User:Eirik/Centers of Power
|Works by Eirik on Shifti|
|Paradise story universe|
Centers of Power
I paced back and forth in the kitchen. I could feel my heart pounding under my white furred chest. It wasn't like I didn't know this day was coming, I'd known for the last two years, but it didn't make it any easier to see it looming.
My wife was sick.
Normally, a summer flu wasn't a big deal for a healthy adult, but these days it took on a totally new meaning. She'd been sick for the last two days. If the pattern held, she'd wake up the next morning with fur.
And finally able to see me.
What worried me was that I had never told her what had happened to me. I wasn't the man that she married. I think she knew something wasn't right, she'd noticed my height. For some reason, after the Tall Tales Con disaster, my avatar's hair had gone shock white. The extra hair I left in the shower drain, and more than that the fact that I only took them every couple of days.
I heard her stir upstairs and poured her a cup of tea. I carried it up and caught her sitting up in bed. "How are you feeling, Jen?" I asked.
She looked at me and blinked a couple times, then took the tea. "I feel awful," she said. "Are the kids up?"
I shook my head, "I'll take them to daycare, why don't you take the day off."
She nodded and rolled back over in bed. "I'm just glad that you don't have this," she said.
I walked out of the room and closed the door. "Already did," I said quietly.
My cell phone rang while I was sitting in my office. I wasn't all that surprised to see that it was Judge Pickford. "Hello, Judge. What can I do for you?"
"You need to come with me tonight to Olympia," he said in his typically brusque manner. "We're staying until tomorrow morning."
I blinked, "Tomorrow is likely to be the next Change day," I reminded him, even though he likely already was aware. "I've got three patients with flu symptoms."
"I've got two down south that are more important."
"One of these is my wife," I said with a bit of a growl.
That caused the Judge to go speechless, if only for a moment. "Bryce, I'm sorry. I need you. I need a doctor I can trust, and I only trust you and Frasier, and he's covering Harborview." He paused again, "And he's been sick, too."
I sighed. I hadn't talked to Edward in a few days. I didn't know he'd gotten sick. I almost wondered why he didn't call. "Who is so important that you need..."
The Judge cut me off. "One is the Governor, the other is Congressman Butte."
I sighed. People in power transforming were both a blessing and a curse. Someone like the Governor would be a huge help, but he would be on TV all the time. "Fine," I relented.
I had to meet Judge Pickford at his house before dusk. I wasn't sure what to do about the possibility that some of my patients who might Change might show up at the office. I told the staff that I'd gotten a bulletin from the CDC about a Sleeping Sickness outbreak in the area. I told them that one of the early symptoms, after the flu like ones, was a short period of hallucination or even paranoia. It wasn't unusual, I told them, for people to hide and not let anyone see them.
They got instructions to monitor those patients until I returned, mild sedation if needed.
I went home to pack a few things and got an earful from my wife, "You're leaving me like this? What's so important..."
"The judge needs me to check in on some important friends of his," I explained. I sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, "Jen, I know I'm not making any sense, and I'll make it up to you. I've already got Sydney to come over tonight and stay over to watch the kids." My long time assistant had thankfully been willing.
She sighed and laid back down, "When are you getting back?"
"I hope early tomorrow if things go well. If they don't," I shrugged, "I don't know. I'm not even completely certain why the Judge needs me specifically."
I bent over and kissed her, then glanced at her nightstand. There was a photo of the two of us from last year, when we'd gone to a convention in Las Vegas. It wasn't long after I'd Changed, but I could see the polar bear in the picture. "This won't make sense until later, but if something… strange happens, Just keep your eye on this."
She looked at me with a deeply puzzled expression, but closed her eyes, "Whatever, just get going. You know the Judge hates to wait."
I drove to the Judges house in Everett and pulled in front of the house. I recognized the small Miata that he usually drove and grimaced. I would probably fit, but I'd be crammed in. He opened the door and waved me in, "Good afternoon!" he said with great cheer.
I got out of my car and stretched out a kink. I drove the same small Ford Escape I'd owned when I was human and it was still a tight fit. "Good afternoon to you," I muttered. "You have no idea how bad the timing is here."
The big horned judge merely shook his head, "It can't be helped. I got a call last night from Sandrick that Sheldon Buttes was sick, had been for at least a day. They're on the normal August recess in Washington, so Buttes came back to his home district in Olympia."
