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Paradise story universe

Works by Jetfire on Shifti
Author's Comments

NORBAC's handling of the Change. "NorBAC" stands for the North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission, a group I'm blatantly 'borrowing' from the Canadian show "ReGenesis"


Author: Jetfire

June 16, 2008

"-ature of 27 degrees, 32 with the humidex. A smog advisory is in effect for today and tomorrow."

A brown furred hand reached out from the nest of sheets and tried to reach the clock radio on the bed side table. It came up short.

The weather report shifted to the sounds of an electric guitar. "In a crooked little town, they were lost and never found..." the singer started. The mound of sheets flew apart, revealing a short furry figure. Webbed feet hit the floor and a claw slammed on the off button, silencing the radio. A broad scaly tail stretched on the bed as he rubbed his eyes, trying to wake up further. Moving automatically, he stood up and padded to the bathroom to prepare for the day.

He pulled off his shirt and started running the cold water for a shower. He hopped in long enough to take the itch off his under fur without forcing him to spend hours drying off, the coolness of the water barely getting through his fur and blubber layers.

Reluctantly, he turned off the water and shook himself, feeling the water fly off his outer fur. He wiped off the remaining water and got dressed. The ringing of the phone interrupted his routine.

"William speaking," he mumbled, picking up the phone.

"Good! I caught you before you left. I need you to pack your weekend bag and your passport. You and Rachel are going to Arkansas this afternoon." David Windstrom, the head scientist of NorBAC wasted no time getting to the point.

The beaver tried to get his mind in gear. "The suicide cases?"

"Right, you'll have a briefing when you get in this morning to fill you in on the rest of the details. See you soon."

William Talent hung up the now dead phone and shook his head. The labs had been working on the spike in suicides and depression cases west of the Mississippi for a week now, but there hadn't been much progress, until now it seemed. He grabbed the bag he left packed for trips like this, double checked his passport and headed out the door, crunching on a celery stick.

"Hey Will, how yah doing today?" a voice asked, falling into step beside the beaver.

"Mornin' Claire. Doing well. You?" He crunched on the celery stick and followed her, walking to the subway station.

"Same as always. How are the chompers?"

He flashed a smile at her, showing his buck teeth, even though they both knew she couldn't see them clearly. "Buck toothed as always. Thanks for the chew stick advice though. It is helping."

"Your welcome. Anyways, I'll see yah later. And you really should come in for another checkup sometime." The dental assistant waved and headed to the other tracks.

William waved back and joined the crowd waiting for the next train. He carefully kept his tail lifted high and pressed against his back to avoid any inadvertent trampling. He winced a bit, feeling the air pressure change and hearing the squeal of brakes with the approaching subway, then got on the car.

He climbed out of the subway station with the summer crowd and walking down the street to a concrete behemoth of a building set back from the sidewalk. As he crossed the parking lot, he loosened the silver bracelet around his wrist and slipped it into his pocket. From the same pocket, he pulled out a picture ID badge and clipped it to his shirt's pocket.

"Mornin' Lou," he greeted the guard at the desk, lifting his badge, not that he really needed to..

"Morning Will. David's looking for you as soon as you get in."

The beaver swiped his card and leaned forward for the eye scanner, tilting his head a bit. It beeped a failed reading. "Yeah I know Lou. Can you buzz me in? The reader's not picking me up again."

The guard shook his head and hit the button to open the door. "Maybe if you didn't stand so far back you could get a good reading."

"Yeah yeah, I know. I know."

He barely had time to set the weekend bag down and start waking up his workstation computer, when he saw David heading his way. "William! Briefing in ten minutes."

"Sure David, I'll be there."

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David walked into the meeting room and did a quick headcount to make sure everyone was there. They were. He took his seat near the head of the table, leaning back and putting his feet up on the table, and nodded for Rachel to start, ignoring the dirty look from Kathryn, the lab's director.

"Right, as we all know, the CDC has asked us to look into a spike in Suicide rates in the southern states. A fifty percent increase over normal that can't be explained by any of the standard reasons," she started.

She turned to a dry erase board where William saw a chemical formula written out and PKC next to it. "In analyzing the organs of the victims, we found something unexpected. A new phorbol type never before seen. And this particular type seems to interfere with protein kinase C enzymes, leading to depression."

"William and I will be going down to Greensville, Arkansas, where the two most recent suicides occurred, and try to find the source of the phorbol. Jose and Rob will be working with what we already have up here to do the same."

The beaver listened as the meeting shifted a little, bringing up areas to examine closer as possible sources. He opened up the case folder and reviewed the cases. At first it seemed like it was limited to unChanged only, until he found a boar-morph suicide in the file. He shuddered and kept reading.

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Greensville, Arkansas

"Bob and Al are the two latest we've diagnosed with this extreme Depression. Sadly, we've had to become a bit of an expert on the matter lately. At first we thought Al's depression may be related to his sleeping sickness, but he's had it for four years with no issues until now." The psychologist lead the scientists through the clinic.

"Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this fairly quickly and they can get back to normal. Rachel, Why don't you talk to Bob and I'll take Al, and we can compare notes later." William said. He sniffed the air, already picking up enough of a scent to tell what Al's changed form was. He studied the psychologist, but didn't see any signs that the doctor Knew.

Rachel sniffed the air and wrinkled her nose. "Sure Will... Do you smell something?"

"Probably just a skunk in the woods out back or something. Bob's in here, Al's two doors further down." The psychologist said, opening the door for Rachel.

William opened the door, already knowing what to expect. The black and white furred figure was sitting on a bench, staring unseeingly out the window at the forest behind the clinic. His tail was drooping, and his fur was disheveled. Even with the window wide open, the scent was strong in there, as if he didn't care to control his scent gland. The skunk didn't even look up at the sound of the door.

William wrinkled his nose a bit at the scent before muscles tightened, plugging his nostrils and making him breath through his mouth. It was only a minor improvement. He checked the recording equipment in the corner to make sure it was off, then approached the skunk.

"Al? My name is William, Will. I'm Changed, just like you. I'm here to help you."

"What's the point? It all doesn't matter," the skunk mumbled, barely lifting his head.

"I know you are depressed, but it isn't natural. We've done the tests, there are some chemicals in you that shouldn't be in you. They're what are making you so down."

"I don't do drugs. I'm clean. Gotta be clean for my work."

