|Works by Eirik on Shifti|
|Paradise story universe|
I hate autopsies. I don't know many doctors that enjoy them.
She'd been quite striking. Even in death, the pronghorn fur was something to behold, the patterns of black, brown and white translated nicely into the more human form. The only thing she was missing were the horns. Of course, that was why I was here.
"I know this isn't your area," said Dr. Farr. "But I'm honestly at a loss as to what happened here. They noted the medical alert bracelet in the ER, but there wasn't time to contact you or the CDC."
I nodded as I looked over the file. She wasn't from around here, which might be why I'd never seen her in my office. It had only been a couple months since I'd discovered that I wasn't the only fur in existence, and in that short time I'd seen well over a dozen in my office from all over the Seattle region. "I'll take a look at things at my office, if I can have a copy of the file," I told him. I looked at the X-ray. "What happened, as far as you know?"
Farr looked again at the body, "I'm honestly not sure what. She was admitted after taking a nasty fall down an embankment while hiking. She had multiple fractures." He pointed at the x-ray, "She got these two foreign object embedded in her skull during the accident."
I grimaced. I almost wish I could see the way he did with the full power of the distortion field. When I looked at the x-ray, I knew exactly what I was seeing, the base of her horns. What the doctor in the ER saw, what Dr. Farr was seeing, was anyone’s guess. "Well," I said carefully, "the sleeping sickness didn't cause these. Why am I here?"
Farr shrugged, "It's part of the CDC guidelines that a local expert be called in whenever someone with the condition goes though autopsy," he said, "But I'm not sure what went wrong. Does the sickness interfere with medications or something?"
"It can," I partly lied. "I'll have to review what was given. Did she crash after the hor... the foreign bodies were removed?"
He nodded, "Almost immediately." He pointed to the skull X-ray, "They must have punctured something seriously. The object on the left must have penetrated the brain."
"Yeah, probably something like that," I said quietly. I had a pretty good idea what had happened. The horns were actually a bit like a tooth, their base was locked hard into the skull and filled with blood vessels. Not realizing this, the ER had cut them away partially, then pulled them out. That had badly damaged the dura surrounding the brain, leading to fragments being tossed into the blood stream. She hadn’t' bleed out like I'd initially though, but stroked out.
Looking at her other injuries, I thought it was possible she might have died either way. The fall had been over fifty feet down a rocky incline. In the end they couldn’t see what she was and accidentally they killed her.
I gathered the papers together. I'd go over them at my office, and then contact the CDC in Atlanta. There was a pair of furs there that were running interference in these cases, trying to take heat off of doctors that screwed up without having any way of knowing it.
I glanced at the admission form and noted they were indeed from out of town: Gary, Indiana. There was something else, a strange scent. "The husband filled this out?" I asked.
I found him alone in the hospitals small chapel. He glanced up and did a double take. I was getting used to that. Even among furs, a polar bear was a bit of a sight. "Mr. Shotts?" I asked extending a paw.
The ferret nodded slightly and put his own out, "Roger, please." He let out a breath, "What can I do for you?"
I sat down next to him, the pew groaning slightly under my weight. "The hospital called me in after your wife passed."
He looked startled at that, then relaxed and held up his wrist, "The bracelet," he said quietly. "A bit late, I guess?" he added without malice.
"It wouldn't have mattered," I assured him. "Things happen fast in an ER, especially as hurt as she was. Even if they'd called me when she was brought in, I couldn't have gotten here fast enough." I sighed, "I'm sorry. If this had happened just a few years from now..."
He cut me off, tears soaking the fur under his eyes, "You know, we changed the same year? We've been like this for the last three years."
I did the math in my head. From what we knew, there were a far fewer of us then. "That was a pretty big coincidence." Couples changing together would not be likely for another couple years.
He smiled a little, "It wasn't easy at first. My first year, I was female, a Norwegian rat. She helped me though it until I changed again the following year." He leaned over and sobbed, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do without her."
I didn't answer, but stayed with him for a while so he could compose himself.
"You weren't there, Alan," I said into the phone. "It was heartbreaking. The doctor didn’t' do anything wrong, at least that he will likely ever know. But she's dead."
I heard the reporter shift in his seat over the line, "It's not the first time, Doctor," he said sadly. "We get a few reports of medical misadventures a year. I'm sure there are others that we never hear of."
"I know, I know," I said. "I dread the day the field falls, that everyone either is or sees us for what we are. A lot of people are going to have to deal with things they did, things they couldn't have known they were doing." I didn't even mention that, once the field was gone, someone might realize what I'd done to that intruder several months ago.
