THE TALE OF THE IMPROBABLES

By: Darian Deamos

 

The first tale: Wolf

 

MORFS is a funny thing.  It rearranges your body, in a very real way stealing your identity.  But that isn’t the really traumatic part.  No, the rearranged body is simple enough to deal with.  It feels normal, mostly.  Strange at first, but normal.  What people don’t realize is that the brain is just another part of the body, and that changes in the body will invariably be reflected by changes in the mind.

Just as a hypochondriac can manifest physical symptoms as a direct result of his dementia, changes in the body’s chemistry will result in alteration to thought and personality.  The human consciousness in an emergent system, but it is still a system composed of the elements of the body, most specifically the brain.  So it should be no surprise that MORFS should affect the mind as well as the body.

No, the traumatic part of MORFS isn’t what it does to you.  That can be difficult, and sometimes dangerous, but invariably you find a way to adapt.  No, the truly traumatic part of MORFS is what it can do socially.  MORFS effects a given individual in their entirety, ensuring a degree of homogeny in the end result.  The problem arises as a result of the condition being non-homogenous across a society.  Not all members of a society are affected equally, if at all, and division and distrust result.  This leads to intolerance, irrationality, isolationism, and occasionally inhumanity and demonization.

That’s the real tragedy of MORFS.  The inhumanity, brutality, and rationalized evil that it spawns in a community.  The trauma this causes in the innocent victims of the disease, who bear no fault for what happened to them, is the true damage MORFS does.

I suppose that this is an attempt to heal that damage, as it was done to me.  Perhaps, by setting this record down, I’ll somehow put all this behind me, and begin to heal.  Or maybe it’s not the record that matters, it’s simply the catharsis of unburdening myself into your ears, the anonymous audience, that will be a balm in my mind.

It doesn’t matter, really.  All I know is that talking about it is supposed to help, so I figured why not.  I’ve got time.

 

Where to begin…  God, it feels like so long ago.  I know it wasn’t, not really, but my old life seems like it was eons ago.

Jack Daniels, that’s me.  An orphan named after a whiskey with the soul of a dreamer.  You can tell my life was just so easy, right?  Well, in all honesty, it was, at least compared to how it could have gone.  I had parents who loved me, and instilled in me a love of learning.  They taught me to read and instilled in me a love of literature.

And then, when I was six, they gave me a sister.  They made sure I never felt left behind, jealous, or envious of the attention she got.  They made me feel involved, proud, and responsible for her.  I’m still not sure how they managed it, but I distinctly remember those feelings, so it must have happened that way.  They made sure I was involved in all of the messy little chores involved in caring for an infant, and somehow at the same time managed to introduce me to what would become my greatest escape.

Fantasy.

TolkienBrust.  Lackey.  Paolini.  Butcher.  And a horde of others.  They introduced me to their library and I was addicted.  They may have been mostly older books, but they were the ones my parents had grown up on, and they made sure that the same quality of fantastic worlds and breathtaking imagination that you can only find in a great tale were available to me in my own childhood.

The next four years of my life were the best years of my life.  My parents worked in software design for one of the largest game publishing houses around at the time, and telecommuted, so they were around almost all the time.  They home schooled me, and raised my sister, and I soaked up the knowledge like a wet sponge.  Given their jobs, I never really lacked for entertainment, and I socialized on literary and game boards with other like minded folk.  By the time I was ten I was starting on High School level materiel, and serving as occasional day care for my four year old sister.  I was teaching her to read.

Then everything fell apart.

I remember it perfectly, I was on my computer, lurking on a bulletin board for a new RPG that my parents had shown me, and keeping a bit of my mind on my sister, when the doorbell rang.

I knew it wasn’t my parents, because they had left an hour ago for a meeting downtown, and they should have just gotten there.  They weren’t due back till late in the afternoon, after their face to face with the production guys was over.  I’m not sure what I was exactly expecting when I answered the door at our condo, but it sure wasn’t what I got.

There was a cop at the door.  He was big and huge, at least from my memories as a pint sized ten year old, and he had the saddest expression on his face.  He looked so somber in his dark blue uniform, and I barely heard him as he started talking.  The words seemed to flow around me, but the meaning hit me right in the gut.

My parents were dead.

It all sort of grays out after that.  I know I didn’t actually pass out.  I can remember bits and pieces of things after that, but nothing coherent.  I remember screaming at him in denial.  I remember my sister looking up from her book and wondering what the noise was.  I remember hitting back hard when they lead me down to the car to be taken to the station.  I remember the look of pity on the faces of the people we passed.  But mostly it was just a grey blur.  The next thing I clearly remember is waking up lying on a cot at the local precinct house, holding my sister.

I’ll say one thing for the NYPD, the cops are very cool.  They took two screaming hysterical kids and kept them around so they didn’t hurt themselves and tried to track down some relatives to take us in.  It was, as I said, very cool.  But my reprieve from the tragedy of these events was brief.

My parents were dead.  We had no other living relatives.  My last surviving grandparent had died last year, and there were no other relatives or family friends to take us in.  And I knew it, as well as the consequences.  That fact meant that we were at the mercies of the foster care system, into the control of children’s services.  Luckily for us, our parents had been thorough, paranoid, and slightly morbid, apparently.  Their will was explicit, and had clauses written for specifically this situation.

While, unfortunately, it named our grandmother as our only guardian, it did, fortunately, detail exactly what should happen to our inheritance.  The condo was to be locked and sealed, with building security to check it regularly, and otherwise to remain vacant.  Their possessions, all of them, were to be put in storage, and their money to be placed in escrow.  All of this was to last until my eighteenth birthday, upon which I would inherit half, approximately, and hold the rest in trust for my sister.  So, unfortunately, we would remain in foster care for eight years.

The next six years were not the best years of my life.  Foster care, while not the nightmare that many of the sensationalist dramas have portrayed it as, was still a living hell in comparison to the loving family I had lost.  Jane had it worse, of course.  The death of both her parents at that age was devastating.  It was difficult for me to get my head around it, and I had gotten some experience in that regard.  Jane just knew that Mommy and Daddy were away with Nana, and weren’t coming back.

Thankfully, we wound up with a halfway competent social worker.  I say halfway competent because while he was excellent at identifying and seeing to our immediate physical and psychological needs, he was incapable of comprehending how our parents had treated us.  He insisted on dropping us into public school at grade levels chosen based on age rather then ability, citing ‘needed social interaction’ as his overriding criteria.  The man was just fundamentally incapable of accepting the fact that a ten year old boy had the equivalent of a high school freshman education.  He insisted on treating the both of us like infants.

For my part, I just hated the guy.

Now, if this was a bad drama, the next part of the tale of my life would have involved us being sent off to some impersonal orphanage, housed in a large and imposing structure, run by heartless nuns, where we would have been made to eat gruel and mope.  How utterly cliché.  I don’t think an orphanage that actually fit that description has existed for at least a hundred years, at least not in any major city.

No, thanks to the underappreciated efforts of crazy (and litigious) child advocacy groups, we went to the modern alternative.  The foster home.  The particular one we got dumped in was out in Queens, and was run by a very nice black couple.  A large old house, the kind you really don’t see much of any more, it was the current home for about half a dozen kids before we got plunked there, and it felt like they could have thrown another dozen or two in there and we wouldn’t have felt too crowded.

Also thanks to those crazy (and litigious) advocacy groups, there was no attempt to separate me from my sister, the way that those bad dramas make you think the foster care system might, to encourage adoption of at least one of the children.  Thankfully, in addition to the nuts with lawyers making it uneconomical to try it, there had been, over the course of the existence of the children’s services department, enough child head shrinkers put into positions of authority that they recognized that separating her from her only surviving family now would harm her more than an adoption would help.

So, despite the fact that everyone involved, except perhaps the four-year old herself, knew that her chances of adoption were better if we didn’t come as a matched set, we stayed together.  I held no delusions.  There were very few families out there looking for a pair of traumatized youngsters, and fewer still when one of them was nearly a teenager.  So we lived our lives there, in that foster home in Queens.  While it wasn’t what I would call poverty, especially now, it wasn’t exactly wealthy either.

Thankfully, I still had my books, both academic and recreational, as well as my computer.  I also had my sister.  Those three things were what kept me going then, and for many years to come.  My books, the ‘net, and my sister.  Imagination, companionship, and responsibility.  All I was missing was love, and it would have been a perfect life.  But I had the memory of love, and that would have to do.