William stood by the window and looked at the skunk closer. "I know you don't do drugs. I'm not saying you are. This chemical is getting into you, and a lot of other people, by some other means.

"Three days ago you were feeling fine. Now... well, what have you done in the past week that could have brought this on? Can you go through what you did?"

The skunk shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing different from usual. Went to work... I work at a manufacturing plant here, went home and stuff... Bob, Claire, Jessica and I hung out over the weekend. We went swimming out at the lake, caught a movie, ate dinner at Bob's place... nothing strange."

"Okay, let's go through it bit by bit. Where do you work exactly? What do you do?"

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William closed his cellphone and looked at the officer next to him. "Rachel's gotten the leftovers from their dinner, and found Jessica. She's in as deep a funk as the guys are. Still no sign of Claire or her car."

"I'm sure we'll find her eventually. We've got an alert out for both all across the state," the officer said.

William nodded and looked out over the lake. He sniffed the air and frowned. "This is the swimming hole?"

"Yeah, it's just a bay off the lake, but its a popular swimming spot. You think it is in the water?"

The beaver crouched at the edge of the water and filled a sample cup. He sniffed the air again and looked further down the shoreline. "Water's probably our best guess as a vector so far, we just haven't narrowed down what it is vectoring. Have there been many reports of dead animals around here?" He pointed to a couple of deer carcasses partly hidden in the trees at the edge of the water.

"No, not till now at least." They walked over to the bodies and William crouched down to start taking samples. The officer began to look a bit green and walked away, looking out over the lake.

The officer noticed the car first, turning into the parking lot and speeding towards the boat ramp at the far end of the swimming spot.. "She's not stopping!" he called out, already starting to run along the shore line.

William looked up in time to see the splash as the car motored off the ramp and into the lake. At first it looked like it might float, but it quickly began to go nose down. "Call it in! I'll go for the driver!" William shouted, pulling off his gloves and tugging off his shoes. He was in the water before the officer could react.

The water closed over his head and his body reacted automatically. His ears and nose tightened, closing them off to keep the water out. He blinked and reopened his eyes, seeing through his inner eyelids. Ahead he could see the disturbance in the water from the sinking car, and a steep drop-off in the lake bottom.

He kicked his webbed feet through the water, tail swishing to control his direction like a rudder. He surfaced for another breath and dove into the flood of bubbles coming from the car that landed just before the drop off. He swam to the driver side of the car and found the windows open, the cabin almost filled with water, and the driver struggling faintly. He tugged on the door and managed to pull it open. The driver resisted weakly while he reached across her to undo her belt, but he was in his element and easily moved around her. He pulled the belt away and pulled her out of the car and kicked to the surface,

He lifted her head above the water, blinking to clear his eyes and reopen his inner eyelids. Twisting around in the water, he found the boat launch area and started towards it. His ears reopened, intensifying the sounds of approaching sirens.

The officer waded out to meet him and was soon able to take some of the weight off. The beaver slumped down on the ramp panting hard once the driver was clear of the water and in the officer's care. William shook himself a bit and stood up slowly. "How is she doing?"

"She's breathing, I think she'll make it," the officer answered, glancing up as an ambulance pulled into the lot. "We can call off the search at least. It is Claire Donaldson."

William nodded and moved onto the gravel so he wouldn't leave wet webbed foot tracks. The officer turned Claire over to the ambulance doctor, and got a towel for the beaver. They waved off the ambulance workers who wanted to check on the beaver.

"Man, are you a pro swimmer or something? I've never seen anyone swim as fast as that. You were at the car before I could get to the launch."

The scientist tightened the towel around his shoulders and smiled ruefully. "Something like that. Just been a good swimmer is all." He sat on a railing on the edge of the lot. "Could you do me a favor and go get the samples and my shoes? The sooner we get them, the sooner we can figure out what is happening to Claire and the rest of them."

The officer seemed less than happy to have to go back to the dead deer, but he left to fetch the gear. William reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone, looking at the waterlogged device. "Ah no, not again," he grumbled to himself, pulling the battery off and setting it next to him to dry.

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"William! Where have you been? I've been trying to call you," Rachel exclaimed when they pulled up to the hotel the scientists were staying at.

"Sorry, had to stop Claire's suicide attempt, and I killed another cell in the process. I may have found the vector though. There were some dead deer near the swimming hole those four were swimming at."

"Good good. Get cleaned up and packed up. David wants you to head out to Brandon. We've got another zoonotic case."

William sighed. "Another one? Do you think you can finish up down here by yourself?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I'm going back to Toronto tomorrow once we check Claire over. Everything else is just lab work. David emailed the Brandon information to you, and Jose's already heading out there.

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Jose walked into the Brandon Medical Centre and looked around. A doctor detached himself from a group at the desk and approached him.

"Jose Serrano? Of NorBAC?" he asked. The scientist nodded.

"Good good. Thank you for coming so quickly. We are treating the children as best we can, but we're still at a loss as to how they could have gotten this, or if it really is the parvovirus. I am Doctor Lucien Godard, I have been monitoring the families."

"Sure, Doctor. What can you tell me of the patients?" Jose followed the doctor as he was lead deeper into the hospital.

"The patients yes... uhm... do you happen to Know?"

"Know what?"

"erm... Know how this could happen? How a dog virus could jump to two perfectly normal babies." The doctor turned down a corner quickly to try and hide the awkwardness of the question.

Jose shook his head. "We haven't completely confirmed it is canine parvo. It could be some new bug. Or a mutation. We'll be looking at your samples in Toronto as soon as they arrive."

"You're right of course. The patients. Well, we've kept both families in isolation, and quarantined their houses and pets as soon as we realized we had a new bug here. Both families are aboriginal families, neighbours actually, from the Blue Creek reservation, about an hour south west of here."

He lead the scientist into a room, where two aboriginal families were waiting. Both sets of parents looked up from the cribs they were next to. "These are the Fontaines, Aaron and Gale. Their daughter, Abigale, is the younger of the two children. They are both... they both have had the sleeping sickness, and their baby was born after. She's about ten months old at the moment," Lucien introduced Jose. The adults caught the doctors near slip and seemed to tense a bit more.

"And these are the Twohearts, Donovan and Danielle. Their fourteen month old son, Samuel, started showing symptoms about the same time as Abigale did, maybe a day earlier. Neither of the parents have the sleeping sickness, but Samuel caught it last August."