I could hear typing in the background. I'd probably interrupted the British hare while he was working on a story. The reporter, who I'd met at that meeting in D.C. a few weeks before, was the only one that I could think to call and I wasn't even sure why. "I know, Doc, I know. But what are we going to do about it?"
"I don't know, but this is frustrating," I grumped. "We really need a better way to identify people who have changed. As it stands, it's pure coincidence to find anything."
"We're working on it," he said. "It's going to take time." I heard a little laugh, "Of course, by the time we work out the details it may be pointless."
"Maybe, but the longer we wait the more people like Maria Potts there are going to be," I fumed.
"But she was already in the system," he pointed out, "Just too injured to be helped fast enough."
"I know, but I can't help but think that there are patients sitting in hospitals around the country, around the world, that have no contact with other furs. Perhaps they don't even know there are others. People that are either in danger of what happened here, or who might drop the field for someone."
The hare was still typing. I wasn't sure what he was working one, but I was getting used to it. I'd called him before and he was always typing. "You're right, and it goes beyond that. We're getting some indication that some isolated furs are turning up in psych facilities. But we don't have enough people to cover every hospital, clinic, doctor’s office and ER in States, much less the world."
I thought for a bit. "What if we narrowed the focus a bit?" I asked. "Narrowed it down to medical admissions?"
I tapped my paw impatiently on the floor near the nurses station, digging a small hole in the tile while I looking back down at the list in my hand. I didn't know who Saylor had working on this, but it needed a lot more revision. I had to give them credit for trying, but it wasn't making my evening any easier.
The computer tech working on this had several roadblocks, not the least of which was that most hospital admissions were not accessible easily by computerl. For that matter, medical records were only just now finding themselves in electronic format, and then they were in dozens of different software programs. Getting a single computer program to fish through these files looking for key words, phrases and diagnosis wasn't easy. It fact, it was downright illegal. I didn't even have access to it, I was told that someone was putting it together at the direction of Congressman Sandrick personally. I imagine that he felt he could take the heat once this all became known.
Not for the first time, I pondered what was going to happen to me and some others when the field finally collapsed. I'd killed a man, in self defense but I'd gone along with the cover-up. I was standing in a hospital with a list of possible patients narrowed down by considerable violations of privacy. Would we be forgiven for our transgressions or blamed for not warning everyone?
Saylor had faxed me a list of patients that his people thought might be changed but not in any network, all in facilities that surrounded Seattle. All but one, I realized, were partly triggered by the fact that they'd attempted suicide. Thankfully, none of the four that I'd found were changed. Suicide seemed too heavily weighted in the selection process. It had wasted hours of my time, but I think I understood it. Before today, I'd have thought the same thing.
I'd held off on the last one, who was at Harborview Medical Center following a serious car accident. I had no other information that led me to believe why this person set off the triggers. I was more than a little nervous about searching the halls in this place, especially after visiting hours. Being a doctor did give me some sway, most nurses and staff would give me freedom to roam public areas, but I had no privileges here and no official standing. I wasn't even sure what I was going to do if I found this person was a fur.
"Doctor Clay?" asked a nurse. I turned toward her, and she stared me right in the throat. I was getting more used to that. The field made people think that I was a good foot shorter than I really was. "I understand you were asking about Steven Capri?"
I nodded, "Yes, his name popped up as a potential exposure to the Ivory Coast variant of Sleeping Sickness," I lied for the fifth time today. "His admission set off alarm bells down at the CDC and they called me to come in."
The nurse looked perplexed, "Mr. Capri is in for injuries following a car accident," she explained. "He's pretty beat up, but Dr. Frasier thinks he'll recover nicely. I'm not sure who flagged him."
"If it's all the same," I asked, "may I see the patient? I can probably clear this up in a hurry."
She shook her head, "He's in recovery. He's been in surgery for most of the day, and unless you have privileges here I can't let you in," she sighed, "I'll let his doctor know that you're here, maybe he can help you." She didn't wait for me to respond but went back through the swinging door.
"Not unless he's got antlers," I muttered quietly to the empty hall.
A normal human walked though the door a few moments later, smiled and extended a hand, "Dr. Frasier. What can I do for you?"
"Dr. Clay," I said. I was about to talk again when I realized something was odd. "Doctor..." My voice trailed off. Something was odd about the way he was looking at me. "Doctor, I need to speak to you about a patient of yours, a Steven Capri?"