"Why is this guy so important?" I asked, still annoyed.
"Buttes is about as important back there as they come," explained the Judge, "he's chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, and has been for five years." He paused, "They are the ones that write the tax law, they control the purse strings. Having a Changed just on the staff there would be a Godsend. Having one as the Chairman?" He stopped and held up his hands.
"Why do you need me?" I asked again. "There are, what, expected to be over a million changed tomorrow? We all did it without a doctor standing by."
The Judge nodded, "Fair enough, but Buttes is in his late sixties and had a rather serious heart condition."
I nodded silently about that. The Change had been known already to be a partial fountain of youth. While it wouldn't cure everything that ailed you, it was likely to repair some of the damage. I had already seen several patients who had histories of diabetes and heart conditions that were bizarrely in remission.
It wasn't a panacea, and there was still ample speculation that the stress of the change itself might be a killer before the healing effects too over.
"What about the Governor?" I asked. "He's a pretty young man, and he'll be surrounded by security."
The Judge laughed, "Just because Sandrick doesn't travel with security doesn't mean that all House members are without it. I expect he'll at least have private security around him, and probably Secret Service lurking about. Not to worry, though, they know we're coming." He picked up his briefcase, "As for the Governor, Pine is an old friend of mine. We went to high school together."
He turned and pointed at the street where a large black SUV was pulling up, "Our ride is here."
We piled into the car and was slightly surprised to find we had a furry driver. "Dr. Clay, this is Paul Michelson. He's on Governor Pines' security detachment." He said introducing me to the jackrabbit behind the wheel.
I reached over and shook his hand. "I didn't know any of us were that high up in the state," I said.
He shook his head, "I'm just security. There isn't anyone in the state government. Yet," he added with a grin.
We settled back while Paul took off. I realized it wasn't an official car. "Did you rent this?" I asked.
"It's mine," said the rabbit from the front seat. "I'm the one that told the Judge the governor was sick. When he said he had someone of your stature coming along, I offered to be chauffeur."
I narrowed my eyes, and the rabbit actually glanced at the mirror and did a double take. "My stature?"
The judge sighed, "Oh, give it up Bryce you weigh as much as a school bus now."
We got to the hotel in Olympia five hours later after battling though traffic. I had taken the time to review Buttes' medical file, something I'm sure the Judge had obtained though underground channels.
The man was a mess. He had been a hard drinker and smoker, only giving up the latter when he had a major lung cancer scare twenty years ago. He'd had three open heart surgeries, the most recent about five years before. Thankfully, there were no medical devices implanted. There had been talk of a pacemaker, but it hadn't gone beyond that.
My hope was that, if the congressman was changing, he'd do it mostly while asleep. The Change occurred worldwide at the same time, and in the Pacific timezone it was usually pretty early. I'd even slept though the bulk of mine.
I took the opportunity of being in a hotel to take a very long, cold shower. I scrubbed my fur as deeply as I could, clearing out the trap twice to keep the water flowing. I used about every towel in the place to dry myself off, then went to the phone.
"Hello?" I heard Jen say in a tired voice.
"Jen? Why are you answering? Where's Sydney?"
"She ran to the store. You make it okay?" she asked.
"I'm fine, I'm just settling in for the night. You feeling better?"
"Not at all. Hopefully that'll change tomorrow."
The Judge woke me early the next morning. "We need to get going," he said without explanation. "Get your stuff and meet me in the lobby."
I dressed as fast as I could, and packed up. I carried my medical bag and small suitcase and found both he and Paul were waiting for me. "We have a couple minutes, why don't we get something from the coffee shop and we'll start the day."
We went in and I spotted an all-you-can-eat buffet. "I know one thing that won't be around a few years from now," I stage whispered to Paul as I grabbed a plate. After what I'd seen over the last two years, I knew that I'd gotten off pretty lucky. While I did have cravings for fish and even raw fat, my diet was largely unchanged. Once more, like most wild bears, I had a nearly ironclad stomach.
The tradeoff was that I'd lost some of my ability to taste. I piled up an obscene amount of eggs and bacon, with a single bit of honeydew for appearances, then returned to the table and started to coat the stuff with Tabasco.
Paul looked at my plate with a mixture of envy and nausea. "I miss bacon," he said wistfully, "but it makes my stomach upset." His nose upturned at the scent of the sauce, "That I could do without."
