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User:Michael Bard/Switching Sides
|Tales from the Blind Pig story universe|
By the time I got home from inspecting the truck explosion, I was shivering and coughing continuously. Whatever damn thing I had it was enveloping me with a speed that rivaled that of some strains of the Martian Flu.
At least I knew it couldn’t be that.
The empty building was quiet as the elevator I rarely used lowered itself to the underground level summoned by the turning of my pass key and the entry of my pass code. The building was mine, all of it. Outside it was old, rundown, apparently falling to pieces. Inside most of it matched the outside except for my rooms on the 10th floor, the physical structure of the stairwells, and the elevator.
I valued my privacy, and the best way to keep the low-lives out was to make them think there was nothing worthwhile in the building.
The elevator thunked to a stop and the doors slid open and I staggered in, my body wracked by coughs. I could barely stand. Collapsing against the wall as the doors closed, my body shivering and ragged coughs tearing their way out of my throat, I pushed the button for my floor. After far too long, my nose dripping its discharges onto my sleeves and coat and then the floor, the doors slid open and I staggered across the hall to the door to my apartment. It took an act of will to remember and enter the pass code but finally the door opened into the outer hall where the monitors showed the empty building all around me. I coughed, bits of greenish residue spitting out of my mouth and dribbling down one monitor.
The hell with the bath, I’d be lucky to get to bed.
What was wrong with me? I’d always been healthy as a horse.
A night’s sleep. Yea, that’d do it. No that there was much else I could do.
Through blurred eyes I entered the codes to lock down the building and heavy doors hissed shut on their hydraulics. I valued my privacy and there was no way anybody was going to disturb me if I didn’t want them too. Staggering to the kitchen, I coughed up some more goo into the sink, and then filled a glass with cool water and gulped it down. I felt my feverish forehead and debated for an instant seeing a doctor.
Only an instant though. They were all quacks anyway! Or most of them were. Still…
I just needed rest. A good night’s sleep, even though it was still early afternoon, and I’d be fine. If not I’d maybe see somebody. I knew a couple of medical professionals who had a hint of competence.
Staggering towards my bedroom, I dragged off my clothes, dropping them behind me, as I coughed and shivered my way over to my bed. Somehow I managed to pull a couple of thick blankets out of the chest at its foot before I fell onto the mattress, shivering, curling up inside piles of blankets.
Sleep came mercifully quick.
There were dreams, or were they memories? Times when I slipped ashore in the Gulf and South America on missions for democracy. No, let’s be honest. Missions to further American Imperialism. Sneaking ashore to ensure that the oil supplies were controlled by dictators and tyrants friendly to the American government. A blind eye to the downtrodden people, and the tortured and executed ‘enemies of the state’, or at least enemies of the state we currently supported. And then swimming up on the same shore in the black night a few years later to depose the dictator who was now unpopular with the American voting public and putting a new one up in his place who’d be taken down a few years hence.
Oh, everybody knew how it worked. The government, the military chiefs, the agencies, and those who did the actual dirty work. Fuck, even those we propped up knew. We all knew the dirty truth. Nobody trusted anybody because everybody knew they’d be betrayed sooner or later. The American government had been doing the same crap since the end of the 2nd World War. Nobody trusted us anymore and who could blame them?
One night I was leading my team ashore at a beach in southern Africa. I remembered the mission -- it was five years after the collapse and the local government had gone down like so many others. Another black ops team had been dispatched and disabled by guerillas and we’d been sent to pull them out.
It was a moonless night, but then it always was. It didn’t take us long to get out of our drysuits, hide the deflated raft and other equipment, and begin making our way through the jungle. The only sound was the rustle of leaves in the wind, the hiss of our breathing, and the shush of our feet on the path. The scanner was plugged into my nightvision goggles and I could see a pulse light indicating the way we had to go. By the clock it took us 27 minutes to reach the signal.
It seemed that the whole team was there -- or what was left of them.
From the patterns of breathing I could hear that the others were just as agitated as I was
“Check the bodies, grab the tags. Fudge, Davidson, watch our perimeter.”