Jose walked over to the Fontaine crib and looked down at the baby in it. She was sleeping, but seemed sickly. An IV dripped fluids into her arm. He reached out to touch her, but an arm intercepted his hand.

"Please don't. We just got her settled down, I'd rather not wake her yet," Gale warned him. "Doctor Godard has already taken many samples from her."

He looked closer at Gale, then reached out and touched her forehead. "Have you been feeling all right, Mrs Fontaine?"

"I've been tired... but I've been staying up watching over Abigale. I haven't really been eating much either now that you mention it."

"Doctor, please examine her, she may have it too. She is running a high fever. Any of the rest of you feeling sick as well?" Jose looked at the rest of the adults and saw them shake their heads. Only Gale looked like she was getting sick, though they all looked tired.

He turned to the second crib and looked down. The young baby was awake in that one, but his eyes were unfocused. A light blanket was pushed to the foot of the crib and another intravenous line went into his arm. He looked up at the Twohearts for permission, then reached down to study the baby closer. "How are they responding to treatments?"

"Very well. We are beginning to see signs of improvements in both. I expect both will pull through easily, but we're keeping them under observation until we find out more about what they have," the doctor explained.

Jose rubbed the infant's head briefly and looked at the parents. "We'll get this sorted out as fast as we can so your lives can get back to normal. I have a colleague coming out tomorrow who is an expert on zoonotic illnesses. Those are diseases that jump from animals to humans."

He spoke a bit longer with the parents, then pulled the doctor back out into the hall. "You should test all four of them for the virus as soon as you can, and start treating Mrs Fontaine. The rest aren't showing signs but they may have it too. What clued you in that it might be parvo?"

"My sister found it first actually. She is a vet on the reservation, and the Twohearts had just gotten a new puppy that turned out to have it. She recognized similar signs in Samuel and sent them to me to check. Abigale got sick soon after."

"Well, until we get the results back from the labs, there is not much more I can do here. Can you give me directions to their houses? I would like to look them over, and rule out other possible sources, just in case."

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William paged through the report, trying to take his mind off the droning of the jet engines and the discomfort of the seat. He chewed on a dowel and tried to read between the lines. Pictures of the sick infants had been included, a grey wolf pup morph and a golden lab pup morph. Pictures of the parents hadn't been included, but he had managed to find their profiles on the network during the brief layover in Toronto.

Gale Fontaine, changed into a golden lab morph in '06, married to Aaron, changed in '05 to a white tail buck. Abigale, a natural golden lab morph born the year before. The Twohearts were harder to find; neither were changed, but they had brief mention on the Network as Known, parents of Samuel, born in July and Changed in August of '07.

With the additional information from the Network, the pieces fell into place fairly easily. The virus had jumped to the babies, probably when one family visited the others, from the infected puppy. The Twohearts, other than Samuel, and Aaron, as a deer, would be safe enough theoretically. The tricks, as usual, would be figuring out how to publicly confirm that without blowing the Field and making David and the rest of NorBAC suspicious.

"Paranoid bastards," he growled under his breath, snapping the end of the chew stick off. He spat the nub into the bag next to him, thankful the flight wasn't full. "August... gonna tell them this August, with or without that stupid horse's support," he promised himself again, bringing up a new window and starting to fill in his preliminary report. Abigale and Sam made the fifth zoonotic case he'd had to cover since '07's Change, and he knew that next year wasn't going to be any easier.

"Tell friends? family? Sure no problem there.... Tell your coworkers? The very people who are meant to investigate biological weirdness like this? Oh no, can't have that. They're too public. 'Too much risk they'll spill it too soon'." He felt the plastic of a keyboard key snap under his claw and forced himself to calm down. "August... just wait till August. Who knows? Maybe David will change and it'll all be out in the open." He chuckled at the thought and continued writing.

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William pulled his luggage cart through the crowd in the arrivals lounge of the airport. His flight may not have been full, but the airport certainly was. Brandon was one of the main entrance points for geologists and others heading to the Canadian parts of the new oil fields. He waved to a few furs he spotted in the crowd and made his way towards the taxi stand. He recognized a Hispanic man first.

"Hey Jose! I didn't know you were meeting me!" he called out.

The man turned and soon spotted the beaver. "Hey William. Things are pretty quiet until Toronto calls in so I figured I'd meet you and give you a briefing on the way to the hospital. "

The two scientists got to the parking lot and into Jose's rental car. William twisted in the seat to face the Mexican and dared to relax his tail against the door. "So what's the latest?"

"Not all that much. We've confirmed that Gale has the illness too, but the other three adults seem clear. We're giving all of them doses of Tamiflu, just in case."

He paused and paid for the parking, then pulled into traffic. "The Twohearts seem normal enough, but the Fontaines seem... well weird I guess you could say. First of all, Gale refuses to let me touch Abigale. She has excuses each time, but it means I haven't been able to personally examine the infant.

"And then there was their house... it was neat and clean considering their incomes. But something felt off about it. Like the three sets of antlers they had. I've hunted, and they were nice racks... but they weren't from kills. They had fallen off naturally. Why would anyone collect those? And then there was the hair everywhere. If they had a dog it would make sense, but it was the Twohearts that had the dog, not them."

"Very strange indeed," William nodded, careful not to add any more.

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"William, this is Doctor Lucien Godard. He has been tending to the families here. Doctor, this is my associate William Talent. He's handled many cases like these for NorBAC." Jose introduced the men.

William held out his paw and shook hands with the doctor. He saw the doctor's eyes dart down to his wrist and caught the slight look of disappointment on the man's face.

"No relation to the band. Hello Doctor, it's good to meet you. I _Know_ how difficult these cases must have been for you." He slightly stressed 'know' and pressed his claws against the doctor's palm. The doctor's eyes widened and he smiled in relief.

"Jose, why don't you see if Toronto's sent us anything? Lucien and I will check on the families." William added.

The other scientist left them to head to an office, while the doctor lead the beaver to a room. "We've moved them into separate rooms, but I can have the Twohearts meet us in here. This is the Fontaine's room." Lucien explained, knocking on the door, and glancing around quickly. "I was a bit worried that there weren't any of you at NorBAC. It seemed inconceivable."