I continued to teach my sister everything that my parents had taught me, and while that brought some odd looks, the two of us huddled together away from everyone else, the caretakers didn’t interfere, especially after they noticed that it was the only time Jane ever laughed.

Time passed, as it was wont to do, and I spent a totally humiliating year in the fifth grade.  Humiliating for the faculty anyways.  After spending an entire year with me asking questions years beyond my grade level, and getting detention for being too intelligent and disrupting class, they finally thought to have me tested for placement.  At this point my own little home study program put me on the academic level of a high school sophomore, and the tests backed that up.

So it came to pass that, halfway through my planned tenure in the sixth grade, I was summoned to the principals office.  Sitting there was the principal, and several guidance counselor types.  Once I was seated, they stared at me for a moment, I can only assume to try to intimidate me.  It didn’t work.

“So, Jack,” the principal asked, after I showed no reaction other than a blank stare, “Your academic aptitude tests showed some very interesting results.”

I just stared at the bozo.  “Yes, and?”

Clearly flustered by my obvious indifference, he simply cleared his throat.  One of the other educrat types in the room picked up the planed lecture.  “Why didn’t you inform your social worker that you had been home schooled to a high school level?”

I turned my bored gaze on this new imbecile.  “I did.  He didn’t believe me.  Felt that my parents had obviously been lax in the testing, and that placing me with children my own age would be an appropriate action to facilitate my adjustment.”

The educrat “ahemed” himself into an embarrassed silence.  The principal had at this point recovered enough to continue.  “And you did nothing about this?”

I shrugged.  “Why bother?  The moron obviously didn’t believe my parents records, why would he believe me?  Now what did you want?”

The one halfway intelligent individual in the room finally spoke up.  “Well, we were going to offer to jump you up to high school level, and now that I’ve seen your attitude…”  she paused, and looked at me.  For my part, I probably looked stricken.  Here it was, my one great hope, to be in a place where I would actually have to try, and these idiots were going to make me stay here and die of boredom.  She stared at me with a gimlet eye for a moment, and then smirked.  “I think you most definably belong in a high school.  You have the petulant teenager attitude down perfectly.”

I admit, I actually lost my composure for a moment.  I believe I actually squealed.  It was completely juvenile.  The principal cocked his head.  “I take it this doesn’t displease you.”  I shot him my best look, which, I must admit wasn’t much of one, me being eleven.  “I thought not.  In that case, why don’t you and Principal Drake discuss the details of getting you into the local high school, eh?”

The three adults exchanged nods, and for once in my life I let the adults around me call the shots and I was escorted off into a small office for a conference with what was to be my new principal.  By the end of the day, I was ecstatic.  I was out of the tedium of the sixth grade, and off to high school.  Admittedly, I was being admitted as a freshman, but Principal Drake had some VERY good reasons for that, and even I had to admit that there were things that I would learn over the course of four years of a normal high school education that I simply would not learn any other way.  That and it would look much better on a college application.

The up shot to all this?  I got to skip the rest of the school year, on the condition that I spent it engaged in some sort of supervised community service.  Tutoring my sister counted.  So off I went.  High school, here I come.

 

It wasn’t pleasant.  Which was a fact that I should have been aware of.  It had, in fact been pointed out to me several times by Principal Drake.  I had ignored it, wrapped up in the joy of finally having my intellect recognized.  What I hadn’t counted on were my classmates.  I mean, really, how often do you see some twelve year old kid in a high school, really?  And worse, one who is almost universally smarter then his classmates?

So, naturally, I was mocked, taunted, and ostracized by my ‘peers’.

And again, naturally, I sought refuge in my one true escape.  My books.

And that’s who I was, of course.  I was the nerdy orphan genius who didn’t talk to anyone, and just sat there with his nose in a book.

Of course, the cliques had gone up around me, separating the entire school into its own little inviolate tribes.  Just like always in high school, there were the jocks, the goths, the geeks, the nerds, the Pures, the supers, the rebels, the preppies, the junkies, the freaks, and me, the punching bag.

Ok, so I was a nerd.  A big nerd.  After having my head shoved down a toilet by the local football hero the first day, and being the laughingstock of the entire school, I think my place in the social structure was rather well defined.  Well, if that’s the way things were going to be, then I made a decision of my own.  I wasn’t going to make friends with ANY of these assholes.

That vow lasted about as long as a snowball in a boiler.  I had started taking some martial arts classes, to give me a good grounding in the principles necessary to defend myself.  The expression on that idiot jocks face when he tried a repeat performance and I broke his wrist for him was priceless.  But that wasn’t till a year later.  No, it was at those classes that I first met people that I couldn’t just ignore.  I wasn’t better at the exercises then everyone else, and I couldn’t be aloof and still achieve the level of performance I demanded of myself.

So I made friends.  Not many I admit, but some.  A few of the other students at the dojo went to the same school, and nothing breaks down barriers like tossing each other around a padded room.  Once they knew that I really was as smart as I acted, and wasn’t going to hold that intelligence as weapon against them, they actually started talking to me, as opposed to at me.

And so things went.  I pushed my way through high school and helped my sister learn quickly.  I even managed to have a few friends and have something approximating a normal social life.

And despite the tragedy of it, I managed a normal enough life up until my sixteenth birthday.  That was the end of my senior year in high school.  I had finally gotten that precious sheepskin, and was going to take a year off, and then head out to college.

 

Now, maybe it’s something about the day, but the next major upheaval in my life happened on the sixth anniversary of my parents’ death.  I celebrated the day the same way I had for the last six years.  I spent the morning at the grave with my sister, telling my parents about the year that had gone by, and then my small circle of friends and I went out to relieve some stress.

My sister, of course, had gone to her own friends house, and would be spending the night, so when I sat back down in Doug’s car after seeing her to the door, I was promptly stared at by the other four occupants.

I shot Doug a look.  “What?” I asked.

Doug just shook his head, and put the car in gear.  “Mike, educate Boozer here, eh?”

Mike, one of the best wrestlers in his weight class (one of the heavier ones to boot) as well as an honor roll student, smiled at me from the back seat.  “What day is it?”

I looked back at him and rolled my eyes.  “It’s my life went to hell day.”

Mike sighed.  “Ok, try again.”

I looked at my watch.  “Thursday?”

Mike sighed.  “And what is Thursday?”

I just looked confused.  The other passengers sighed at me.  Dave, the skinniest, nerdiest guy in the class, with a full ride at MIT, shook his head.  “Jack, Jack.  You make me doubt your youth.  You can’t have forgotten our scheduled Thursday activities already?”

I smacked my head.  “Game day.  Right.”  I had forgotten.  We had decided right before school let out that we were going to run the newest version of Exalted: The Age of Sorrows.  I had gotten the full set of the latest edition as a gift from Karen, one of mom’s old co-workers for my birthday.  The woman was nice enough, but with her work and her being single, there was no way she could take us in.  So she assuaged her guilt by sending me lavishly expensive gifts, and stopping by to say hi from time to time.  Kind of cool, actually.

The last occupant of the car grinned at me.  Vince was an overweight movie director wannabe.  Well, he was a wannabe in only the most literal sense.  He wanted to be a movie director, and damn if he didn’t have the talent to get there.  “So,” he drawled, “You still up for some righteous violence?”

I grinned.  “Hell yeah.”  This was exactly what I needed.  Some time to think about something that was nothing to do with reality.  I could forget all the responsibilities and burdens that my life had become, and just hang out with my friends.

“Good,” Doug remarked, “Because we’re heading over to Flame’s and pulling an all-nighter on this one.  We’ve already cleared it with the temp-rents, so you really don’t have a choice.”

I laughed, and covered the sudden lurch in my stomach.  It was just nerves, I told myself.  I had a good reason to be nervous.  I had talked all five of these guys into this.  If it went sour, it would be on my head.

Ok, I had to relax.  I took a deep breath, told my gut to quit it, and settled back to enjoy the ride.  This was going to rock.

 

I was covered in blood, gore, and other unsavory bits.  Luckily, most of it wasn’t mine.  I hefted my golden blade and stared at the demon prince across from me.  I lifted my lip with a snarl and charged him.  He swung high at my head, and I ducked, swinging low then up.  As my blade bit into his side, I felt a cold pain in my side, and as green fire leapt from the gash I had carved into its chest, I twisted and fell, and the last thing I saw was the demon fall, consumed in the flames of his own blood.  As the darkness took me, I saw my comrades running towards me.  Reinforcements at last…

Vince shot me a glare across the table.  “Ok, that was a bit over the top.”  He looked at the group.  “But since you did self destruct, I think I can live with saving your ass.”  Being as he was playing the group’s medic, that was good to hear.

