User:Michael Bard/Survival and Sacrifice
Survival and Sacrifice
I was warm all over, and comfortable, but buried in the snow. It was dark yet I could make out a dim light from just above me. I pushed my head up and felt my nose break through the surface of the snow into the midst of a blizzard.
My nose didn't feel cold. Nor did my face. I couldn't feel any sting of wind-blown snow in my fur...
Squinting I peered down at my white snout to my little black nose.
Little black nose?!
I leapt out of the snow and onto the surface and then spun my head around and looked at my white furred body and tail. Dear God, what had happened?
And, even though I could see and feel the howling wind pressing down my fur, and feel the snow beneath the...pads...of my...paws...I felt perfectly comfortable temperature wise.
Double checking I confirmed that I was in a blizzard.
But, I didn't feel comfortable with my body. Sure, I could feel the wind on my legs and body and tail, and could hear it whistling inside the cups...cups?...of my ears, but my body didn't feel right.
Well, of course it didn't feel right! Why would it feel right? I wasn't human, I was a fox, an arctic fox or alopex lagopus...
By God, at least I could still remember my latin. All my education hadn't vanished.
But I was still a fox. So why in God's name wasn't I worried?! Here I was, an Englishman, trained at the University of Edinburgh, and now a member of the biology faculty of the University of Florida on vacation in the Rocky Mountains.
And I was an arctic fox. An arctic fox that could think, could remember...
Yes, remember. I'd been human, here for vacation. I was skiing down the powder when something happened - clenching my eyes I recalled what I'd been seeing - I must have hit a hidden rock of some kind. Then I had fallen and rolled and then had been buried in an avalanche. I'd ended up deeply buried and I remembered touching something - but I couldn't remember what it was.
And why was that? I had a photographic memory - I never forgot anything! Maybe it'd been a bloody illusion.
Was my memory damaged? I pictured the weather report that had been posted before I left for the day and had no problems. Looking at my memory of the map there had been almost no chance of any inclement weather for the next 2-3 days but an intense weather front was advancing behind the good weather we'd been having.
And now I was in a blizzard.
Dear God, how long had I been buried - and what in the name of all that was holy had happened!?
Ok. I appeared to be a fox. Either I was a fox, or I was dreaming or I was hallucinating. If either of the last two there wasn't much I could do, so I would have to assume the first.
What?! If I was hallucinating then I had to stop and wake myself up to keep myself from dying.
But why? I'm a fox and perfectly comfortable, although the body felt a bit odd.
And how long could even I stay comfortable in this weather?
First things first. Mentally I felt around for my tail and after a bit of fiddling wrapped it around my body as I burrowed a little into the snow. Soon my nose was nice and warm enwrapped in fur and, suddenly feeling tired but comfortable full, I opened my jaws for a little yawn and let out a little yip before I went to sleep.
I woke up comfortable and relaxed buried under a light covering of snow. Comfortably and easily I stood up, shook the snow off myself, and looked around at the glittering white landscape lit only by the light of a half moon. Shrugging mentally I glanced around for a minute, determined which way the mountain sloped down, and started walking down off the mountain. I needed to get to the bottom.
Most of the night had passed before the snow began to give way to bare rocks and some lichen so I sniffed around a bit smelling nothing, and then curled up asleep against one of the boulders. When I awoke again it was once again night and I continued down the mountain, my paws growing sore on the rocky unstable surface.
Still I didn't mind. I knew that I had to get off the mountain, and if the price was a little pain, then so be it. It wasn't until nearly dawn that I finally made it off the top of the mountain and in amongst plant life. I had scented the pine a fair distance away, and began to drink in the sweet scent as it grew stronger and stronger but the greatest joy was when I finally left the rocks and walked onto the soft bed of needles. Dawn was just beginning to show a glow in the heavens, and my bright white colouration positively glowed in the dim forest.
It was then that I scented the acid smell of blood and hunger, but I wasn't concerned. In fact I was eager. So it was that I turned and barely made out the dim form of a Wolverine creeping close to the ground.
For a moment I wondered what it was hunting, and then I realized. It was hunting me.
Dear God, I was its prey! Had I only escaped the avalanche, the mountain, just to be eaten by a wild animal.
And even stranger, I wasn't the least scared. Instead I was eager for the beast to come. I was confident and knew without a doubt that it couldn't kill me. So, with my tail quivering with repressed fear I just waited and watched as it approached, and remained still when it pounced on me and crushed my neck with its teeth.