Everybody had a task but me, and normally that left me time to consider the big picture and consider tactics. That night it just left me time to consider the bodies.
It was obvious what had killed them, just as it was obvious that they had gone down without firing a shot. It had been an animal, but not a usual one. They had no toothmarks, no clawmarks. Instead it looked like an ungulate had kicked and trampled them to death.
“Captain, we got all the tags that’re here. Chapman’s is missing.”
“Formation Beta 3, Davidson, you’ve got point.”
It was obvious from the trampled and torn vegetation where the animal had gone. And presumably where Chapman had been taken. Although it was odd that an ungulate had dragged Chapman off. And even more odd that there was no signs of a body being dragged.
We kept moving silently and quickly. Our window was short and I started getting nervous that the animal had gone too far. I needn’t have. The trail became more broken, the animal had started staggering. Bits of cloth had been torn off by the underbrush. And not rags or civilian clothing. The same material we were wearing.
Davidson’s voice hissed in my ear: “Captain -- I think there’s a clearing up ahead. And I think there’s something there.”
“Spread out and surround. Davidson, keep an eye out. When I reach you and everybody’s in position go in.”
The modern military. Grunts are expendable, brains aren’t.
It took only seconds for my team to be ready and I watched as Davidson crept into a larger area of beaten down brush. Through the nightvision goggles everything was clear and sterile and I watched as Davidson pushed aside a branch giving me a clear view of the shape on the ground.
Somehow I knew it was Chapman, just as it seemed I’d always known The Flu had gotten him. The shape that was there looked like a weird melding of human and antelope dressed in the torn remnants of combat dress. I could see its nostrils quivering as it looked up at Davidson’s form. Tags glinted around its neck and I could see its nightvision goggles tossed onto the ground. Splashes of blood stained its legs and clothing and it was looking at me.
I raised my rifle, the thump of my heart loud in my ears.
Oh, we’d been trained regarding the Martian Flu. We knew what it had done, what it could do. What the common signs that usually, but not always, appeared were. I could see in my mind his cold attack on his companions, kicking and biting as they tried to help him. Oh it was cold. I knew it was. It was them or us. My father had told me that, General Gray had. It was obvious.
It looked at me through its big dark eyes, spittle dribbling from its mouth as it panted for breath.
This was the enemy. It was us or them.
When the mission had actually happened, I’d raised my rifle and sent one silenced slug though its brain. And in the actual mission it’d been a cougar. Then we’d blown up the evidence and left. I’d been promoted, dragged deep into the black ops world, cleaning up the messes that the US government and SCABS left behind. I’d fought for humanity.
But my fevered dreams didn’t work that way. In the dream it was an antelope. And, as I looked it in the eyes, the dream stretched away from the reality, spinning and stretching like a drunken snake.
In the dream I hesitated, and then I began to scream as the others watched.
I could feel my body changing, warping. Bones stretching and tearing through my flesh in explosions of glowing green in my nightvision. The goggles were torn away from my face and the woods around me turned black. I collapsed to the ground as my clothes tore around me. Something hissed in my ear before my headphones were ripped off tearing my flesh. Gulping desperately for air I sensed humans around, all around. Hints of saltwater and gunpowder and plastic. I pushed myself backwards, the earth digging into my blood-soaked fur. My hands seemed encased in gloves and my feet in tight boots glued to my ankles. I could scent fear all around me.
“Nothing personal Captain. Orders.” It was Davidson’s voice.
There was a click and a slug tore into my brain sending pulses of hot stabbing pain tearing through my body. I screamed…
I awoke with a scream wailing it’s way out of my throat.
My room was dark and it stunk of feces and urine and vomit and blood. I could feel a dried crust all over my body surrounded by the torn remnants of the blankets I’d wrapped around myself.
I started panting for breath, confused, sore…
I tried to say ‘Lights’ but all that came out was a mournful dog-like bark.
What the fuck?!?! I felt my ears flick--
My panting grew more intense and my lips started to quiver.
Calm. I had to be calm. Panic was the enemy. My life was ordered. Everything in its place.
I felt a tail try and tug itself into a more comfortable position where it was crammed underneath me.