"I am the only one at the moment, and I try not to advertise my condition. They could use it as a reason to pull me off these types of cases," William quickly explained. The pair walked into the room when they heard a muffled 'come in'.

Gale Fontaine was sitting up in her hospital bed, holding a sleeping Abigale on her lap. Aaron sat next to her, his head partly tilted to avoid the machines at the head of the bed. Both relaxed when they saw the beaver walk in with Lucien. The doctor introduced them, then excused himself to fetch the Twohearts.

"So you're the little Abigale that Jose's been complaining about," William said, approaching the bed from the other side. He held up his hand and looked at Gale for permission. She nodded her head. "How are you three doing? Really doing?" he asked, getting down to business since he didn't know how long Jose would be.

"Tired, and thirsty all the time. And more than a little embarrassed. But Doctor Godard says we're both on the mend and should be good as new in a few days." Gale answered while he gently checked Abigale. "She is going to be fine right? When your colleague didn't Know, I didn't know what to do, but I couldn't let him touch her. Her Field is so weak. My mom didn't know what she was touching when she picked Abigale up the first time. That's when we had to tell her and dad."

"I believe so. We caught it early enough that there shouldn't be any permanent damage. For the next few months now you'll need to get used to the smell of bleach though." William looked up as the door opened, and Godard escorted two normals, carrying a gray wolf pup morph. He continued once the introductions were finished.

"As I was telling the Fontaines here, you'll need to get used to the smell of bleach over the next few months. Even though the three of you will have recovered from the virus, you will be carriers probably for the rest of the summer at least, maybe even into the fall. So you will have to disinfect your households regularly. I would advise a daily bathroom and changing table cleaning, and an overall cleaning at least weekly. Bleach works best to kill the little bug.

"If there are any more canine morphs in the area, they should get vaccinated, along with any pets. We should probably extend that to cat, fox, mink and raccoon morphs too to be safe. They have similar viruses that may be showing up soon. Anyone who Changes into one this August should also be hit too."

He nodded to Aaron and the Twohearts. "You three should be safe, but we're waiting on the tests to make sure you aren't carriers. Now that these bugs have a toehold on humans, even morphed humans, it's only a mutation or two away from hitting all of us."

The beaver sat down between the beds, and started trying to answer the families' questions as best he could.

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"William, this is Doctor Lucien Godard. He has been tending to the families here. Doctor, this is my associate William Talent. He's handled many cases like these for NorBAC." Jose introduced the men.

"No relation to the band. Hello Doctor, it's good to meet you. I _know_ how difficult these cases must have been for you. Jose, why don't you see if Toronto's sent us anything, and Lucien and I will check on the families?" William said, passing over his own laptop bag.

Jose briefly considered it, then assented. Lucien could handle the introductions, and the lab results were due any moment now. He waved bye to the two men and made his way to the office that had been made available for him.

He sat down, adjusted the camera on the computer. He opened a video conference with the Toronto lab, and soon saw his colleague Sarah. "Hey Sarah. Do you have the results yet for me?"

Back in Toronto, Sarah sat forward and started pawing through the paperwork on her desk. "It just came in. Haven't had a chance to look at it myself, we're trying to make sense of some parasites Rachel brought back from Arkansas... Now, where did it go?... Oh here it is." She pulled a folder from under a coffee cup and opened it up.

"Okay, here we go. On the virus itself, it looks like it is CPV. It's the same bug in Abigale, Samuel, Gale and the puppy. It's also virtually identical to what we have on file for the CPV baseline. I guess that confirms we've got another jumper."

Jose sighed and nodded. "I guess so. How about the blood work? Any idea why it is hitting those three in particular?"

She flipped through deeper in the files, then shook her head. "Four of the blood samples show the markers from the Sleeping Sickness, but only three of them actually have an infection. I'll send you what I have, maybe you two can find the commonality." She looked away from the screen. "I've gotta go, looks like David's coming for an update on something."

"Sure. Thanks Sarah." Behind the video window, he saw a new message appear in his in-box. He closed the window down and verified the files transferred properly. He stood up and walked back to the hospital rooms, hearing muffled voices talking inside. He rapped on the door.

Lucien opened the door and peeked out, spotting the scientist. He opened the door wider. "Good afternoon, everyone," Jose greeted the room, eyes rising a bit when he saw William holding Abigale.

"Hello, Jose," Donovan greeted him, his wife waving. William carefully handed Abigale back to Gale.

"May I borrow William for a bit? We've gotten your results, and I'd like to consult with him before we share them with you. You can come too if you want, Doctor."

Lucien smiled and shook his head. "No need, I've seen your work, I'm sure you will be correct. Please come and get me when you tell them though, I would like to know." He stood up and glanced at his watch. "If you'll excuse me, I need to finish my rounds. I'll check in later."

The three excused themselves from the room, the doctor heading the opposite way down the hall from the scientists. Jose lead William to their office.

"So what do we have?" William asked once the door was closed.

"It's the virus. They finished comparing what the dog had and what the kids had to a sample on file." Jose said, showing charts on a laptop screen. "They are identical. CPV has jumped to humans."

William winced even though he knew it was coming. "Okay... we both knew that was probably the case. Having it confirmed just means we aren't looking for something else right? Now we just need to figure out how it's jumping to humans. What is it about Samuel, Gale and Abigale that makes the bug like them? Did they finish the blood work?"

"Yes they did," Jose confirmed, bending over the keyboard to bring them up side by side by side. "We should probably just check Abigale and Samuel first, since Gale's will be so similar to Abigale's," he added, shrinking one set back down.

Together they bent over the screen, studying the markings. William saw the markers right away, since he knew what to look for. He held off pointing it out though, to give Jose a chance to find it first. The scientist didn't take long.

"What are these? These are the sleeping sickness markers aren't they?" he said, pointing to a block on the screen.

"I'm not sure, they look familiar. Give me a second. See if Abigale has it, and if Aaron, Donovan and Danielle don't have it." William fibbed, taking out his own computer and hooking it up. He pulled up a few unrelated reports while Jose finished the extra checks.

"Abigale has it too. Aaron has something similar to it, but different. No sign of it in Donovan nor Danielle."

"Here it is!" William said a few moments later, pointing to a CDC report. "The CA-9 blood markers. I knew they were familiar; I helped isolate them a couple years ago when we had the dog flu jump to some people in Florida."