For an instance I felt a stinging pain, the sharp piecing of its needle teeth. I scented its anger, its love and its hunger. I could even make out the blood still on its teeth from its last meal. I felt my neck collapsing and stopped breathing.
But I didn't die.
Instead I felt myself melt into a pale gray ooze, my flesh, my bones, all collapsing and stretching and then somehow sliding into the mouth of the wolverine and down its throat. Without causing any panic my vision went black and I felt the warmth of the wolverine's throat and the frantic gasping of its lungs as we crept into them and filled them. I felt myself begin to dissolve and absorb the wolverine, its cells, its genetics, and even its mind...
The last thing I remembered as a fox was a question, more of a need actually. A need for a choice and a decision as to what I would be - human, fox, or wolverine. Without a second thought I choose wolverine.
When I awoke all I could make out was a dim light. I seemed to be floating in an amber liquid. Then, without conscious volition, I struck out with my fore paw and ripped a whole in the cocoon within which I was floating.
Then I fell out, pulled along by the sticky substance in which I had been suspended and then found myself wracked by coughing and gagging as I forced the liquid out of my lungs. A few seconds or a few minutes later I could breathe and found myself aware of my sticky, wet fur, and a burning hungry. Again without volition I started licking up the salty liquid in which I was suspended, lucking it off my fur until it was neat and I was once more warm, and finally eating the brownish shell that had made up my cocoon. Finally I finished, full and satisfied, and fully aware of the world around me.
I was exactly where I had been when the I had consumed the wolverine, and I could see dawn's light just making its way into my eyes. But it wasn't the light that entranced me, it was the scents. I could smell the warm enticement of a prey's excrement and the string sweet pine from all around me. But even the scents paled at the rage and the confidence that filled me.
I was wolverine! Hear me roar!
I started walking through the quiet pine dimness testing the air for the scent of food. Although my cocoon had filled me, I still felt the need, the urge, the pride, to hunt. To provide for my own needs. To show that I was the king of the forest!
I slipped beneath the tangled roots of a half toppled forest giant and then forced myself to calm down. By the Queen, I was a man, a citizen of the British Empire (or what was left of it). I may have been working in the states under a visa, but I was still British at heart. I was not a wolverine.
So why had I chosen to be so? What in God's name had happened to me?
Crouching down with my eyes open and my nose lifted to scent for prey, I forced myself to ignore the overwhelming needs of my body to figure out what was going on.
I'd been skiing and been buried. Then I'd been an arctic fox but with no knowledge of how to be an arctic fox. I'd been attacked by a wolverine and had apparently absorbed it and then choose it out of a list of forms - the forms of myself, an arctic fox, and a wolverine.
Ok, so why those forms?
My old self and the wolverine were easy - they were both animals that I had been, or that I had been in contact with when I had liquefied. So where did the arctic fox come from?
My charm! I'd been wearing the tuft of an arctic fox's tail that Severin had given to me almost a decade ago... That was the fox I'd been in contact with. So, next question, why only things that I had been in contact with? Well, since I could become them, I must need their DNA and had only had those three options so far. It also seemed that now I had the instincts, the mind of a wolverine - and my own mind of course. So why not the fox? Assuming that my theory about contact and DNA was true, then it seemed that I was also absorbing or copying the memory of what I touched. And, of course, as I had only had part of an arctic fox along with the artificial fibres of my clothes, I had not had enough information to get the instincts and the knowledge. But then where was that coming from? Could I be reading the electro-chemical patterns of neurons and somehow storing that information in a different form? After all there was no way that this wolverine could contain a human intelligence. So...
Instantly my mind, the entire focus of my existence, changed to the field mouse I could see in the shadows likely making its way to its nest. It was close, but not close enough. A little closer, a hesitation, and then it was mine! Before I knew what I was doing I had left my hiding place and was swallowing the hot and spicy struggling form of the mouse. I felt it slipping down my throat, it's tail hanging out of my jaws and frantically jerking back and forth when I suddenly fell to the ground and knew that whatever had happened before was happening again.
A mouse. Yes I wanted to be a mouse!
And a while later I was indeed a mouse, this time floating in a brilliant golden liquid lit until it glowed by the sunlight. As I tried to escape I found that clawing wasn't going to work as it just pushed me away from the sides into the almost gelatin inside my cocoon. Fortunately, as I was running short of breath, I figured out how to bite and rip open a hole in my cocoon. Again I coughed and gagged the liquid out of my lungs and then ate what I could, but there was no way that I could eat the entirety of the shell that had birthed me. By sunset I was stuffed and couldn't consumed anymore as the remnants of the shell and the liquid turned into a thick brown ash.
