get down here fast use that new vtol-thingy you bought. It'll get you here fast enough. See you there." Then he hung up.
A breakthrough? Well, that was probably worth breaking routine for. Never one to dawdle in such situations, I canceled all my appointments except for the two morning single-hour shoots. When he arrived, Hawkeye volunteered to take my other three, as his single was in the morning. I told him the reason as soon as he landed on the deck. "Go," he told me. "If this can help your Dad, than I'll be happy for the extra work."
I then called Eos, the Meso Club President, and told her I might not make it. Eos was an Eoraptor, an early Triassic dinosaur. Eoraptor means "dawn stealer", which is appropriate since her name had originally been Dawn. The Club itself had begun just after my foray into the portrait business, and it was really kind of a joke at first. There are a couple hundred dinomorphs in the LA area, and five of us had run into each other in a mall and decided to meet at a local coffee shop. Then other dinomorphs who frequented the shop had found out, and a couple more when we met near my place, and so on. Right now the Club numbered about forty, with dinosaurs from all three Mesozoic periods represented, as well as many major Dinosaur families. There was even an Archaeopteryx in our Club. Since I was the Chairperson, I had to be there.
"Sixty Minutes and 48 Hours is supposed to be there tonight," she said when I spoke to her. "Not to mention National Geographic. And a few of the great Paleontologists will be around too. You need to be there." She was right, of course. "I'll try," I said. "No promises, though."
Coonie was away visiting her parents. Our relationship, which was supposed to be a facade for Fox, had ceased being one for me. She was an amazing woman, and I simply found it easier and easier as I came to know her to keep it up when Fox was around (And tougher and tougher to stop acting like that when he was not around). But I could not be sure she felt the same way about me. She was always tense around me, and once or twice I caught her looking at me with an indecipherable expression on her furry face as she was painting. Her face had not lost too much ability to make expressions. She finally started avoiding me, then last week had abruptly gone to see her parents. I respected her feelings, and if she did not show the same interest in me that I did in her, I was prepared to respect that, too.
I always enjoyed taking portraits. But the two morning shoots put me in a bad mood. The first was just some teen photos. The kid was thirteen, and he'd shown no signs of Change a month ago. It was part of a long term "Change Scrapbook" package that I offered. Last week he woke up with sparse gray fur on his calves. Not only was I to take pictures of this "First Sign", but I had found the suit's large catalog of species enabled me to identify the fur by just rubbing it between two fingers. It turned out the kid was going to be a kind of wallaby. The kid was thrilled, he liked Kangaroos and stuff, but the parents complained. I hate it when they do that. I'm not the one who caused it, so why do they blame me?
The second shoot was better. The female Pronghorn must have been in heat, though. She openly flirted with me. But she made a willing subject. I really did not feel anything for her, there was a kind of scent about her that was intriguing, but I just did not think of those forked horns as attractive.
It would take more than an alluring smell to make my mood better after those angry parents. I got the film ready to be sent away via FedEx to be processed. I still developed some film myself, but the company that I sent the negatives off to could make more sizes and in less time than I could.
At around 11:30, I rolled the new Moller 800 that I'd only used a few times out of my garage. I bought the thing so I could visit my father back in Colorado without having to go to an airport, or take several days to drive. Even after three months they still had not replaced the seats on most aircraft. The FAA had required the seats be manufactured, not modified by those with the Power to do so. Something about safety, I think.
When I bought it two months ago I gave the Doctor a chance to look at its computers. She'd made a disgusted mental noise and promptly used the suit's interface to reprogram the flight computers. But she'd been silent for quite some time. Since the reprogramming, in fact. Frankly I was getting worried. As I pushed the bullet-shaped VTOL aircraft out the garage she spoke up.
Don't be, David. Not now, anyway. Where have you been? I asked for the second time that morning.
I got a little lost in that morass of data that I'd downloaded. There were about fifteen terabytes in here, and I is easy to get lost, she thought, embarrassed.
Welcome back, I replied. Any luck reconstructing your data? I started the walk-around preflight check.
Some, she thought. The problem was, I'd only decrypted about 60% of it before the scramble. I have no idea what I lost. I already knew about most of what I found, though.
How was it coded? I asked, curious.
It used a five-level encryption based on mutating thousand-digit prime numbers. You have to have the mutation algorithm before you can unlock it. I'd gotten through level four, and almost broke level five before the scramble. Upon completing the check, I jumped in the open canopy and started the automated diagnostic series she'd designed. The Moller has four outboard engine pods. Two on the front end of the long nose, and two aft and above just behind the bubble canopy. A long wing is placed on the vertical stabilizers just above the rear engine pods. There are eight engines (gas ones this time), two per pod. The pods themselves have computer-controlled vanes for vertical lift that rotate to transition to forward flight.
The canopy closed and I punched the engine warm-up sequence and hover check. At the same time I was cleared for Flight Corridor 6 to Del Mar. The hover check completed and the landing gear retracted as we rose and accelerated southward.
So, what did you already know? I asked. Most of it was a kind of diary, she replied. It detailed most of his experiments with unwilling subjects. Something I suspected all along. It was very stupid to go alone to that Lab. We rose above FC 1 & 2. Those were corridors about one and two thousand feet above for all the bird morphs. When on longer flights within city boundaries, they had to use those and wear transponders. There was no way to control things, but the ATC computers could at least predict traffic patterns. There had been relatively few accidents involving bird-morphs and aircraft as a result.
