Cascade Failure

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Paradise story universe

Cascade Failure

Author: Fibio
Author's Comments

This was inspired by a thought in another story about how lucky the timing was for the change and sprang from what could happen if it occurred a few decades later. It is quite possible it does not quite obey the rules of the cannon so could be considered AU, which is ironic as it’s a story about an alternate universe.

I woke to the sound of my door clicking shut.

There should have been motion after that. The sound of someone in the room. But there was silence, or, maybe the barely perceived sound of someone padding along the hall carpet, but that was long gone before I was awake enough to concentrate. All I knew was that I could smell that there wasn’t anyone in the room but me.

Wait a second.


My eyes flicked open and I knew instantly that something was very wrong. The light was messed up. Unless I’d overslept massively, which I suppose was possible as it was the holidays; the room was far too bright. I rolled over, purposely ignoring the fact that there was something on my checks, and glanced at the clock.

Quarter to six A.M., and the numbers were far too bright. Yeah, something was up.

I sank back into the pillows and flicked my ears, or rather felt my ears flick, and stared at the ceiling for a moment, trying to make sense of the fact that my senses had apparently changed overnight. It wasn’t helping that said ceiling was being far to visible than it had any right to be in the dawn light, or that I could literally see the bulb blowing in the faint wind, or that I could smell the paint we’d used on the kitchen a fortnight ago, or that I could hear the hot water pipes humming as the house prepared to deal with its bleary eyed occupants.

I closed my eyes, folded my ears and held my breath, stifling the sensory overload for a moment. It had to be a dream. No way could I be seeing in the near dark, no way could I be able to wiggle ears on the top of my head, and I certainly shouldn’t be able feel the…

Argh! I sat bolt upright, running my hands over the, my whiskers, literally growling. It wasn’t right! I shouldn’t have anything like that! I went to bed normal, didn’t I?

I snarled to myself and took my hands down from my cheeks. Hands might be an overstatement actually. Paws worked, damn great poofy ones, with thick orange and black striped fur, animalistic pads and wickedly sharp claws. I wiggled my fingers, followed by my thumbs, okay, so maybe hands worked. My growl lowered to a barely perceptible snarl.

The room didn’t seem to have changed. It was still a fairly normal eighteen year old’s bedroom, though sans eighteen year old human girl, and had all the chaos that ensued. There was one thing wrong though. I kept a mirror above my desk, it had been a twelfth birthday present, but when I’d gone to sleep it hadn’t been facing the wall.

I pulled myself ponderously out of bed, steadfastly ignoring the fact that my feet had been warped as much as my hands and I shouldn’t really be able to stand, never mind walk, and stalked over to the desk. Someone had definitely been touching my stuff. A pen was lying out where it had been away, a pad of paper was on the wrong side, not to mention there was an envelope taped to the back of the mirror.

My senses were giving me conflicting stories though. I tore the letter off the backing and took a deep sniff, adding that whole action to rapidly growing list of things to ignore right now, and found that the only person to touch it had been me.

Actually, that wasn’t right either. I took a deep snort of the fur on my arm. I didn’t quite have the scent of cat on me fully; I could definitely pick out something human among the mishmash. Probably from the bed. The envelope didn’t have that; it was tiger, through and through, and most definitely me.

I took a moment to scent the air in the room. There was human in there, a heck of a lot of human, but it felt, aged, somehow. The only thing recent was a catty scent that still hung in the air. It smelt like me, vaguely comforting in an odd manner. But still, it was spread too far, coating the pen for instance, even though I knew I hadn’t touched it.

My attention turned back to the envelope, and I did a double take as I read the front.

“To my past self.”

Oh-kay. I carefully slit open the letter with a claw, wincing as I managed to score though the papers within, and unfurled it, holding it in clumsy paws.

“Dear Kathryn Arisha,” I read. “Or, as I think I was calling myself then: Kit.”

I sat down clumsily on the bed. On any other day I would have thought this was a prank. Soph’ might concoct something like this, if particularly bored. But I knew that this had been written by someone with my scent. My new scent even. That warranted investigation.

“First, I probably should apologise for not sticking around, but… Well. I’m not staying. The world doesn’t need a second Kit right now.

Anyway. You’ve probably noticed something off by now. And if it was normal, good for you, you can skip the next few lines.

Let me stress though. You are as human as anyone else will be. Something is broken with the world, or, is breaking, and your fury self is the biggest symptom. You are not alone. You are not insane. You are not sick. And no one will see you as a freak, there’s some kind of perception distortion over everyone but the warped that makes them see you as human and it won’t fall for a good while yet.

If all that was garbage to you, then the timeline is more divergent than I thought and so you’ll either know, or it will be moot.