Being a mouse was much different than a wolverine. As a mouse I was afraid of everything. Every movement, every scent, every flash of light, ever hint of sound, all made my heart pitter-patter with fear and terror, and made me flee underneath the roots of the pines. I was a mouse much longer than a wolverine, yet I was never bored. Each scent, each whisper, was new and wonderful and made me feel all too alive. Thus it was almost a sin when an eagle caught me, and I caught the eagle. Again the choice, and again, without a second thought, I choose the eagle.
This time getting out of my shell was easy as my beak made quick work of it. Again, after clearing my lungs and eating what I could, the rest of my cocoon turned to ash and was soon gone. And then I began one of the greatest joys of my life - flight.
Flight was easy, almost as though I had already done it, and in a sense I had as I had the memories of a eagle burning through my skull. The fear of being on the ground, the thrill of being in the air, the bored supremacy of drifting on a thermal half a kilometer above the ground looking for prey. With a few flaps of my wings I left the ground, and with a few flaps more I rose above the trees and began to glide, higher and higher.
There was no fear, just a wild exultation. I was going further and further away from the ground and I just felt lighter and happier than I'd ever felt before. Each ripple of the wind, each warmth of sun, each could be manipulated and controlled by the tensing of a muscle and the subtle movement of some feathers. I was held by a great hand, invulnerable, lord of all that I could see.
And I could see everything. Oh, I knew that every needle of every pine was clear to see but I didn't care. Instead it was the ripple of light on water and the flash of fin beneath; the rustle of a branch that hid a snout or a tail or an eye that was so tiny and so far away yet I could easily see the glint of sunlight off of its pupil.
But it was the movement that mattered. If it wasn't moving, than I wasn't concerned. It was just background, inconsequential. But if it moved, then it zoomed into my mind and became my world. The first thing I saw that was moving was the ripple of water and I knew that further along the stream I would again see a fish. For a timeless period I glided along until my sight suddenly zoomed and all I could see was a trout basking near the surface of a calm pool.
And then I was falling. A twist of my wings, and stretch of my tail, and I was falling down ever faster towards my victim. One second, two seconds, three seconds, the wind became loud in my ears, and then my outstretched legs touched the water and a second later grasped the trout. For a second I struggled with my wings but then my true nature took over and I fell into the cold stream and enwrapped the fish, and together we tumbled and bumped our way down the stream for the momentum of my dive had carried us both out of the calm pool and back into the wild water. As my lungs filled with water, my body turned to gelatin and was pulled into the mouth of the fish and squeezed out of its gills. Yes, a fish, I wanted to be a fish more than anything else!
And eventually I awoke, again in my golden prism, although this time the light was tinted blue. The light rippled in a regular comforting rhythm but whatever I was in was too thick to breathe. I tried swallowing but it was to no avail but luckily my thrashing and struggling pushed me against the edge of the shell which wasn't hard this time, but soft and elastic, and I was able to break through into the crisp cool water that washed the gelatin from my mouth and throat and gills. One gulp, and another, and another as I caught my breath. Then with a simple motion of my spine I spun myself around and nibbled at my cocoon until I was full and the rest turned to powder that floated in the dimming water as the sun set and drifted down stream in an ever-thinning cloud.
I followed, slow, leisurely, king of my world. Any direction was instantly achieved and nothing stood between me and what was desired. The water was cool and clear and I was content to just rest and drift and occasionally swim downstream.
I had been human, and fox, and wolverine, and mouse, and eagle, but now I was content to just drift and rest and slowly make my way through the world. I don't know how long I rested that way. I didn't need the rest, but was content. I knew that if I ate any of the smaller fish I would become them but I didn't want that for I was in no hurry. Yes, each time I saw one I would stretch and flip my tail and point my fins and open my mouth wide, but each time I was able to stop myself.
I was able to stop myself because I had so many memories jumbled inside me that the drive I had experienced was disjointed, confused. Thus I had time for the fearlessness of the wolverine, the terror of the mouse, the relaxed confidence of the eagle, for all to jell and join under my human consciousness.