Anyway, you're stuck with me, kid. There was that smirk again. I'd really kind of missed it.
I know. She knew me better than any woman ever had. But what I felt for her was more like what I felt for a family member, like my Mom. She scanned my memory for what she'd missed. Fox and Jack's "plan" seems to be going OK; but the more time we delay in getting over there the more time he has to consolidate his position. She had a point. But I was already a brown belt in my Martial Art. (Seems high, I know. But my movements are naturally quick and precise anyway. I caught on quick.) She really had no ground to stand on the issue though. Fox was right. We needed to be at peak in order to have a chance. India was still closed for business.
We spoke of other stuff that had happened in the past few months one the flight south. The thing really flew itself, but I really preferred flying it manually. It was more fun that way. I told her my feelings for Coonie. If she shows the same feelings for you that you do for her, go for it. If she does not feel as you do, you need to do something, else you'll be torn apart emotionally. I remained in quiet thought.
Anyway, I landed about fifteen minutes before post time, but the vtol landing area was quite far from the gate. I had to hurry if I wanted to make it. So I went norm and power-sprinted. It felt good to run like that. I reached the gate and got stopped by a teenage monkey boy who gave me a pass for a box right on the track. I got up there just in time. Jack was already standing up and ready to shake my hand. "Hay Dave! Good to see ya!" His eyes became distant for a moment. "Glad to see your friend is back, too." Nice to see you again, Jack, she thought to him. He inclined his mulish head in response.
"So where's Bob?" I asked. Jack smiled. "Third gate from the far end of the track, number six." Bob had taken up on one of the new horse-related sports that had popped up as part of Fox's training program. There was now three classes of Thoroughbred racing. The original natural-born horse with rider (normally a bird or rodent morph), the so-called "team" run where horse- norms would be paired with a rider, and the "riderless" norm races. It was the last that drew the largest crowds. The smell of anticipation coming off the crowd was invigorating.
There was a bell-ring, and a loudspeaker said, "And away they go." It was impossible to understand the announcer in the all cheering, and I almost lost Bob's black, white-starred muzzle in the race, but I think he came in first. The photo finish confirmed it. First place by a nose!
We went down to congratulate him. He'd only placed second at best in his previous races. He even upset the favorite, a white stallion in a bad mood. I thought it might be a good idea for us to bow out before a fight started. "Idiot lets his instincts use him, instead of the other way around," Bob was saying as we walked off the track. He had one of those flower things around his powerful neck. How he managed to talk in his norm, I'll never know. He abruptly shifted back, his ears showing an odd expression, and asked quickly for a notepad. I didn't have one, but Jack did. He said nothing as he jotted down something. "What are you doing?" I asked Bob.
"What? Oh, I just had another run-thought. I always get them after races. Running enables me to focus completely on a problem, like grazing does. It's great for certain kinds of puzzles that a few hours grazing won't solve." He wrote fast and intently for a few more minutes. Jack and I said nothing as a look of triumph crossed his equine face. "Yes! I was wondering about how that particular gene worked in. Good," he said that quietly, tapping the pen on the notepad. No wonder he'd progressed so fast.
"Jack said you've made a breakthrough," I said. "Yeah, soon I know. It proved to be a smaller problem than I thought. I think I'll soon have an idea of what your racial memory is, if you'll submit to a brainscan."
"Already? Bob, that's incredible!" But then, he was not exactly working alone. If others were having ideas with the frequency he seemed to, than perhaps not so amazing. We went to collect his prize money, $10,000 this time around. Then we hopped in Bob's van and went to a local restraunt right on the beach to have lunch.
The mink waitress seated us, Bob was using a lighter breed in order to use the more common smaller chairs. They had open backs that were shaped like a backwards question mark. "So, what's this breakthrough?" I asked.
"You know about the Plague that afflicted the world at the end of what you call 'World War II'?" he said. Both Jack and Bob were aware of my being from an alternate reality. I nodded.
"We found out that without the Plague all adults would have died from the Change." I looked at him in shock, "But I thought it was cured!"
"It was, in a way. The extract from the bark of that rare rainforest tree merely changed it. Turned it into a symbiont of some kind. Everyone has had it since then. We'd die if it was removed. The Plague itself was airborne in nature, and is quite strange since it has both bacterial and viral characteristics. That's how it traveled the world over in a few months." He took a sip of water. "The victims themselves died of extreme morphological trauma. The Plague caused extreme hormone imbalance and somehow activated old genes that we have called 'latent introns', leftovers from our evolution. You don't want to see the results of that." His tone was sober.
"Go on," I said. Waves crashed on the beach out the window.
"The 'cure' changed the virus so it no longer affected us, it did not kill it. What the 'cure' ended up doing was enable the virus to take some of the homeotic genes, the ones that control cellular growth, from various species with it. These genes are specific to whatever species it came from, and might account for the apparent Degree of our changes, and the fact that they are small enough to be taken by the virus (which has some quite peculiar characteristics, I might add). But I really don't know anything about why things seem so random and individualistic... The only thing I can say is the more homeotic genes we have in our bodies of whatever animal, (and every vertebrate is affected) then possibly, I'm not sure, the more Changed we are. This is logical but not necessarily true."