“Yeah, I look about for any more demons to splatter!”  Dave was looking thrilled, and was spoiling for a fight.

Jack LaFlame looked around the table, and grinned.  “You don’t see any more demons, but there are a few dozen dismembered monks, and a crowd of frightened people in the corner.  The three remaining monks are guarding them, and keeping seem to be shielding them from you.”

Dave looked annoyed, but Mike shook his head.  “I kindly ask my circle mates to care for our fallen comrade and keep watch for more demons, and go over to address the priest, inquiring what precisely happened here.”

Vince looked up from his character sheet.  “I activate my combo, ‘Healing Light of Unconquered Puissance’ and use it on our injured friend here.”

Jack, we called him Flame, to differentiate him from me, looked at something behind his screen, and nodded.  “Ok, Vince, you heal him, his wound begin to close with preternatural speed, as fountains of syrupy golden light spill from your hands over the wound.  Mike, the monks are cautions, but after the display that Boozer,” that’s me, “put on, they’re inclined to aid you this once.  They inform you that a crazed man in hooded robes, with a bleeding mark on his brow burst in and started ranting about how they would all pay for their transgressions.  He gestured with his staff, and the demons materialized, and started attacking.  The monks tried to stop them, but the big one that Boozer killed was too much for them, at least till Sword Boy over there showed up.”

Doug shook his head.  “Good thing you went on ahead then.  Mike, anyone see what happened to the weird guy, this sounds like the S.O.B. we’ve been chasing since Cisacursero.”

Mike raised an eyebrow at Flame, and the Storyteller chuckled.  “Investigation plus Charisma, if you please?”

Mike picked up some dice.  “Ten motes on Second Excellency, plus,” he rolled and counted quickly, “six more on the roll.  That’s eleven”

Dave whistled.  Flame raised an eyebrow and consulted his sheets some more.  “Cool, well, that’s good…”

Right about then, I felt a pang in my gut, and a sudden call from my bowels.  As I fled the table towards Flame’s bathroom, I heard him continue his description.  “One of the frightened villagers nods shakily and starts to stammer....” And the rest was cut off as I dashed up stairs.

I got to the bathroom just in time, and as I released, I felt the rumbling of nausea, and a chill wash over me.  I clearly remember thinking that it would figure.  If there was one day I was going to come down with the flu, it would be today.

I don’t remember just how long it was that I sat there, feeling miserable, and letting my insides drain out my rear, but the diarrhea had stopped, and I was sitting there shivering with my arms wrapped around my, generally feeling miserable, when I heard a knock on the door.

“Hey, Jack?”  It was Dave.  “You ok in there, man?”

I shook myself, and started to clean up, “Yeah, gimme a second.”  I finished cleaning myself and went to leave, only to find Dave still standing there.

He nodded, in a disinterested way, and then did a double take.  Quickly he grabbed my hand.  “God man, you look like hell, and your hand is cold as ice.  You sure you’re all right?”

I nodded back.  “Yeah, just a cold.  I’ll be fine.  Lets get back, eh, I wanna introduce this demon summoning bastard to my sword.”  I took about a dozen steps, and got to right in front of the door to the study that we were playing in, when I lost my battle against the creeping nausea, and promptly fell over and vomited.

Dave grabbed me almost immediately.  “Oh crap, man, this aint ‘just a cold’ man, your sick.”

The rest of the guys had seen my little episode, and had all come over.  Flame took one look and just pointed towards the living room, and said “Couch.”

I was hauled to my feed, and half led, half dragged over to the couch, and rather sloppily dropped or fell onto it.  I really can’t remember just how much of me getting on that couch was me, and how much was me being dragged.  I had been feeling a little off and achy all day, and had been fighting an upset stomach since noon, but it seemed as if my body had decided that it had had enough and wasn’t really co-operating all of a sudden.  To put it succinctly, I felt like crap.  And I said so.

Flame just looked at me, and nodded.  Now perhaps you think that we call him Flame because of his surname.  And you’d be right, at least originally.  That was, till junior year, anyways.  Then he got MORFS.  Now we called him Flame because he was a fire elemental, and had hair in all the varied colors of a roaring  bonfire, from reds to yellows to oranges, all in spiky dreadlocks hanging from his head.  He stared at me for a moment, and then went off to the phone.  I heard him muttering into it, and then at Doug.  He came back over and knelt down so he was at eye level.  His eyes were the same weird fire colors as his hair, I noticed.  How I had not noticed that before then, I will never know.  Perhaps it was because as a male, I tended to avoid deep meaningful eye to eye stares with my friends.  That sounds right.

In any event, what he said was the more important thing.  “Jack,” he said, and there I knew this was serious, because he never used my first name unless it was serious shit, “we’re taking you to the doc’s.”

I shook my head blearily.  “Just th’ flu,” I muttered.

He nodded at me.  “That’s what I thought, too, till I went to a doctor after three days and was told it was MORFS.”

I think that actually made me look shocked.  I mean, MORFS.  Come on.  This wasn’t some cheesy drama.  I had read the statistics.  For all that they had come out with treatments to prevent the most common complications, there was still a real risk of serious complications.  Double digit percents, even.  Ok, so it was only about one percent mortality rate, but given the sheer amount of people that got the damn thing…  I was understandably scared.  It had been around for barely twenty years, and it still killed.  Besides, I couldn’t get MORFS, I had too much to do.  I was off to college.  I had my sister to take care of.  I couldn’t get MORFS.

So I said as much.  “No way is this…” I muttered at him.

He just shrugged, seeing the rejection in my eyes and understanding the fear.  “Likely not.  But better safe then otherwise.”

I was feeling too battered to argue, so I just acquiesced to the inevitable, and closed my eyes.  It seemed like a few seconds later when I heard Vince saying, “Time to go man, nap in the car.”

That seemed like a really good idea.  The nap part I mean.  I wasn’t so keen on the moving, as my head had decided that it was a good time to imitate a bongo.  But I just knew that if I didn’t go along with these crazies and get tested for MORFS then they would drag me, so I gamely struggled to my feet and shuffled by sniffley way to the door, down the front steps and into Doug’s car.

Now I may make it sound like this thing hit me all at once.  That’s not quite true.  I had been feeling off all day.  I suppose it was just me covering it in denial.  I had ample reason to feel rotten after all.  And, given the day, I was used to drowning discomfort with frenetic activity.  I had had practice, after all.  So it wasn’t until the symptoms got to the vomiting and diarrhea stage that I even allowed myself to notice.  So I suppose I only have myself to blame for what happened next.

The ride in wasn’t fun.  I felt like hell, of course, and the roads in this part of New York felt like they hadn’t been paved since Giuliani left office.  But that was besides the point.  I was afraid.  I was afraid of what might happen, of what might change, and of having no control over my fate.  For all that I was only sixteen, I had enjoyed a remarkable level of control over my life, and had finally reached a point where independence was a visible goal, if one slightly removed in the timeline.  If I had MORFS, that would all be put in jeopardy.

Now, that may be yet another terrifying aspect of MORFS.  The lack of control.  I mean, think about it.  You’re going about your life, calm as can be, and then, suddenly, from absolutely nowhere, this random cold bug comes, and due to some fucking ancient history bio-terror idiocy (that didn’t even do what it was supposed to, by the way), your life is turned up-side-down.  It’s fucking insane, pardon my French.  Or don’t, I really don’t care.  It really is surprising that there aren’t more cases of acute anxiety linked to the looming threat of MORFS.

Or maybe there really are more, and its one of those things that simply isn’t talked about.  Or perhaps it’s just something that people look at and dismiss, as something that will only perhaps occur in the far off, foggy, ‘future’, a concept that I firmly believe is beyond the grasp of a large majority of the human population.  Whatever the case, that anxiety is magnified a thousand fold when your being driven to the doctor, sick as a dog (where did that saying come from anyways), and staring a potential diagnosis in the maw.  It feels like its some great beast, waiting to swallow you up.  Perhaps it’s the same with the other big illnesses, like cancer.  I’ll never know.  All I do know is that, then, in that car, despite the nausea, the aches, the exhaustion, my greatest discomfort came from the thought ‘what if…’

‘What if…’ I was positive.  ‘What if…’ I changed out of all recognition.  Would my friends still stand by me?  I liked to think they would.  Would my sister recognize me?  I hoped so.  Would I still recognize me?   Oh, god I hoped so.  ‘What if…’ I died.  There it is.  Death due to MORFS was rare, but it happened.  What if it happened to me.  How would my sister deal.  Would she be able to cope with the burden of being alone?  With keeping the jackals who smelled her inheritance away?  With learning how to survive on her own, with no family left in the world?  I had no answer.  And I was terrified.