I wouldn't have lasted as long as I had except I found, by accident, that insects were safe to eat. Without consciously knowing what I was doing whilst I was drifting near the surface, I saw the movement and ripple of an insect and then I was upon it and gulping it down, pulling bubbles of air into my mouth and over my gills where they tickled and stung.
And I didn't change.
So why? Was it size? I had been a mouse - was that the limit? It couldn't be mammal as I had been both bird and fish in addition. So there was a limit as to what I could be. I realized that I also could not become a plant, as I had touched plant life many times but nothing had ever happened.
But, as I relaxed and my experiences coalesced, the need for another animal, for a new experience, for more genetic information, grew stronger and stronger. Insects were nothing, and it became more and more of a mental struggle to fight down the urges.
So much of a mental struggle that I was sucked into a dam and sucked and torn into three pieces through a small hole in a grill. Yes there was pain, burning, stinging pain, but I exalted in the pain, the agony. I wanted to shout out my joy and pleasure in my pain, but I was only three dying parts of a whole, each part turning to gelatin and stretching out threads to say in contact.
And then I went through the turbine.
I was three, and then ten, and then a hundred. All asking; all seeking to be one. We bounced and jostled against each other, some sticking, some being torn away by the force of the water. Then we were out and falling and then we were pounded and driven to the bottom and there we lay. Thirty or forty specks of yellow gelatin, each knowing where the rest was, and each slowing stretching and oozing together into a single whole. Eventually we were back together, back to a single whole, but we knew that some would always be gone. Forever gone were memories of youths, and adults, of hunting, of joys, of fears. I knew I had had a human mother but she was gone. I knew I had been an egg in a nest, but that memory was gone too. But I needed to grow, I had to grow. And the easiest, the safest, was to once again be fish. And then I felt a shell forming, and my body changing.
And once again I was fish. Again the struggle, the frantic flapping around until the membrane tore, the swallowing to push the gelatin out of my gills, and then the consumption of what I had been to fuel what I had become. And only when that was complete did the hunger, the burning need to become something, anything, drive itself through the core of my mind. It was a desperation, a need to know, to conquer, to control. I think I went mad because I struggled and swam away, out of the deeps and into the shallows and finally out onto the hard gravel. Struggling until I could no longer swim, and then struggling still but only scraping my scales off on the gravel. I grew tired and stopped and then slowly died as the hot sun beat down upon me. Hotter and hotter; dryer and dryer. My scales flaked and burst, my heart and gills struggled and stopped, and yet still I experienced and thought. The decay of my cells; the break down of my organs.
And the pecking and tearing of a raven into my entrails, and then the transformation and the absorption, and then the choice to be a raven.
Being a raven was not like an eagle. Once I'd pecked and tore my way out of my cocoon and eaten what I could of my golden prison I found that I was smaller, more compact, more awkward, but more flexible. Flying was almost continuous work as I could glide only a little. And, unlike an eagle, I was never alone but always surrounded by an unkindness of others; a cacophonous chorus of anger and rage and frustration. A noise and a roar that almost drove me out of my mind, but instead may have saved me.
I fled from the noise, flapping and struggling through the air, a blackness of indecision. Fleeing I flapped my way into a great forest and finally landed, exhausted, on a branch above a roadway. I panted with exhaustion and then gradually forced myself to relax as a preened myself and sorted my feathers into a semblance of order.
Inside me I could feel the minds pressing at me - the eagle disdainfull, the mouse fearfully, the wolverine angrily, the quiet confidence of a trout, but in the forefront was still my human mind. Looking at the skewed world through two tiny eyes, and seeing and recognizing the roadway below me for what it was. A highway, a laneway to civilization in these former colonies. I could sense the urge, the need for new life, for new genetics. In the distance I could hear the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker and a burning need to be one flowed through me but I forced it down.
I was human and I would stay human in mind if nothing else.
Why did I have this need? Why this burning desire? I was a man and I just wanted to go home!
I didn't know where I was, or when it was, or what season. And up to now I hadn't cared. But now, the panic subsided and my other minds bowed themselves to my will, and together we forced the burning need to change, but be something new down.
What little control I had gathered was almost lost when a rattling, coughing, stinking roar made its way down the roadway in a cloud of dust and gravel. But then, when I finally recognized the sound as that of a truck that gave me what I needed to stay in control and then watch as a huge truck carrying cut logs rattled and roared and banged down the road. Almost before I new what I was doing I let myself drop from the branch and swooped down and let myself be sucked into the rear of the load, flapping and struggling to keep from impact, and finally managing to land and scratch and clasp the end of a log that stuck a little out from the load.
