We Can Work It Out: A MORFS Universe Story
By Terry Volkirch
Chapter 1: April 26, 2035
What is life without love? It's probably a silly thing for a scrawny 15 year old boy to ask, but I've asked myself that question everyday for the past two years without finding an answer. I'm sure I'd have fallen into a deep depression if I didn't plod on week after week, constantly busying myself with projects, hobbies and games so I didn't dwell on my nonexistent love life.
Of course I'm exaggerating. My parents love me. That helps. I also have to admit that there's still plenty of time to find that special girl. I'm certainly not the only boy my age without a girlfriend. It's only teenage angst, an age-old epidemic, even in this modern age. Things could be much worse. I could get MORFS. Now there's a serious epidemic.
MORFS has caused more trouble than anything else in modern history. Since this biological agent was introduced by terrorists a little over 25 years ago, it's turned our world upside down. It lies dormant within us, but when triggered by a similar virus, it can cause profound changes in a person. It often modifies our height, weight and general appearance. It can change our gender and sexual preference and turns some of us into animal hybrids. It even gives amazing and potentially dangerous powers to a tiny percentage of the population. Our DNA is no longer sacred. It forces us to question our very identity and challenges us to accept our differences like never before. We've adapted because we have to, but discrimination eats at the fringes of society like a cancer. MORFS brings out the best in us, and it brings out the worst in us, just as any disaster has always done.
For me and my other classmates who haven't contracted it, MORFS is mostly just an abstract concept. It creates some anxiety since no one knows how or if they'll be changed, but we mostly try to ignore it. It's easy to ignore when you don't see the effects. Those with striking appearances are shunned at best. The families of extreme MORFS survivors always leave town, whether they want to or not. Only moderate eye, hair and skin color changes are tolerated in school from what I can see.
My home town of Copely, Washington is quite large and very conservative, with two high schools, a private university, a small airport and several government laboratories. It sits on a plateau in the eastern foothills of the Cascade mountains, and is surrounded on three sides by dense pine forests that have been slowly giving way to urban sprawl.
We're fairly isolated here so the city government can get away with a lot of questionable practices. They've outlawed any kind of weather control in spite of the severe winters we sometimes get - those with elemental powers aren't welcome here. They've also banned pet stores and even removed squirrels and pigeons from the parks for fear our DNA will be contaminated to turn us into animal hybrids. It's rather silly and extreme considering we could still become hybrids from plenty of other sources. I know because I read studies and articles about it online, written by people in faraway places who haven't lost their common sense. MORFS casts a long, dark shadow here.
So why does my family stay? That's a fair question. There are several reasons really. I suppose my father's high paying job originally brought us here soon after I was born, and since then we've made some nice friends. Stability and security also play important parts. We've been here a long time because my parents thought it was important for me to have a safe and stable upbringing. The town has been a safe haven in a very tumultuous world. We trade tolerance for stability and security. It's seemed like a fair trade so far.
At home, I like to think I'm mostly tolerant of humanity's differences. I'm much more tolerant than my father at least. He rails against MORFS loudly enough to disturb the neighbors at least once a week. It's usually some news item that sets him off. He'll be sitting in his recliner, quietly absorbing the events of the day and suddenly he'll explode. I disappear into my bedroom to hide my shame when it happens.
I'm not sure about my mother. She seems nice enough but she doesn't talk much to my father and me. With no brothers and sisters, a quiet mother and a dormant volcano for a father, it can get a little lonely for me. I end up spending a lot of time reading about the shocking variety beyond the reaches of our town's public transportation system.
The transportation system is worth noting. Virtually every place in town is connected by a network of underground trains on a light rail track. The track consists of two parts: The Ring and the Spokes. The Ring circles near the outskirts of town and the Spokes radiate out from the center, stopping just short of the Ring. A few Spokes have been added past the Ring to connect what few areas have expanded since the system was built. The trains run on electricity, with one train in each Spoke moving back and forth. The Ring is actually two concentric circles. Each circle of track has a single train and the two trains go in opposite directions, both with stops at the end of each Spoke. The system allows everyone fairly quick access to every part of town. It's very quiet, clean and efficient, as well as distinctive. Everyone is very proud of it. It's the one thing we can be proud of because it's basically the glue that holds us together. It played a key part - along with our isolation I think - in bringing the government labs and thousands of jobs here.
Those same labs that keep our town alive make many people nervous. The work is highly classified and everyone's sure it has something to do with MORFS. The more high-strung citizens fear some sort of contagion will escape from the low-lying glass and concrete buildings and turn us all into hybrids. Those who are more rational simply mistrust the secrecy and believe the scientists perform all sorts of unethical experiments. Even if there was any evidence of wrongdoing, no one would make any formal complaints. That would be biting the hand that feeds us.