A couple kids walked in with their avian parents and pointed excitedly in my direction. Here we go again, the Doctor observed. I've learned to live with it, I replied. Kids weren't really so bad, but I had to agree with Dr. Grant in the movie that they did have an odor about them. For some reason all little boys smelled at least marginally in need of a bath.
I let them look me over, and I playfully mussed the boy's hair. They stared at my feet and tentatively touched the large sickle-claw. I was very careful. I smiled at them, in my own version, I don't know how they would have reacted if I bared my teeth in the human fashion. But the boy did ask if he could see them. Then their parents called them to their table. I swear they were taking short glances at me through their entire meal. Now that wasn't so bad, was it? I thought to the Doctor. All I got was a mental grumble. "So, what do you mean we all would have died from the Change?" I asked.
"I think the homeotic genes somehow provided a direction for Change, keeping what would have been another Plague like in '45 away. But since many of them from the same species seem to be brought in by separate viruses, I really don't know what is making them cooperate so we become a composite of human and single animal, and not just a quivering mass of disorganized cells like the original Plague victims." He flicked his ears at a noise that sounded like arguing from the kitchen, and chuckled a bit. "They're having problems with the new chef. Again. I come here quite often after races," he said.
Bob cleared his throat. "Listen, I now think I know enough that I have at least and idea of where your racial memory is located. And there are quite a few more mysteries to answer. For instance, why are you a dinosaur? The Plague must have dug up the genes somewhere, maybe the fact that you spent a lot of time handling the bones? The thing also seems to be able to lock on small genes like those that make venom or musk that no human genome has, thus making someone who is a rattlesnake have functional venom glands.
"And there are a few more things. First: Like I said, these homeotic genes are small enough to fit in the Plague virus, thus enabling it to be airborne, but the fragments they carry can't possibly be enough to make any much difference in shape. But with the teenage volunteers I've examined, I found all the genes that I can identify as being from whatever species they are starting to resemble seem to be working together, like the virus knows somehow. I can only speculate that biology is not the only thing going on here.
"Second: I have no real explanation for the Powers. I'll have to let the metaphysics people have a go at it. The fact that you and I can shapeshift at will is indicative of some sort of conscious control, 'mind over matter', or maybe it's just some sort of chemical response to certain endorphins. Whatever, I don't know." He idly swatted at a fly with his tail.
He got it, too. He was amazingly accurate, and flicked it off the chair behind him, just missing a delicate tail feather of an Osprey. All without even looking. "So, is this all you wanted to tell me?" Bob shook his muzzle. "Now that I at least have an idea of what this thing is, I can start research on that racial memory of yours. I think it's located in those homeotic genes you carry. So I need tissue samples and a brianscan or two." He did an approximation of a human smile, showing large teeth. I agreed to both.
An hour later, after a biopsy, I was under an EEG machine. It took them quite some time to find the right spots on my skull for the electrodes. The Doctor moved as many nanites as possible out of the area so as not to reveal herself. They took scans in morph, asleep and awake, and in norm too. By the time it they were done it was almost quarter to five. Then I remembered something.
Coonie's plane was supposed to come in at 5:30 at LAX. She'd wanted to come to the Club meeting. I quickly explained to Bob what was going on, and he drove me back to the landing area. I poured on the speed and landed at LAX at 5:25. I then power-sprinted the whole way to her airplane just as people started coming off.
While I was catching my breath, Coonie came off the plane. There were very few people at the airport, the airlines were still having problems coping. The FAA had required that there be variable seat sizes according to 'subspecies', and no price difference for a larger seat. While the airlines were arguing with the government they were losing lots of business in the passenger carrying area. She saw me, and ran over and hugged me around the neck.
I really was not sure how to react. She'd never done that unless Fox was around. "You're panting," she said. I nodded. "Yeah... pant... almost... pant... forgot. Sorry. pant," I replied. LAX is huge, and I'd been pushing to the limits of my endurance to get to the gate. She had an odd expression on her black-masked face.
"It's OK," she said, and closed my mouth with her black hands, her nose wrinkled. She reached into her purse. "Have a breath mint, you had fish for lunch didn't you?" I nodded quickly, taking one. She laughed. I loved that rich laugh. Since her fur was so thick, she wore a medium-length skirt and a loose blouse that gave her freedom of movement; she also had a wide-brimmed straw hat with holes for her ears on her head. She also wore some of the newer style of sandals for her paw-like feet. She looked at me for a sec. "You really should wear something more than that tailband, you know. At least in public." A pair of tan denim shorts appeared. "Better," she said. She gave me a light kiss on the end of my snout, just below my naris (nostrils). She was full of surprises today, and I said as much.
"I'm just in such a good mood! Dad is such character, he and I never got along very well. But now it's as if we've started anew. He insists on calling me 'Bandit.'" She'd carried all her luggage, (why did she need so many clothes? She does have all that fur...) so we walked back out to the Moller. Just as we lifted off I told her Bob's breakthrough in a nutshell. "That's great! I knew he'd come through!" Her confidence in Bob had always been a help to me, especially since I had not been able to get my father to California. Dr. Patrick had blocked my every attempt to get him here on the grounds that he was dangerous. Apparently he had some rich backers, an anti-carnivore group. I hate extremists.
We got back at the house at about six, and while she went to change clothes I loaded my camera equipment into my truck. I was to take pictures of two new members of the Club, and the photos were a benefit for becoming a member. I took along my Canon AF with a powerful flash gun, they were to come in to the studio for a free full hour shoot later.
