Acts of Humanity
Interview With the Doctors Martin
A MORFS Universe Tale
by Ray Drouillard
Once again, the Doctors Martin agree to be interviewed by one of television's talking heads.
Jerry dropped a bean bag chair next to the wall and settled against it. He wrapped his arms around me as I settled comfortably back against his muscular chest and sighed with contentment.
Jim settled into a love seat next to Cindy. "So, did they manage to get an interviewer with an IQ greater than a head of lettuce?"
Kim chuckled. "The smart ones don't want to interview us. I guess they're afraid they'll lose control of the interview."
"Besides," Sara added, "The viewers enjoy watching the talking heads make fools of themselves. Fortunately, most of the broadcast companies give the announcers a list of intelligent questions. This keeps the exercise from being a total waste."
The video wall came to life and we all turned to watch. The usual commercial messages were playing.
"Have you been cursed with AMORFS? If you have, you probably already paid through the nose to regain your God-given power of speech. Still, you face the world through a blanket of fur."
A rather uncomplimentary picture of an AMORFS survivor appeared. Her fur was disheveled and unkempt. Her horns had be roughly hacked off, and the stubs were uneven.
"You tried shaving, but that only caused the fur to grow back twice as fast. You tried chemical hair removers, but they hurt your skin and did a poor job. You even tried follicle deadener, hoping that it would work for you."
The scene cuts to an attractive man and woman cavorting on the beach. Both are wearing Panama hats.
"Our suppliers at the Pentwater Compound have developed a follicle deadener specially designed for AMORFS victims. Yes, that's right! New Fur-Off brand follicle deadener contains the biochemical triggers necessary to turn off your stubborn AMORFS hair follicles. Use just one drop of Fur-Off diluted in a gallon of water, wet down all that stubborn fur, and it will start falling out within twenty-four hours. You can keep that nasty fur away by taking a bath with one drop of Fur-Off in a tub full of water once a week. Fur-Off. Remember that name. Fur-Off"
The scene cut to the commercial announcer.
"But that's not all. Order now, and we'll send you a free tube of Not-Horn-Now. That's right, just cut off those stubborn horns near the surface of the skin, apply Not-Horn-Now to the stub, and it will soak in and turn off those stubborn fused horny hair follicles. After just one week, those shameful horns will be gone forever. Use Not-Horn-Now just once to get rid of those horns, and keep them off by making sure that the water from your weekly bath gets to the affected area."
A phone number and a web site address was put up on the screen. "Visit our web site or call our toll-free number right now. Operators are standing by."
Cara snorted. "Well, it looks like someone is making money from that mess."
The number and web site was replaced by the station's logo, then by the lead-in to The Movers and Shakers Show. "And now, Movers and Shakers presents Doctors Kim and Sara Martin, movers and shakers in the big world of MORFS."
An image of Kim and Sara appeared, along with the young man that the broadcast company had suckered into interviewing them. He introduced them, gushing with comments of their past accomplishments. Alas, he seemed to be reading a script. He certainly lacked sincerity. After the usual pre-interview pleasantries, he started asking questions that are generally covered in a high school Intro to MORFS class. Then, he went for the kill. "What can you tell us about the rumors of inducing MORFS intentionally?"
"Oh, we've been doing that for years," commented Kim. At the announcer's stunned look, she picked up the new thirteenth edition of Introduction to MORFS Studies. "It's all in here. In fact, it's in the first edition of our book."
Sara relented. "Soon after MORFS reared its head, we started trying to induce it in laboratory animals. It didn't take us long to find out which virii did the best job of triggering the change."
"We could do the same thing with humans if we chose – and lacked morals," Kim added. "We collect samples as part of the post-MORFS inventory, so we have quite a collection of bugs that are known to induce MORFS."
The announcer wasn't satisfied with that answer. "What about controlling the direction of MORFS?"
"We have done that with laboratory animals to a small extent," Kim said.
"Long before MORFS came upon the scene, breeders of lab animals have been able to supply us with animals born and raised in totally sterile environments," Sara added. "If we take one such animal, expose it to the DNA of different animal, and induce MORFS, there is a chance that the animal will MORF into a hybrid."