By God I was a man, a citizen of the Empire, and I was going home. I may be in the former colonies, but I was still a British subject, and I would remain one until I died!
The trip was dusty, noisy, and hideously uncomfortable, although I was able to pry some juicy grubs and termites from the log to keep me occupied on the trip. I wasn't able to sleep, which was probably a good thing as I could feel the burning need to experience new forms, new genetic diversity, at the bottom of my consciousness. It was like a bit of meat stuck between teeth, or the dull and ceaseless ache of a twisted muscle. Always there, quiet, subtle, almost but not quite forgotten. Only by turning my mind to another problem, communication, was I able to keep my various instincts and fears at bay, and to keep the burning need at bay.
I had always known that ravens could make human-like sounds and so I practiced speech. It was odd, and different from what I remembered from when I was just a human. Instead of coming from my throat my sounds came from deeper, and instead of being modulated by my tongue and cheeks, I found that I had to use my beak to clack and cut off the syllables and consonants. It certainly wasn't human speech, but I hoped it was understandable, at least with effort. By the end of the trip, although I couldn't hear myself over the roar and rattle of the truck, I thought that I could at least chant an understandable God Save the Queen.
Finally with a hiss, a screech, the stench of diesel fumes, and the clatter and rattle of oiled gravel, the truck came to a stop. The bouncing was so bad that I lost my grip and fell off the rear of the truck, which was a good thing as the load resettled and my perch was crushed by another multi-tonne log. Flapping and screeching I kept my body from hitting the travel surface and pulled myself onto the top of the load.
The truck had arrived in an unloading yard of some kind and after a few moments started up again and made its way towards a massive machine that would unchain and dump the logs. Discretion being the better part of valour, I opened my wings and took to the air and flew up above the camp and started looking around. The trucks had gotten me as far as they were going to take me, and I instead needed a more conventional form of transport to take me further down the mountain. There were probably buses to take the workers down, but who knew when they would travel. What I needed was an inspector who would come and not stay long, and with whom I could hitch a ride, but flapping around I couldn't find any such.
Finally I decided that I would have to do it the hard way and pulled myself higher into the air and began following the road downwards. Although I couldn't be killed, I didn't want to risk the loss of what control I had gained and so stayed near the trees, swooping around their outstretched branches and dodging the vehicles that I did pass on the road. Eventually what I had feared most came to past and the sun set in the west, deep and red and purple but not behind the mountains which meant that I was on the western slope.
I knew that I couldn't fly all night and needed to rest so I made my way deep into the brush of one of the trees and settled down for the night. I didn't want to sleep as I was afraid of what might happen upon wakening - would the burning need take over and control me as it had for God knew how long? I couldn't take the chance and yet I had too - fatigue would let it win just as easily as sleep could. All I could do was to put my soul in God's hand. Eventually, with a lot of shuffling and hopping and stretching and preening of feathers I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
Somebody must indeed have been watching me as when I awoke with the dawn I was still in control and the urge to change was a dull ache deep within my brain. Once again I took to the air and made my way along the road, stopping here and there to grab some insects for that was all I could dare eat, although the odd road kill looked amazingly appetizing. After two, maybe three days, the rough dirt road ended and joined a paved four-lane highway. From there my trip was easy as I simply waited for a pickup to drive by and with a swoop, a dive, and a struggle, I made my way through the disturbed air of its passage and was sucked into the empty metal back.
Unfortunately the back of the truck was empty, and all I could do was hop and flap into a corner behind the cab and struggle to stay there as each bump and start and stop sent me into the air and flying across the empty space and banging back onto the metal floor. Thank God the road was recently paved and the bumps were few as were the stops until we finally entered civilization - Vancouver.
Vancouver. Thank God it was Vancouver. I hadn't been there is years but I remembered it well. And, more importantly, I had a friend teaching at the university. I hadn't seen him often but we had corresponded and chatted regularly by e-mail and I knew where his offices were from the last time I'd visited about four years ago. Like myself he was a biologist, but unlike me he was one of these upstart Canadians who specialized in the western rainforest ecology and in preservation. He'd always been a little militant for my taste with his protests against logging, but I trusted him.
And I needed somebody to trust as the little ache at the base of my brain, the need to grow and change, was becoming stronger. It was still weak, but like an unscratched itch it was growing. I had to find Dr. Severin Choi soon before I lost my mind again and turned into who knew what. Of course, I did have lots of choice - there were domestic animals such as dogs and cats, and birds, along with horses from the RCMP and more esoteric specimens from the zoo. And, of course the omnipresent seagulls. They would make my trip easier...
