Sarah remembers running. The exhilaration of success run through with the adrenaline and fear of a night gone horrible wrong. She remembers sprinting full out across the grassy open, the tremendous leap that cleared the chain-link fence in a single bound, then . . . well . . . then it became an explosion of light and sound followed by misty currents of pain carrying her in and out of the dreamlands.
Now, there is music. A soft strumming of harps accompanying a women's choir, volume to the point of hearing yet distant enough not to be able to place the tune or distinguish the words.
She might have thought herself in heaven were it not for the pain.
Sarah tries a deep breath through her nose in an attempt to gather the scent of her surroundings. The breath sends daggers of agony rippling across her ribcage and abdomen. She curls up reflexively and the pain shoots across her back, drawing a strained whimper.
"Shhhhh." A soothing male voice comes out of the darkness and agony. "It's alright, girl. Lie still." A warm hand ruffles the fur behind her ears. It doesn't hurt there too much and she relaxes, taking the air in short, shallow pants.
She quiets down; the pain subsiding to a dull throbbing that keeps time with her rapid heart. The warm hand at the scruff of her neck continues for awhile then moves closer to her throat, checking her pulse. Then, he seems to move away.
"Perhaps I made it home," she thinks. She opens her eyes to see but immediately closes them again, the wavering blurs making her nauseous.
Thunder! She remembers the great booming thunderclap just as she had been clearing the fence. Was she struck by lightning? That couldn't be, the night was clear, the stars bright, the moon less than half full.
"Goddess! I've been shot! And if I'm in a hospital . . . Oh no! They'll find out!"
She opens her eyes again, trying to focus through the waterfall before her. A flutter of motion, like alien butterflies in bright neon, dance about. She blinks once, twice, and holds down the bile forcing its way up through her disorientation.
The butterflies gone, she begins to focus. She's on the floor. There are racks of equipment with flashing lights, glass tubes and computer monitors. Jungle vines snake up and around the equipment.
That can't be right. She must still be in that place between waking and sleep with the illusions of dreaming superimposed over reality.
She blinks again, her vision still tunneled and blurry, but the vines refuse to go away as the day-glo butterflies had.
"This is no hospital," she concludes from the basement-like setting. If she's not in a hospital and not at home . . . Could she be captured? SynerGenetix didn't have any place like this. At least, not that she had seen.
And the man sitting at the desk across the room doesn't look like any of the terrified technicians she had encountered earlier. They wouldn't have turned their backs on her like he was doing as he works on a computer terminal connected to a microwave oven.
Sarah blinks again and it looks more like a pressure cooker. Even with that change of form her vision seems to be clearing, becoming less like trying to see through the bottom of a beer glass.
She could use a beer now. No, her queasy stomach wouldn't allow it. Neither would her father, for that matter. Not that it would make any difference, she hadn't listened to her father's orders for some time now.
Maybe if she had, she wouldn't be in this position now. The man at the computer leans back in his chair and stretches.
Sarah tries to locate the tiny kitten sound but can't with her one ear pressed to the floor. The man at the computer does and looks up. High on the equipment rack near the ceiling peek a pair of shining green eyes from between some boxes.
The man holds his hands up to the kitten. "Come on," he says, encouraging the kitten to jump.
Sarah never really liked cats, and they never really liked her but this man is encouraging the kitten to jump from too high. The kitten pokes its head out of the shadows, paws right at the edge.
"Come on, you little coward," he says, moving his chair back even farther. "It's the only way down. Come on." The pleasantness of his voice belies the dangerous action he's encouraging.
Sarah wants to say something but has no voice and the pain across her chest would not allow her breath to call out anyway. The kitten seems poised to leap and the man is moving his chair back even further.
"Come on," he says.
"No!" Sarah thinks, wishing she could call out.
The kitten leaps.
For a moment the world seems in slow motion. The kitten jumping out from the equipment rack hangs in mid air without enough forward motion to carry it to the man's outstretched arms. It flails for a moment and begins to fall straight down.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, impossibly, a flutter of blue and white erupts from the kitten's back, arresting the fall.
Wings! The kitten has wings that carry it awkwardly to the man's arms.