When we drove up there were already three large vans parked outside the VFW we'd leased for the occasion. They had all sorts of satellite equipment on top of them. Then I remembered that a portion was supposed to be live. Great. I might have grown to like kids, but I really couldn't say the same for the media.
Eos had gotten there an hour or so earlier to let the caterers in. She was helping them set up when Coonie and I walked in. "Hey Dave!" she said in her high voice. She was very small, like the bipedal dinosaur she resembled. She is mid-Degree, and can shapeshift though she prefers not to. She came over and we rubbed noses, our scales making a dry scraping sound as we did so. Like many of the others like myself, she'd taken to wearing only a tailstrap. Her chest was somewhat flat like all females who were bird or reptile, but her body structure is distinctive so a she still looked like a "she". A flash of what could have been jealousy quickly appeared and disappeared on Coonie's face, I almost missed it.
Eos was very pretty, light teal green above, and gray below a black zigzag along her sides that started right at her jawline. She had a light, delicate build and was only nineteen, but had a kind of "seniority" over the rest of us. Her species was the oldest of all, about 230 million years. My own was only 85 million. She was also a very capable leader and organizer. I felt a kind of vague attraction for her, and I liked her as a friend, but it did not go beyond that and she knew it.
I introduced Coonie. "Nice to meet you," she said, extending a clawed hand. "Nice to meet you, too," Coonie replied coldly, taking it. Eos pulled her hand back as if shocked. I asked myself again, What is with her today?
Maybe she has feelings for you after all the Doctor said. I was not asking you, I replied. Then don't think so loud. I live here too, you know, she thought.
About twenty minutes to seven the others started to arrive. For the benefit of the press, we'd separated ourselves by Period; Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous. As well as by type; ornithichians (bird-hipped), saurischians (lizard-hipped, like myself), saropods, theropods, etc. We normally did not do this, preferring to mix things up a bit. But the media had pressured us so we reluctantly gave in.
The meeting officially begun at 7:30 with a toast to our new members, Harry the Herrerasaurus, and Phyllis, a Dilophosaurus. Pity on anyone who calls her "Spitter". (Mainly for the fact that the Dilophosaur can't do anything of the sort, nor did it have that frill.) The ceremony is very simple, they simply put a single, perfect norm footprint into some special mud that one of the group members developed (she was a soil chemist). The mud would harden and then smaller, 2" square copies would be made, one they were to carry. The big one would stay with us.
The media was free to roam around until 9:00 when we were going to watch "The Lost Continent", the version with the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment. Being Chair, I sat at the head table to Eos' right, with Coonie next to me.
I really have to say that my opinion of the media rose quite a bit that night. They asked intelligent questions, did not pry, and really showed quite a bit of common sense and respect. I think the Change in general had a good effect on the press after all, and my experience with the mutts in Goodland had been a fluke.
We all met James Gurney, the creator of the Dinotopia books. All of us loved those books, and all of us had some kind of decoration in our homes to honor his vision. I just had the bed, but Charlie, an Ankylosaurus had changed his home totally. He was also one of the original five.
The media focused on the original five quite a bit. I really wanted to go take pictures of the party, but kept on getting sidetracked. Whenever Eos and I were interviewed together Coonie got a vaguely pained look, and would cover her face with her hat. She always wore a hat.
When TIME wanted to take a picture of Eos and I arm-in-arm, she broke out in tears and ran outside. I said "excuse me," and went out to find her.
I found her just behind a van. I could hear her crying. "Coonie, what's wrong?"
She looked up at me, her black eyes shiny with tears. "You know what's wrong! I know we were just trying to put on a show for Fox, and did not expect anything outside when he's not around. I smelled your attraction for her. You don't have any feelings for me at all! You don't even find me attractive!" She started crying more. You'd better head off those kind of thoughts right now, thought the Doctor.
"Coonie, I... Um... That's not true!" I said vehemently. She looked up. "Isn't it? All this fur and you don't have a hair. She's smart, she's charismatic. Hell, she's even mechanically compatible!"
"You're all those things and more!" I replied. "Smart and charismatic, and there is nothing preventing us from having sex. I know how to get around my little problem. I've been meaning to tell you this for quite some time. But fur or no fur, you're the only one I've been thinking of since you left to visit your parents again." Now that I think of it, there had been times where I'd almost lost myself in that racial memory. It only took her remembered voice and face to bring me back. She was my bridge between past and present. I had to make sure she knew that.
I put her hand on my chest. "Look," I started. "I've been keeping my feelings for you locked up for quite some time because I did not know if you felt the same way." She stopped crying.
She looked at me for a moment, "I went to visit my parents because of you. When I saw you panting like that, and I knew that being on-time was that important to you, something in me broke open." The shininess was clearing from her eyes. Her expression changed to a smirk. She kissed me soundly on the snout. "Why not?" she said. "Why can't an eighty-million year old dinosaur and a raccoon have a relationship? We'll never know until we try." Her voice was steadier now. She was certainly adapting quickly. "I was always curious. I just only wish..."
Something in the air felt strange, electric almost. I felt a buzzing sensation on my skin where her hand was touching it, then a mild shock. Coonie did not seem to notice, and I did not want to let go of her hand. "I wish..." she said again. The strange feeling in the air became almost tangible, and it was centered on Coonie. She still did not notice anything. "I wish I could be physically more attractive to you." There was a loud POP, and she fainted. I caught her just in time. Doc! What's wrong with her?