No! I couldn't change and refused to change!
Instead I landed on the edge of a waste container behind a restaurant and gorged myself on vegetables that had been thrown out, making sure to avoid the tantalizing decaying meat whose wondrous odour filled my mind.
I was able to make some more distance until the sun set and I finally settled into a tree with a group of other ravens. With some caws, and clacking of beats, and flapping of wings, we finally all settled down for what was not a dreamless night.
My dreams were not clear, but they were vivid. I dreamed of stretching and rolling on the grass as my owner petted and rubbed my chest causing spasms of the purest pleasure the radiate throughout my body as an electric shock; I dreamed of slicing through the cold clear waters beyond Vancouver singing with my podmates as I hunted seal fearing nothing; I dreamed of slinking along the edge of a gully with my fur stiff and dry, and the hot salty taste of a small yappy dog still fresh in my mouth...
And after each dream and jerked awake and stretched my wings, the need to be the cat or whale or coyote burning through me like a stiff drink. A burning almost overwhelming need to change and experience that I was only able to force down with an effort. Each time I stretched and flapped my wings and it was only the annoyed cawing of my roost mates that brought me back into control. I don't know where the dreams came from, I don't think they were actual experiences. Instead I expect that they were synthesized out of my biological knowledge, and my other forms, tailored to entrance me.
By the time morning came it took what seemed like half an hour for me to preen and organize my feathers until they seemed right. My roost mates were long gone by the time I was able to take to the air, still myself. Still human.
It was late in the afternoon by the time I finally reached the campus and the campus was darkening by the time I found Severin's offices.
Of course he'd left for the evening, and of course the window was locked.
Sighing and clicking my beak I knew that all I could do was wait until the next day. With a last clench of my claws on the wooden sill and hopped off and fell into the air and made my way to one of the oak trees on campus.
That was one of the nice things about the University of Vancouver - at least it looked pretty.
Then it was another raid in the bin behind the student cafeteria and then another restless night, much worse than the last. Before my dreams had been haphazard, scattered, a wild shooting of all kinds of forms, but this time they were specific, aimed, almost as though planned. I'd entered the facility of the University of Florida because of my specialization in the wildlife of the everglades, particularly the birds. First I was a wood stork, stepping through the shallows and then thrusting my beak into the shallow water and thrusting it around blindly until I felt a fish and then with a reaction almost before knowing jerking and grasping and swallowing my prey - I'd always been amazed at the .03s reaction time the wood storks exhibited; then I was a Flamingo, surrounded by the soft rustling of my flock mates as I strode through deeper waters, feeling the cold mud on the webbing of my feet and seeing pink and white all around me. And then it was bird after bird after bird. Storks, owls, eagles, little birds, big birds, all vivid and real from my vast library of knowledge around them. And with each dream there was a burning, a need, the offer of learning all the mysteries that had first entranced me. Of learning of flight, and differences in each bird's flight methodology. Of learning of their secret mating and loves and calls. How they signaled danger, how they stayed together, how they survived...
When I finally awoke I found myself already in the air headed for the bay seeking a whale that I could use to take me south.
No! Not now - By God I won't give myself up! With a wrench, a force of will, a burning loss and horror both at myself, and what I was throwing away. I had fallen almost to the ground when I was finally able to get enough control to stretch my wings and grasp the air currents and make my way back to the university.
And, thank God, now only was Severin there, he had left his window open.
I alighted on the sill and looked through the screen into its office and the stuffed seabirds that he kept on display. He was there, working on his computer as he always seemed to be, disheveled with his long hair and thick sideburns. For a moment I thought about trying to make my way through the screen but then decided on a more direct approach: "Theverin<click>". I hoped my speech was understandable, but I couldn't avoid ending it with a click of my beak.
Instantly he spun around and stared at the closed door of his office. "Who's there?"
He stood up and stalked over to the window and then stared at me. For a moment his eyes widened and then he spoke in a softer voice, "Nice joke guys. Where'd you find the stuffed raven."
"If you're going to play a joke at least speak understandably"
"No joth Theverin<click>." I concentrated on my name. "I<click>'s Davith<click>"
"Enough. I like a joke as much as the next man but..."
Slowly and clearly I enunciated my name: "David Taylor."