Abominations! Monsters! It was just the thing Sarah and the others had been trying to stop in their raid of SynerGenetix and now she was captured. A worse fate than anything else she could think of. She would be dissected, or worse.
Sarah struggles to her feet, the pain pulling across her chest. The man, holding the little monstrosity, notices her movement. "No! You won't have me!"
The Change! Yes, she thinks. She's been learning to control it. The Change will trade speed for strength. The strength to fight and escape. Adrenaline and other energies let loose. She expects the Change to hurt but is completely unprepared for the feeling of being torn in half.
Unconsciousness comes as a blessing.
Sarah remembers the intense pain but now, as she drifts gently back to consciousness, the pain is only a memory. She feels numb and lightheaded. Actually, she feels pretty good, especially considering the agony she was feeling before.
Captured! That's what she had forgotten. She's been captured, now recaptured.
"Shit," she thinks.
She breathes shallow, remembering the pain of her deep breath before. It doesn't hurt but it isn't easy. Without the pain overwhelming her senses she can begin to identify smells; blood, sweat, rubbing alcohol, dirty socks, pizza with mushrooms. Her stomach rolls uncomfortably but oddly distant. She hears running water, like in a bathroom or kitchen sink.
Opening her eyes she sees those damn butterflies again. This time she refuses to blink them away and forces them into focus. Actually, it's only one and it stubbornly insists on being real.
She's laying on her back but this time up off the floor with her hands above her head. She's on a cot and, as the neon butterfly takes flight from the cot's edge, she looks on the room from a slightly different perspective.
A plastic sheet is on the floor nearby, covered with blood. Surgical instruments, tape and gauze are scattered about among several books. There's a little brown one, a couple of big textbooks and a spiral bound one with the ominous title "Pictorial Guide to Canine Dissection."
Sarah shivers at that and flexes her claws.
There is a clinking sound above her head where her arms are. She moves her arm and again the metal clinks.
Before she can look up, the running water sound ends. She closes her eyes to feign unconsciousness just as the man enters the room.
He moves around a bit, opening a drawer, rummaging, closing it again. After a few moments he's closer, Sarah can hear his breathing, then a yawn. Sucker. Her eyes snap open and he's standing within arms reach with a gray box in his hand and a startled look on his face, comically caught in the middle of a yawn.
She lunges. He cries out and stumbles backwards. But a metal clank holds her back. Looking up she sees her hands cuffed to the cot. She tries again but lacks the strength.
The man's eyes are the size of dinner plates, his glasses askew and gaping for air like a fish out of water. Scared onto his ass he tries to control his breathing. Scaring the shit out of him was the smallest of victories and, given her condition, the best she can hope for.
Defeated, she falls back onto the bed with a sigh.
The man calms down and shakily recovers the gray box he dropped. He pulls up a chair, opening the box. It looks like a Star Trek tricorder. It even makes the same "boop, boop, whirr" sounds as he points it at her. When he seems satisfied with what his toy tells him, he closes it.
"Hi," he says with a bit of a smile and the same warm voice he used earlier when he was saying she was all right. She glares at him.
"I . . . uh . . . I'm sorry about the handcuffs. I didn't want you to pull any stitches doing whatever it is that you did."
Stitches? She looks down to where the pain had been earlier, where she had been shot. The "Johns Hopkins" sweatshirt is bunched up above her waist, revealing bandages across her stomach and extending upwards under the sweatshirt. She wasn't wearing a sweatshirt before. She wasn't wearing anything before but that was different. Now, she realizes she's not wearing anything other than the bandages and the sweatshirt. She pulls up her knees to hide herself.
Her captor blushes and looks away for a moment. Sarah finds it odd that he's just noticed her nakedness, considering it's probably his sweatshirt she's wearing.
"You can understand me, can't you?" he says. "Can probably talk, too, but your vocal chords probably aren't well built for that. Your voice would probably be kind of husky, if you'll forgive the pun."
Sarah glares at him.
"Ok. Maybe if I tell you how I saved your life you'll feel differently. You took a point-blank shotgun blast right about here," he indicates a place just below his ribcage on the right. "There was massive crush-type tissue disruption and significant chipping of bone. Liver and lungs took the most of it, plus some significant arterial damage. I was able to stabilize everything, that is, until you transformed. Are you really a werewolf?"