"Dog flu? So they make people who have it more susceptible to dog illnesses?"

William nodded. "Something like that. Sam's are a bit different from the Fontaine's, but they are very close, probably close enough for virus work.

"The Sleeping Sickness leaves these markers in the infected's blood. We aren't quite sure what they do yet, or what they mean, but we've identified a variety of... well I guess you could call them types. If you have a certain type of marker, you tend to be more susceptible to some animal bugs. So far we've isolated CA-9 for dog bugs, FE-9 for cats, EQ-9 for horses, and BO-9 for cow types, but there are a lot more varieties out there that we haven't ID'ed yet."

"Canine, Feline, Equine and Bovine?" Jose asked, tilting his head.

William gave him a bucktoothed grin and shrugged. "CA-9 was the first one isolated and named, and the naming scheme stuck. Blame the CDC, they named it."

He got serious again. "In any case, we've got CPV in humans to worry about now. There is one good thing about this though. It looks like it only hits the Ch- the victims of the Sleeping Sickness."

Jose nodded and leaned back in his chair. "So what do you think we should do?"

"Vaccinate all six of them... or at least the three that didn't get sick. And send them home to clean up their places before the kids go home.

"On a larger scale, we brief David and Kathryn on what we found here, and get them to pressure Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota to vaccinate anyone around here who had the sleeping sickness. Probably a good idea to spread the word and do that where ever CPV breaks out, even if there aren't any human cases."

"Sounds like a plan. One hiccup though. We don't know the dosages to vaccinate humans, just dogs." Jose pointed out.

"That's a matter for David and the labs to figure out." Williams computer beeped. He glanced at the new message and sighed. "I guess they aren't the only ones experimenting with dog medicines."

He turned his laptop so Jose could see the message. "The suicides, were caused by a chemical some parasites were pumping out. Dog heart worm medicine is showing signs of knocking it out. Since I was exposed to it in the lake, Rachel wants me to take a preemptive dose."

Jose chuckled and stood up. "Well come on, lets go tell the families and Lucien. His sister is a vet, I'm sure she could get your new medicine as well."

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September 7, 2008

William sat on a park bench, watching people go by and wondering who was coming to meet him. The note had come from Winthrop's office, saying to meet someone at the park that evening. No more, no less.

He glanced at his watch again, then watched people playing Ultimate Frisbee in the field in front of him. A dog morph was among them, occasionally catching the disk in his mouth. By the third time he did that, they called a time out to make sure it was allowed by the rules. William chuckled, listening to the good natured argument that was developing.

"Doctor William Talent?" a quiet voice suddenly asked him, tinted with an Indian accent.

The beaver pulled his gaze from the players and jumped to his feet in surprise. "Holy crap!" he exclaimed, staring at the large gray skinned man towering over the bench and him. "I'm sorry, please excuse my French. I never realized we had any yet," he stammered out.

The man lifted his trunk and smiled a bit, his lips lifting around his tusks. He held out a pudgy fingered hand. "As far as I can tell, I may be the first. Or at least the first in North America. It is still very new for me."

William held out his own paw and felt it engulfed in the tough gray skinned hand. "I am Constable Jaipal Singh Sidhu. Commissioner Fitzgerald wanted me to meet you tonight to prepare you for tomorrow," the elephant-man introduced himself.

"Good to meet you... What's tomorrow?"

The elephant man sat down on the end of the bench carefully and flapped his ears a bit, his trunk twitching around and sniffing the air. "Tomorrow, you, and I and an American representative with a specific device will be briefing the director of NORBAC and the staff leaders on the Change." He fidgeted, seeming to have a hard time figuring out what to do with the two foot long muscular appendage on his face,

William's jaw dropped in surprise. "Briefing?... You mean I can finally stop hiding?"

He nodded and rubbed his tusks with the trunk. "From what I was told, the American's have four changed Congress critters now, so of course they put together a Committee for Changed affairs. Out of it came the briefing on the Sleeping Sickness the CDC put out, along with informing more of the CDC on what was going on.

"With the CDC on board, it was decided, among members of that Committee and some Canadian representatives, that it was time to bring NORBAC and some of the other Canadian labs on board. Especially in light of all the diseases jumping species you've been tracking lately.

"You need to book a meeting tomorrow for us and your managers." The tip of the trunk dipped into a bag Jaipal had carried with him and pulled out an envelope. He caught himself and grabbed at it with his hand before anyone could notice. "These documents will give you some information about the device the American is bringing, and what the CDC was told and such. We are doing full disclosure with NorBAC. Full access to the Networks, full lists of the Changed, and everything we know about the Change."

William took the envelop and found himself still staring. He shook his head and moved on to another topic. "So uhm, you changed this year? How is it working out for you?"

The trunk tugged the flap back down over the top of the bag. "It has been very difficult for me. I was so hungry at first, and nothing fit me. I am glad I live in a basement apartment at least. But the Field, it does not work as well for me as it does for you. People keep glimpsing the trunk, or the ears or the tusks before they see me." He lifted his trunk and wiggled it in the air. "Plus, it seems so natural to use this to pick things up with this now, especially with how stubby my fingers became. If I don't watch myself, I keep using it."

The elephant stood up, and William felt his end of the bench drop a little. "Please accept my apologies, but I can not stay longer. I have other duties to perform tonight."

The beaver scrambled to his feet and held out his paw. "Certainly, I will see you tomorrow, and make sure to book a big enough room."

The trunk began to extend to the paw before he caught himself. He held out his hand and shook it before walking away.

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William stepped back into the sun from the subway and joined the crowds on the sidewalk. He saw the concrete building that held NorBAC and his hand instinctively went to his wrist, starting to unbuckle the alert bracelet. He stopped himself. "No, full disclosure. No more hiding," he told himself, adjusting his shoulder bag and trying to look more confident than he felt.

"Hey Lou," he called out to the guard as he walked into the building, pulling out his security badge.

"Hey Billy. Love the new song," the guard called back, barely looking up.

"Not my band," William called back automatically, smirking a bit. He walked to the security door with its card and retina reader.

William slide the card and leaned close to the eye scanner. It seemed to be able to tell that today was important, that there was no more hiding. The door opened without a hitch.