"That's a sick joke!" Leaping forward he thrust the screen out and off the sill and I hopped backward flapping frantically as it tumbled and spun to the ground.
I landed and watched as he took a step backward.
"It's a real bird..." he whispered.
"I ath Davith Thaylor<click>. Rememberth Jethie<click>" The last time we'd been together Severin had taken me to a nightclub and arranged for a female of certain darker persuasions to perform for me. Her name had been Jessie.
"How'd you find out about that!?" He took a few steps backward and banged into his desk.
Stretching my wings I hopped and flapped into his office and landed on the head of a stuffed owl that I'd always disliked. With my claws it wasn't hard to damage its head.
The damage drove Severin to action. "Get away from that you!" and he grabbed a journal and threw it at me.
I hopped into the air and flapped and landed on the back of the chair he kept for guests. "You knowth<click> that I netheth li<click>ed thath."
That was too much and I watched as Severin slowly and carefully stepped backward and lowered himself into his chair. Then he turned and stared at me. "How can you be so cruel - my friend dead and now you students, you ragamuffins, taunt me!"
By God he wasn't listening, and I couldn't really blame him. If this hadn't happened to me, I would have found it impossible to believe also. Thus he needed a demonstration, and I needed something that wouldn't cost me my speech such as it was. So what - ah I had it. On one of our vacations to Hawaii I'd picked up this garish and tacky headdress for him that included minah feathers. He'd always kept it on the wall beside the door as a way to scare off students and yes, it was still there. "Wa<click>th." Then I hoped and took to the air and flew up to the headdress and, flapping wildly and slowly falling, grabbed one of the feathers in my beak and with a movement of my neck tore it off. Then I spun around and pushed off with my legs and glided across the room onto an empty space on a shelf by the window. Already I could feel myself beginning to absorb the genetic information from the feather and had choosen minah bird by the time I landed. Then my face melted into the amber goo before I could say a word.
For once when I awoke it wasn't day, but the room was lit with the overhead fluorescents and I guess that Severin was there, but I didn't even look until after I had broken free, eaten most of the cocoon, and preened and straightened my feathers. As expected, I had no instincts or knowledge of a minah bird, but my experiences as raven and eagle were enough to make me competent with my new body. Finally I had enough control to turn and look at my old friend.
"It's me, David." At least it was much easier to speak. And, as a bonus, the burning urge to find a new shape had subsided.
"What the hell are you?"
"I'm David Taylor, or at least most of him."
"And why should I believe you?"
"Severin, I really don't know, but I'm telling you the truth. Dear God I wish I knew what I've become, but all I have is theories."
His voice was still cold. "I'm listening."
"You saw me change, correct?"
"You know that I was skiing, right? And that there was an avalanche and that I was lost?"
"That happened, and I was buried, but somehow I changed. I don't know how. The first thing I remember is digging my way out of the snow as an arctic fox. After that I made my way off the mountain, and gradually to you here whilst changing from form to form."
"You sound like him."
"Because I am me, or at least my essence. I have my memories, or at least most of them, my knowledge, my personality. But, true, I'm not human."
"How do you become something?"
"Whenever I touch something I change and melt and then kill and consume it."
We need him.
"Severin, did you say something?"
"How do you know you're safe?"
"How do I..."
Take him, now!
Suddenly a burning need, an urge, an overwhelming command, swept through me. There was a mind, an entity, alien, old, cold, hungry, and that was when I knew that I was truly dead and lived on only as a copy. Somehow I managed to stay still, although my wings opened to take flight.
"Are you all right?"
Whatever I had become spoke with my voice: "You can be immortal. Live forever."
Like the minds and essences of those that I had absorbed and become, I was now a prisoner, trapped within a body that was no longer mine. Trapped and beating at my prison as the body that had been used to bait me spoke with my voice and my name.
"I'm all right. But think of it! In this form I'm indestructible, invulnerable, immortal. My mind is stored in individual cells throughout my body. A loss only costs some memories, but the essence is maintained."
"What are you talking about?" I could tell from his tone that David was interested. He'd always been bitter about the human fate of dying and whatever had been using me was using my memories to lure my friend.
"Wouldn't you like to see the future? To live and experience it? To go to the stars and new worlds and see life in all its glory and diversity?"
Hearing that gave me new strength to rail and beat against my prison, but it was hopeless. Where once the body had been mine now I was just a series of chemical bonds that contained a copy of what had been a human being. I had been ridden and used by an alien intellect, and invade, a virus.