Sarah opens her mouth to answer but stops herself. He almost tricked her into answering, damn him.
"Oh, come on," he implores with the same tone he used enticing the kitten-monster to jump. "Your mass nearly doubled, along with body length. Claws extended to nearly three centimeters. Bones changed connection angles and density to a semi-human stance. It was beautiful! Do you even know how it works? Cell division rates must be absolutely incredible. And what about in the other direction, from homid to lupine? Where does the extra mass go? Do you radiate it as heat, store it, sublimate it extradimensionally? I wish I had this scanner going when it happened. Can you go to a fully human form?"
Sarah glares at him.
"Did I mention it was beautiful?" he asks somewhat meekly. "Anyway, your change pulled open all the sutures and caused even more damage than the initial gunshot as muscle, tissue and bone morphed into new configurations. You're lucky to be alive. How are you feeling, by the way?"
She's beginning to feel uncomfortable. Physically uncomfortable on top of the social discomfort of being half-naked and handcuffed to a cot with a mad scientist drooling over her. She doesn't tell him that.
"Well," he continues, "if the pain gets too bad I can give you something. The way your body metabolizes painkillers I had to drug you up pretty extensively to keep you from thrashing about. I figured they should be beginning to wear out about now."
He waits for a reaction but gets nothing. He sigh and gets up from his chair to pour a beaker of something into a potted plant whose tendrils spiral up a rack and intertwine with electrical equipment. Some of the electronics seem to turn on by themselves. Did the plant do that? Sarah tries to see the energies that flow through all living things, another skill she's been practicing. The wall full of equipment seems literally glowing with spirit.
That can't be right.
The man clears away the bloody plastic sheet and scattered books, saying to himself, "I bet the guys at SynerGen would love to get their hands on her."
"No!" Sarah blurts out.
He looks up. "Of course! I found you across the parkway from SynerGen, nearly ran over you with my van." He stands up and approaches, still holding the dissection book. "Are you from SynerGen? Is that what they're working on now? No. You're not their style, too stepped in mythological references, too efficiently designed, too attractive. You were attacking them or spying or something, weren't you? Some sort of preternatural eco-terrorist."
Sarah moves, wanting to escape, but the dull pain of her wound and the clack of the handcuffs remind her that she can't go anywhere.
He sits right on the edge of the cot next to her, looking her right in the eye.
"Good for you," he says with a smile. "Those bastards need to be shown a lesson now and again that evolution can outperform even them. I'll make you a deal if you promise me two things I'll take off those cuffs. One; that you won't do anything that pulls out all that fine embroidery I've done, like trying to kill me. And two; tell me your name."
Sarah still doesn't trust him. He seems to have a genuine dislike for SynerGenetix but he's hard to read and could be lying. He did save her life, though, and the opportunity to be free might be worth the small compromise. She considers lying about her name just to be free.
"Sarah," she says. "My name is Sarah."
He smiles even more broadly and reaches up to release her hands. "Chris," he says with his face close to hers. She smells the mint toothpaste on his breath. "Now don't sit up too quickly or you'll pull stitches." He moves quickly from the bedside back to the chair, trusting her enough to release her but not enough to stay in arms reach. He's not stupid.
Sarah sits up carefully, resisting the urge to stretch her cramping shoulders. It hurts to move but not too much, and leaning against the wall is more comfortable than her former position. Pulling her legs up to cover herself with the sweatshirt she asks, "You don't work for SynerGenetix?"
"I used to. Not to seem like a disgruntled former employee, but they're technocrats bent on world domination. Evil geniuses for a better tomorrow. They would have everyone believe that science can explain everything, technology will solve all the world's problems and genetic engineering is the road to a bright future."
A neon butterfly flutters across the room and Sarah calls him a hypocrite. "You take life and twist it to your own design. What makes you any different from them? You know, my pack will find me and rescue me. They'll probably tear you apart."
"Is that the thanks I get for saving your life . . . twice? I have some friends. They built this for me, by the way," he says, indicating the tricorder-looking thing. "They work on things like cold fusion, anti-gravity, learning machines, telepathy, time travel, the kind of stuff you read about in the Weekly World News. But it's not made up, it's real. As real as what you do."