Lemme scan her. I put my hand on her temple. Hmmm, that's interesting. I was wondering if that was possible, she thought. If what was possible? I asked, suspicious.
Oh, just something I was wondering about. Nothing important. My curiosity has been satisfied, though. I hate it when she gets like this.
Spit it out, Doc!
OK, OK. Don't get irritated. I think she just read your shape somehow and adapted it for herself.
And what is that supposed to mean?
Just hold her, and watch. I had not noticed while we were arguing, but Coonie's tail had lost most of its fur, and it was thickening every moment. Her hands now felt dry and scaly. The light was dim even to my eyes, but I could see they now were gaining long claws like mine, but more delicate looking. Her short snout pushed out more, forehead shrinking, teeth growing more pointed as I watched. Her clothes hung strange and there was a ripping sound as the tail hole in her pants was now too small. I could see her fur being absorbed, replaced by scales. Her breasts shrunk to nothing, and her chest barreled a bit to compensate.
I lay her on the ground and leaned her against the van, careful of her new tail. Her feet were definitely like mine, but smaller. From tip of muzzle to end of tail, her body was distinctly feminine, delicate yet strong and muscular; she was probably as strong as I. I could vaguely make out two large black areas over her eyes, like a raccoon's black mask. That confirmed to me that it was her. She started to come to. I could tell that she knew she had changed somehow. First she felt her arms, then her face. She let out a startled "Oh!" that sounded almost like a higher-pitched version of my scream/growl. She opened her eyes, they had slit pupils like mine. "Be careful what you wish for," I said, not knowing what else to say.
She got up and looked at her face in a side-view mirror. For a moment I thought she was going to blame me, but her personal scent (which actually had not changed much) was more excitement. "I did this, didn't I?" Her voice had not changed, either. Her tail twitched in excitement. I shrugged. "If I can focus kinetic force, run fast, and have a racial memory, why can't you be a shapeshifter?" Her tail twitched even faster. I heard footsteps, and Harry came around the corner. "Hey Dave, movie's about to star-- Hey, who's she?"
"Just a friend. Now shoo, I'll be in momentarily." Harry winked and went back inside. "I think you'd better try to change back. I followed you out here and should be seen walking back in with you, as you." She looked at me with green eyes that glowed in the dim light. "You may be right. I hope I can change back, maybe if I focus..." She shut her eyes tightly, concentrating. At first I thought that she'd be stuck that way, not that I'm complaining but I really liked her as her raccoon self. Then her outline blurred as her fur grew back in. The rest of her followed suit, and I saw her ears seem to pop out of her skull. She was panting and on shaky legs as she finished. "Boy... (pant) That takes a lot out of me... (pant) But at least I did not faint this time (pant)." God I wished I could have kissed her! But dino lips are not built for it. I hugged her instead.
"I might have a surprise for you myself later tonight," I whispered in her ear. We went back into the building and watched the movie. I'll only say one thing about "The Lost Continent": Rockclimbing. Without Joel and the 'bots that movie would have been unwatchable. Everyone laughed hard, especially at the cheesy dinosaurs. Coonie ate quite a bit to make up for the energy she lost.
The Doctor spoke up during the movie. When you touched her I managed to get a DNA sample, as well as her type of Plague virus. I've isolated it, and should have a more complete answer for about this whole thing after I've analyzed it. I'll let you know when I'm done. Then she was silent.
Coonie and I were inseparable for the rest of the night. The party went on and on until one, but we all had to work in the morning. In keeping with the Dinotopia tradition, we all helped pick up the garbage so to leave the place in better condition than we found it. The news crews were taping us all the time, so we wanted to put on a good show.
She was unusually silent on the way home. It was not an awkward silence, but she seemed content and had a sly look on her face. We said good night and went to our rooms.
I could not sleep. Too much had happened, and she was everything I wanted and more in a female. Beauty beyond the physical, brains, versatility, artistic talent. But I really did not know what to do next. It turned out that I did not have to figure that out. The door opened and I recognized her silhouette. "You can't sleep either?" I said. "No," she replied. She walked over to the edge nearest the door. "Do you think it's possible?" she asked, her head seeming upside down, eyes glinting in the dark.
"Maybe." Before my eyes her face seemed to flow like liquid into the female raptor form. "I've been practicing," she said seductively. There was a strange kind of odor in the air, like what I smelled with Eos, and that Pronghorn. She jumped in right next to me. and sat on her knees. She winced a moment as she crouched on her sickle-claws wrong. "How do you deal with this?"
"You get used to it." The scent was becoming much stronger now. I was too tired to resist it even if I wanted to. The last thing I remember is the Doctor dissolving my tailstrap with a chuckle, and Coonie saying, "I'm curious." Before memory is drowned in a sea of emotion.
Use your imagination, because I really don't remember a thing. I do remember that it was definitely not uncomfortable.
Memory returns some time later. I was half off the bed, and I think that's what brought me to. I looked at her, and she'd unconsciously shifted back to her raccoon morph form. Perfect. She was looking at me with affection, and perhaps a little amusement. I wondered what was so funny. Then I realized I was looking at her upside down, the top of my head was touching the mattress. I'd been neatly seduced, and did not mind it a bit. Now it was my turn. "You're not asleep?" she said tiredly.