"I never ate it before," I admitted. "But a lot of food just tastes bland to me now." The Judge sat down with a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. "What's the plan today?" I asked.
He glanced at my plate and gave me a look, but didn't say anything. "We're going to drop you off at Buttes' house then Paul and I are going over to the statehouse. The Governor's mansion is on the grounds there."
I frowned, "You're not staying?"
"I don’t think we really need too. If he's got what we think he's got," he said mindful of other diners, "You've got enough information to get him up to speed. Sandrick will take over on the legislative side. If he's just plain old sick, then do what you can medically, see if you feel he needs hospitalization, and give me a call."
I shoveled the eggs into my mouth, enjoying the tingling sensation on my tongue. "Sounds good. But I need to get home as fast as I can. I really shouldn't be down here at all."
Paul looked up from his plate, "Why's that?"
"His wife has the flu," the Judge said. The jackrabbit just nodded and went back to eating. "Have you called her yet?"
I checked my watch, "Hopefully she's still asleep. I think I'd rather her wake up after its all over."
Paul checked his watch, too. "Hey, we don't know the exact timing here, but I think we'd better get going if we want to drop Dr. Clay off before heading out."
Buttes' house was surprisingly small for a man of his stature. It wasn't exactly small, so to speak, it stood on several acres of land, but it was modest. I steeled myself and walked up to the door. If they were right, the first indications of the transformation would be starting any moment, or perhaps already had. I had tried calling home a couple times but no one had picked up. Since Sydney was supposed to be there, I assumed that they were all still asleep.
I knocked on the door and waited. It wasn't long before a young woman answered the door. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Dr. Bryce Clay. The Congressman should be expecting me."
She looked confused, "This early? And he's been sick, I'm sure he's not taking appointments."
I nodded, "I know, I'm a medical doctor," I said as I fished my credentials out of my pocket.
"Lilith, he's fine," came a voice from the stairs. "I'm expecting him."
I head the man come down, then stop short when he saw me. "Well, I'll be damned," he said quietly. Then he did something I didn't expect: he checked his hands.
I stepped into the room. "Congressman Sandrick sent me," I said.
Buttes surprised me again. "That old badger? How's he doing these days?"
I stammered, "He's fine, last I heard," I looked significantly down at the young woman.
"Lilith, can you excuse the doctor and myself, he needs to check me over." He looked at me, "You want coffee or something?"
I smiled, "Anything cold." I glanced at his thermostat, "And you might do the same, heat isn't good for your condition."
Lilith stepped out to the kitchen while the congressman quickly turned the air conditioning on. It was still early, but August was warm even in the northwest, and he'd be growing a coat of fur later. Without a word, he beckoned me down the hall to his private office and showed me in. "Damn it, it was all true."
I sat down on the small sofa, "What do you know? You're not changed, not yet, but you sure as hell looked shocked to see me."
He smiled, tightened his robe and sat down across from me. "You guys think you could keep this secret forever?" He sighed, but stopped as there was a knock on the door. Lilith showed up, dropping off a pitcher of ice water and some orange juice. When she left, closing the door behind her, he continued. "I've been briefed since Sandrick transformed in 2002. He transformed in the middle of a press conference. The explanation at the time was that he was just getting over being sick, but word leaked out. A couple members of the security detachment saw bits of the old badger changing. Things they couldn't explain and would only admit under pressure."
"So someone told you the bald-faced truth?" I asked, incredulous. "We've been trying to keep a lid on things for now."
"A very select few have been briefed about something happening around this time each year. There's been small but noticeable spikes in hospital admission and a few other things that tripped warnings at Homeland Security. This possibility, this transformation into partial animals, was buried deep in the report and ignored. A few paragraphs, nothing more, documenting rumors. A staff member of mine found it and showed it to me, thinking it was a joke. It struck me as odd, it read like science fiction. I thought it was, until I found out who stuck it in there."
He shook his head, "Someone at the Pentagon. A Colonel Sholl."
I thought back to that first meeting in D.C. and remembered him, he was a black goat. "How much did he brief you?"
Buttes smiled, "Dr. Clay, when the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee calls in a member of the military, they'll spill anything. He told me everything, including that he himself was changed."
"But how did he prove it?" I asked. "One on one, the field is pretty strong. We've only seen breakdowns in large groups so far."