"It's far from reliable," admitted Kim. "Still, if you're an adolescent, and you really want to be a cat or dog hybrid, it can't hurt to cuddle your favorite pets and maybe let them sleep on your bed." She paused for a bit. "It seems to have worked with our kids."
"We have had somewhat better success by injecting the desired DNA straight into the laboratory animal before attempting to induce MORFS. Still, nobody has come up with a good reason to try that with a human – especially a minor," commented Sara.
"What about terminal illness? Since MORFS will cure most terminal illnesses, it must have occurred to someone to try it."
"Oh, it happens all the time," smirked Kim. "Don't you read the tabloids?"
Sara swatted Kim with her tail and explained, "It's a gamble at best. A kid who is terminally ill might not survive the flu, let alone a full-blown case of MORFS. Also, giving him influenza is risky. Chances are, it won't trigger MORFS. No doctor or researcher is going to take that chance – especially since we're finding cures for terminal illnesses all the time."
"A kid that's healthy enough to survive MORFS is healthy enough to live long enough for a cure to be found," said Kim. "It would be a tragedy to weaken the kid by giving him the flu every month or so, only to find that he died just before the real cure became available."
"But someone must have tried it before," said the announcer.
"We have been approached by grieving parents," admitted Sara. "It was really hard to say 'no' to what they see as their last chance, but we could not, in good conscience, make that kind of a gamble."
Kim looked at the announcer with sadness in her eyes. "We followed those people. We did our best to search for colleagues who were working on cures. In three cases, our colleagues were willing to take on the child as a test case. In two out of those three cases, the child's life was extended until a real cure was found. Of the ones we couldn't help, about half of them survived until a cure was found."
"We ended up attending a few funerals, though," Sara said sadly. Still, if we had tried to infect those that we turned away, less than half would have survived."
"But still, someone must have tried it," the announcer persisted.
"I'm sure they have," said Kim. I know of one kid who ended up getting some bug or another every month or so before he finally succumbed. The sad irony is that a cure was found for his condition not too long after he was laid to rest."
"I'm sure that there have been successes," said Sara. "Nobody advertised them, though."
Kim smiled. "I remember meeting a delightful young partial cat hybrid who was cured of cystic fibrosis by MORFS. I really doubt that it was done on purpose, though. For one thing, her father was a pure, and tried very hard to kill his morfed children. Now, what was her name?"
"Maren," Sara replied. "I remember her well. We met her when we were visiting local clinics." She paused a bit. "We met quite a few interesting people on that trip, and heard way too many sad tales. Maren and her sister were almost killed by their father because they became hybrids. A young electrical elemental was rejected by his family because he lost his canine hybrid features."
"It's hard to believe how callous and cold some people can be," Kim sadly commented.
The announcer looked at his notes. "What about the two kids at your church? Both of them were terminal, and both came down with MORFS." He looked at his notes again. "Tina Shepherd and Jerry Wright."
Kim smiled. "Tina was, indeed, near the end when we met her. Her body had been trying to morf since she was about nine or ten, but only succeeded in riddling itself with tumors. A team consisting of her pediatrician, a bio elemental, two surgically precise telekinetics, and some telepaths who could lend power to the rest of the team managed to remove her tumors and straighten out her cellular structure. Very soon thereafter, her body finally succeeded in morfing. She came out very well, I might add."
"What about Mister Wright?"
Sara said, "Jerry had tuberous sclerosis complex, which is generally nonlethal. He also had a natural resistance to MORFS. Somehow, that resistance was overcome."
"The leading theory is that one of the components of AMORFS did it. In any case, we think he also came out quite nice," Kim added.
"Tina certainly has no complaints," Sara chuckled.
"Two cases where MORFS cures a terminal illness, and they know each other," the announcer accused.
"That's no mystery," said Kim. "They met on an online support group for kids and teens with terminal and chronic illness. When Tina found out that they attended the same school, she looked him up."
"And the rest, as they say, is history," Sara added with a warm smile.
"What about powers?" asked the announcer.
"Despite our best efforts, we haven't identified any DNA groups for powers. There is some speculation that the code for powers resides in n-dimensional patterns that are attached to the DNA strands. This makes sense, because the powers themselves appear to result from the manipulation of those patterns," Kim said.