"That would be very crude. Besides, I have a surprise for you, too." I flipped the mental catch on something I'd been hoping to use for a month. With the ease she had shown in becoming the raptor morph, so I was now a raccoon morph. "Turnabout is fair play," I said. She swished her tail back and forth in surprise. Then I surprised her again.
I was awoken the next morning by a beeping noise. I focused on it for a moment, and recognized it as the code beep for a message blip from Fox. I opened my eyes. Coonie had gotten up, at some point I'd shifted back to my normal raptor morph. Fox had said that when a message came in with that code beep I needed to get it right away. I opened my eyes. Lasts night's activity had been very tiring, and sleep had not been one of our priorities. I knew that my time limit for the raccoon morph was about three hours, so it was... seven thirty.
When I felt around I found that Coonie was not in the bed with me. I got up, and found her in her bathroom examining herself as the raptor-norm naked in front of a mirror. Then she shifted to morph, and I noticed he stood more upright than I did, her tail was a bit shorter with distinctive gray/black striping, like a thicker, furless raccoon's tail. She looked at me. "You're right, you know. This particular body really does not need clothes." In the light I could see that her face did have the black mask, but that was the only black on her head. Her coloring was almost the same as mine. I materialized a tailstrap (tailband, as she called it) for her, but she made it moot by shifting back. "It gets easier with practice." She said. The beeping from my computer became louder and more insistent.
"I've gotta get this." I punched the DISPLAY button. The message read: DAVE. MEET ME AT THE LA BREA TAR PITS IN FRONT OF THE GEORGE PAGE MUSEUM. WEAR A DIFFERENT FACE. FOX. After a certain amount of time the message would erase itself and leave no traces.
As I was preparing to leave, Coonie asked me, "Why didn't you tell me that suit of yours could do that?" Her tone was accusing. "Because I could not be sure how you would react," I replied. "It was so soon after the Change I did not want to expose you to another shock. I thought that saying it could just make clothes would be enough. Besides, because of what we're doing I thought the less people know, the better." It was sound reasoning, I thought.
"On the contrary. How are supposed succeed without complete truth between us? All our skills are going to be important, so we should not try to hide them. If they remain hidden then success will be less sure because there may not be time to factor in an ability you've kept secret from the rest of us. If there's anything else, I won't force you to tell me. As long as someone in our group knows about it." That last statement saved me from having to tell her about the Doctor, and I was not sure how she'd react to that. I hugged her, we twined tails for a moment, and said "see you later."
I left the house in my truck, commanding the windows to darken to the point where I could see out, but no one could see me. Fox said to change forms at least two times, so this time around I chose a whitetail deer. Driving up to a parking lot, I changed vehicles to an older Nissan Sentra and went to a crowded mall. My cloven hooves clicked on the floor, and I did not stop until I walked the entire length and out the other end. The place was sufficiently crowded to lose anyone who might be following me (a silly precaution, I thought).
Fox had given me a key to one of the storage rooms, so I unlocked it and went inside. I then waited a sufficient amount of time for the people outside to be different. At the same time I shifted to a winged red-tailed hawk morph. I left the room, pumped my wings and pushed myself mentally into the air.
I'd found out that without that mental "push" I could not lift off. Turns out all bird morphs who can fly have at least a small gravity-defying ability, else they could not fly. It's not enough to lift your full weight, but enables the wings to take up the remainder.
I still tried to fly as much as I could. The Doctor said the more often I use a particular form the more time I have to use it. I'd used this particular hawk so much I'd extended the morph's time limit by at least an hour. I rose to a thousand feet and headed in the direction of Wilshire Blvd.
With my sharp eyes I easily saw Fox below right outside the main tar pool. I landed and walked over. "Dave! Well met." He always saw through my disguises somehow. I shook his hand. At the moment Fox was using a mid-morphic Degree, his favorite. He was always very proper, but for some reason we always met at museums with fossils, a result of Fox's sense of humor, I think.
"So, what's this about?" I said through my hooked beak. Fox did not normally use "The Signal".
"I have on very good authority that India may open it's borders again in the next couple months. Pressure from the rest of the world, don't you know." Then he sighed. "But there may be a problem in getting all of us over there. They're only going to open their borders for those with a legitimate reason for being there. I know I can get myself and Jack through, but as for the rest of you... Bad luck I'm afraid. I simply cannot get you cleared. So sorry, old boy." I was going to have to find my own reason for being there. I drooped my wings in defeat. "Any other news?" I said.
"Other than there have been reports of random disappearances all over India that don't fit the pattern of those who were overtaken by instinct, no. We think it may be the work of our Adversary, they all fit a single Modus Operandi, here's the specifics." He handed me a ZIP floppy. "Thanks a lot," I said, then I took off.
As I retraced my steps, the Doctor spoke up. I'm reading the data on that disk. The bastard is openly taunting me. These people are disappearing the same way several dozen of my employees did. And he's not even attempting to hide it! His overconfidence will be his undoing. There was fire in her mind-voice. I landed at the a different mall, and went to a similar storeroom and switched to a chestnut horse-morph. I'd ended up using that particular form almost as much as the hawk. After the problems with Dr. Patrick, I even tried grazing like Bob had suggested. It kept me from destroying all my camera equipment in a fit of rage. I tended to wear clothes with this particular form, mostly to keep from intimidating other males.