He looked at me, his gaze wandering down to my throat, then back up, "Yes, he’s doing fine at the moment. Not out of the woods, so to speak. He was lucky the river he landed in was almost freezing, probably saved his life."
Frasier kept looked oddly at me, and finally it hit me, "Doctor, you're looking me in the eye."
His smile faltered a bit, and his gaze shot down to my neck, "I'm sorry..." he said with a stammer, "Is that better?"
I gripped him by the shoulder, harder than I intended, "Is there a place we can talk privately?"
He pulled himself from my grip, rubbing his shoulder, "There's a private family waiting area around the corner," he said leading the way. I half expected him to break into a run.
I followed him in, and we both closed the blinds on the glassed-in room. I noticed that he kept himself situated near the door. "Doctor, you can see me, can't you?"
He stammered, "Of course I can, you're not a figment..."
"I mean, you can see me for what I am," I said pointing at my head with both hands. "Rounded ears? Big snout? Fur?"
Frasier actually looked startled, sitting heavily in a chair. "You're... you're actually a polar bear?" he asked. I nodded slowly. He buried his head in his hands and started tearing up. "All these years I thought I was nuts!" he said.
The story came out over the next few minutes. He'd interned in Chicago in the 80's and spent most of his early career there. He'd also spent most of his first few years of college high on various hallucinogenics. "Don't ask me how I passed, but I managed," he said with a slight grin.
He saw his first furry on the streets of Chicago in 1989, when there were probably no more than a couple in existence. For some reason the RDF, which should have had no trouble back then, just didn't work that well for him and he could see both the fur and their human ghost at the same time. After a few more years, he even started drawing them as a bit of art therapy.
"Once the internet started up, I discovered that this furry thing was some kind of subculture", he said. "In fact, I even started to think that what I'd been seeing were just elaborate fur suits, except that no one else could see them." He started posting his drawings under a pseudonym. He'd quickly become a popular artist in his spare time.
Since then, he'd moved to Seattle to take a position in the emergency room at Harborview. The facility was the go-to place for serious trauma all over the Northwest, and indeed they heard a helicopter arrive once during their conversation. He'd also worked on at several furs since he'd gotten here directly. "Nothing too serious," he admitted, "But it was odd. Especially since I thought I was hallucinating. I had to have nurses double check me on a few things." He sighed, "I almost quit over it, actually. I've seen more and more of them as time goes by. Whatever delusion I have... thought I had, it was getting worse."
I smiled, "It has been getting worse. The numbers double every year. I was human until last summer."
He looked at me carefully, then his eyes went wide, "Holy shit!" he said, "I haven’t told you the worse part. My daughter seemed to become a fox three years ago!" He jumped up and started pacing. "She must have been hiding her emotions, her fear, so well! I pretended I didn't notice, even when she dropped hints, because I was so afraid I was going crazy or having a flashback!" He paced back and forth, "Shit, shit, shit! Where's my phone?" he grumbled as he started to search his scrubs before realizing it wasn't there. He started to head out the door before I grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back, "Watch it!" he said loudly and he stumbled backward. He rubbed his other shoulder, "You gotta watch that, you're a lot stronger than you seem to think."
I released his shoulder, "It's almost one in the morning," I pointed out. "She been a fox for three years."
He slowly nodded, "You're right, it'll hold until morning." He looked at me again, "What now?" he said with perhaps a bit of worry.
"I don't know," I said honestly, "I wasn't aware that it was possible to lower the field, even a little, unless you were a fur. But if you can see through it, then we need your help." I let him in on the secret of the Sleeping Sickness bracelets.
He rolled his eyes, "Tell me you weren't the one that came up with that," he said.
I shook my head, "Nope, it was in the works before I changed. The powers that be sprung it on me a couple months ago. But let me contact a few people and we'll see what we can do to get you totally up to speed." I sighed, "At least, as up to speed as we can be."
Frasier suddenly snapped his fingers, "You weren't here about me, you came about Capri!"
He found the largest sterile gown he could to cover my big white frame, then got me access to recovery. There were a few patients here, all in slightly darkened alcoves surrounded by monitors. A few of them were awake or moaning, but most were sleeping. Capri, by luck or design, was against the back wall. "He drove his car into a bridge railing," Frasier said, "Went into the Pilchuck River. Multiple fractures, including the skull, and near drowning." Frasier glanced up to make sure the nurses weren't watching, then turned the misshapen hand over, "I spotted this during surgery, but I think this field of yours might be blocking it from the others." He noted the slash marks on the wrist, old and healed. "What is he? I don't recognize the species."