"Never ask a soldier to prove the impossible. He punched two holes in my bookcase with his head," he said with a smile. "Nearly gave me a heart attack."
As I watched, his slipper slowly fade out into a familiar ghost. "Congressman, I don't want you to have one now, but it's starting for you."
He looked at his hands, then his feet. He was taken aback by the ghostly slipper and slipped them off like they were on fire. We both watched as his foot started to morph into a single, very large hoof. "What do you think?" he asked in a surprisingly calm voice as long white hairs feathered around it. "Definitely horse. Big one, too."
I stood up and motioned for him to do the same. "I'd take off your robe and any underclothes you have, too. Don't be modest, I'm actually a doctor. Looks like you may be one of the larger breeds, so everything is going to be tight."
He did as I asked, slipping off his shorts just as a very long tail shot out from his spine. I watched and his face slowly pushed outward, ears took on points, and a very dark grey dappled coat of fur covered his body. In the middle of everything, my cell phone rang.
"I need to get this," I explained. "My wife has been sick."
The Congressman nodded, obviously still in shock but seeming to enjoy the new body he was getting. I turned away and answered nervously. "Hello?"
She was crying. "Bryce, where are you, I need you."
I closed my eyes, "What's wrong?" I asked even if I knew the answer.
"I don't know! I'm... I'm... I don't know!"
I didn't want to panic her more than she was. "Describe what's happening."
"I don't think I can!"
"Honey, Jen. Take a look at the picture on your nightstand. What do you see?"
She paused and gasped. "What... did you do something, Bryce? What's happening? Who doctored the photo? Was it Sydney?"
I gripped the phone harder. There was going to be hell to pay when I got home. "Jen, I didn't do anything. It happened to me when I was sick a couple years ago."
That brought her up short, "What?"
"I'll explain it all tonight, but that bear in the picture has been me for two years."
I could still hear the tension in her voice, "You knew this would happen and didn't warn me? You knew I'd grown these horns?"
Horns? "Honey, I'm with the Congressman." I glanced over at him and raised my eyebrows. The man was still nude and admiring the new form in a mirror by his desk.
He looked at me and jutted his head at the phone. "Tell her what I am."
"Honey, the Congressman just turned into a horse," I said. "Look at some pictures for the last couple years, especially anything with the Judge or Ed Frasier's daughter. I'll explain when I get home."
She hung up before I could.
Buttes looked at me, "I'm sure that could have gone better."
I handed him back his robe, which now fit tightly over his broad chest. "Yeah, she said something about horns. This might be a bit of a row when I get back."
"Why did you come here, by the way?" he asked.
"I was told that you have a heart condition. The Judge wanted a doctor nearby when you changed in case you had a heart attack. There's precedent in older transformees." I tapped his chest lightly, "There's a good chance that your heart is better now." I said, "I'll see if we can find you a cardiologist who can see what you are now." I looked him over, "Whatever that is."
The massive grey horse just shrugged, "Not sure myself, but it sure feels good."
I did as complete an exam as I could in his office. We spent a few minutes online trying to place his breed, eventually deciding it was probably Percheron. I gave him as much detail about the distortion field as I could. "I'll admit, you're taking this a lot better than most people do. I didn't leave the house for three days."
"I'm not sure that I believed him completely, but Sholl filled me in pretty good. I've had time to prepare. Besides," he said flexing his chest, "This is the best I've felt in years. I feel like I could run a marathon."
I looked at him crossly, "Don't." I put as much bear in that as I could. "I don't know that your heart is any better than it was before this happened, you need to see a Changed or Known cardiologist first. And don't start doing things that will look out of place for a 66 year old man. Remember, the absolute vast majority of people still see you that way." I sighed, "I'm sure you'll want to coordinate with Sandrick as soon as you can. There are a lot of issues for the Changed that need to be addressed, the sooner the better."
Butte looked a little wistful, "This is going to be huge, and how the government responds is going to be critical. The guy in charge of that could go places."
I eyed the Congressman, "Sandrick has been working behind the scenes for years," I reminded him.
Buttes looked at me and laughed, "Sorry, that did come out a bit arrogant, didn’t it?" he admitted. "I've gone about as far as I can, really. Sandrick is an ambitious fellow, though. If he plays his cards right, he could ride this pretty far."
I packed my kit back up. "Or, if it goes badly, he and the rest of us could end up stuffed and mounted somewhere."