Her next statement was much more calm. I've examined the virus, and I recognize it. It's actually a biological nanite from the 32nd century used by the more unscrupulous timelines to kill all the people from another so they could colonize it, mainly used on far pasts with no ability to know anything about it. It's usually universally fatal, but this new timeline, because it's a mix, seems to have discovered a cure. Or rather they found out by chance that the viral nanite is chemically programmable. But there's something more, and excuse me that multiple-reality mechanics was not my best subject.
Interested, and still in the mall, I sat down on an open backed bench. Go on. The Doctor's explanations were often long and intensive, so required my full concentration. First things first, she began. Bob was right about the gene fragment that the virus carries being the medium through which the Change is given direction, but why has not one single adult remained human? This is why. This is pretty different, David. I don't expect you to understand it fully. I'm not even sure I do.
The first major thing to remember is that the universe in general is defined by a wave, like a frequency on a radio dial. But within that frequency is all the things possible in that universe, from it's laws of physics, to the possible physical forms of it's inhabitants.
It is these physical forms that I will focus on. On the large scale, each body type has a kind of "spectrum" of shapes. Arthropods (insects) have one spectrum, vertebrates have another. The Vertebrate Spectrum includes the range from fish to man, each with it's own frequency range that defines it within the whole Spectrum, like the individual colors of visible light.
Now, within each individual frequency there is a further subdivision that defines "child" and "adult". Got that? I nodded. People were giving me odd expressions, and I wondered if a few could hear her explanation.
Next, this adult frequency is normally pretty constant, allowing for a few variations because of our individuality. All this has changed now, at least for what once were adult humans, it's as if these individual variances have been exaggerated randomly. The Merger of a universe with more than one sentient species has altered the equation (it seems that the child frequency is too small to be affected by the Merger). Anyway, I said that the particular sub- universe had been populated by furries. That would account for the highly variable adult frequency I am getting. The adult human waveform has been spread around the entire vertebrate Spectrum.
You see, during puberty what normally happens is that the child waveform gradually changes to the adult of that species. But something is now interfering with that normally smooth change.
Now you have a question: "Why did I change at all? I was through puberty years ago!" My answer for that is this. When you cram a more than one universe into a single space, unless you have a relief valve you die, because we're adults already and should have changed years ago (and the universe does not make distinctions between "past" and "present". I only knows how you should be) The virus provided the valve by giving adults a direction to Change in with all those homeotic genes, else we would have changed into several different species at once and explosively. It somewhat constricted the possibilities of what we could have become so out of perhaps twenty species, one was somehow chosen. There had been a random and unpredicted shift in the universe, so we had to adapt somehow. The viral nanite sensed it, then proceeded to make things conform to the new laws. In adults, it took the homeotic genes that it had, and used them as frequency guides to reconstruct our bodies part by part. And as our bodies changed to conform with what we should have become at puberty our DNA partially rewrote itself automatically with our settling waveform. So I guess you were always a dinosaur at heart, David, she smiled mentally.
The thing that I don't understand is this, she continued. Certain species should have run in families. If your dad was a wolf then you should have ended up as something similar, like some kind of dog, because you should be a result of both your parents' combined individual frequencies. But I think the sloppy join scrambled the nice logical order greatly. You and your dad seem like an exception though, because you're both the same thing, which is about as rare as winning a $200 million dollar lottery. The thing with the virus applies to kids too. Since a child's individual frequency would have no direction as it changed unless it had access to other species DNA fragments, which even if they are tiny are the center of that species' signature frequency. Who knows which one will come out on top. It's a dice-roll. And somehow many rare and previously extinct animal's DNA fragments are turning up. Like Bob said, the viral nanite must have dug them up somewhere.
Another question: "If the other universe was a furry one why didn't kids change too?" Answer: Simple. This is not just a furry universe, but also two human ones. There must be a balance between them, and somehow it came out that kids are human and adults are not. It seems to work because if it had not we'd be all dead, and the fact that panic was not so widespread that civilization came to an end. It made it easier to accept what was happening somehow. This also somewhat explains the different Degrees, sort of like everyone was standing around a big mud puddle, when the furry universe popped it acted like dropping in a big rock, most people got a certain amount of 'Change-mud' on them, some got soaked, Changing mostly or fully; others just a tiny bit. Standard Bell-curve, though there seems to be no complete humans anywhere, though they might just be extremely rare, much rarer than yourself.
Two more things: the personality changes, and the Powers. For the former, along with new bodies comes new instincts, mostly from those from the f-universe. Their effects are highly individualistic though, and like Degree of physical Change there is Degree of mental Change. The two do not necessarily coincide. As for Powers like telepathy, morph-norm shapeshifting, or Coonie's Power. I have no idea. I'm not familiar with universes with alternate laws. It might be only a short term aberration.
What do you mean, "short term", I asked.
Oh, a billion years or so. Not much time compared to the age of the Cosmos.
Well, that's it. I hope you got that, because I'm not going to explain it again. A billion years! Then my ears (strange having those) flicked in the direction of a couple familiar voices. I was very glad I had these equine ears, because the two voices were Eos' and Coonie's. That's strange. But what was even stranger was when I caught sight of them, Coonie was in raptor-morph form, walking at Eos's side, wearing one of her ubiquitous hats, and trailing a couple of gawking kids. She was also wearing just a tailband besides her hat. They went into an ice cream place across the mall. I strained my ears to hear, but the mall was so noisy with clopping hooves and clicking claws it was impossible. Maybe she'd talk about it when she got home. I decided to roam around the mall a bit more.