"The guys like SynerGen would crush this libertarian science and impose their own monolithic order. To them, science is a foundation for enslaving the human spirit. My friends and I look on science as the magic we happen to understand."
Sarah rebuttals, "And you think that just because we have the same enemy we should be friends or because I'm your prisoner I should agree with you?"
"You're not my prisoner," he says. "You're welcome to leave if you want but if you don't pass out after taking three steps you'll have pulled your stitches before getting out the door and bleed to death by the end of the block. You have an extraordinary healing rate but you still shouldn't do anything more exciting than talking for a couple of days. I wouldn't mind that, I like your voice."
Something bumps against Sarah's arm. It's the winged kitten, rubbing its ears in the fur on her arm.
"Her name is Sprytle," Chris says. "She likes to be scratched behind the ears like you do."
Sarah carefully scratches the kitten behind the ears with her claws and is rewarded with a purr and a ruffle of feathers. "I could kill this abomination in a moment," Sarah says, uncomfortable with his compliments.
"But you won't," he responds, perhaps not as confidently as he would like. "Genetically her father was a blue jay. She's kind of a griffin."
"She's cute," Sarah admits, "but she's still a monster."
"And you aren't? Nature makes monsters all the time but they're usually so aberrant that Darwin selects them out of the gene pool pretty quick. Sprytle probably wouldn't last very long out in the world on her own. Sometimes, though, the mutation is advantageous and the gene is passed on to the next generation. Evolution rewards a successful species with commonness."
"But occasionally, something goes weird. An amazingly successful design mysteriously dies out, like the dinosaurs, or refuses to either die out or become successful, like the nautilus, the coelacanth. . . and you. You are nature's way of throwing a monkey wrench into the ordered clockwork of science to remind us that we can't know everything. As for me. . . well, why should nature have all the fun?"
Sarah asks, "You do this just to piss off the scientists?"
"That, and it's really neat."
"I still think it's perverse."
"Perverse is an admission that life is still a mystery. Admit it, I'm not quite the Frankenstein you first thought. Besides, my kitten likes you."
Sprytle had curled up against Sarah's leg, purring contentedly while Sarah continues to scratch her neck just above the wings. She doesn't seem a monster, and neither does this Chris. She's still not sure what to make of him; a mad scientist tinkering with the fabric of life or a neo-anarchist thumbing his nose at the guardians of reality. Either way, he doesn't seem the enemy anymore. Not quite a friend or ally, but not the enemy.
The phone rings.
Chris excuses himself to answer it but as soon as he lifts the receiver and says "Hello?" the door at the top of the stairs bursts open and two figures of fangs, fur and rage swarm in.
Max and Dagger! She would have expected them to batter their way to her rescue, except that she's not sure she needs rescuing just now.
The two half-lupine forms roar down the stairs and quickly corner Chris behind the table. Sarah tries to call them off, to get them to wait, but filling her lungs with air stretches her wounds and the pain makes her call a whisper.
"Uh . . . " Chris stammers. It's . . . uh . . . not what you think."
He looks over his shoulder, looking for an escape route, but there's nothing but a blank brick wall.
"Well, Sarah. It's been really swell meeting you. Err . . . There's some beer in the fridge if you guys want some and Animal Planet is on cable 35. Uhh . . . Don't forget to lock up." And with that he turns and runs full at the wall. Max is after him and Sarah can only look wide eyed as Chris goes through the wall as if it were a movie special effect.
Max finds out that it's real, slamming into the now solid wall. Sarah surprises herself with a giggle.
Dagger comes over to her. "Sarah! Are you all right? What did he do to you?"
"He saved my life. Are you sure you don't want a beer?" She giggles again.
"Man", Dagger hisses, "he must have you doped up pretty good. Come on, let's get you home. That'll be the last we see of him."
As Dagger carries her up the stairs and Max skulks along behind nursing his bloodied nose, Sarah isn't so sure. On the cot, Sprytle moves over to curl up in the warm spot where Sarah was sitting.
"Definitely not the last I'll see of him."
|http://www.tasigh.org/kevin/science.html -- Revised: 27 May 2002
Copyright © 1997, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman