New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!
No, I don't want to wake up. Not yet. Not yet. She reached for the last few threads of her disappearing dream. With a small groan, she began to be aware of what was around her.
She was lying on something hard. She was cold, and she could feel a bright light shining above her. She knew immediately that she was not at home.
She opened her eyes, trying to figure out why everything was all wrong. She was horrified by what she saw. A fluorescent light buzzed above her, effectively banishing all shadows from the room. She was lying on a metal table. And only a hospital gown guarded her from the chill of the sterile white room.
She sat up to better view her surroundings. There was one door, and no windows. She clambered off the table and went to the door, holding the back of her gown closed. The tiles were freezing on her bare feet. She tried the doorknob. Locked, as she'd already guessed. She turned and looked back at the room, feeling trapped and claustrophobic.
Muttering to herself, she sat on the table and tried to figure out how she'd gotten here. She drew a blank. She could not remember anything relevant. This was when she realized how serious her situation was. She was alone in a strange place, helpless and practically naked. She looked at her wrist to check her watch but found a plastic band there instead. Written on the band was:
Name: Elizabeth Louise Thomas
Blood Type: O+
Weight: 135 lb. Height: 5'6"
She stared at the band, not quite understanding what it all meant. She remembered learning once what "ursine" meant, but couldn't recall it. She wasn't sure if she wanted to.
"Dear God," She whispered, dropping her head into her hands. "Please, please, help me." She began to sob.
A few moments later, the door opened with an easy click. She looked up and stared at who was coming in. It was a woman dressed like a doctor, smiling at Elle. She was blonde, her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore small, wire-framed glasses on her slight, narrow face. She was slim and fit. If one had met her on the street, they would have thought she was pleasant and easy to talk to. However, Elle did not feel this way.
"Hello, Elizabeth. I am Dr. Carolyn Stoddard." The woman closed the door behind her. "You have many questions, I'm sure. And I want to answer as many as I can. But first, I want to ask you a few questions. Is that fair?"
Elle nodded, gulping back tears.
"Good. Elizabeth, do you know much about genetics?"
"Enough to get me through high school biology, but not much." Elle looked down at her hands in her lap.
"Anything about stem cells or transgenics?"
"I know that stem cells can become any type of cell you tell them to be, don't they?" Elle looked up.
"Yes, that's right. Very good, Elizabeth." The doctor marked something on the clipboard she held. That made Elle nervous. What was this, a test? "But nothing about transgenics?"
"No." Elle shook her head hesitantly. She'd never heard the word before.
"Well, a transgenic organism is an organism that contains two types of genes. Say, a dog contains its own genes plus bird genes, which makes its bones grow lighter and its lungs bigger, so that it can run faster. Does that make sense?"
Elle nodded, but was afraid of what all this meant.
"Good." Dr. Stoddard leaned against the door. "Now, you have questions?"
"Where am I?" Elle asked hoarsely.
"A genetics laboratory." The doctor said simply.
"What are you going to do with me?"
"Create a transgenic human being." The woman nodded once.
Elle's stomach sank. She dropped her head into her hands again and began to cry. The doctor waited patiently. After a moment, Elle was able to choke out four words.
"What does ursine mean?"
"It refers to a member of the bear family."
Elle slammed her fist into her thigh and sucked in a breath. What would happen to her?
She looked up, but the doctor was gone. Elle stumbled off the table and slammed her body into the door, screaming as she did so. Again and again, she pummeled the heavy door, finally slumping to the floor in a heap. She howled and clenched her fists, angry and alone.
Someone knocked on the door. Startled, Elle scuttled away and began wiping her tears with the backs of her hands. The door swung open slowly. Two huge men stood in the doorway, glaring straight at Elle. They crossed the room and picked her up by the arms. She did not resist. She was so tired. She felt a sharp punch in the arm, then a dizzying black out.
She woke up in another room, in a bed, but this time she wore a straitjacket. She was held to the bed by huge straps across her body. She struggled for a moment, but knew she was trying in vain.
She stared up at the white ceiling, squinting at the fluorescent light. She heard the door click open and close. The sharp rap of shoes on the tile came to her bedside. Elle turned her head slightly to meet the face of Dr. Stoddard.
"I'm sorry we have to restrain you like this, but since your last performance, we don't want you to hurt yourself." The blonde doctor smiled as if she were telling a clever joke. She pulled a chair up to the bed. "Your first operation is tomorrow, and I wanted to see if you wanted to decide your species."
Elle stared at the doctor. She didn't want to believe any of this. She remained silent.
"Well, we could infuse you with many types of DNA. We have brown bear, grizzly, polar bear, black bear, sun bear, spectacled bear..." Dr. Stoddard fixed her glasses on her nose. "This is one time you have a choice, Elizabeth."
Elle thought about each bear, trying to figure out which appealed to her most. She felt like she wanted to vomit.
"Brown and grizzly are large, bulkier than the others. The black is smaller, the polar bear is huge. The sun bear and spectacled bear are relatively small, but they're tree dwellers." Dr. Stoddard offered.
Elle didn't like the idea of changing into a huge bear, but she didn't like the idea of being very vulnerable either.
"Black." She whispered.
"Black it is, then." The doctor marked something on her everpresent clipboard and stood up. She pulled out a hypodermic needle and cleaned part of Elle's neck with an alcohol swab. Elle flinched, afraid of the prick.
"It's just a sedative, don't worry." The doctor smiled, flicked the grinning needle, then injected the drug into Elle's neck. The girl yelped at the sharp jab, then quieted as the sedative made its way into her system. She slept.
She didn't know how long she'd been in the lab. The next time she woke, she was out of the straitjacket, but in a bed. She was alone again. She tried to remember when she was home last, but everything was jumbled in her head and didn't make much sense. She laid in the bed, quiet and brooding, wondering when her operation would be. She had a dull, throbbing headache and a sore spot on her chest.
The door opened, and the only person Elle had had any contact with in this place entered. The doctor came to the bedside and looked down on her.
"Good morning, Elizabeth." She beamed. "Can you sit up for me?"
Elle sat up slowly, moaning as a hammer knocked behind her eyes. She blinked a few times, then looked at Dr. Stoddard.
"Very good. The operation was a success. That sore spot on your chest? We implant the genes there in your bone marrow. It will heal very soon." The blonde woman paced around the bed. "From now on, you will be moved into a room with a girl at the same position of progression as you are."
"When?" Elle furrowed her brow.
"In a few minutes." The doctor stopped pacing and looked to the door. Two large men entered on cue. Dr. Stoddard nodded to them. "Take her to her room." They pushed a wheelchair alongside Elle's bed, then picked her up easily and sat her in the chair. She gripped the handles as they wheeled her out of the room.
The halls looked much like the rooms she'd spent her time in. White, sterile, and lined with whining lights. They went down halls, through other rooms, even into an elevator, until Elle's mental map could no longer keep up.
Finally, they stopped outside of a door. One man typed a number into the keypad above the handle. The door clicked open.
"In you go." The other man pulled her to her feet and nudged her inside, then closed the door behind her.
She was standing on soft carpet that felt good on her toes. In the room were two full-sized beds. On one, a girl sat, staring at Elle.
"Hello?" Elle tried tentatively.
The girl got off the bed. She was dressed in a green tank top and khaki cargo shorts. She approached Elle silently, looked her in the eye for a moment, then began to cry.
"Hey," Elle didn't expect this. She pulled the girl into a gentle hug. "Hey now, hush. Hush."
After a few moments, the girl released the hug.
"I'm sorry, I just..." The girl wiped her eyes.
"How about starting with your name?" Elle smiled.
"Sophie." The girl sighed. "Sophie Call."
"All right, Sophie, I'm Elle Thomas. Eighteen."
"Me too." Sophie smiled.
"Well, nice to meet you." Elle put out her hand.
"You too." Sophie took it, and they shook with a squeeze.
"Sophie, where'd you get the clothes?" Elle smiled, holding the back of her gown closed with one hand.
"Oh! Sorry. Come over here. They're right here." Sophie opened a wardrobe. Inside were countless sets of clothes in all colors. Elle pulled out a set of underclothes, then found a pair of shorts and a blue shirt she liked. She got dressed quickly, pausing for a moment to inspect the square bandage taped on her chest. She touched it gingerly, shook her head, then pulled on her shirt.
Sophie smiled sadly and looked down at her fidgeting hands. "Sorry about...when you came in."
"It's all right." Elle shrugged. She knew that she probably would have done the same thing if Sophie hadn't beaten her to it.
Elle sat down on the bed and looked around at the room. The carpet was a light beige, the walls an off-white color. The beds had tan bedspreads. All very bland, but much warmer than the glaring white. In the way of furniture, there were two beds, the wardrobe, and a small table with two chairs. Nothing more. Sophie sat down on the bed beside Elle.
"Sophie?" Elle looked at the strawberry-blonde girl beside her. Sophie nodded, and Elle noticed the freckles across her nose. "How long have you been here?"
"I don't know. I was only in this room for about an hour before you came." She shook her head. Elle studied the girl's face. Sophie was pretty. Long, straight, strawberry-blonde hair; green eyes; light skin; and just enough freckles across her nose. Elle thought of her own features: dark brown, wavy, medium length hair; a slightly crooked nose she was not proud of; hazel eyes; and olive skin.
"Do you know how you got here?" Sophie asked.
"No idea. Do you?" Elle shook her head and looked down at her lap.
"No. I can't even remember the date." Sophie sighed.
They launched into a discussion about dates and times and where they were from (neighboring towns), and their parents and friends and boys they liked, things they did and everything in between, until the door opened. Their conversation stopped short as they looked to the door.
Dr. Stoddard entered, pushing a cart filled with food. She put two plates on the table, two forks, two spoons. She looked to the girls, put her hand on the cart, and smiled.
"Room service. Dinner is served." She chuckled. She beckoned to the pair. "Come, eat."
The two girls stood and went to the table, each sat in a chair and stared unblinkingly at the doctor. The woman began piling food onto their plates.
"You have to eat. Especially you, Sophie. A grizzly needs plenty of food to grow." Dr. Stoddard sat on the edge of one of the beds.
Elle looked at Sophie, Sophie looked at Elle, and they began to eat. They were starving. They shoveled food into their mouths, and Dr. Stoddard kept piling on more and more. Ham, turkey, steak, steamed vegetables, fresh fruit. Finally, they sat back in their chairs, very full and very tired.
"Go on, get into bed." The doctor cleaned up their plates and the cart. The pair got into one bed, afraid to sleep separately in this strange place. Dr. Stoddard left, and the room became dark. They slept dreamlessly.
In the morning, Elle woke up and found Sophie sitting up in bed, her arms wrapped around herself. She was looking straight ahead and shivering.
"Sophie?" Elle reached for her.
"Don't." Sophie's voice came out in a low growl. She shook her head, then pressed her hands to her forehead.
"What's wrong?" Elle sat up and got nearer to her friend.
"I don't know. There's something in my head. There's someone else in my head and I don't want them to be there!" She clutched at her hair, gritting her teeth.
Elle grabbed Sophie's arms and tried to keep her from hurting herself. She was horrified to hear Sophie's screams. The girl rocked and screamed and fought against Elle, but in her terror, Elle had newfound strength. She was able to hold on.
Dr. Stoddard and a man burst into the room. The man pushed Elle out of the way and held Sophie down on the bed. She kept screaming, a hoarse keen. The doctor produced a needle, its tip glinting. She injected its contents right into Sophie's neck. In a few moments, Sophie was asleep, but breathing heavily.
"What happened?" Dr. Stoddard looked up at Elle, who had gotten out of bed and pressed herself against the wall. The doctor's hair was mussed, strands falling out of her perfect bun. She looked frazzled, and Elle was scared.
"She was sitting there when I woke up, staring into space. She didn't want me to touch her. And then she said that there was something, someone else in her head." Elle paused. "And she wanted them out."
She looked from Sophie to the doctor, afraid that something like that could happen to herself.
"What was it? What does it mean?" Her eyes grew wide. "Will it happen to me?"
"No, no, Elizabeth. Calm down." Dr. Stoddard regained her composure, pushing her hair out of her face. "This has happened before. She is receiving the dual mind before her outside has even begun to change. The 'thing' in her head is just the new bear part of her. She'll get used to it. Don't worry, Elizabeth."
But Elle could not stop worrying. Dr. Stoddard injected something else into Sophie, promising that it would help. After the man and the doctor left, Elle climbed back up on the bed, watching Sophie sleep. She pushed the blonde hair out of the girl's face and wondered when their outside changes would begin.
Sophie slept for two hours. She finally came around just before lunch. Elle steeled herself, waiting for the screams. But they didn't come. Sophie looked at Elle, a question in her green eyes.
"What happened, Elle?" Her voice was quiet and raspy.
"You...had a fit, I guess." Elle shrugged, unable to find the right words.
"About what?" Sophie sat up slowly, grimacing. She was obviously sore from all the tension before.
Elle wasn't sure if she should tell Sophie. But after a long moment, she related the whole episode, unable to close her mouth until she had described it all. Sophie couldn't remember any of it.
Dr. Stoddard brought the cart in again, and Elle could tell that the doctor was relieved to see that Sophie was all right. They ate plateful after plateful of delicious food. Elle found that she felt better when she ate. A part of her brain told her that she was getting addicted to something in the food, but she didn't care, she still ate.
Again, they ate until their bellies were full to bursting. Elle was drowsy, but Sophie seemed more awake than she'd ever been.
"Elizabeth, Sophie, we are going to bring in a TV and a few movies. We want you to be comfortable in your new home." Dr. Stoddard began to clean the table.
"Could you bring some books?" Sophie looked at the doctor hopefully.
"Of course. Who are some of your favorite authors?" Dr. Stoddard smiled.
As Sophie rattled off a list of authors, Elle fell asleep in her chair.
"Elle. Ellie. Wake up. C'mon, Ellie."
At first, Elle thought her mother was waking her up. But the voice wasn't right. She opened her eyes. Sophie stood before her, smiling.
"You look uncomfortable in that chair, Ellie. Come on. Get into bed." The blonde girl took Elle's hand, helped her from the chair, and led her to bed.
"Thanks." Elle smiled sleepily, crawling into bed. She slept until dinner, when her grumbling stomach whined for food.
After a trip to the bathroom, Elle wondered where all the food was going. She was as hungry as she had been the day before, but she didn't have any digestive problems or anything.
Dinner was huge, and yet, not satisfying. She was not as tired as she had been earlier, and Dr. Stoddard had brought in the TV and a few books she had "scrounged up."
Sophie and Elle watched the TV from the bed, getting through a movie and a half before drifting off to sleep.
Their days were short and lazy, with lots of napping, movie-watching, and talking. They ate more food than seemed humanly possible. And it was metabolized quickly. They bulked up, but could not stop eating. They were addicted to the food.
By the middle of their second week, they wondered if the procedure was working. Elle's weight plateaued at about 180, but Sophie kept gaining. Dr. Stoddard reassured them that the weight was normal.
Then end of the second week brought the first visible change. Elle woke one morning to find her fingers short and stubby, hardly useful for anything. She shook Sophie awake, crying and trying to wipe her tears away with her clumsy new paws. Sophie hugged Elle close, cooing in her ear, hushing her and holding her.
"Sophie, I'm scared." Elle held Sophie's hands as best as she could.
"I know. But look. At least we're not just getting fat. We are going to be bears. Strong and smart. Elle, it's an adventure." Sophie squeezed Elle's paw lightly.
Dr. Stoddard entered, the food cart full, as usual She noticed Elle's hands and grinned. She rushed to the girls and took Elle's hand in her own.
"Excellent. This is excellent." She nodded, turning Elle's hand to see it from every angle. "Wonderful."
Elle took her hand back and stared at the doctor. She couldn't believe this. Dr. Stoddard watched Elle for a long moment, then turned and set the table. But she didn't put a fork or spoon down for Elle.
"You can't hold one anymore, can you?" Dr. Stoddard turned back to Elle. The girl shook her head, feeling ashamed.
They sat down to eat, and Sophie pushed her own utensils away. Elle watched Sophie with a question on her face. Sophie smiled, pulled her hair away from her face, then bent over her plate. She used her hands to scoop food into her mouth. Elle grinned and followed her friend's lead.
Because of her hands, Elle could not do many things by herself. She had a hard time getting dressed, so Sophie helped. She couldn't wash her own hair, so Sophie did it for her.
In the next week, the weight they'd accumulated began to change into muscle. They were heavier than ever, but had the bodies of athletes. Elle got a few inches shorter, but Sophie grew to over six feet tall. Their whole bodies felt sore and stretched, but Dr. Stoddard said it was just growing pains.
They no longer ate as much (though they still ate plenty), and Dr. Stoddard talked to them more and more about the changes they were going through.
Elle seemed to be changing faster, and she was constantly in pain. Her skin was beginning to turn gray in patches, and a fine, downy fur was beginning to grow all over her body. Her fingernails curved into thick, sharp claws, and her legs were getting shorter. Her nose and mouth were beginning to protrude into a muzzle.
Sophie ached, but still had the use of her hands, and still looked very human. Her mental state had stabilized since the first episode, but Elle didn't know if Sophie had learned to deal with it or if it had just gone away. She wasn't brave enough to ask.
One night, Elle woke up to hear Sophie crying in the bathroom. She climbed out of bed and painstakingly made her way to the door.
"Sophie?" She breathed. Sophie stopped abruptly.
"It's okay, Elle. Go back to bed." Elle could hear the tears in Sophie's voice.
"No, Sophie. Open the door." Elle put her paws up against the door. "Please? You know I can't."
Sophie sighed and opened the door. Elle tried to smile, but her mouth did not allow it.
"Come here." Elle whispered, stepping back Sophie towered over her. Six foot four, two hundred and fifty pounds. And yet, she wasn't anywhere near the weight of a grizzly bear. Five foot two, one hundred and ninety pounds, Elle was tiny compared to Sophie. She wrapped her arms around Sophie, nuzzling her head against Sophie's chest.
"It's an adventure, remember?" Elle sighed. Sophie shook her head, but held Elle close. She squeezed, as if she never wanted to let go.
But she did let go.
"I'm sorry, Ellie. It's just that I'm having a hard time, and--" Sophie looked at Elle and shook her head, not finishing her sentence. "I'm sorry."
"Come to bed." Elle took Sophie's hand awkwardly, trying to wrap her paw around it without scratching her. Sophie smiled forlornly and held Elle's paw tightly.
Elle watched Sophie climb into bed, then laid down next to her. She fell asleep, completely exhausted from the event.
In the morning, she found that it hurt too much to move. She could feel that she had changed a lot from the night before. She felt heavy and stiff, and everything hurt.
"Sophie?" She whispered. She was having a very hard time speaking around her teeth. She spoke a little louder, her voice cracking and rumbling. "Sophie?"
She stared up at the ceiling, waiting. Sophie's face finally came into view. She touched Elle's paw delicately.
"Ellie." Sophie was beginning to change finally, as Elle could see. Her face was shaped roughly like a bear's, her mouth and nose seemed swollen, growing into a muzzle. "Elle, can you move?"
"No. Hurts." Elle gasped. She could see the worry in Sophie's eyes; knew something was wrong. "Sophie? How do I look?"
Sophie smiled, but there was a shadow of pain in her face. "Beautiful, my friend." She touched Elle's cheek. "It will be a great adventure."
Dr. Stoddard entered the room with three large men and a gurney. Sophie looked over her shoulder at the woman, but did not leave Elle's side.
The three men came to the bedside and nudged Sophie out of the way. They carefully lifted Elle's heavy body to the gurney.
"Where are you taking her?" Sophie quickly returned to Elle's side.
"She cannot stay here with you. I have to keep her in my constant care until the transformation is complete." Dr. Stoddard nodded to the men, who began to push the gurney out of the room. Sophie watched Elle go. The doctor was saying something, but Sophie didn't care. The door closed behind the men.
"Sophie." Elle whispered, tears rolling off her cheeks. She shut her eyes tightly, not wanting to see the ceiling whiz by above her.
The men took her to another room. She could tell that it was the same one she'd found herself in at the beginning of this ordeal. The same bright fluorescent light whined overhead. The men waited silently until Dr. Stoddard entered. They left as soon as she came, glad to be out of the presence of Elle, a monster.
"Elizabeth, you are in obvious pain. I'm sorry that you have to feel it. Of course you understand that you are becoming a bear?"
"Yes." Elle rasped.
"Have you thought about how you will communicate with Sophie?" Dr. Stoddard raised an eyebrow.
"No." Elle was confused. They would both be bears. Wouldn't they be able to communicate easily?
"Ah, Elizabeth. We have an implant we call 'radio thought transference.' Essentially, it is a chip in your brain that will allow you and Sophie to speak to each other in your minds." Dr. Stoddard seemed especially proud of this device.
Elle processed this information slowly. She had never once thought about talking to Sophie after they'd changed. She had figured that it would be something like the way humans talked.
"When you are finally transferred to your enclosure, you and Sophie will be left alone for a time. I'm not sure how long, but it does not matter." The doctor waved her hand. She pulled a needle from her pocket, then injected Elle with the sedative. "Just sleep now."
And Elle did.
For how long, she wasn't sure. But when she woke up, she didn't hurt. She opened her eyes and found herself face down in pine needles. She was warm, and the pine needles were soft. Her head felt doughy and slow. She lifted it to look around. The enclosure was large. Lots of trees, a clean pond, and many boulders furnished the place. She could see that the enclosure was lower than the ground around it. There were walls about ten feet tall encircling the area, and a fence and guardrail above that.
She looked down at her paws. They were fully formed, with shaggy black fur and curved claws. She turned one paw over. There were strong paw pads, calloused but sensitive.
She knew then that her transformation was over.
Slowly, she stood up. Her body knew how to move, although she did not. She made her way to the pond, amazed at the muscle she felt rippling under her heavy pelt. She dipped her head and drank her fill. She could see her shadow and her reflection in the water. She moved her head, watching the movement of the reflective bear.
She felt hot anger bubbling inside her. With a loud growl, she swiped at the water, destroying her reflection. She stalked away from the water, furious.
She raked her claws on a tree, creating deep gashes in the bark. She did this again and again, growling and roaring. Her gruff voice only made her rage grow. She wanted Sophie with her, and she was angry with the doctor for separating them.
"Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Stop!" She heard Dr. Stoddard's voice from above, but did not pay attention. She pushed herself away from the tree and began barreling around her enclosure, tossing her head and howling.
She heard the sound of compressed air being released, and felt a prick in her side. She looked to see a dart sticking out of her black fur. Her thoughts became foggy, and she felt herself falling slowly to the ground. She wanted Sophie.
When she woke up, she was lying in something wet. She stood up and smelled the air. Rain. It had rained while she slept. She shook herself off, spraying water everywhere. Her stomach rumbled, and she wondered how long it had been since she'd eaten. She went off in search of food, and found it in the form of berry bushes. She ate her fill of berries, picking and choosing her favorites, glad for the blessing of a full stomach.
She wandered, lonely and bored. She sniffed at the gashes she'd made in the tree. She was still awed at her own strength. She drank from the pool of water again, careful to keep her eyes closed as she did so. She was not sure if she could handle her reflection just yet.
She heard a noise above her, at the fence above her enclosure. The bear raised her head to see Dr. Stoddard standing there, watching her. The black bear sat back on her haunches and stared back at the woman, distrusting and wary. She found that her eyesight was not as good as it had been before. The doctor was blurry.
"Elizabeth." Dr. Stoddard smiled. Elle shivered. "Sophie is coming first thing in the morning. Sunset is coming soon. Have you found your den yet, Elizabeth? You may pass the chilly night unprotected."
Elle looked around. A den? She had yet to see it. She glanced up to see the doctor, but she was gone. The bear rose and started to search.
It was tucked near the back of the enclosure, hidden by a thick wall of trees. The den was a cave, big enough for two bears to sleep in comfortably. She entered, thankful for the dry, sandy earth and sweet straw underneath her paws. She dug and moved dirt, finally creating a suitable nest. It was beginning to get dark outside. She laid down, and fell into a deep slumber, dreaming of Sophie and bears and needles.
A commotion jogged her from sleep. She yawned, stretched, and left her den. The morning light was a noncommittal gray. It was still really early. Dr. Stoddard was at the fence with a crane and two men. Hanging from the crane was a net, and bundled in the net was a huge grizzly bear. Sophie. Elle let out a bellow of joy, startling the humans at the fence.
"Good morning, Elizabeth. You see your friend? Stay back while we lower her, will you please?" Dr. Stoddard nodded to the man at the crane controls. Elle took a step back. She was ready to do anything for Sophie. The crane's line began to lower the net slowly. Finally, the grizzly touched the earth. As the crane line was taken up, the net unfastened and pulled itself out from underneath Sophie, rolling her onto her other side.
Dr. Stoddard and the men cleaned up and left, leaving the two bears alone. Elle approached the huge bear slowly, carefully. Sophie was sleeping peacefully, her body curled up. The black bear sniffed at the grizzly, remembering the familiar scent. She sighed and sat down next to Sophie, waiting for her to wake up.
She decided to mess with the radio thought transference Dr. Stoddard had told her about. She somehow "turned it on," and began to call Sophie's name. Every ten minutes or so, she'd call, waiting for an answer.
After about an hour, the grizzly bear woke up. Sophie got to her feet awkwardly, then looked around. Elle called out her name again and took a step toward the golden-brown bear. Sophie let out a startled grunt and stumbled backward.
"No, Sophie, it's me, Elle. Come on, Sophie." The black bear laid her eyes back and lowered her head. "Sophie?"
The grizzly stopped and stared at Elle. She took a step toward the black bear, a puzzled expression on her warm face.
"Please, Sophie. Do you know me?" Elle lifted her head and took another step toward her friend.
Sophie was confused. She looked down at her paws, then turned in a circle, looking at her back end. She sat down, staring at Elle in disbelief.
"I'm sorry, Sophie." Elle whispered.
The grizzly bear let out a mournful groan and lowered herself to a prone position, her paws over her face.
"Sophie? Sophie. Try and talk to me. Please, Sophie, just try." Elle nudged Sophie's head with her nose. "Please, Sophie."
Sophie looked up, her green eyes inspecting Elle's face.
"Ellie." She finally whispered, her eyes lighting up. "Ellie."
The grizzly bear stood and nuzzled Elle's neck. The black bear let out the breath she'd been holding.
"Thank you, Sophie." She closed her eyes.
"Elle?" Sophie stepped back and looked at the black bear.
"What?" Elle looked up.
"Do you feel that duality thing that she talked about?" Sophie sat down and moved her paws in the dirt, seemingly amazed by them.
"Yeah, I guess." Elle shrugged. She had obtained the instincts of a bear. Grating her claws on the trees, sleeping in a den, sniffing out berries; all normal bear behavior.
"I don't feel it."
"What do you mean?" Elle sat down in front of Sophie.
"I feel like a human in a huge, restricting bear body. I've felt the duality before, I just wasn't ready for it. I pushed it away. And now, when I want to feel it, when I need to feel it, it's not there." Sophie slapped her massive paws on the ground. "I'm scared, Ellie."
"Of what?" Elle wished Sophie would look up, show her beautiful smiling green eyes. She wished everything would be all right.
"Of going crazy." Sophie finally looked up into Elle's eyes. The black bear was disturbed by the hurt she saw there. Deep and suffering pain. "Ellie, don't let me go crazy."
"I won't. I won't." Elle shook her head. She touched Sophie's muzzle with her head. "You'll be all right, Sophie. I promise."
The grizzly nodded and stood up. As they made their way to the pond, Elle noticed that Sophie looked ungainly as she walked, as if she didn't really know how. Elle felt horrible. She wondered how it felt to "not fit" in your body. She was thankful that she did not know.
Sophie looked up from drinking and gazed at Elle's face. Elle stared back, watching the water drip from the grizzly's muzzle, watching those green eyes.
"Ellie." Sophie seemed to smile. She pushed her head into Elle's chest. Elle laughed and put her paws on Sophie's neck.
"Come on." Elle stood up and began to walk. "I'll show you home."
Sophie followed, slowly learning how to walk normally. The black bear grinned and felt proud of her friend. Sophie was trying, Sophie was living, and Sophie was here. Elle slowed to amble beside the grizzly.
"Here it is. Our den." Elle stopped in front of their cave. She looked to Sophie then back to the den. "Go on."
Sophie stepped inside tentatively and turned to look at Elle.
"It's warm and comfortable, I promise." Elle laughed and sat back on her haunches.
"I believe you." Sophie smiled.
On their way back to the pool, the grizzly stopped in front of one of the trees Elle had scratched.
"What's this?" Sophie sniffed at the claw marks and looked back at Elle.
"I--" Elle was at a loss for words. "I was mad because they took you away from me."
Sophie studied her friend, stepping closer and fixing her eyes upon the black bear.
"Oh, Ellie." She grinned. "Thank you."
All day, Elle tried to teach Sophie how to "be a bear," but nothing was clicking into place. Sophie's duality was gone.
In the den that night, Sophie sighed as they laid down, side by side.
"I'm so scared, Ellie." Her voice was timid, small.
"Don't be, Sophie. I'm here." Elle nosed Sophie's head. She was scared too, but she had to be strong, had to be Sophie's hero.
During the next few days, Elle felt strange. She began losing weight. Her paws began to lengthen and look more like hands. Her muzzle was receding. Her transformation had taken a u-turn. She tried to hide it from Sophie, but the grizzly wasn't stupid. She knew what was going on.
Within days, Elle was human again. The change back was nearly painless and relatively quick.
She awoke, naked and cold on the dirt and straw that made their bed. Sophie was not nestled next to her as usual. She was as far away as she could be.
Elle looked down at her body and marveled. All the weight and fur was gone. Her hair was short, black, and shaggy. Her body was very lean; there was hardly any fat on her. She clambered out of the den and ran on shaky, unsteady legs toward the fence and guard rail where Dr. Stoddard lowered Sophie. She wasn't sure why she was heading there, but she went anyway. She fell twice, but picked herself up quickly and kept running. Finally, she stood underneath the fence. Dr. Stoddard was there waiting.
"Elizabeth." The doctor stared down at Elle fiercely. "You don't know how lucky you are."
Elle was taken aback by her words. She didn't know what she had expected from the doctor, but she certainly hadn't expected her to be angry.
"What--" She tried to speak, but her voice was husky and harsh. "What do you mean?"
"This has happened twice before. Both times, they died. I can't try the procedure on you again. It's too dangerous. And I cannot let you leave." The woman put a hand on her head. She was frustrated. Her hair was out of her bun, frizzy and disheveled. She had ink stains on her white coat and runs in her nylons. She was a mess. "I'll bring you some clothes. You'll stay with Sophie until I figure out what to do with you." She turned on her heel and disappeared.
Elle sighed and leaned against the wall. The concrete was cold against her skin. She looked down at her hands and felt a surge of euphoria. She was human again! She had fingers and wrists and a voice!
"Elizabeth." Elle hadn't heard the doctor return. She turned and glanced up at the doctor. The blonde woman dropped a pair of shorts, a shirt, and underthings.
Elle caught the clothes, then looked up again. But the doctor was gone.
The once-black-bear got dressed and went to the pond. She looked into the clear water, examining her reflection. Never had she been so happy to see her crooked nose. She washed her face and drank the water. She practically danced back to the den. She felt so nimble.
And then she remembered Sophie. A grizzly bear. Heavy, huge, and lost at being a bear. Elle felt the duality still, but the bear part seemed to lay dormant for now.
Elle entered the den noiselessly, hoping that Sophie would not be angry. The bear was facing away from the entrance.
"Sophie?" She spoke through the radio transference. The grizzly stirred slightly. "Sophie."
"What?" Sophie's voice was testy, even petulant. She had been awake.
"Sophie, please." Elle touched Sophie's back, her hand sinking into the thick fur.
"What, Elle?" The grizzly rolled over and glimpsed Elle. She looked away and growled. "What do you want?"
Elle stared at the bear lying in front of her. "I'm sorry, Sophie, but I didn't try to go back. It's not my fault. If anything, I'd want you to be human again. I'd wish for you to change back."
Sophie looked up at Elle, analyzing her face. With a rumbling growl, she got up and left the den. Elle watched the grizzly go, then pulled her knees to her chest and wept.
They avoided each other all day. At one point, Elle's bear part reared its head. Her fingernails were still long and sharp, and still made nice cuts in tree bark.
Night came, and Sophie returned to the den. She laid down and cried. Elle sat outside, listening to the strange growling sobs of a bear. When she thought Sophie was finally asleep, she crept into the den. She laid down away from the bear, arranged the straw underneath her, then dropped into a restless sleep.
She woke up in the middle of the night and found Sophie wrapped around her. The bear's warmth was welcome and needed. Elle buried her hands and face into Sophie's fur and went back to sleep. The next morning, Elle arose to Sophie's wet tongue on her head. The bear was grooming Elle's hair. The girl laughed and put her hand on Sophie's muzzle.
"What are you doing?" Elle grinned.
"No idea. I found my duality. And I want to take care of you. I need to." Sophie held Elle with her massive paws and continued running her tongue through the girl's short hair.
"You found it?" Elle squirmed to try and see Sophie's face. But the bear was much stronger.
"Sit still, cub." Sophie grunted and continued to groom Elle.
The girl succumbed, liking the feel of the rough tongue on her scalp. She leaned back into the bear, feeling content, feeling safe.
"How?" Elle asked dreamily.
"I don't know. I woke up, I saw you, and I had to take care of you. I don't know." The bear rumbled deep in her throat turned Elle's face to her. "Poor thing. Naked and cold."
Elle laughed at Sophie's new maternal behavior. It was kind of cute to have the bear worry about her. She wrapped her arms around Sophie's neck and hugged her.
"My friend, I love you." She grinned.
"I love you too." Sophie licked Elle's shaggy head once more.
Days went by, each night the pair slept close, each morning, Elle would wake to Sophie's tongue on her head. They didn't speak much, but they understood each other through their mannerisms, body language, and eyes.
They were left alone for two weeks, until Dr. Stoddard finally appeared at the guardrail one afternoon. Elle clung to Sophie's fur, afraid that they would be separated.
"Elizabeth." Dr. Stoddard called. "In a few moments, my men will be here with the crane. We will lower the net, you will climb in, and we will take you with us to the lab. I need to have you do some tests. Sophie will come to the lab later today. You will be together by tonight. Do you understand?"
"Use your voice, Elizabeth." The doctor said sternly.
It took a moment for Elle to find her voice. When she did, it was gruff from disuse. "Yes."
The crane came to the guardrail. The net was lowered, and Elle moved away from Sophie. The bear took a step toward the girl with a protesting grunt. Elle shook her head and growled softly. She climbed into the net. As the net closed around her, she grasped the sides tightly. Sophie roared sadly and gazed at Elle.
"Don't worry." Elle used the radio transference for the first time in days.
"But I do." Sophie answered sadly.
The net was raised and Elle was brought to the land above the guardrail. She stayed in the net, however, and the crane brought her to one of the many doors of the lab. Finally, she was lowered to the ground. As the net unfolded, Dr. Stoddard grabbed Elle's wrist. The girl was surprised. The doctor had only touched her once when she was conscious, and that had been for a very short amount of time.
"Don't try anything stupid, Elizabeth." The doctor said with some contempt. Dr. Stoddard's thin hand on Elle's wrist was strong and cold. Elle was afraid of the grip she held.
They flew down the halls of the lab. The tiled floor was cold and slippery on Elle's calloused feet. Finally, they entered a room. Dr. Stoddard sat Elle down in a hard chair in front of a table. On the table was a sheet of paper and a pencil. The doctor took a seat across from Elle. They stared at each other for a long moment.
"Elizabeth, this is a test. Just do it for me." The doctor broke her gaze first. Elle looked down at the paper and pencil. With a sigh, she picked up the pencil and began to work on the test. It was full of simple math problems and analogies, testing her logic and such.
As she looked at the problems, they seemed easy in her head, but the pencil was awkward in her hand. Her hands shook, and she couldn't hold the pencil right. She felt like her fingers were less dexterous than before she was a bear. It was if they didn't know how to work anymore. Frustrated and angry, she looked up at the doctor helplessly.