Buttes looked at me with a bemused expression, "I thought that polar bears would be a happier lot," he said.
"You've seen too many soda commercials," I told him. "You mind if I call the Judge back? He was going to check on the Governor."
"Did he change, too?" asked Buttes.
I shrugged and dialed. While I did, the Congressman's phone rang as well. By the time I'd found out what was happening at the Governors mansion, Buttes was already off the phone. "Governor didn't transform," I told him. "Run of the mill flu, it seems."
The congressman grunted, "Yeah."
"White House situation room just lit up. I don't have details, but about forty minutes ago the President of Zimbabwe apparently went insane. Well, more insane than he already was. They started shooting animals en mass. Horses, dogs, cows, wild animals, you name it. Thankfully, not people. Not yet, anyway." He looked at me, "You think someone got a dinnertime surprise and didn't take well to it?"
I nodded, "Probably. But that's not all of it, is it?"
He shook his head, "No, news is coming over the wires that a small plane flying erratically wandered into airspace near San Francisco International Airport. It collided with an inbound passenger plane from Japan and they both crashed into the bay. We don't know casualties yet, but it doesn't look good."
"That could just be a coincidence," I suggested, not sure even as I said it why that would make a difference.
He shrugged, "Maybe. Probably." He looked at himself in the mirror again. "Kind of takes the bloom off the rose, don't you think?"
The drive back was long and quiet. Turned out that, while the Governor hadn't changed one of his personal staff had. Paul had been asked to check on her when she didn't show up for work. He'd found the newly minted mouse morph hiding in her closet, afraid to move. Paul stayed with her until she calmed enough to function.
It meant that I got home later than I'd hoped, though the summer sun was still shining overhead. I went through the front door and found my assistant and my kids watching a movie. "Hi everyone," I said as happy as I dared.
The kids barely noticed me, so intent were they on the TV. My assistant pulled me aside. "Jenny is acting really strange," she said. "She won't come out of the room. Said she's going to kill you when you get home."
I sighed. "Ok, can you stay a little longer?"
I walked up the stairs and into the bedroom and opened the door. When Jenny had mentioned horns, she'd meant it. She was laying face down in the bed, a sheet covering her entire body, but the horns coming out of her head were long. Very long. Laying down, they extended to the middle of her shoulders in a single graceful arch.
I sat down, unsure what she had become. "How're you feeling?" I asked quietly.
She barely moved, "Like an animal."
I rubbed her back, avoiding the sharp tips of her new headgear. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what to say."
She rolled over and sat up, giving me the first good look. She was definitely some kind of hoofed animal, a white furred face with brown accents and a large brown patch over her neck. The rest of her body looked white. I thought she was at first some kind of antelope, but a few weeks later we'd discover that she was something called a Scimitar Oryx. She looked angry, but her expression changed when she saw me. "Damnit Bryce, you should have just told me. Two years ago."
I nodded, "I tried, I tried a bunch of times. But for months I thought I was nuts. You, the kids, no one saw me for what I was. It wasn’t until…" I stopped and chocked up.
She allowed herself to be sympathetic for the first time, "When you killed that burglar? That's when you met Judge Pickford. He's a sheep?"
I nodded, "A bighorn, yeah."
"Frasier's daughter, she's a fox?"
I nodded, "She's been in the house at least half a dozen times. Did you notice anything?" She admitted that she hadn't.
She relented, a little, and sat next to me, giving me a chance to really see her new form. Her overall body size, thankfully, hadn't changed that much. "I'm still mad at you," she said after a long wait. Then she looked at me, "That morning a last winter, when I found you asleep in the snow out back?"
I smiled, "Sorry, I know you thought I was dead or something, but I need cooler temps."
She looked mad again, "I almost called someone to straitjacket you after that!" She panted hard, "What happens with the kids?"
I shrugged, "They'll change eventually. Maybe next year, maybe the one after. I'll go over it with you. At first, they'll either be a polar bear or… whatever you are. What the hell are you, anyway?" I asked trying to sound cheerful.
She glared at me, "Until I forgive you for all this, I'm your worst nightmare." She got up off the bed and started to walk into the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower... and that explains all the damned white hair!" she suddenly exclaimed.
I watched her close the door and heard the shower come on. I knew she'd forgive me eventually. I casually noted the deep holes in the mattress and made a mental note to sleep on the sofa until we figured out a way to blunt her horns.