So I lay there, in the back of Doug’s car, being jounced around and stewing in my discomfort and terror.  I stared at the back of the passenger’s seat, and at the fire covered hair hanging messily down from the headrest.  Flame was talking to me, and I knew he was trying to keep my mind off of what was potentially happening, but I heard maybe half of it, and remember less.  It was talk of the game, of how once we got back to his place, with whatever meds the doc’s gave me, and got back to the business of some serious gamesmanship, how amazingly kick ass this would be.  I let him drone on, focusing less on the words then on the fact that he was saying them.

Eventually, we stopped, but it wasn’t at the hospital.  It was at a small, slightly run down building that looked like it might have at one time been an office building.  It was perhaps four stories above ground, with most likely two below, and there was a grimy sign out front with big blue letters saying,

 “Massive Ontogenetic Regulation Failure Syndrome Clinical Treatment Facility

and in smaller letters beneath it,

New York City Board of Public Health and Welfare, New York State Board of Health, Center for Disease Control

and a bunch of weird state and federal seals that acted as gigantic ‘Do Not Rob, Actual Cops on Duty Here’ signs.

I struggled to coherency at the sight.  “Why not the hospital?”

Flame sighed.  “Called the fosters.  They said that last year the regs changed.  Social Services insists on using the free clinics.  This is the closest.”

I just sighed.  Figures.  More city budget cuts and these things were federally funded after the first few deaths due to lack of basic medical diagnosis of the disease.  It really shouldn’t have surprised me.  After six years, you would think that I would have learned.  But things like this always did.  I guess I still thought of myself as the well off kid from uptown, despite everything.

Being as how there was no use fighting the inevitable, and I was already there, I allowed the two of them to lead me in.  Doug plunked me in a chair, and then sat next to me.  I sagged backwards, only marginally aware of Flame having a discussion with a desk attendant, and then with a guy in a lab coat.  A nurse came and took a blood sample, and then I waited for the results.  After a bit they decided that they could spare the bed while the results came back, and they dragged me off to a room.  The bed they put me in was more comfortable then the car seat, but less so then Flame’s couch, take that for what you will (Flame does have a very comfortable couch).  I have no memory immediately following that, so I assume I fell asleep.

 

My memories following are fragmented at best.  You can logically deduce that, yes, I was indeed positive for MORFS.  I found out later that I was kept sedated, and had to be tube fed a protein and nutrient mix to supply the raw mass needed for the transformation.  I do, however remember several conversations dimly.  The first one was innocent enough.

I was still sedated, but I had regained consciousness.  Not enough to do anything major, like say tilting my head an inch, or breathing loudly.  Opening my eyes seemed like it would be a Herculean task.  So I just lay there, lounging in my delirium.  I knew I should have been worried.  I could dimly remember being terrified of something, not too long ago.  The knowledge that the knowledge that I had forgotten to be terrified had not terrified me failed to stir me.  They had me on some groooooovy drugs.

But I could hear.  There was a pair of nurses talking in my room, and I would assume doing nurse things while they did it.  But I don’t know that.  They could very well have been masturbating each other for all I know, but the content I garnered from their conversation makes that seem unlikely in retrospect.  What I did get could be summed up as follows.

I don’t have names for these nurses, so let’s call them Bob and Sue.  Sue began the conversation as I became aware of conversation about me.  “So,” she said, in a low but clearly intelligible voice, “you think he’ll make it?”

“Depends,” Bob replied.  “Severe MORFS case on top of a bad Influenza strain, bad shape.”

“Yeah,” Sue said, with pity in her voice.  I wanted to strangle her.  “But on the up side, he survives MORFS and the hyper-immune reaction should clear up the virus.”

“Unless Doc Green takes an interest…” Bob began, as I faded off into the haze of the really very groovy drugs.

The next time I became aware of my surroundings, it was motion that brought me out of the haze.  The bed I was on was being wheeled out of an elevator, whether up or down from my current location I could not tell, nor could I fight past the happy haze in my mind enough to tell.  I could, however, tell that I felt really bad.  There were voices talking above me as my bed glided down the hall.  I recognized Nurse Bob’s voice.

“… tor.  What about nutrients and mass.  His body is going to need protein mass or he’ll run into…”

“Yes, I know,” interrupted a cold, nasal voice.  “Feeding tube and catheter.  Maximum sedation and restraints.  I don’t want him causing more damage with convulsions.”

“Yes ma’am,” replied Bob.  He sounded slightly displeased, I thought.

“And once you have him set up, get back to your floor.  Take care of the real humans, not this zoo.”  The nasal voice disturbed me greatly, but I couldn’t place what it was that was wrong with what it said.  Of course Bob would go help humans, that’s what nurses did.  The venom in Bob’s response made it through the resurgent fog of the drugs, and I felt strangely glad for it.  And then I was gone into the haze again.

The next time I came out of it, I felt much stronger, somehow, but there was this annoying tube in my mouth.  I tried to reach up and get rid of it, but my hand wouldn’t move.  There was something holding it down.  I tried again harder, and a leather manacle slapped against the bed.

“Sir, it’s coming around,” a voice from nearby called out.  My vision was hazy, and I couldn’t see the source.

Instantly there was a clacking sound, like metal on stone, and that cold nasal voice came back.  “Huh.  Double the sedative dose.  I forgot to take the increasing body mass into account.  Foolish.”  Now that I was more aware, I could pick out the distain from the voice, as well as guess at the gender, likely female.  There was an odd scent, too.  I heard more footsteps, and tried to reach for them, only to be stopped by the restraints.  There was the sound of someone rustling with bottles, and then nothing.

“There,” the cold voice spoke up.  “That aught to put it back under till you get the I.V. fixed.”

I heard rustling and a faint clatter as those clacking footsteps retreated.  I struggled against my bonds, desperate to be free of this place, though I didn’t know why, until eventually the haze rose up and swallowed me.

The next time I came to, it was with a clear mind.  I woke slowly, allowing my now haze free mind to analyze what I had heard and dimly remembered while I slept.  I had survived MORFS, apparently.  More importantly, I was under the care of a doctor who saw me as an IT, which meant that she was a bigot, and I was most likely a hybrid of some sort.  That kind of discrimination was fairly common.  Almost as common as the anti-black discrimination in the south back in the 1970’s.  This was not a good place to be.  It was time I left, then.

I opened my eyes and looked around.  I was reasonably surprised by the muzzle sticking into my field of vision, but I ignored it.  Being some kind of wolf man was actually not my biggest concern right now.  Getting out of these restraints was.  So I yanked my arm up.

There was a snap, and my hand came up toward my head.  I then tried to undo the strap across my forehead.  It came away fairly easily, and I lifted myself to the side, off of the table and looked around.

I was in a large warehouse, it seemed.  I could hear footsteps, a clacking of metal on stone, and I quickly lay back down.  The footsteps stopped outside the door.  I heard that cold, nasal voice, and lay the band over my forehead, and slipped my hand back into the broken restraint.  The woman was obviously talking on a cell phone.

“… I told you what I need.  I need a Partial, with cardiac arrest.  They’re common enough.  I put the imbecile social worker off with some story about an autopsy for research purposes, but that’ll only hold so long.”

There was a pause, and then the voice came back.  “I am aware of the risks I’m taking.  How was I supposed to know that this mutt used to be the Daniels brat?  It would make a great story, though.  Son of the famous game design duo dies from MORFS.  Brilliant.  The society pages will eat it up.”

Another pause, this one longer.  “I will get him to you as soon as I get my cadaver.  I don’t do this for your religious fervor, I do it for the money, and the promise that you can get me my lab.  I’m not risking my career for you.  You want this thing for your research; you bring me a cadaver I can give his sister.  Or I can FORCE cardiac arrest and hand him off.  That would work just as well, and I really don’t care.”

A brief pause this time.  “I know that.  I don’t care about a long term relationship with you.  I know better.  Get me my money and my corpse, and I’ll contact you when I have another test animal.”  There was a snap, as if she had shut something, and then I heard her walk away.

I sighed and snapped my other free of the restraints.  I sat up and looked around, taking in my surroundings.  If this was a hospital room, I was the King of Siam.  Then I looked down at myself.  A very fuzzy King of Siam, apparently.  I was quite obviously a hybrid.

I stood up and examined myself, despite some unsteadiness in my balance.  I was taller, that much was obvious, and much heavier, though exactly what my new height and weight were was a mystery that could wait till later.  At a rough estimate, I would guess I was almost eight feet tall or so.  From the unexpected girth in my shoulders and the size of my bicep, I estimated that my weight had tripled to quintupled.  My legs and feet had changed, as well as my posture.  I felt like I was standing on the balls of my feet, with the part of my body that my brain had associated with my heel over a foot off the ground.  I looked at my feet.  The proportions and structure seemed odd, and when I tried to take a step, my balance failed again.

I staggered and fell forward, onto my hands.  And suddenly, it was fine.  I was on my hands, staring around the room, and it was fine.  I moved my hands and feet, trying to walk on all fours, and it worked out all right.  I was no great image of grace, down there on the floor, but it got the job done.  But damned if I was going to run around like a dog if I didn’t have to.  Back to the bed then, and haul myself up.

Once I got back on my feet, or I should say off my hands, I tried a few steps.  I was wobbly.  It would take a lot of work, but I should be able to get used to it.  But not now.  This would make getting out harder, but not impossible.

I sighed, and ran my hand over my face.  That’s when I made my big mistake.  You see, right then, I had a chance of getting out.  Not a great chance, perhaps, but there was a chance.  What happened here was caused mostly by my new anatomy.  You see, my face had changed.  It was more then just a muzzle.  My whole head was very much a wolf’s, from the doggie ears to the slightly inset eyes.  I looked like a movie werewolf.  And I had the inch plus long talons, one on the end of each finger, to boot.  And when I ran my hand down the side of my new face, the talon on the end of my middle finger scraped into the flesh of my forehead, down over my eyebrow, and into my right cheekbone, and down over the side of my muzzle, ending by my jawbone.  And it split the skin wide open as it went.  I was lucky I didn’t take my eye out.  I stood there and sighed, and then I felt the wetness, and saw the blood drip over my eye, and I looked at my hand, and saw the bloody claw.

And then it HURT.

The pain was blinding.  I gasped, and if I could have kept silent, I might have had a chance.  I couldn’t.  I cried out in pain.  It came out as a howl, but I didn’t care.  I slapped my hand back to my face in a vain attempt to stop the pain, and only succeeded in slashing two more lines across the first in my forehead.  I howled in pain again, and the door to my room burst open.

There were five of them, dressed as orderlies.  They didn’t carry themselves as orderlies though.  They were all big men, with large black sticks that they held at one end, and they stared at me in shock for a bare moment, and then they advanced on me.  There was no concern or sympathy in those expressions, only cruel malice and disgust.  I lashed out, feebly, and one of them scampered back.  I staggered forward, and there was a blinding pain from the side of my wounded eye.  I fell to the ground, on my hands, and the one on my other side growled, “Just like a dog.”

He jabbed the stick at me before I recovered, and pain lanced through me again.  Cattle prods.  They were armed with cattle prods.  I tried to move, but they shocked me again.  And again.  The pain drove the breath from me in pitiful yelps, and my vision tunneled till all I could see was the feet of the man before me.  I didn’t give up.  They never stopped the pain, and eventually the darkness closed around me and I floated away in it.

When I awoke, I was back on the gurney.  I was muzzled, I couldn’t see out of my right eye, and my face still hurt like hell.  I tried to move my arms and legs, only to find them manacled again, this time with chains, and a great deal more of them then before.  I could not move.  “You won’t get loose again,” the cold voice called out from my left.  “And you’ll have a nice set of scars from that eye accident.  Just lie there, and I won’t have to hurt you even more.”  She accompanied that last with another jab with the cattle prod.  I stopped moving.

“Good,” she replied, and walked away.  I took a deep breath through my nose, and made a point to remember this.  If I ever got loose, I was going to rip her arms off.  But first I had to escape.  I would be patient, I would get my chance.  Eventually.

Or perhaps not.  The gurney I was on was wheeled out after her, and down a hall.  I had a breathtaking view of a cement ceiling with ancient fluorescent lighting hanging from it.  We must have been in the storage area.  I was wheeled through what felt like a maze of halls, until I was passed through a doorway and into a larger room where I could hear the road, distantly.

Up a ramp and into the back of a van I went, and the slamming of the rear doors was like the slamming of my own coffin.  I struggled a bit, but it was futile.  The van started, and drove me away from my life.  It wasn’t a long drive.

It seemed like longer, hours and hours, with me sitting there, stewing in my own fear and anxiety, but objectively it wasn’t far.  I was unloaded onto a loading dock at a warehouse somewhere and tossed in the back of a truck.  The gurney was rolled over next to a cage, stood up, and the chains were undone, and I pitched forward into the cage.  The door slammed closed behind me.

The cage was reasonably large, perhaps ten feet on a side, and just tall enough for me to stand without hitting my head.  There was a large bucket of some kind of ground meat, the smell making my nose twitch, and a large jug of water, with a pan of sand as my only toilet.  I turned and slammed the door, but the bars held, and I got another jab with a cattle prod for my efforts.

I fell to the floor, and twitched a bit.  The men about me laughed, and walked off.  As they left, I heard a rumbling, and I saw a forklift heading over my cage.  The cage was lifted up, and I struggled to maintain my balance, grabbing the ceiling for support.  I hadn’t had a chance to get the muzzle off of my face, so I couldn’t even protest as they loaded me into a crate, cage and all, and nailed it shut.  It was dark inside, but I could still see, in this sort of dim, washed out way, and I heard them move the crate.  Then I heard the sound of a door rolling closed, I lost even my washed out vision, and I heard the sound of a bio-diesel engine starting up.

I was alone, in the dark, in a cage, turned into some kind of freakish monster, and everyone who knew me thought I was dead.  I sat there and cried.

 

Now, what was really going on here?  Damned if I knew.  I mean, I figured it out later, but at the time, all I knew was the completely dehumanizing treatment I had been given.  They had treated me like an animal, referencing my old identity in the past tense, and using words like ‘it’ and ‘the animal’ to describe me.  More than a small bit traumatizing, all in all.  So, how was I, a young, inexperienced, and abandoned child to deal with it?  I cried.  I mourned my life, my identity, and as I mourned, a terrible anger formed within me.

It was hard, this anger.  My life hadn’t been easy, but I was always a soft touch.  This was different.  The anger made me hard, cold.  Untouchable by any emotion but rage.  It was a different emotion from the anger that had driven my previous attempt at escape, less volatile, less chaotic.  It was cold, subtle, and overwhelming.  I would not stop, would not yield, would not veer away from my stated goal.  I would escape, and I would take back all that had been taken from me.  God have mercy on anyone who got in my way, because I wouldn’t.

 

So I sat in my little hole, in the dark, and I waited.  When I got hungry enough, I ate the meat in the bucket, and then used the bucket as a toilet.  I got the muzzle off, and discarded it.  I tried talking to myself, there in the dark.  I couldn’t.  My mouth and face just weren’t shaped right for the job.  So I sat there.  I tried to ration my water somewhat, but there was enough there for me to last for almost a week.  They must have just taken one of the spare jugs for the water cooler and dumped it in the cage.  I didn’t want to think about where they got that much raw ground meat.  Didn’t want to think about the meat at all, really, or I’d be seeing it again.

I have no real idea of how long I had been in there, but it was longer then a day, less then a week.  I slept several times, but as there was nothing to do but sit there and wait, I may have spent a lot of time asleep.  But, eventually, I was awakened by the most startling thing.  The truck had stopped.  It hadn’t stopped since it had driven me away from New York.  I quickly stood and grabbed the bars of the ceiling of my cage, and strained my ears for any hint of sound.  I closed my eyes, because they did me no good in the near absolute darkness of the crate, and I didn’t want to be blinded if they opened the crate to daylight.  So standing there in the dark and the silence, I waited.

I didn’t wait long.  After a moment, I heard the sounds of a door being opened, and I turned my self to face it.  Shortly thereafter, I heard the whine of a motor, and the crate moved.  Wonderful, they weren’t taking any chances by opening the crate; they were just going to move the whole crate into wherever I was going.  I hung on and cursed my captors in my head.

I was trundled along, still in my crate, for a few minutes.  I could tell, by using my body as a plumb bob, that I went down several ramps, most likely in circles.  Eventually, they dropped me off and I heard the sounds of prying behind me.  I turned to face the sound.  I closed my eyes again, and I think I managed not to flinch when the light changed.  From the gasps, I assumed that my captors hadn’t had such luck.  I opened my eyes.

There were five of them.  Five of them for one of me, I felt flattered.  They were all dressed in sturdy grey jumpsuits, free of any logos or nametags.  I lifted my lips in a snarl and they flinched again.  I didn’t try to push it any farther just then, as I noticed they also all had cattle prods.  I just stood there and stared at them.  They didn’t seem to want to move.  Was I really that threatening?

“Stop staring at it and get moving!” a commandeering voice called out.  “It’s just an overgrown dog!”

“Yes Director,” snapped the men, but I sensed an undercurrent of fear and resent ment in their tone, as if they wished this mysterious speaker would come in and do it himself. It didn’t deter them though, and they pulled over a pallet dolly, and rolled my cage out.

As they cage rolled out of the crate, I got my first look at this ‘Director’ and I wasn’t impressed.  He was a tall man, cadaverously thin, with a long face and sallow skin.  His lab coat draped over him, and he wore loose fitting charcoal grey dress pants and a gunmetal grey shirt under it.  I think I figured out who bought the jumpers.  I sneered at him.  He sniffed.  “Get it into the processing area.  I want it cleaned.”  He stalked away, leaving his lackeys to deal with me.  I followed him with my stare until he left the room.

The lackeys pushed my cage through a large room, and rammed the end of it with the door into another door.  I just raised a brow ridge at them.  Were they really going to let me out?  How stupid could they be?

Not that stupid, apparently.  The door opened, and the bars on my cell were removed, leaving me only one way to go, through the door.  The men with the cattle prods were rather insistent, so through the door I went.

The doors lead to a small corridor, and once I was in, the door shut behind me.  I glanced at it, and then studied the corridor.  As far as I could tell, it was just a corridor, so I started walking.  As I went, I spotted the cameras hidden in the corners.  So I was being watched.  No surprises there.  I walked with as much dignity as I could manage.  Strangely, I didn’t feel naked.  Perhaps it was all the fur.  Perhaps it was the anger.  I didn’t really care.  I just stalked to the door at the other end and stood there, waiting.

It opened after a few seconds.  The other side was a small corridor barred off from the rest of the room.  There were men with hoses on either side.  I knew what was coming.  I was going to get power washed.  I stalked out to the middle of the short corridor, aware of the sound of the door closing behind me, and braced myself against the bars, ready for what was bound to be an unpleasant experience.

I was not disappointed.  The water shot at me with fire-hose strength, and the men in front of me weren’t pleasant.  They aimed at my face with malicious cruelty, and I felt the scabs around my eye break off.  When that failed to draw a reaction, they aimed lower.  I gasped and leaned against the bars, and glared at them.  I memorized their faces.  I was going to hurt these men if I ever found them again.

Eventually, they finished my ‘bath’ and I was allowed to leave the corridor through the other door.  At no point did any of the cowards get within ten feet of the bars.

The other side of the door was another small portable cage, and I stepped inside with a sigh.  They took this cage and trundled me down a hall filled with larger, permanent cages.  About half of them held other hybrids; some of them looked mostly human, with only their ears changed, or a tail.  Others were almost as inhuman as I.  All appeared at least a little out of it.  Drugged then, or torture.  This wasn’t looking good.

I was dropped off in my own personal cage, and the handler’s left, the door closing with a finality that implied that this was to be my new residence for the foreseeable future.  The décor was massively out of style, something in turn of the century zoo, perhaps.  All but one wall was smooth featureless concrete, with a pit of rough woolen blankets as a rudimentary bed, and hole in the floor for a toilet.  I assumed that any food would be delivered, but there was a basin for water built into the wall near the floor.

I tested my claws against the wall, and found that they would make a decent mark, so I sat down and started to draw.  I was never much of an artist, but that didn’t matter.  I started to sketch stick figures, whatever amused me.  It wasn’t much of a distraction, but it was a way to occupy my time.  I even managed a few rather sophomoric bits of humor, there on my wall.  They brought me food later, a hunk of raw meat.  I gave the guard who brought it a sad little stare, and sighed.  I did, however, eat it.  I didn’t think about it, I just ate it.  I’d need my energy.  After I was done, I went back and continued my sketching.

 

And that fairly set the pattern for the next week or two.  I sat there amusing myself, and they fed me.  Oh, it was fairly obvious that they were trying to drug me.  The water tasted of it, and the meat smelled of it.  Occasionally I would get dizzy for a moment, but it passed swiftly enough.  Apparently something about my change made their drugs not work.  While that was fascinating, and amused me to no end, especially when the director or one of his flunkies would be waiting there watching me drink, and then fume in disgust and annoyance as whatever it was they had put in the water did absolutely nothing, at least as far as they could tell, and it frustrated them to no end.  I think the best they managed was to make me see pretty colors for about half a minute.

After about a month of that, they gave it up.  They left me alone for about a week, and then they came at me with something else.  They threw other prisoners at me.

 

It started innocently enough.  A cage was rolled up in front of my cell, and the doors to both were lined up.  I was ‘encouraged’ to leave, with prods if necessary, and then I was wheeled away.  I was taken through a corridor, and similarly ‘encouraged’ out of my transport and into a large room.  The room was empty this time, but would later be filled with obstacles and simulated terrain.  Then the door at the other end opened, and one of the other prisoners was let out.  I could tell, from the set of her shoulders and the way she was moving her eyes and head that she was on something seriously warped.

She cast about for all of a second, and then she spotted me.  She attacked immediately.  She was a hybrid of feline decent of some sort, and she acted like it.  She ran at me on all fours, despite not having the physiology for it.  I just stood there and waited.

As she got near me, she vaulted at me and tried to claw my eyes out.  Or she would have, if she reached me.  I waited there, and when she jumped, I smacked her.  It was like playing baseball or tennis.  She lined herself up, and I swatted her.  It wasn’t personal, but she was in the way.  I walked over to her as she got up and kicked her as hard as I could.  She skidded across the floor and slumped against the wall.  I walked over again and stepped on her head and forced her down to the ground.  I bent over and closed my hand over her windpipe and squeezed as gently as I could.  After a few minutes, she stopped struggling and fell unconscious.  I stood up and walked over to the door I had entered from.  The door opened, and I walked back into my cage, and sat down, and they conveyed me back to my cell.

It was later that day that I realized my mistake.  I heard the most awful screams echoing through the compound.  What made it unbearable was that I recognized them.  They were the not quite still human screams of the woman I had been forced to fight.  I sat there and listened, and choked back tears.  I fed my grief into my anger, forcing it give me resolve.

Later, the true depth of my error was revealed.  It was later in the week, and the guards walked past my cell.  They were wheeling a table with the remains of a prisoner on it.  I followed them with my eyes, and one of them chuckled, “I wonder if it knows that it was its little pack mate.”  I narrowed my eyes, and the two of them trundled past.  So that’s what it was.  They did that to her, because she lost.  And she was alive while they did at least part of it.  I closed my eyes and mourned.

Later, they did it again.  They would haul me back to that room, and sic one of my fellow prisoners’s on me.  This time I was merciful.  I killed them, quickly and cleanly, and as painlessly as I could.  After two more of their test subjects wound up with their throats neatly cut under my claws they gave it up, and it was my turn to find out what the director did with those he deemed useless.

I don’t know why they decided that it was time to dissect me; I only know that they did.  I wasn’t really privy to their discussions.  My time there was mostly spent sitting in my cell, going over the faces of the dead, my victims.  I would sit and think, and pray for forgiveness.  I was never particularly religious, but I did have faith.  I had faith that God existed, and that he watched over us.  That there was an afterlife, where peace and healing could be found, and that you would meet your ancestors there.  I prayed for my victims, and hoped that they would find peace and healing in whatever came after.  So when they came for me a little over three months after I had arrived, I didn’t think anything of it.  Men had come to observe me before.

What did surprise me was when one of them pulled out a rifle and shot me.  I collapsed with a dart in my neck.  The tranquilizer was nearly ineffective, but it stunned me long enough for the guards to get in by me with the cattle prods.  I may have been thrown off the drug inhumanly fast, but the pain and spasms from the electricity sent me to the floor.

I was chained, muzzled, and strapped to a table.  They were taking no chances.  I couldn’t move.  I was wheeled away, and brought to a room in the complex I had never seen before.  It was a operating theater.  I was rolled onto the table in the center of the room, and strapped down, spread eagle.  I tried to resist, but there were half o dozen of them, and they had cattle prods.  I struggled, but the end result was a foregone conclusion.  I was subdued.

The director walked in, wearing surgical scrubs, accompanied by two other men in similar garb.  “Let’s see what this one has to teach us, eh?  It has been most efficient, if uncontrollable.  Perhaps if we could isolate its strength without its resistance to the controls…”

The other’s just nodded, and started to wheel over the surgical tools.  Then they started cutting into me.

 

I won’t be arrogant and say that I stood up to the torture and didn’t utter a peep.  That’s just stupid.  I don’t clearly remember what happened in that room, but I do know it hurt.  I know what they did, vaguely.  They vivisected me.  They had life support equipment, and all sorts of other things to keep me alive as long as possible while they poked and prodded at my insides.  They treated me like a high school biology frog, sitting on a dissection pan.  And I was alive and awake the whole time.

As it turned out, they didn’t need that life support equipment.  When they went to cut my arm open to study the construction of my muscles, the cut started to close right in front of them.  They had to keep cutting it open or it closed up on them.  And it hurt the same each time.  After about an hour, I had screamed my voice hoarse.  When they pried my ribs open to study my heart, I couldn’t even gasp.  And through it all, they just stared dispassionately and made their scientific observations.  My awareness narrowed to one thing.

I was going to KILL them.

All three of them.

I mercifully lost consciousness when they opened up my skull, and I knew no more till I awoke in my little cell.

 

They gave me three days to recover.  I spent it huddled in the corner, shaking.  When they came back, the director wasn’t there, but the one of the other two was.  I stood there, shaking, while they opened the door and walked over to take me back to that torture chamber.  This time I didn’t try to defend myself.  I just started killing.

Two of them died almost instantly, as I rushed past the silly little cattle prods, and ripped their throats out.  They died choking on their own blood.  The next three tried to surround me, but I leapt at the one in front of me and ripped his faced off with my fangs.  I tasted the metallic sweet taste of human blood, and I discarded him with a shake and sprang through the gate of my prison and onto the man who had tortured me.

Him, I didn’t kill right away.  I was slow with him.  I knew enough about biology to kill quickly, and enough to kill slowly.  I chose to kill slowly.  I gutted him, and yanked the mess of his intestines out onto the floor.  I left him there, trying to hold his insides in, and slowly bleeding to death.  He was dead; it would just take a while for his body to catch on.

I was off down the corridor.  The guards had stopped in a futile effort to save the imbecile who had tortured me.  I ran.  I hadn’t been idle while they were playing their games, trying to discern my abilities, and I had a good idea of where I was, and how to get out.  On all fours, I loped out of the cell block and into the corridors.  It was a matter of minutes till I was back in the large room where I had first been let out of the crate.  It seemed like forever ago.  I looked around, and spotted the door up to the ramp.  I headed towards it, and slammed into it.  I looked around for a switch, a chain, some way to open it.  There wasn’t one.  I looked around, in a panic.  I had to assume that the alarm had been sounded, and I needed out.

Then the door suddenly rolled open.  I spun around, and stood face to face with the third man.  He looked at me, and nodded.  “Go, get the hell out of here,” he hissed, and started to take something out of his coat.

A shot rang out.  The doctor slumped to the floor, a red stain spreading from his chest.  A voice from behind me sneered, “Traitor, siding with these ANIMALS.”  I stared at the doctor, oblivious to the sound of footsteps behind me.

I heard another shot, and felt something hit me hard in the back.  I felt a cold wetness spreading from my back, and I fell forward.  The dying doctor looked me in the eye and slid a flash drive in a sealed capsule at me.  He tried to say something, but blood burbled from his lips and he fell forward.  Another shot, another impact and I was face down on the floor.  I grabbed the flash drive and slit my own stomach open.  Before the wound healed, I slid the drive into the abdominal wall.  The doctor had been letting me go, and had died trying it.  He wanted me to have this thing, and damned if I was going to disappoint.  I wanted to know what it was.

I started to struggle to my feet, the pain from the bullet wounds fast dissipating.  It had been a high caliber round, but it was only a handgun.  Not nearly enough stopping power to do more than stun me.  But the Tazer to the base of the skull that he hit me with next was more than enough to put me down for the count.  My last thought was that I hoped the shock didn’t hurt the drive.

 

When I woke, I was on the table in the operating theater again.  This time, there were more then just surgical supplies there.  There was a collar with some sort of tangle of wires and connectors hanging from it.  Again I was tied down.  This time, though, I was on my back.  I couldn’t see, but I could hear when the director started the saw, and I could feel when he started cutting my skull off.  And again, the pain drove me unconscious.  This time, though, it wasn’t till I felt him start threading the wires from that thing into my brain that the pain rose up and, following it, blackness, and I mercifully felt no more.

 

The next time I awoke, it was back in my cell.  I felt at my throat, and felt the cool metal of the collar.  So it wasn’t a dream then.  My hand wound around to the back of my head, and I felt the tangle of wires and metal going into the back of my head.  What had he done to me?

“Sit,” the director’s voice cut out from behind me.  I tried to turn, to rise and rip his head off, but I couldn’t.  I tried.  I told my legs to support me, to propel me towards my tormentor, but all I did was rotate and sit on my haunches.  I glared at him, and tried to stand again, focusing all my effort on doing nothing but standing up.  It accomplished nothing.

He laughed at me.  “Good.  Anger.  Good.  Now that I have you properly leashed and collared, we can begin to train you to be something useful.”  He walked out of the cell and left the door open.  As he went he called over his shoulder, “If you leave the room, Wolf, you will feel pain.  Quite a lot.”  He laughed as he left.

I, of course, had to test that.  As if the proof of his control wasn’t obvious enough, I had to try to walk out of the door.  And collapse in pain as soon as I tried it.  It was like I was on fire, like I was being electrocuted, like I was being flayed alive.  I collapsed, screaming.  I barely managed to crawl back inside my cell, where the pain abated, and I lay there, gasping.

The director’s laughter floated to my ears, and I growled in frustration and anger.  I crawled over to my bed, and collapsed, and shook with rage and indignity.  The frustration of the whole situation.  I would never escape, not from this.

In the morning, the director came back and instructed me to follow him.  Then he began my training.  I would learn how to track, how to hunt, how to fight.  I was already good, this regimen made me lethally efficient.  I lifted weights, I ran on four feet and on two, I climbed, and I swam.  They put me through obstacle courses, and had me fight wild animals, including animals that had acquired MORFS abilities.  Eventually, they started up the fights against the other inmates.  I was no longer allowed to be merciful and kill them.  If they didn’t do well enough, show enough promise, they were vivisected.

After a while, he started to let one or more of the inmates go, and I was to hunt them down.  Sometimes I killed them, sometimes I only incapacitated them.  Whenever I tried to do something else, either my body would freeze up, or the pain would come back.  He had me under his thumb and we both knew it.

 

Until one day, about a year after I had initially been imprisoned, the director came to me and ordered me to follow him.  I had little choice, so I did.  I kept looking for some opportunity to kill him.  Over the years, I had tried more then a few times, and each time right as I was about to do it, the pain knocked me to the floor.  That didn’t stop me from trying again though.  But to be honest, I was getting worn down.  I was almost ready to give up.  The cold, relentless anger that had sustained me was running down.  I was almost ready to give up, to find a way to die.  But not just yet.  I wasn’t done yet.  Maybe there was a way.  I had a few tricks the director didn’t know about yet.  And there was still that jump drive that was still in my gut.  I still didn’t know what that was. 

But I had to escape first.  To do that, I needed to find a way to get this collar off.  There were a few things I hadn’t tried yet.  But those thoughts took a back seat when I realized where the director was taking me.  He was leading me to the surface.  He had done this once before, to prove that after I was given the run of the base, I really couldn’t leave.  He took me to the car pool, here in the shadows of the early morning in Chicago.  I had recognized the skyline in the distance, and I knew where I was, for all the good it did me.  He had me get into another box, this one a smaller one, used for shipping meat.  It was labeled as a beef carcass.

Once I was shut away in the dark, I was jostled as the box was loaded into a car.  About twenty minutes later, I heard the director talking to someone.  I couldn’t make out anything more then a few words.  Just two places.  San Francisco and Salicia.  Great.  Even I had heard of the one reason to make Salicia national news.  The fucking ass wipe senator.  I was probably being taken to be shown off.  Just the thing to make my day.  I was loaded into the jet, and minutes later, we took off.  The director must have some pull to get a private jet cleared without security at O’Hare.