I started feeling faint from the hyperventilation and forced myself to breathe slower. I needed light. Maybe my voice was too hoarse… my throat did feel dry…
With my right hand I felt around for the manual keypad. My hand felt stiff, like my fingers were taped together in pairs and my thumbs...thumbs?!. My breathing quickened.
It took three or four tries, but I finally entered the manual code for the lights which dutifully flickered and turned on…
Somehow I managed to keep another scream down.
My bed was a ruined mess, the blankets torn and shredded and soaked in vomit and sweat and dried blood and scraps of flesh and bone. What I could see of my body wasn’t any better, and it wasn’t my body. Not in the least. I was furred! FURRED! In front of my eyes I could see a tapering dark muzzle and I could feel my ears moving about and a weight on my head. I itched everywhere. My fur was scraggly, torn, dirty, encrusted with dried vomit and blood.
The stench made me throw up again but all that came out was a few dribbles of bile that soaked into the fur around my mouth.
I must have had The Flu! I must--!
Stop that! Shut up and calm down. I was now a SCAB. Period. That meant that I hadn’t had the flu until now. Yes I’m a SCAB. That’s life. COPE!
First things first. Categorize. Do the simple things first. Then plan. Always have a PLAN.
I had always had a plan… but I’d never planned for this.
I concentrated and managed to force my breathing slower. I could feel my nostrils quivering, the bitter stench of the death all around me consuming my mind. I had to run, get away--
I slammed my hand against the side of my face… muzzle.
Lights flashed in my eyes momentarily. Fuck but that hurt! How…
I stopped, staring at what had to be my hand, but wasn’t. My arm was slimmer now, longer. My hand was longer, thinner, more like the lower portion of a leg than a hand. But, thank GOD! I still had some kind of hand. I had two dark fingers, stiff, knuckleless and not one but two short stubby opposed thumbs. If I pinched my fingers together I’d have sworn it was a hoof.
Closing my eyes I focused on my breathing, slowing it down.
I couldn’t stay here. The stench was making me sick to my stomach. And if my associates found me like this, they’d just shoot me and drop the body in the Marianas Trench. I knew too much.
And I had to decide.
Calmer, I swallowed bile down my dry throat, slowly opened my eyes. I realized I could see a lot more now. A lot lot more. And, maybe, the colours seemed off…
I couldn’t worry about that.
I looked down, actually seeing for the first time a dark-furred muzzle in the centre of my vision.
Calm calm calmcalmcalmcalm… CALM!
I got my breathing under control and, before I could think about it, clasped the ruined blanket in my hands -- I couldn’t feel its texture, just that there was something there, and ripped it off me. It was heavy, wet, rotten, and it tore easily from around me, tearing at my skin, leaving torn scraps behind.
And I saw my body…
A voice screamed in my head: Danger? Where? Herd member killed? Flee! Fleefleefleeflee!
I panted, looking for threats, my nostrils flaring, my ears bouncing all over the place. I was ready to run, to flee to safety from the death around me…
No! I'm a man! A man god damnitall!!
I would not let the animal take over. This was my apartment. The security systems were armed. It was safe!
Think. Analyze. It’s a combat situation. Panic is the enemy.
Slowly, I looked down, forcing my breathing to calm, shoving the terror aside because I couldn’t afford it. Shoving the screaming in my head into a back corner of my mind. Not right now.
The first thing I saw was the fur, but instead of seeing it first I smelled it first. All I could scent was dried blood and the putrid stench of rotting vomit. I focused on my eyes and made out that my fur wasn’t fine or silky as you see in some of the commercials, it was course, rough, tangled, dirty. The fur along my chest was a dirty gray, from my breasts down into my crotch, and just a bit along the inside of my thighs…
Frantically I felt around my crotch and found nothing. Nothing but a slit.
I screamed, but it wasn’t a human scream, it was a screeching howl of terror and fear. I had to run!
Flee! Fleefleefleeflee... !
Where could I run? Running around the room was useless!!! Absolutely useless. It would not get me away from this.