He walked to the main lab area and looked around to see who was in. For once, things were fairly calm. The mess with the aluminum chloride cloud in Quebec had been cleared up, and no further emergencies were on the horizon. Other than the bombshell he was about to drop. He took a hand full of dowel chew sticks from his bag and tossed them in a drawer, and went looking for David.

He found the scientist just hanging up his cell phone. "Hey David! Got a moment?" the beaver called out.

"Only a moment. What do you need William?"

"I need you at a meeting at ten. You and the team leads. I have some news about the sleeping sickness and all the new zoonotic diseases we've been finding lately that I need to share with you guys."

"You do? That's great news! Anything you can tell me now?"

William shook his head. "No not yet. I need to get all my ducks in a row. Could you have everyone in the big meeting room? We'll need the space."

"David!" Both men looked up the stairs and saw Kathryn looking down at them. "Can you come up here? I need to speak to you."

"Just one minute," David called back. "I'll spread the word, but if you see them first, gather them up. I'll see you at ten."

William nodded. "Thanks David." he called to the scientist's back.

The beaver shook himself a bit more and walked back to the office floor. "Hey Jose!" he called out, seeing the Mexican at his desk.

"eh William. What's going on?"

"A meeting at ten. Big board room. Can you spread the word? Kathryn just roped David in, and I've got some stuff to prepare for it."

"Sure enough, what's it about?" Jose stood up and looked around.

William sat back down and tugged out one of the chew sticks. He was going to need it to calm himself before spilling the beans. "The Sleeping Sickness. I've got news on it that you all need to hear. Thanks Jose." He pulled out the lower drawer of his desk and began to pull out the cases he had been working on. He was going to need them for the briefing.

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David snapped the phone closed. "Damn French frogs," he growled under his breath.

"Hey David! Got a moment?" a voice called out behind him. He saw William jogging up to him.

"Only a moment. What do you need William?"

"I need you at a meeting at ten. You and the team. I have some news about the sleeping sickness and all the new zoonotic diseases we've been finding lately that I need to share with you guys."

David raised his eyes. Finally, some good news. "You do? That's great news! Anything you can tell me now?"

William shook his head. "No not yet. I need to get all my ducks in a row. Could you have everyone in the big meeting room? We'll need the space."

"David!" Both men looked up the stairs and saw Kathryn looking down at them. "Can you come up here? I need to speak to you."

"Just one minute," David called back. "I'll spread the word, but if you see them first, tell them to gather up. I'll see you at ten." He started up the stairs. He heard William call his thanks behind him.

"What do you need Kathryn?"

"I need to know what you did to piss off the CDC this time." She lead him back to her office, letting the door click shut behind them. "Ryan's coming up from Atlanta, and he's bringing a friend. A Doctor Alberta Yates. You know of her?"

David shook his head, trying to figure out what he could have done to bring back the CDC-NorBAC coordinator in person. "The name's familiar. I think William works with her on the sleeping sickness studies. But you and I both know I haven't done anything that would get the CDC back up here. We've been busy dealing with the Quebecers and their stupid wannabe Tour de Quebec. No Americans involved for a change."

"Well they'll be here any minute now, and they want a meeting with us."

David brightened, sensing an out. "Sorry, already booked up. William says he has a breakthrough on the sleeping sickness. Wants to meet us at ten. Guess you'll have to deal with Ryan yourself."

The director smiled and he knew he was sunk. "No such luck. William was mentioned too. All three of them are doing the meeting together. Whatever is going on, I guess we're about to find out."

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David and Kathryn walked down to the entrance together. Waiting at the security desk were three people. He recognized the CDC-NorBAC coordinator, but the other two were strangers. One was a short woman with the most blindingly white hair he had ever seen. Her nose and hands seemed to be constantly moving. The other was an Indian, dressed in business casual, but his stance screamed 'police'. He had a large nose that seemed to twitch every so often, along with large ears partly covered by his turban. Ryan was waiting between them, trying to look relaxed, but tightly gripping the case in both hands. Even though he was inside, he was still wearing sunglasses, and seemed to keep looking over the police man's head.

"Are you SURE you haven't done anything this time?" Kathryn hissed as they approached the trio.

"Positive. my nose is clean for a change." David saw the police man look their way and could have sworn the man's ears twitched forward.

"Good morning, Ryan. It's good to see you again. How have you been?" Kathryn greeted the man in the middle, holding her hand out.

He let go of the case with one hand and shook her hand. "Morning Kathryn. I've been very good. I'd like you to meet Doctor Alberta Yates of the CDC, and Constable Jaipal Singh Sidhu, of the RCMP. Doctor Yates will be helping Doctor Talent with the presentation, while Constable Sidhu is here to help with any further explanations that may be needed, and for support of sorts. He is off duty and and here for his own reasons. I assure you, it's not a police matter."

Kathryn nodded at the introductions. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet both of you. I am Kathryn Morris, Director of NorBAC, and this is our Chief Scientist, Doctor David Windstrom." Hand shakes were exchanged, and David felt like something brushed his shoulder when he shook the officer's hand.

"William and the rest of the team are in the meeting room now, if you'll follow us," Kathryn added. "Well the rest of the team that is here. Sarah and Mark are out in the field at the moment and won't be back until the weekend."

"That's fine, William can brief them when they return. We'll be lending you a device to help with his explanation," Ryan said.

"A device? What for?" David asked curiously.

"You'll find out soon enough."

They walked into the glassed-in meeting room where the rest of the team already waiting. Pictures of victims of cases William had worked on were spread over the table, though no one was looking at them. David saw William look up past the constable's head and smile, before he saw Alberta.

"Alberta! I didn't know you were coming!" he called out, running around the table. He hugged the doctor and curiously rubbed her nose with his own before letting her go.

"Ryan thought it might be a good idea to bring you some back up, especially since we worked together," she explained.

William smiled and nodded. "Thanks. I think I'll need it."

Introductions were exchanged and people began to settle. Alberta took a seat at the head of the table, near where William was doing his presentation. Ryan sat at the far end, and Jaipal politely declined a seat, remaining standing at ease in a corner in the back.

At the head of the table, between a screen and a clearboard with "Sleeping Sickness, Ivory Coast Variant" written in florescent green at the top, William stood there, looking suddenly nervous.

"We're ready when you are, William," Kathryn encouraged him.