"Our children have shown some interest in n-dimensional pattern physics," Sara added proudly. "They may end up being pioneers in the field."
"You keep telling us how difficult it is to control the direction of MORFS, and yet AMORFS is a reality."
"And the results in adults are remarkably consistent," admitted Kim. "The significant issue with AMORFS is that the adult version has little to do with real MORFS, aside from a superficial surface similarity."
Sara added, "When an adult is infected with AMORFS, it makes very limited changes to the hair follicles and vocal cords. There is no somatic reconstruction – at least, not to the extent that there is in regular MORFS. Only the hair follicles and vocal cords are renewed. The changes, while striking in appearance, are quite superficial and can be duplicated or removed by any reasonably strong bio elemental."
"Of course, most bio elementals are far too busy dealing with real problems to waste time and energy on something as harmless as a little fur," Kim commented.
The announcer made a face. "What about the kids that get AMORFS? You can hardly call their changes superficial!"
"AMORFS is a totally different matter in adolescents," agreed Kim. "It induces MORFS in a kid much the same way we can induce MORFS in a lab animal. The difference is that it that the AMORFS virus suite is better at it, and it somehow overcomes the victim's natural resistance to MORFS. Also, it encourages more complete hybridization and blocks powers. If animal DNA isn't available to the victim, the virus trio supplies simian DNA."
"All in all, a nasty bit of work," said the announcer. "Obviously, the group of people who came up with this affront on humanity is diabolically clever."
Kim rolled her eyes. "Obviously."
Everyone chuckled as silence descended upon the figures on the video wall. Belatedly, the announcer realized that Kim and Sara were patiently waiting for the next question. They were trying hard to keep straight faces.
When realization descended upon the announcer, he looked startled, glanced at his notes, then stammered out a question. "Since we have cataloged a bunch of DNA groups for various physical changes, why can't we inject the specific DNA and induce MORFS?"
"It's not that easy," said Sara. "The DNA code is like the words in a book. The position is as important as the sequence and the words themselves. Also, a DNA group isn't contiguous." She made a face, then explained further. "The code for a DNA group is spread throughout the twenty-three chromosome pairs. Just injecting the deoxyribonucleic acid isn't going to do the job. We need some kind of a mechanism to ensure that each strand gets to the correct position on the correct chromosome, and it needs to be done to every cell. We're working on the technology to do that, but we're not all that close to success."
"Then how does AMORFS do it?"
"You might as well ask how MORFS does it," commented Kim. "We have been studying that for most of our lives, and have made a lot of progress. Still, there are lots of missing pieces."
"As far as AMORFS is concerned," added Sara, "It doesn't really produce a custom MORF. As we mentioned before, it is very superficial in adults, and the results in adolescents is far from consistent The victims have a much greater chance of becoming an absolute hybrid and changing sex, but we can't say that the virus trio is doing more than shifting some probabilities."
The announcer looked at his notes again. "How did you and your kids get such consistent changes? For that matter, how did you manage to change at the ripe old age of seventy-one?"
"The most succinct answer to your second question is, 'we don't know,'" admitted Kim. "Since there has never been a reason to use the extreme safety measures with raw DNA as there is with virii and other infectious agents, we suspect that the kids picked up some of the DNA that we were working on, and that MORFS somehow added it to the infectious agent. That agent was then passed from the ailing kids to their doting parents."
"Alas, we haven't been able to identify the code. Neither have we been successful at using it to infect any lab animals. Our friend Sue managed to get changes identical to her daughter's soon after she moved in with us, but we could find no clues." said Sara. "It's... frustrating. Really frustrating." She scowled. She took a breath and continued, "As for the consistent changes, it's well known that people who live together have a greater probability of getting the same changes. Also, people who are related have similar predispositions. Our kids got the same bug and passed it on to us. We all ended up with an almost identical suite of DNA groups."
"Except that you two are she-males, and your kids aren't," said the interviewer.
Sara rolled her eyes. "We are not she-males."
"But, my notes..." The announcer became flustered.
"Your notes," interrupted Kim, "say that we are intersexed. To be precise, we are DNA group 204F hermaphrodites."
The announcer was silent.
Kim sighed, then went into professor mode. "You are unambiguously male, having the primary and secondary sex characteristics of a male. Your colleague over there, who is trying hard to not laugh out loud at your faux pas, is unambiguously female. Before MORFS, almost everyone fell into one of those two categories."
Sara added, "There have always been a number of people who don't fall into either of the two categories. Some had an extra X or Y chromosome, some were insensitive to sex hormones, some had ambiguous traits due to abnormalities in the hormonal balance during gestation, and some simply had birth defects. There were even some on a Caribbean island that looked female during childhood, but became male during puberty. Lots of terms were invented to describe these conditions, so the term 'intersexed' was used to reduce confusion and protect the privacy of the people involved."
Kim continued, "The term 'intersexed' is more a legal and social term than it is rigorously descriptive or scientific. When MORFS started producing hermaphrodites and pseudo-hermaphrodites, the term 'intersexed' was used on legal documentation."
Sara said, "The term 'she-male,' by the way, is slang. It refers to one who has male genitals, but female secondary sex characteristics. Such a person may or may not be able to father a child. Such a person is very likely to be able to lactate, though she may need an injection of prolactin to start the process."
Kim looked over at the announcer. "The most common slang term for a true hermaphrodite is 'halfie.'
Sara shook her finger at Kim. "But we both know that some people object to that term. I guess it's because it sounds like they're being called a half person, or perhaps half male and half female. In truth, we're fully male and fully female."
Kim said, "A true hermaphrodite can both father and bear a child. Any we have met or studied can also lactate. In fact, the father is likely to start lactating when the child is born. This is due partially to the same pheromonal communication that causes the dormitory effect."
"I wish you could have done that when ours were born," Sara snickered.
"Next time, honey, next time," Kim replied with a grin.
"You're going to have more kids? You look like sisters. Won't you have problems with in-breeding?"
Kim shrugged her shoulders. "Our external appearances are deceptive. MORFS has changed only a fraction of a percent of our genetic material. According to the scan we did on ourselves, MORFS repaired the few genetic errors in both of us, changed a few strands here and there, and I now have two identical X chromosomes instead of and X and a Y, but our DNA is otherwise unaffected..."
"A fraction of a percent? Are you sure?" The announcer looked incredulous.
Sara gave a kind of twisted smile. "What do you think, Doctor Martin, are we sure?"
"According to my research, Doctor Martin," Kim said with an ironic grin, "With the rare exception of the X-Y switcheroo that happens in some gender morf cases, MORFS changes less than zero point one percent of the patient's genetic material. That's why DNA testing is still valid for proving paternity, identity, and the like."
Sara went into lecture mode this time. "No matter how much one morfs, most of his DNA remains unaffected." She tapped one of her ears. "This may look like a cat ear, but the cells are one hundred percent human. The proteins are standard human proteins coded by human DNA."
Kim looked at the announcer. "Most of the genetic material that you see in MORFS changes already exists in the patient at birth. For example, you once had gills and a tail." The announcer looked like he was about to protest. "It has been known for a long time that there is a stage in gestation where gills are formed. They are later reabsorbed, but the fact that they existed at all indicates that the genetic instructions for forming them still exists." She held up her tail and waved it at him. "The same goes for this tail. All my cells had the instructions for a tail when I was first conceived. MORFS just expressed them and added the few that were needed to make my tail look the way it does."
"And a fine tail it is, honey," Sara said with a gleam in her eyes. The announcer rolled his eyes.
"It is often rumored that rich people are more likely to have favorable changes," the announcer said.
"We have run some statistical analysis on that subject. People who are more ambitious and intelligent are somewhat more likely to develop powers, but the correlation isn't very high. Hybridization, of course, depends largely upon the level of contact with foreign DNA," Kim said.
"In other words," Sara added, "Those who live in poor housing are more likely to become rat, mouse, or insect hybrids. Those who live in cleaner housing are more likely to receive the genes of their pets. Most people prefer feline or canine hybridization to rodent hybridization."
"Also," Kim added, "You tend to reduce your contact with foreign DNA if you keep yourself and your environment cleaner. Reducing contact with foreign DNA reduces the chance of hybridization, and makes it more likely that any hybridization that occurs will be of the partial or hidden type."
"But contact with the live animals is not the only way to become a hybrid," Sara said. "If you handle lots of raw meat without using gloves, you increase your chance of become a pig, cow, chicken, or turkey hybrid. If you are fond of Sushi, you may find yourself with gills and scales. If you like wearing fur coats, you may end up sporting one of your own."
"It works in the other direction, too," commented Kim. "If you hang around people with powers, you are more likely to develop them yourself when you morf."
"All of those precautions are all well and good, but AMORFS breaks all the rules," grumbled the announcer.
"Fortunately for the pures," Kim said, "We are working on an AMORFS vaccine. We have a number of bio elementals working on it, and it is slated for accelerated testing. It should be out by the middle of 2062."
"Why would bio elementals want to help the pures?" the announcer asked.
"The disease is currently spreading through the militant pures, but it isn't unknown to the others – people who are resistant to MORFS, but aren't obnoxious or violent about it. We MORFS survivors have absolutely nothing against those who aren't able to get MORFS."
"At least most of us," Sara said. "There are MORFS supremacists out there, and they aren't any better than the 'humans first' folks."
"If nothing else, AMORFS has encouraged people who might have a natural resistance to MORFS to avoid the radical pures like the plague. The Church of Genetic Purity is having some difficulty with recruitment." Kim smirked. "Ironic, isn't it? People are avoiding the radical pures because they don't want to morf."
"Back to the subject of your future children, what's the chance that they will be born as hybrids?"
"Since genetic scans indicate that the modified DNA is copied to both chromosomes of our pairs, it's almost certain that our future children will be feline hybrid 204F hermaphrodites. Of course, the DNA that was changed by the original MORFS virus means that it isn't absolutely certain," smiled Sara.
"The last time, a lot of our friends and family didn't want to know what the medical diagnostics indicated. They preferred to be surprised. It's going to be kind of a moot point next time Sara becomes pregnant," Kim said with just a bit of a smirk.
"We have already agreed that you're gonna squeeze out the next batch."
"I still think we ought to get each other pregnant at the same time," Kim replied.
"Then who is going to be the coach?"
Kim smiled. "Our children may be a bit embarrassed by the prospect, but I'm sure that Sue, Cara, Amy, and Tina would be happy to help us out. Not to mention Tina's parents and grandparents."
"I guess you're right," Sara admitted. "Anyhow, I expect that the kids will be willing to help, too. It's not like they can't see through our clothing, anyhow."
The announcer, slack-jawed, just watched the exchange like a tennis match. "They can see through your clothing?" he finally asked after he recovered a bit.
"Of course they can," said Sara. "Clothing is no impediment to remote sensing. It's a bit disconcerting at first, but it doesn't take long to get used to it."
The announcer put his hands over his groin.
"Don't worry. We're doctors," Kim and Sara chorused.
The announcer turned red.
"If you grew up in a country where all the girls wore burkas or dresses to their ankles, the sight of bare knees would be disconcerting or erotic, depending on who's knees you were viewing. After a while, though, you could get used to going to the beach without giving it a second thought," Sara explained.
The announcer still looked gobsmacked. Kim rolled her eyes. "OK, moving right along..."
There was a pause.
Sara giggled. "Oh, Doctor Martin."
"Yes, Doctor Martin?"
"I believe our interviewer has gone catatonic. Would you like to read the next question, Doctor Martin?"
"Why, I'd be honored, Doctor Martin." Kim paused a second, then intoned, "Doctors Martin, how is it that you can maintain a lesbian relationship while attending an ostensibly Christian church?"
Sara snorted and rolled her eyes. "Does it really say that, Doctor Martin?"
"Why yes, Doctor Martin, it really does say that. Why not look for yourself?"
Sara paused a second for effect. "Yep. It's his handwriting, too. He can't blame the script writers.
"The answer is simple," Kim said as she looked at the announcer. "Homosexuality is an invalid concept when one possesses both male and female reproductive systems. In short, Sara and I are made for each other. It would be legalism in the first degree to try to stretch Leviticus 18:22 to fit our situation – not that Christians are bound by Mosaic Law. Besides, we are legally and spiritually married, and MORFS hasn't changed that."
The announcer was recovering slowly. "You are often touted as a husband-wife team. Who's the husband, and who's the wife?"
"Well," said Sara, "For the first fifty-three years, Howard was the husband, and I was the wife. Now, we switch off."
"Several times a night, sometimes," Kim snickered.
Sara swatted Kim with her tail. "Hush, you!"
Kim put her hand over her mouth and giggled. "Sorry. I got carried away. Sometimes, I look at your cute self and I just can't help myself."
Sara stood, put her hands on her hips, and glared at Kim. Kim stood and assumed the same posture. They glared at each other for several seconds, until Sara finally broke down and started giggling. Kim wrapped her in a hug, kissed her on the lips, then sat down. They looked over at the announcer, who was scowling at them.
"Oh, don't be such a grump!" Kim said in a slightly more serious voice. "Just think how good your ratings are going to be!"
"One has to wonder what it would be like to take one of your classes," the announcer commented with a sigh.
Sara rolled her eyes. "Kim is much less restrained in class than she is now. We have very few problems with sleeping students."
The announcer snorted.
Kim snickered and looked at him. "Do you want to read your next question, or shall I do it for you?"
"How are you doing that?"
"What? Reading your list? Remote sensing, of course," Sara said.
"You ought to see how our young friend Cara reads her books," chuckled Kim.
Sara got up, used TK to draw the interview notes to her seat, and sat on them. "There are rumors that you have found a way to share your powers with others," she read from the list. She then got up. The list flew back to the desk, totally wrinkle-free.
Kim got up and reached out like she was going to touch the announcer on the forehead. He flinched and jumped back. "It's not like we can metaphysically pass our powers on to someone else."
Sara said, "A powerful telepath can pretty much light up someone's nervous system. It doesn't happen very often, though. The IATE sees to that."
"International Association of Telepaths and Empaths," Kim said. "Often, a young telepath or empath will start to get the notion that he can use his powers to get what he wants. Aside from the simple fact that it's wrong to abuse powers that way, it would cause undue fear and hostility. To prevent this, experienced telepaths will intervene and give the young up-start a lesson or two in honesty and integrity. Once we are sure that he has the sincere desire to be a fine, upstanding citizen and helper of all mankind, we start training him in the effective use of his powers."
"How do you know that he has really changed? How do you know that he isn't lying to you?"
Sara tapped her head with her index finger. "We read his mind, of course. If he shuts us out, we assume that he has something to hide and continue to monitor him. We don't force our way through his shields, but neither do we allow him to cause trouble for others."
"It's not like we play favorites, either," Kim added. "We keep each other honest. We open our minds to each other, and anyone who tries to hide is immediately suspect. It may be an invasion of privacy, but we all put up with it because of the fallout that would occur if one of us went rogue."
Sara grinned. "Besides, anyone who has been a telepath for more than a few days is well-versed in the depravities of human nature. Gaining telepathic power is a real eye opener, believe me."
"What Sara is saying is that the experienced telepaths have pretty much seen it all. They are not going to be shocked by anything that they may see in my mind. Also, there is a strong ethic of confidentiality. You will not hear me talk about the juicy tidbits that I may have gleaned from someone's mind, and you don't have to worry about us telling any of your secrets."
"Not even that one," Kim said with a smirk. The announcer turned red.
"Everyone has their dark secrets, trust me on that one," Sara said. "Now... Where were we? Oh yeah..." Kim looked at the announcer. "I'm not experienced enough to exert much control over you, especially if you know what I'm trying to do. On the other hand, if you were to open your mind to me and trust me, I could make you dance like a puppet on a string. I could talk through your mouth. If you had powers, I could use them."
He looked disturbed. "Who can trust someone that much?"
Sara smiled warmly. "Everyone in our household shares that level of trust. We keep our minds open to each other. There are a lot of things in life that we cherish, but those, our family and closest friends, are the most precious to us. It's a treasure that we'll carry through the years. In a practical sense, we keep each other grounded. We keep each other honest."
Kim added, "It is said that everyone has his price, but there is nothing on this Earth that that anyone could offer to me that would compensate for the loss of even one of our loved ones. Since I can see in their minds that they feel the same way, I know that I can trust them unconditionally. It may sound sappy, but it's the literal truth."
The video wall went blank. We all looked at each other and smiled, thinking of Kim and Sara's parting comments.
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/
More writing and photography by Ray Drouillard at http://ray-d.deviantart.com/