My father works for one of the many businesses that support the labs. I don't know exactly what he does. I can't get excited about such a boring sounding job so I don't listen when he complains about it during dinner. Whatever he does always involves a mountain of paperwork. That much is clear, and so very typical according to what I hear from my friends about their fathers. The government moves in to bring good paying jobs and suddenly we're awash in a sea of paper, red tape and cranky parents. We've no choice but to take the bad with the good.
Though I'm only a sophomore in high school, I can't help wondering what will happen if I stay in this town. If I do stay, I'm afraid I'll end up with a job I hate like so many others - and that brings me back to the present.
Today is the day for parents to bring their children to work. I went last year and all my dad's company did was try to interest me in joining them after I finish college. I'm sure they asked my father about my good grades and knew I'd go to college. They promised me a high paying career path with great benefits and excellent 401K investment options. I couldn't think of a worse sales pitch for a young teen but somehow I stayed awake.
What a way to spend a Thursday. I'll get out of school but I'll end up being held captive later than I would at school. I'll be bored silly and I'll have to write a paper about the experience for English class. Any paper I write will be lucky to get a C grade, given the content I'll have to work with. On top of all that, the train ride will most likely give me motion sickness and I'll have my father to deal with all day. It's a no-win situation.
I snuggled in my warm, comfortable bed and tried to motivate myself to get up but I couldn't seem to find the energy. After hitting the snooze button on my radio alarm clock a second time, I changed tactics and considered faking an illness. It wasn't long before I realized I didn't have to fake it.
"Rob," my mother called to me through my bedroom door. "Rob, honey. Time for breakfast. Come on now. You don't want to make your father late."
The implication of my mother's pleading were clear. She didn't want my father to get angry. Anger meant lots of yelling and complaining. I couldn't blame her but I didn't plan on going anywhere, except maybe to the bathroom to throw up. Thoughts of breakfast made me nauseous.
I finally rushed up out of bed, flung open the door to my room and raced to the bathroom just in time to hug the cool porcelain toilet bowl and heave into it. My mother stood in the doorway, giving me a concerned look.
"Are you feeling okay?" She asked.
"No," I blurted out between heaves. I was slightly annoyed but I always felt obligated to answer her. Do mothers always ask questions with obvious answers at inopportune times?
After an eternity my stomach calmed down so I sat back on the rug. That's when the shivering started. My pajamas should've been enough to keep me warm but I was feverish and chilled. Not only that, my joints felt like they were on fire and every muscle ached. I was definitely quite sick, sicker by far than I'd ever been.
My mother helped me up and back to bed. She covered me with my blue down quilt, then prompted me to describe my symptoms. By the time I finished, her eyebrows were raised to an alarming height.
"Oh dear. That sounds like it could be MORFS. I better take you to the doctor."
"What?!" No!" I wailed.
My father obviously heard me. He started yelling from downstairs, ordering me to hurry up and get ready. That upset me even more. What would he do if he knew I might have that most dreaded disease? He wasn't known for being sensitive and caring.
At least I had my mother. She went down to tell him I was sick and couldn't go to work with him. She stayed with him in the kitchen, distracting him with one of her great bacon and eggs breakfasts. I'm sure she didn't say anything more than me having a sour stomach because the house remained quiet until he slammed the door to leave for work.
I kept waiting for the chills to subside enough to get out of bed but it was hopeless so I got up anyway. I had to get up and get dressed if I was going to the doctor. Breakfast was out of the question so it didn't take me very long to get ready. I threw on some black jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt. Then I scuffed my feet to the bathroom to wash my face and drag a comb through my short, wavy brown hair.
I gasped when I saw my face in the mirror. My skin looked dull and gray. Even my normally green eyes looked more gray than green. Could I be changing already or did everything look gray when you're sick? Suddenly it hit me and I had to laugh at myself. The gray color was just the light reflecting off my sweatshirt.
I decided then and there that I wouldn't let MORFS get the best of me. It probably wasn't even MORFS. I was just overreacting. I'd had a few colds over the past several years and nothing happened. Even if it was MORFS, it wouldn't be the end of the world. People rarely died from it anymore. If I was lucky, I'd get taller and stronger, and better looking. Then I'd get a girlfriend for sure.