He flashed a buck toothed smile to her, then gulped. "Okay then. Well first of all, I think I'll open with an apology. I'm afraid I haven't been entirely truthful with you guys. You see, while I have been studying the sleeping sickness, I did not tell you I was also a victim of it. I have had the condition which the sleeping sickness flags, for the past 3 years now."

He focused his eyes on David, almost pleading with them. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I couldn't risk being pulled off that file. It is so much bigger in reality than you know, and as a Changed, I had to stay on this case personally, for the safety of its victims most of all."

David kept his expression neutral, but his hands tightened on the pen in front of him, nearly snapping it. He heard some mumbling from the rest of the team.

"Why don't you go on, William. Please hold comments until the end. What you are about to hear is extraordinary, but it is real. I have the proof you will need," Ryan encouraged, trying to steer the meeting back on topic.

"Right, well... I guess I'll come right out and say it. The Ivory Coast variant of the Sleeping Sickness is a farce. It is a cover story, meant to be a catchall, to identify those of us who had the Event happen to us, and to give us a bit of protection from those who can not see the real us."

He gulped and focused on Alberta, not looking at the rest of the scientists in the room. She smiled encouragingly at him. "The Event occurs every August, on the seventeenth. Like the cover story, it presents itself as a flu a few days before the actual event. On the seventeenth itself, you generally wake up feeling better, glad the flu is gone... but then you realize you are changing."

He rushed on quickly, wanting to get through this part quickly. "After the flu you begin to Change. What you change into is random as far as we can tell. Families tend to group together a bit, and there is some degree of regionalism, but the only constant so far is you stay mammalian."

The beaver went quiet and scanned the faces looking at him. They were confused and doubtful. Ryan, the only normal one who knew, stayed quiet but nodded encouragingly.

"What do they change into?" Jose asked.

"They... we... We changed into humanoid animals. We are no longer human, or at least not homo sapiens. We're... I dunno, homo furriens? I never was good at Latin."

The room went silent for a moment, the only noise coming from Ryan opening his case.

David moved first. He stood up and slammed the pen onto the table. "That's Enough! I've had enough of this bullshit! You bring us all in here saying you have news about the sleeping sickness, and then you come and say it's all fake? Tell us that AFTER you say you've been hiding the fact you had it all this time? AND that you're really some sort of freak-man-animal? You've wasted enough of my time. Get the hell out of this room, and get the hell out of my labs!"

William backed up a bit, the screen shaking a bit as his tail bumped into it. He looked towards the CDC folk for support.

"David, for once in your life, sit down, shut up and listen!" Ryan shouted back, standing up. He lowered his voice slightly to continue. "The man is telling you the truth, about everything. The evidence is right in front of you! In three of the people around you right now, and in the pictures on this table, and many more places you probably don't even suspect. You just need the right tools to pierce the Field and see the truth."

The chief scientist shifted his gaze to the coordinator. The rest of the team stayed silent, watching the struggle going on. "You can't seriously expect me to believe this cockamamie story?"

Ryan refused to wilt. He took a glasses case out of the brief case and held them a moment. "No, not yet. I didn't believe it myself at first. But it is true. Here, put these on. And for God's sake, be careful with them. This one pair cost more than this building and all the people and equipment in it combined." He slid the case towards the scientist.

David opened his mouth for another tirade, but Kathryn interrupted. "Just put the damn glasses on so we can get on with this," she snapped.

Ryan took his own glasses off and blinked a moment, rubbing his temples. "Pass these down to Kathryn," he said quietly, passing them down the table.

The Chief Scientist glared once more at Ryan, and reluctantly opened the case. He pulled out a pair of sunglasses and turned them over in his hands. "What the hell are these?" he asked, looking at the plastic and checking for any wiring.

"Just put them on and all will be clear. Put them on over your own glasses." Ryan glanced at Kathryn and saw she was waiting on David.

William stood there, trying not to tremble while he waited, knowing his future hung on a pair of cheap looking sunglasses. He watched David open the arms and lift them up and slide them onto his face. The man looked at William and stumbled back. "Holy shit! What the hell is that?!?"

Kathryn quickly put her pair of glasses on and gasped. William lifted a paw and waved, suddenly feeling naked, even though he was dressed.

"William isn't the only one. Alberta and Constable Jaipal are also both Changed," Ryan encouraged them.

"And please, no cracks about a lab rat working in a lab. I've heard them all. Many times," Alberta added tiredly.

David eased himself back in his chair, repeatedly mumbling 'oh shit' to himself. He stared at the elephant man repeatedly, tilting his head to look over the glasses then through the glasses. The elephant waved his trunk to David.

Ryan turned his head to address the rest of the team. "I'm sorry I couldn't bring glasses for all of you. They really are very difficult to get, the ones that work that is. One pair will be returning with me; they belong to the CDC. The other pair will be on loan to NorBAC for a month, to help you get up to speed."

Kathryn shook her head and removed Ryan's glasses. She passed them to the next scientist and rubbed her forehead. David shifted his attention from the living furs to the photos on the table, beginning to rummage through them. "You are not fired, William. Not yet at least. Please continue," Kathryn said.

"Right right... well, as I was saying, the disease does not exist. It's just a cover. But the symptoms and effects we associated with it ARE all real. The only thing we hid is what REALLY happens to you. As for the Event itself, it is a big unknown. There is no known physical vector for it. No virus, no bacteria, no chemical, nothing physical, nothing. There is some evidence that Knowledge may be a vector of sorts somehow; that knowing about us Changed makes you somewhat more susceptible to the Change, but it's very theoretical." He shrugged, trying to make clear just how far out of his element he was.

Alberta stood and walked up to stand next to William, the white labrat morph more at ease than the beaver morph. "We, we being the Changed community you're being introduced to, have been studying it as best we can for years, looking at all aspects of it and eliminating just about everything we can think of. The latest serious theory we have is that it might be quantum physical... but even that is tough to swallow. How could something on that scale make a man into a man-beast? But it's basically the last step we have before we throw our paws up and say it's magic.

"Physically, the Change does make us into a singular new species. We can not interbreed with unchanged humans, but we CAN interbreed with each other. We may look like different creatures on the outside, but biologically we are compatible somehow. On the one paw, the species seems mostly irrelevant, a mouse-man and a hippo-woman can interbreed. On the other paw, the species does seem to have a genetic component somehow. The children of that pairing would most likely be either a mouse or a hippo, not some weird hybrid of the two, and only rarely something else entirely.