Now for the introductions. I am Kathryn Arisha, fifty two years old, and a proud member of the Unified States of America, though I doubt they do/will exist. I’m also a tiger, a survivor of the war of fur and blood, and one of the security detail for the 133-T project. Though that won’t mean much to you.

I don’t know much about your world history, but given how many changed you have, and believe me I’ve even seen them on the news, I’d estimate ‘the event’ has been occurring in your world since the early eighties. This event is, in essence, slowly changing the whole world into an animalistic parody of itself, and any attempt to stop it in my world failed miserably.

This is where our paths diverge, because this moment never happened to me, and ‘the event’ began much later in my life, twenty ten at best guess. The change spreads itself at near random, ‘infecting’ at a fundamental level of reality that we can barely perceive, but it is not infectious in any meaningful sense of the word. It is not isolatable; there is no cure, and certainly no immunity.

My government never understood that. Twenty twenty brought the invention of a sniffer, rather like your new nose, and it broke though this distortion field like a lance. It was never big news to begin with; most assumed it was a calibration error that one in every million would throw up animal instead of human, or their pets distorting the reading.

Then sensors got better, the warped became more frequent, it became a serious problem for their observations and someone finally relented to put one of these people under a scanner.

I lied earlier; there are many ways to see though the distortion. It’s just most of them won’t be invented for years, but flood anyone with enough non-human data and the distortion tears like wet tissue.

It was academic for many years. “Yes these people insist that they were once human’ but they obviously aren’t,” was the general attitude, and it got worse as numbers doubled each year. After a while, I think at about the point where they had three quarters of a million warped in custody, they realised that they weren’t able to cure the problem and more people were still changing every year.

Their solution wasn’t elegant. Or particularly friendly. There was a cull.

No, wait. Cull’s too soft a word.

It was genocide.

Next year, come the weirding, august 17th,”

I glanced over my shoulder. August 16th it said on my calendar.

“(Yes I know you’re a day early. Keep it to yourself.) There was a whole new batch of warped, double that of the year before.

The whole country was mobilised. We would all be on the look out for people behaving suspicious: Wearing concealing layers in all weathers. Odd behaviours. Funny smells. Perceptions beyond what was expected of man. That sort of thing. It was an annoyance to begin with. You’d occasionally hear about that strange guy on Sunside Way finally getting ferreted out for being a lynx, or there would be odd stories coming home from school, but it didn’t affect us. So there was nothing to worry about.

We were fools.

Come thirty seven and the government had systematically slaughtered their way though thirty million warped, and then suddenly had thirty million more to deal with. Well, when ten percent of the population suddenly are threatened with extinction they tend to act a little irrationally.

Scratch that. They acted perfectly rationally.

The clean up crews were sweeping our neighbourhood. Everyone was to stay home on the seventeenth, and report any signs of illness. My son and my husband (no I won’t tell you their names) were warped that day, into foxes it turned out, and they simply ran and never looked back. I very much doubt they are alive.

Riots and looting followed. Chaos reigned on the streets, and I spent most of it hiding at home, eating the last of the canned food. When the mob came, humans and warped alike, all armed with well used guns they asked a simple question.

“Flesh or Fur?”

I said fur and joined a war.

Hope like hell Kit that you never have to go through a civil war, because if you don’t, hell is where you’ll end up.

We lashed out blindly, striking out at anything that represented the government, authority, or just what we had lost. The militias were lightly armed, and barely organised. We took what we needed and left a mound of corpses behind us if they’d happened to support the wrong side. It’s amazing that we weren’t annihilated in those first few weeks, but we hung on, still fighting for our cause. That cause was revenge, but we were sure as hell fighting for it.

I’m not terribly proud of those days. We were not just. We were not fair. We had to shoot first and ask questions later as there was no way to tell who was a supporter and who was with the government. The ‘extermination’ attitude was still going strong, and our band was hit by attack after attack, only stopping when we finally stuck back.

The next year just made things worse. Changes wracked the country, our ranks swelled by millions and for the first time we became an army, just not one with a prayer of winning. I myself changed that year, taking the form you now wear, and it turned out it… I was very good at being a killer.”

I glanced down at my hands and flexed the claws. She was right; there were dozens of place on the body where I could do a lethal amount of damage with those. Not to mention that my incisors felt large enough to go through a two by four.

“I would hope you never have to find that out for yourself.”

“You and me both,” I muttered, and kept reading.

“The war that followed raged for years and was beyond bloody. Nukes, chemical weapons, air strikes that blotted out the sky and orbital rail guns were all standard fare, and at one point everyone was armed. We found an armed nursery once. Thank God they were on our side.

How I survived I’ll never know. It was probably a sprinkling of seniority and the body of an apex predator. But make it I did, and I was there when they raised the new flag above the shattered Whitehouse. A muddy paw print spattered on top of the star spangled banner. I think the only reason it wasn’t blood was because the red wouldn’t have shown up properly.