"Can I do this orally?" She asked.
Dr. Stoddard shook her head.
With a growl, Elle held the pencil in her fist. She struggled through the test, finally finishing the page in an hour. She threw the pencil on the table when she was finished.
The doctor took the test, corrected it, then put another sheet of paper in front of Elle.
"Another one?" Elle groaned.
The doctor nodded.
Elle grabbed the pencil and filled out the page. This one had more to do with English and language, so it took longer for the girl to write.
Two hours later, Elle put her head down on the table. Dr. Stoddard replaced the test with another. The once-black-bear rumbled in her throat. Her eyes, her fingers, her wrists; they all hurt. She finished this story-problem test in an hour and a half,
The doctor didn't give her another. Instead, she stood and took Elle's hand. They went to a kitchen, where the doctor gathered food for Elle, mainly fish and greens, then let Elle sit at a table and eat. As she ate, she watched the doctor. The lines in her face had become more prominent. The woman stared blankly into space.
"What are you going to do with us?" Elle asked in between bites,
"I don't know. Sophie is the only transgenic I have created to retain so much of her humanity. You are the only transgenic to survive the change back. You two are very special. But I don't know what to do with you." Dr. Stoddard shook her head wearily.
"Let us leave." The girl tried.
"No." The doctor watched Elle carefully. "I can't. And besides, you wouldn't live together on the outside. She is a bear, Elle."
Elle finished her food in silence.
"Then what is our home like?" She asked.
"Your home?" Dr. Stoddard raised her eyebrows.
"This lab? It's our home, isn't it? We can't leave. So what is our room like?" Elle cocked her head.
The doctor stared at the girl for a long moment. Stared at the short, black hair, the strange eyes and ears, the pointed teeth. She'd done so many unspeakable things to the girl, but she was still intelligent, attentive, human. Carolyn Stoddard felt guilty for the first time.
"What do you want it to be like?" The doctor smiled strangely.
"A den. Like our cave. Small and warm. Dirt and straw on the floor. But could it attach to a garden somehow?"
"It's yours." The doctor stood and took Elle's hand. Her grip was gentle this time. "Not tonight. You'll stay in your old room. But you will have a den by tomorrow."
Elle studied the doctor's face, surprised and a little afraid. Why was the doctor being so agreeable? They traveled down halls and stairs, until the doctor stopped outside of a room. She unlocked the door and bumped Elle into the room, then closed the door behind her. The room was dim. The girl could see that it was same room they'd lived in before, but the table and beds were gone.
The grizzly bear was lying on the floor. She lifted her head to see Elle. Because they were bears, they both had horrible night-vision. Elle dropped to the floor and crawled to Sophie, not wanting to trip on her still unsteady feet. Finally, she reached the warmth of the fur she loved. Curling up into a ball, Elle held handfuls of fur, holding close to her friend. Sophie nuzzled Elle's head with her nose, then laid her own head on the floor.
They slept soundly, and in the morning, Sophie groomed Elle. The girl went to the bathroom to look in the mirror and found that she did not like what she saw. The reflection the pond had shown her had been wavy and unclear.
Her black hair was coarse and getting matted, despite Sophie's efforts. It had not grown since she'd changed back, and her pointed ears poked through. She could hardly see the whites of her dark eyes. Her teeth were much too sharp, her tongue much too thin and long. She felt like a creature that didn't belong. There was too much wrong with her face to pass as a normal person, and she wasn't nearly bear enough to even try. She sobbed, tears streaming from her doe-like eyes.
"Ellie? Ellie!" Sophie called. Elle sat down on the floor, pressing her hands to her eyes. She buried her head between her knees, trying to escape herself.
"Ellie? What's wrong? Please, open the door." Sophie placed a heavy paw on the door. "Elle, please."
Elle quieted for a second, remembering when their roles had been reversed. Sophie had been crying and Elle unable to open the door.
"Elle, please open the door." Sophie paused for a long moment. "You know I can't."
The girl got to her feet, making a conscious effort not to look in the mirror. With a shaking, clawed hand, she opened the door. The grizzly bear sat outside the door, waiting for her. The hulking bear looked so comically out of place in the little room. With a small smile, Elle wrapped her arms around the grizzly's neck and buried her face in the fur. Sophie pushed her nose into Elle's hair and grumbled gently.
"I love you, Elle, no matter what you look like. I think you're absolutely beautiful. No matter what." Sophie whispered. Elle grinned through her tears.
Suddenly, the door opened. Expecting Dr. Stoddard, Elle was startled when a strange man entered. He looked at Elle and took a breath.
"Dr. Stoddard killed herself last night." He looked away from Elle and fiddled with a duffel bag in his hand. "She wanted you and the bear to be set free. She left clothes and some money for you. I'll be back to take you out." He dropped the duffel bag, then closed the door.
Elle stood unmoving and devastated. The doctor had killed herself? She felt a little joy at being free, but couldn't believe why.
"Get dressed, Ellie." The grizzly bear nudged Elle's hand. The girl obeyed and began to change. She found a pair of jeans, a shirt, socks, and some sturdy shoes. She shrugged on a jacket and placed a newsie-style cap on her head as the man returned.
Bear and girl stepped out together.