"Also physically, we seem to keep human proportions. I am near the lower limit of the sizes of the furs, and the Constable there is near the high end."

"Hold on. Why can't we see you? Why is this only coming out now? Why do we need the glasses?" Jose asked, peeking over the glasses, then through them. He passed them on to the scientist next to him.

"It is something they've called a Reality Distortion Field. It hides their true natures, making them look like normal humans for the most part. Which made it easy for them to continue their lives. But it made it difficult for them to reveal their true selves. There are ways to crack the field, but until we found those glasses, we had no sure way to get past it. And no, I have no idea how those glasses work," Ryan explained.

"How much... whoa! This is incredible... How much time do we have? What is the growth rate?" Rachel asked, peeking through the glasses Jose gave her.

Alberta frowned. "It's exponential. Last year, we added half a million. Just a few weeks ago, we added another million. Next year two million will change. Current estimates say the last humans will Change in 2020. Unless we can find some way to stop this."

Kathryn looked at the furs, then down the table to Ryan. "So what do you need NorBAC to do?"

"William will be making his records available, filling in anything that he may have omitted or glossed over from the reports he filed on any cases he had that dealt with Changed. We'll also help you all get connected to the networks they formed to support each other. The overall goal is to find out the cause of this Change, and to figure out how to tame it. Labs across the world will be working on that as they are filled in.

"Since biological means have pretty much been ruled out, we... we being both the CDC and NorBAC this time, have a slightly different target. We need to figure out how to keep the Changed healthy. Which means tracking down all the little bugs that are jumping from parent species to morphic species, like William has already been doing. On top of the rest of the emergencies you guys usually handle."

The noise in the room began to increase as the scientists began to discuss the situation amongst themselves. David continued reading through the reports on the table, not really listening.

"Ryan, how long have you known?" Kathryn asked.

"Four years now. Soon after my wife Changed. I've been helping William and the Changed at the CDC handle what has come up."

"And you William? How long has it been for you?"

"As I said, three years. After I was hired here. But not by much."

Kathryn shook her head and leaned back. "This is a lot to take in. Do you have anything else to tell us now?"

William glanced at Alberta and Ryan, then shook his head. "No. That's all for now."

David stood up suddenly, drawing attention to him. "Great. Then we have a lot work to do. Every case you've worked on needs to be reviewed William."

"What? But they have been reviewed. Both by you guys and by Changed at the CDC."

"Yes, and we all missed what was right in front of us." He tossed a folder to the end of the table, a German Shepard morph's picture sliding out. William recognized it as the latest case he'd gotten, just before the usual Change Day chaos picked up. "You diagnosed him as having 'mange' and didn't look deeper. Now that I can see what it really is, you were incomplete. It is 'mange', but it was just a symptom of the problem, not the actual problem."

He held up his hand to keep the beaver silent. "I recognize the type of mange in particular. It's Demodectic, and normally can't transfer to humans, but I guess that isn't really a sure thing any more. In any case, it's usually mostly harmless, but if it flares up, it can be a sign of a weakened immune system."

He leaned forward and pulled out another sheet from under the picture. "Now look at the patient's history. Before she Changed, and apparently became a man unless you were really sloppy in your report, she had breast cancer."

"Yes, and after he changed, he got tested again and came up clean. That was last year. And I wasn't sloppy in that report. That's another aspect of the Change that can happen, though it's rare," the beaver explained.

"Fine, whatever. But the Mange flare up was THIS year. You should have tested again. Read the rest of your own damn report. The signs are all there. If you tested again instead of chalking it up to a zoonotic disease, you'll find the cancer came back."

William started to protest, but he looked down at his own report first. He remembered the details, but had been in a rush at the time, trying to finish up so he'd be home during the Change. He sighed and saw the signs he had skimmed over the first time. "I'll give him a call, tell him to get tested and warn him it may be back," he said dejectedly.

Ryan stood up and looked directly at Kathryn and David. "Right then, while William is staying here, Alberta, the Constable and I only have today to help you guys get used to this. Please don't hold William's silence about his situation against him; he was doing so at my request. Like the CDC, while we really could have used your full support earlier, there is more than a little paranoia among the Changed, along with a strong desire to just be normal. I'm sure there have been many times William has been tempted to just tell you.

"And while on that topic, there aren't any secrecy documents or anything to sign about this, but please use your discretion in who you reveal the Change to. I'm sure most of this lab will know by the end of the week, 'tis the nature of the Laboratory Beast, but lets give these victims their last little bit of normality while they can maintain it."

Kathryn looked at the glasses that had made their way back to her, then back up. "You said we can only have a single pair of these for a month. How are we to do any work on this 'Change' without them?"

"William is your best route in that respect. He can naturally see through the Field and any wonky things it is doing with respect to the Changed. The Known medical community also has a long list of ways people have come up with to pierce the Veil. None are as reliable as the glasses, but they can be a good way to practice anyways."

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"Well, that went well. David only fired me three times," William said, stirring the ice in his drink with a straw.

Alberta chuckled and nibbled on a bread stick. "They're still in shock. I'm sure he'll fire you five more times by the time he accepts this."

William grinned back and leaned back in his chair, sipping his drink. Beyond the fence that separated the restaurant's patio from the sidewalk, the city was slowly shifting gears. The evening rush hour had died down, and the show-time crush was just about to start. "Thanks for agreeing to stay an extra few days. I really need the support."

"No problem. The CDC has more furs down there, they can spare me for a bit longer," she wiped her muzzle and followed his gaze to the street. "So do you have any plans for tonight? Ryan gave me a pair of tickets he'd gotten. I think he always expected me to stay on."

William shook his head. "Nah, no plans now. Don't think Dave'll be inviting me over for dinners any month soon. What are the tickets for?"

The rat rummaged in her purse for the tickets. "Some band. Ryan said he thought we would like them. He got a kick out of their name... Here they are. You ever hear of a group called 'Billy Talent'?"

The beaver groaned and slumped in his seat. "Next time I'm in Atlanta, I'm gonna chew the legs off all of Ryan's tables."

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Author's Comments

I know I 'repeated' some parts of it. That is intentional. The show sometimes does scene changes by literally backing up a few seconds, and then following the second character of the scene to move forward. I wanted to mimic that a bit here.