"I think he's a lemming," I supplied. "I've been trying to get familiar with all the mammals out there. Damn, he's just a kid. What is he, maybe fifteen?"
"Sixteen, same age as my daughter."
I examined the sleeping rodent, "Any idea when he might wake up?"
Frasier shook his head, "He's in a coma, so it could be days, weeks or years. Or never," he added after a pause.
I looked at the charting that had been done, but frankly there wasn't much that I or Frasier could do at this point. "I'll get this to our people in the medical community, we've got a few here and there. We're also trying to set up some way to report unusual outcomes."
Frasier smiled, "More than this?"
I gave him a serious look, "A forty year old man, a rodent fur in Amsterdam, died a month ago because he was given penicillin. Old trivia about it: it would never be approved today. It's got a unique toxicity for rodents."
The smile faded, "You’re kidding, he died?"
"Almost instantly, and his doctor was a fur. He'd taken it before he'd changed with no ill effects." We made our way out of the recovery room to another private area. "Look, things are going to happen. Horrible things. You're going to give someone a medicine that you've given a thousand times and find its suddenly toxic for them. You're not going to be here some day and someone is going to die because no one else can see. You can't let it eat you up, and you can't let it rule your life." I sat heavily in a chair, "It's already slowly becoming chaotic, and eventually all hell is going to break loose."
Frasier looked thoughtful. "It's going to happen to me, isn't it? Someday?"
I nodded, "Could be this summer, could be ten years." I shrugged, "There's a lot that's going to happen, and I think you're going to be in the center of the maelstrom."
I kept in close contact with Frasier from that day on. He was an invaluable asset, and a great help.
We also learned a great deal more about his lemming patient.
Capri had been a good kid until that day in August. He lived in a tiny eastern Washington farming town, and everyone contacted said that he'd been perfectly normal until he started ranting about being a lemming. When no one believed him after a month, he'd taken off in his car and vanished. He didn't surface again until he drove off the bridge into the Pilchuck River.
Steven Capri woke from his coma a week later to fill in the rest.
Frasier had made sure to be nearby when that happened, and found though gentle questioning that he had tried to commit suicide that night. He'd changed in August, like me, but had gone on a bender afterward. Thinking he'd gone completely insane, he'd tried to kill himself several times. Even when Frasier had tried to assure him that he wasn't crazy he didn't believe it. It took a quick trip by me and Judge Pickford to convince him he wasn't crazy. The kids eyes had gone wide when he saw a polar bear and a bighorn sheep walk into his room.
Once he knew what was going on, he calmed considerably. He’d gone in an instant from thinking that he was insane to realizing he was normal, and in fact part of the coming normal. We still recommended therapy, and still told him to hide this from his family for now, but he was well on the road to recovery both physically and mentally.
I also got to meet Frasier’s daughter. She had a solid head on her shoulders, "I knew something was up, my dad hid it well but I could tell he could see what I was, even when no one else could."
She also didn’t hold a grudge that he didn’t admit what he could see. "I’ve been fine. You’re not the only furs I’ve seen." We found out then that she’d actually seen other furs, mostly in crowd shots on TV, so she had known she wasn’t alone. Having her father now admit he could see her for what she was now was a big help.
Frasier and I determined to keep close, and even agreed at the request of Saylor and Sandrick to head to a couple of FurCons to give lectures. We agreed to give our first one in a few months at a con in Philadelphia. We were going to keep it short and sweet, more or less a warm up for years to come when things would probably start to get weird.
Everyone in the house was asleep. I’d gotten out of bed and come downstairs to get a drink of water when I saw it was snowing lightly outside. I slipped outside and laid down on a snow covered lounge chair, then looked up at the swirling clouds, lit slightly orange by the streetlights. The air had that strange silence that filled the air when snow fell, made all the more noticeable by the late hour and lack of other sounds. It was one of the first times that I felt comfortable in weeks.
As the snowflakes fell over my white fur, I stared up at the sky and let my mind wander. I was still conflicted by my role in what was going on. Part of me wanted to tell the world what was happening, tell the world to get ready for the world to change utterly. I was still concerned that I had done enough that was either illegal or at least questionable that I was potentially in trouble.
I basked in the freezing temperature, letting it settle my nerves and bones, and perhaps for the first time since August I willingly let myself give in to my animal side and dozed off in the snow.