The flight was long, but they let me out of my box and into the cabin once we were up in the air.  Apparently the plane was part of the program.  The only reason for the box was to keep me hidden from non-program eyes.  Very secret, was this illegal and inhumane project.  I kept my sarcasm to myself, and enjoyed the food.  It was the first cooked food I had had in over a year.  I was relieved that I hadn’t lost my taste for it.

We arrived in San Francisco in the late morning, and I was put back in my box till we got to an alley behind some warehouse.  I was then put in the back of a rental truck, and the director and I drove up to Salicia.

 

Now, if you think that being treated like an ambulatory piece of luggage didn’t piss me off, you’re wrong.  But I just couldn’t get up the energy to fight it.  I had been treated like crap, and yanked about by this damn collar for nine months now, and I was getting apathetic.  It wasn’t that I didn’t get annoyed; I just couldn’t do a fucking thing to stop it, so I saved up the anger, and waited.  Eventually there would be a way to get free of this.  There had to be.

So until I found that way, I did what I was told, like the tin solider I had been reduced to.  The director even got me some Burger King, which would have been nice of him, only he never did anything nice for the ‘animals’ so he must have a reason for wanting me well fed.  I began to think that this might not be just a simple trip to show me off.  Something was up.

 

My first clue that I was right was when he pulled up to a random park.  It was called Overlook Point, so I imagine that it had quite the view of the cove here.  The natives called it Salicia Bay, but it wasn’t.  San Francisco had a bay, this was a dinky cove.

He got out and looked around, then muttered something I couldn’t catch, and got back in.  He drove off, obviously looking for something, and eventually stopped outside a stunningly large estate.  The estate, what I could see of it through the tinted windows anyways, was a masterpiece of wealth and showmanship.  It also looked like a battlefield.  One of the windows at the back of the manor had been blown off, and there was a military hover-transport blasted and smoking on the lawn.  What the hell happened here?

I wasn’t about to get any answers anytime soon, though.  The director made a cell phone call, most likely to one of his sympathizers in that damned religious group of his.  I shifted, and apparently the director heard it.  “Quiet, Wolf, you’ll get to hunt soon enough.”

That was one of the few things that the director had never picked up on.  He seemed convinced that I truly enjoyed hunting down and ripping my fellow human beings apart.  But he had ordered me to be quiet, and the collar enforced that, so I sat there in cybernetic stillness and waited, and about a half hour later one of the FBI agents investigating the scene came out and handed him something through the window of the van.  Then we drove off.

We drove around the city for a while, and it became obvious that the director was again looking for something specific.  Eventually he found it.  An alley with a small abandoned park behind it in the sleazier industrial part of the city.  He drove up the side of the curb and parked.  He walked around and opened the door.  I lunged at him, hoping that in this setting, being unable for my eyes to register who he was, I would succeed.  It didn’t work.  I slammed into a wall of pain for just long enough to drop me to the floor of the van.  “Wolf.  Heel, Wolf,” he said, contempt in his voice.  He tossed something in front of me and when I reached down to pick it up he said, “Hunt them down, Wolf.  Disable, do not kill.”

The item on the floor was a pair of silk nightgowns.  I was going to be forced to hunt down a pair of girls.  Girls like my sister.  I snarled at the director.  I refused.  I would not do this.  Then the pain hit.  Not the blinding, disabling pain of when I tried to escape, or kill the director.  No, this was a subtler pain, a slow, persistent ache that would slowly grow worse the more I fought.  I winced.  I tried to fight it.  I really did.  I think I lasted about a minute.  Then I gave in.  Fine, I’d hunt them down.  Or at least I’d try.  They took out a military team and then got away.  They’re probably pretty good.  Hopefully they’re better then me.

I got out of the van and stretched, testing my joints and muscles after my long confinement.  I glared at the director.  One day, there would be a reckoning between us.  I would not be enslaved forever.  One day, I would have my revenge.  He laughed that soft, mocking laugh of his, and just smiled.  “Hunt, Wolf.”

I snarled at him one last time for good measure, and then brought the nightgowns up to my nose and took a long sniff.  At least they smelled nice.  I really hoped that anyone who smelled this nice was good enough to get away from me.  I dropped to all fours and bounded away, staying hidden.

That was one of the things that had been rather brutally trained into me.  Stay hidden during the hunt.  You do no good as a hunter if your prey can see you coming and escape.  I assumed that stealth was also important to maintaining the cover of the program.  So I made my way to Overlook Point.  I figured I’d check there first, since that was where the director had first stopped.  What I found there was shocking.  There was a gigantic fucking hole in the cliff.  It was impressive as hell.  But I did catch the scent of whoever it was I was tracking.  It went off of the edge of the cliff, and off over the bay.  Great, they flew.  I hated flying prey; it made my job ten times harder.  This fact gave me enormous joy.  Perhaps they would indeed escape me.  Nothing could please me more.  Unfortunately, the collar wasn’t ready to let me admit failure, not yet anyway.

But, where would they go from here.  I assumed that they drove here, and they destroyed their car to remove evidence.  Where would they go from here?  If they stole a car, it would be reported, and tracked.  So that’s not good.  There were no air or sea terminals closer then San Francisco, and they were certain to get caught if they tried to make it there on foot.  So that wasn’t an option.  What then?

Then it occurred to me.  Train.  There was a train yard near here, on the new maglev track.  I had read about it and had noticed that Salicia was on the list of stops.  Great.  Let’s just hope they were stupid, or that their train had left.  I bounded off for the train yards.

 

When I got to the yards, I spent a lot of time looking for the right train.  I did eventually find it, but getting close was impossible.  There were FBI agents and train yard workers everywhere.  They were inspecting all the trains, and the car that the scent of the target was coming from was already sealed with the tape marking it as inspected.  I wondered how they had managed to stay undetected or get around the tape.  Irrelevant really.  I needed to find a way to get at them.  I pondered it for a moment.  I couldn’t, not here.  I would be seen.  So I needed to find another way.

I withdrew to think about my approach.  They were indeed on the maglev track, and it was the northbound one.  So, Seattle or Portland then.  I wondered what they would want up there.  Irrelevant, again.  I just needed to catch them.  But the director never said to hurry.  So I would be patient.  I would follow them and wait for an opportunity.  So I needed to get on that train.  I slunk off, to follow the tracks north.

 

I followed the tracks north quite a while till I found what I wanted.  A place where the track ran through a small valley going reasonably straight.  I waited till I heard the whistle of the train approaching, and started to run.  This would be risky as hell, but hey, worst that happens is that I screw up and die.  That’s not so bad.  Unfortunately for me, I pulled it off.

I ran silently parallel to the track, and when the first freight car appeared, I leapt.  I landed on the car behind the targets quite silently, and considered my options.  I could always attack now.  I could likely rip open the aluminum of the freight car and attack them right here.  I considered it for a moment, but then realized that that would seriously break secrecy, and give me away while they target had the time to run.  So I would wait, and continue to trail them.

I padded to the back of the train, and leaned over the baggage car’s end.  There was no inspection tape on this one, just an electronic lock.  Easy enough to disable.  I did so and swung myself inside.  The car was apparently a late addition to the baggage.  It was only half full of baggage containers, and there was a motorcycle strapped down.  It was a real beauty of a cycle, too.  I inhaled, taking in the smell of motor oil and fuel, and curled up next to the bike.  It had been too long since I had slept outside of a cage.  I would rest, and when the train began to slow, I would resume the hunt.  I lay myself down and rested my head, and let my mind wander.

 

You know, it’s strange.  I was lying there, being forced against my will to hunt down a complete innocent and drag them away to a life of torture and pain, and I felt peace.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I was finally outside, and my mind connected the scents of the outdoors with a freedom I hadn’t known in a year.  Perhaps it’s the fact that for the first time in nine months, since I had this collar implanted, I was moving again, acting instead of reacting.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I knew, somehow, that this unknown target could end my torment, set me free, one way or another.  I don’t know.

Now, I’m no precognitive.  I didn’t know how it was going to end.  Not there, not then.  But I felt at peace, and I knew, somehow, that things were going to work out.  For the first time since I saw the one man who, in the nightmare my life had become, had ever tried to help me get gunned down, I felt like I had a chance.  Like things were going the way they were meant to go, the way they needed to go.

One way or another, I would catch up with the target.  And one way or another, they would set me free.  I don’t know where that certainty came from, but it gave me peace.

And you know what?

 

I was right.

 

 

THE END OF WOLF’S TALE

 

 

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org

 


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