Several stores were doing brisk business. A place called "Biotique" was selling anti-flea shampoo by the gallon. The shoe stores had adapted by selling custom shoes, and of course kid's shoes. New music had come out that took many people's new hearing ranges into account. Voice-command software was selling very well in the software stores. One of the fastest industries to recover had been the cosmetics industry. Nature had endowed most female bird species with drab colors, the cosmetic shops now offered feather dyes that would not interfere with flight. The pet shops had become more a place for those with specialized diets. People did still have pets, though. And the hair cut places had raised their prices quite a bit. I heard Coonie complaining loudly about that a couple weeks ago.
There was a stage set up and a sign said: Improv Day I've gotta see this, thought the Doctor. I was mildly curious myself. It really wasn't too bad. The hosts were a big moose (wearing an oversize tux jacket) and a gray squirrel wearing a leather flying cap, who in between acts did the famous: "Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat." "Again?".
Other acts included a new version of the "Parrot" sketch from Monty Python ("Wonderful bird, the Norwegian Blue. Lovely plumage."), and demonstrations of people's Powers. I saw things like a levitating bull, globes of water thrown without benefit of being in a balloon, what looked like a hologram, and to my surprise someone who I could tell was not Coonie doing shapeshifting with the same ease I used my suit. I'd have to talk to her about her abilities, if they eventually got that strong she would be quite an asset.
I rode back to my truck on a motorcycle. I loved using a motorcycle with my horse-morph, the wind tugging at my mane. It felt more natural, somehow. And in fact I knew Bob normally used one. In order to avoid getting bugs up my nose, I wore a kind of part helmet that also has a nose and ear protector built in.
Coonie said nothing when she walked in the door (as a raccoon), so I did not say anything either. This was a fragile point in our new relationship. We did not do it every night, I think we were both trying to see if it could be more than physical. But it stuck. She used the species I had in the suit to acquire more animals for her own training program. She had an advantage in having no time limit, but a disadvantage was the first time she used a new animal she'd faint from the effort of acquisition, and it would be a while before she could use it without becoming too tired. She also managed to work out any external signs of being other than what she looked like, like her raccoon coloring. We tried dolphins, eagles, snakes, horses, everything. And we were happy.
My own training program progressed well, too. The sensei of the new unnamed Martial Art (a combination of Karate and Tai Kwan Do) was a monitor lizard who'd worked out how to factor in the thick tail in new moves. I was now able to focus my force-wave on my claws in a "force-blade". With my sickle-claw I could cut through two inches of concrete, and 1/2" glass with my hand claws. And when I whipped my tail around in the original force-wave I could now release the wave like a missile. I felt like I was in some sort of arcade game.
Then one evening as I was going through my mail next to my mailbox. Bill, bill, bill, bill, check, bill, Barney & Friends Inc. I tore that one up with my "built-in letter openers" right away. I do like kids, but not so much I was willing to sacrifice my dignity. As I walked back to the house, the wind in my face, I felt a tap on my shoulder that nearly startled me out of my scales. I let out a startled "Yip!" and I must have jumped ten feet. Then a male voice behind me said, "Sorry." I turned around. He looked familiar somehow.
"Remember me?" said the wolverine. "I'm with National Geographic, we met at the Club meeting a month ago." We shook hands... paws. Whatever. He showed me some ID, which the Doctor confirmed was legit. "While I was there I learned you are a photographer. If possible, I'd like to see some of your work."
He was a fellow artist, and I did like to show off my work. I showed him some of the better portraits that the subjects told me I could show to the public, and I also showed him some of my other photos; still life, city scenes, landscapes, etc. He said "Wow!" quite a bit. Then he looked up from the last one (one of the many sunsets taken from my deck) and said, "I bet you're wondering why I'm here, other than to look at your work." I nodded. "A few months ago, for obvious reasons, we lost most of our photographers. Some just disappeared, others made a career change. But the fact remains we're very much in need of any talent we can find. I think you're that talent, especially from looking at these. If possible, I'd like to take these back to Washington and have my boss look at them. I've been a NatGeo photographer for thirty years, and I know talent when I see it. You'll hear something in a month at the most." Thrilled that National Geographic would want me, I gave him the photos with my blessing and he left.
I told Coonie the news when she got home. "That's great! Think there's a chance they'll send you to India?" I had not considered that. If they asked me where I wanted to go, I'd certainly suggest it.
The next couple weeks were rather normal, then I got another blip from Fox. This time I met him at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park, San Diego, Jack was with him. This time I'd chosen an impala-morph. "Dave!" he said. "Good news, old boy. This is not general knowledge yet, but India will open it's borders in a limited way tomorrow. The airlines will begin having flights next week, Jack will be on one. They are only letting in one a week. I'm sending him on a scouting mission, his first time out." Jack smiled.
"Yeah, I'm a bit nervous. But they all said I had 'talent for this stuff'." All who said? thought the Doctor.
I'd like to know, too, thought I. I told them about my potential job.
"Well, well, imagine that," Fox said. He must have something to do with it, I surmised.
The next day I got a call. "Is David Smith there?" said a male voice. "Speaking."
"I'm Bryan Derksen with National Geographic." The Doctor confirmed it was a legitimate call. "We'd very much would like you on our team, you'd fill a gap that was left a few months ago. If you agree we'll take care of the paperwork tomorrow. We can send you anywhere you want to go. So, where?"