Anyway, we set about rebuilding our lives. Trying to ignore the fact that the rest of the globe was going through exactly he same thing, just much faster, though every bit as violent.

In the end it was China that destroyed the world.

The change hit them last, well actually I think India was at the bottom of the list, but China was down there too and could actually do something about it. Don’t ask me how, but the warping revealed a key secret of the universe. How it was stored.

That’s hard to wrap your head around, so think of it like this. I was told to imagine the universe as a computer, (whether it actually is, is beside the point) one where you can alter reality in two separate ways: Within the simulation, i.e. physically touching an object. Or beyond, where you change the registry assigned to an object and so the object itself alters with no visible external influence. I never actually figured out if this was true or not. But it worked, and reports drifted through of the Chinese working on a project to stop the warping once and for all, by deleting from the universe every last changed human.

Whether or not that would work I don’t know, but you can imagine that it didn’t go over well. Still, the country was destroyed and there was nothing direct we could do about it, not against the last superpower, so we slapped together a project and tried to do the exact opposite, backing up reality. We got it working august fifteenth, and ran two dozen test cycles to calibrate the machine. I was assigned to the centre as a guard at the time so I saw them saving those people. In all honesty there really should have been some kind of fanfare, or at least it should have taken place on a monolithic machine, but in reality the head researcher just tapped a couple of keys on a desktop P.C. and it was done. Twenty four people backed up to another registry.

The world ended that evening, and I still don’t know if it was our computer that did it or theirs. I was woken from my bunk by one of the walls collapsing, followed by the ceiling and about a city block worth of soil, and I only just made it out without being crushed. The bunker was pandemonium, with random objects just ceasing to exist left, right and centre. Every so often one of the high pressure pipes would detonate, throwing dust and water vapour into the corridors and I fought my way through the crowds to try and find the guy I was supposed to be protecting.

Incidentally, I found him in the control room, just finishing a bottle of scotch and, after I’d thrown enough water over him, he explained that the fission reactor had been damaged and we were all going to die in about twenty seconds. A lot of thoughts should have gone through my head at that point. You know, the standard life flashing before your eyes thing, but I all could think about was how’d I’d finally get to see ***”

The next word was scribbled out and completely illegible.

“My husband.

I closed my eyes as the dials hit red. And opened them again in your room.

That was a surprise I can tell you. Especially as I realised I’d apparently lost thirty years and my body double was asleep in the bed next to me.

I can only assume that I was one of the one’s backed up, and there where I was backed up to was your reality, which is undergoing a different version of the weirding. That probably means it’s my fault that you’ve changed now, and I probably should stick around to help you through it… But this isn’t my world and unless you need some normal people rubbed I’m not going to be a lot of help.

I don’t actually know why even I’m telling you all this. It’s not like you need to know, and I’m sure your reality wouldn’t worry much about one warping happening on the wrong day. Still, it’s an apology and an explanation.

I’m sorry I messed up your form, with any luck it won’t mess up your life like it did mine, and I thought you’d like to know why it happened. I would after all.

Now… Well, there are probably two dozen other people across the globe in just the same position as you and I, just without the faintest idea what has happened to them. I’m going to find them, explain, and… I have no idea what I’ll do after that. We’re practically twins now, so I’ll be around for a while. Without ***”

Another word scribbled out, and then there was a few paragraphs worth of black space, somewhere to later add thoughts that hadn’t been used.

“Anyway. I’ll contact you if you want me too. But if not, well all I can say is good luck, and live well.

With hope, Kathryn Arisha.”

I put the paper down slowly and sat there for a moment, staring at my hands. What I’d … what she’d been through, was beyond almost comprehension. What I was going through was fairly beyond comprehension, but her story… And that had happened across the country? God. It didn’t bear thinking about.

In an odd way, I could even remember a few of the things she mentioned, or at least, saw them in far too great a detail for it to be normal.

“Hey Kit!” Soph, that’s my sister by the way, yelled, bursting into the room. I didn’t even flinch. I’m going to have to get used to the whole, hearing where anyone is in the house thing. “Oh, you’re up early.”

“And would now be regardless,” I quipped back, standing and hastily stuffing the letter into a draw and turning to face Soph. It actually took me a moment to realise that I wasn’t human any more, and that she should have been screaming her lungs out over the large humanoid tiger standing where her sister should be. But there was no clue to her seeing me as anything but normal, beyond her not quiet meeting my eyes, though it didn’t look like she noticed that she was doing it.

“What have you done to your hair?” she asked suddenly, as I began to subtly lead us out of my bedroom.

“Thought I’d go for something new,” I lied instantly, placing a hand on her back to hurry her through the door.

“Stripes though?”

“Well you know me,” I explained, as the door shut, locking away the letter for the time being. “When have I ever been normal?”