My mom came back to check up on me before my dad was out the door. I was humming to myself and she smiled at my good mood, but she soon ended up shaking her head when she saw how much trouble my shoes and socks were giving me. I tried to remain standing while I put them on but my balance wasn't very good. I almost fell over several times before she gently sat me down on the stairs and put my footwear on for me. Then I stayed sitting and listened while she called for a doctor appointment. She listed my symptoms and the person she was talking to must have agreed I should be looked at right away. I was dragged out to the garage to our late model electric car and stuffed into the back seat so I could lie down. I closed my eyes and listened to the faint hum of the engine as we drove to the health clinic.
The trip to the clinic flew by in waves of nausea and self-pity. I felt sicker with each passing minute, so naturally I feared the worst. There'd be several days of illness to endure, with the possibility of changing into a freak and forcing my family to flee our intolerant home town. Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day didn't seem so bad now. Why does something worse have to come along to make us appreciate what we had?
By the time we arrived, I was barely conscious. I don't remember much about moving from the car to the doctor's office. My mother helped me. That much I know. There were voices buzzing, lights in my eyes and various other annoyances that kept me awake for awhile. Then a merciful darkness fell.
* * *
I awoke in a hospital bed with an IV drip in my arm. My eyes had some difficulty focusing but I eventually made out what was flowing into my vein. It was an energy pack. The packs were necessary to help the body change during Stage 2 MORFS without undue stress. So I finally caught it. Now what?
My first thought brought me back to my mother saying I might have the disease. When did she get so smart? She new all the symptoms when most people in town didn't know anything about MORFS. They didn't want to know and that saddened me. Their ignorance kept fear and discrimination alive and well. It was a sad commentary on human nature, but at least my mom fought against it. Her knowledge implied that she wanted to try to understand and accept those who were different. I realized that I now felt a new respect for her, beyond how well she handled the responsibility of motherhood. I was proud of her.
A tear suddenly rolled slowly down my cheek, breaking my train of thought. How embarrassing. I told myself I must really be sick to cry so easily. Luckily, I couldn't dwell on the issue. I heard my mom ask another of her silly questions.
"Rob? Are you awake?"
Now I was really embarrassed. I squinted hard and was able to see both of my parents sitting in the far corner of my room. They sat on hard plastic chairs, the kind that are designed to be extremely uncomfortable to keep people awake. I quickly wiped away the tear and had a sniffle to compose myself.
My mother had the same look of concern that I'm sure hadn't left her face since I first got sick. She wore no makeup but her long brown hair was smartly styled in a bun, and her pants and blouse didn't look very rumpled. She always insisted on looking presentable no matter where she was. I wouldn't get any clues from her appearance as to how long she'd been waiting for me to recover.
My father, however, was an open book. He looked grim, and I don't think it was because of the chair. His short black hair was messed up from his habit of running his hands through it. He had beard stubble and his clothes were a wreck. His dress shirt was extremely wrinkled and untucked. There was another good clue on the small table next to where he sat too. At least a dozen empty bubble foam cups sat on it. My father was a coffee addict. That's what had to have once filled all those cups. With his appearance and all those empty cups, he must have been waiting for hours.
My room had a window that offered yet another clue. It was dark outside. I was out for at least 12 hours.
My brain loved a challenge. It was working hard to answer my questions for me before I could ask them, which was good because I had trouble speaking. I tried to ask how long I'd been unconscious but I couldn't manage more than a raspy wheezing sound. I licked my dry lips and cleared my throat to no avail.
"Don't try to speak yet," my mother said. "The doctor said you'd have trouble at first. You've been out for two and a half days."
So there it was. I was shocked. My condition was more serious than I realized. I've known several classmates who got MORFS. They didn't end up in the hospital. They stayed home and muddled through it with the help of sedatives and dry, edible energy packs.
My fear must have been written all over my face. My mom's motherly instincts kicked in and she assured me I was going to be okay. She got up and helped me sip some water. Then she gently stroked my forehead as I drifted back into unconsciousness.
* * *
Security Level: 7
Subject ID: A73DEFG1373D3AF04237
Date: April 29, 2035
Name: Robert Anthony Sandstrom
DOB: May 28, 2019
Hair: brown, wavy
Height: 5' 8"/ 173 cm
Power Rating: TBD
Threat Level: blue
Physical Enhancements: TBD
Specialty Class: TBD
The subject is extremely intelligent and introverted, with some evidence of gender dysphoria.
The subject has contracted MORFS as planned. Symptoms first appeared on April 26, 2035.
Doctor Michael D. Johnson is the assigned physician who will monitor the subject's condition and progress.
Projected Outcome: 37% probability of success
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/