I listened to my screeching voice continue, "I'm not dead. My mind, my memories, my personality, everything that made me what I was is here. For all intents and purposes I am David."
"When did we meet?"
"Oh I remember. We were undergraduates and I had come to Vancouver to interview for a tenure position. You were studying in the library when I came by looking for some information on Vancouver and heard you cursing about avian respiratory controls. I tapped your shoulder and pointed out the portion of the brain stem that was believed to control it in the book you had open."
"That's just a memory - that doesn't mean anything."
The thing controlling me wasn't so easily defeated though. "Ah, but you were so embarrassed at being shown up by an Englishman that you slammed your book shut and then I just laughed. I remember your expression of hatred and disgust, and then confusion as I offered to treat you to a pint." My body laughed. "I remember your first taste of Guiness."
"You speak like him."
"Of course, because I am David, or all of David that matters. My personality hasn't changed, the essence of what I am. Do you know what it's like to fly?" The creature I'd become let my passion fill his squawking voice. "To feel the currents of air beneath your feathers, to know that only your skill and knowledge stand between you and death. I, we, can live as the creatures we study. Go amongst them using the ultimate blind. We can mate with them, feel how it feels. Migrate with them - I know that they do guide themselves by earth's magnetic field. Together we can find out the answers to all the questions we've ever asked!"
Dear God, I could see from Severin's face that he was falling for it. But then why wouldn't he? Whatever had possessed me had all of my memories, my experiences, my personality, to draw on. It was the perfect actor, indistinguishable from the original. If it changed then it might be indistinguishable down to a genetic level.
"How do I know it's safe?"
No! I won't let you take him. I won't! I won't!! For an instance I had control but all that came out was "Don't!"
"David, all you all right?"
Whatever I had become was not amused and a burning pain, like the pain of a thousand headaches, poured through my mind and wouldn't stop.
"I was just telling you to don't worry. Nothing else."
Please be suspicious.
"You always did have problems forgetting words."
I did? Wait - I didn't - and he knew I didn't. Dear God, can it read my thoughts?
"You don't trust me, do you?"
It can. Well then two can play at this game. Trying to ignore the pain raging through whatever my mind now was, I formed a thought, two words. Emphatic, desperate, trying to think of them as a mistake, as a secret, a gambit, a code. And if that failed, which was likely, I would have to make another try for control.
"You claim to be my best friend and now you're here as a bird. You've admitted that your mind is a copy, not the actual brain but just recorded information. With that anything you say is suspect as a copy of my friends mind could be used as a perfect disguise."
Thank God - he's figured it out! And then all I could do was scream as the rage of whatever I had become filled me. But it wouldn't be enough to stop me. I knew Severin was hesitating, unsure, just one more thing. I was human, a citizen of the Empire. I would not be used. "Kill me." And then its rage filled me and all I could do was mindlessly scream.
"You can live forever!"
"And I can die." Saying so, Severin ripped open a drawer of his desk and pulled out a butane torch and lighter. A twist, a hiss, and then a spark and it was lit.
It my mind, through the blinding pain, I shouted my triumph at whatever I had become.
The pain lessoned as Severin approached and I felt myself try to take to the air, but space was too limited and before my body could escape, the heat of the flame was in my feathers which burst into flame. Oddly I didn't feel any pain, just an intense heat, and a silent scream as cells burst and popped. My wings began to droop and I croaked my rage and anger as I hopped and flapped around the shelf and then fell to the floor splashing, spraying bubbling goo all around. I could dimly see Severin leaning over with the torch lit...
"I found something you might be interested in."
Severin leaned back in his chair and looked at one of the graduate students under him. "Is it about...?"
Chris nodded, turned, closed the door, turned back, pulled out a wooden chair with a scrape and sat down.
Ignoring the newly painted shelves, Dr Choi continued, "What did you find on the internet then?"
"I searched for transformation stories as you wished, to try and find people who would be interested in what we can offer."
Severin leaned forward, rubbing his hands together. The memories of his former friend that he'd gained had been, interesting, but the offer of the creature hds been enticing. Too dangerous to accept without testing, but too valuable to just burn. It was just a question of not burning all of the goo, and then letting the remainder take him. It had been a clever plan, an attempt to get the power without the burden. Unfortunately it had failed and now there were two sets of personalities trapped and screaming. "And there is a list of those who want to transform?"
"Yes sir. A mailing list. They call it TSA-talk..."