To fight SCABS I’d studied SCABS. No way was I an expert, but there were some things I knew, and some things I'd heard. There was no cure. There was no way to change once you were in a form. Unless--
I quashed the hope instantly -- I couldn't afford it. Sure, I could be a polymorph, or a chronomorph, or whatever other weirdness was floating around. But if I wasn't that last shattered hope could destroy me. Utterly.
I couldn't risk it. I had to assume that what I saw was what I got.
With my breathing calmer I opened my eyes and resumed figuring out what I was. All kinds of information was floating through my nostrils but it was too much for me to comprehend. I concentrated on vision.
My... breasts were not too large, but not too small. They were obviously a woman's breasts, but not massive. They were covered with fur like the rest of my chest, but that fur was a bit finer, a bit whiter. I raised my face... muzzle and looked down at my legs. They too were darkly furred fading to black by the tip. My feet were gone, instead my lower leg tapered into another portion of leg, as thick as my thighs, that ended in a slightly finer cloven hoof.
I could see my arms, and they were furred too, the same as my legs, and blending to black at the hands. At my hands.
I flicked my ears in consternation, but didn't instantly begin to panic.
I needed to shower. That was it. Shower first. Think second.
I bent my legs, feeling the soaked and dirty bedclothes tearing at the fur as it tore apart. I'd probably have to throw the whole bed out! Wonderful, just fucking wonderful! I could feel the tearing along the leg, and along what used to be my foot, but the hoof felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Calm calm calm...
I giggled, the sound coming out kind of like the sharp yipping of a dog.
I couldn't believe I'd giggled! I never giggled! I--
No! Don't think about it!
I pushed myself around, the fur on my back tearing at the rotten sheets beneath me.
How the fuck long had I been in bed? How long had the disease taken?
I checked the clock -- it showed 15:48pm, but didn't give the date.
There was no fucking way this happened in one day. No fucking way!
Stop! Calm! Worry about it later.
Clean. I'd get clean first and then worry about it.
I turned myself the rest of the way around and pushed myself up until I was seated. A stabbing pain yanked at my ass and I yipped before I realized that I could feel the pain both in my ass, and in my... tail that I was sitting on.
Stand up and it'd all go away. That's it.
I put my feet... hooves down and couldn't feel the floor. I could sense it, know I was standing on something from the pressure, but I couldn't feel it. Great, just fucking fucking great!
Before I could panic more, I pushed myself up onto my fe... hooves. I stood high, higher than before, standing on the distant unfeeling tips of my toes.
And then I fell forward.
The floor rushed towards me, the walls flashed away beside me.
I threw my arms down and they clacked onto the polished wood floor and my arms bent at the elbow and then pushed myself up until I was standing comfortably...
...on all fours.
That was it!! That was the last fucking god forsaken shitting straw!
I may not be human anymore, or not even a man anymore, but I was not a fucking animal!
I bent my elbows and leaned downward.
I pushed away and leaned back. My arms flailed like windmills, and I fell backwards onto the bed, pinching my tail, tearing the sheets, sending a waft of the stinging stench of blood and decay up around me.
My vision blurred, tunneled to a point straight in front of me and I pushed myself forward.
I stood, wobbled for a second, and then fell forward. I caught myself and pushed away, leaning back. I stood up...
... and wobbled, tail whipping back and forth, ears flipping all over the place, nostrils flaring. The room spun, I wobbled. My feet, ankles, hocks, what the fuck ever my feet had become were called, screamed in pain and protest but I ignored it...
I panted for breath, the room spun slightly in my vision, I wobbled back and forth and left and right.
But I stood!
I was not an animal and I would not walk like one! Ever!!
Walking was no easier than standing and I walked across the room on my feet. By the time I reached the door I was bruised all over from falling, but I didn't care. All that mattered was that I had walked.
Now I was angry. No longer afraid. Fucking pissed!! I would not let the flu win.
Leaning against the wall every so often, I made my way through the dark hallway to the washroom. A command for the lights came out as a yipping bark. Giving up on voice commands, I just banged the light switch until the lights flickered on. I didn't look at the mirror, that'd wait. Instead I just activated the shower to its default setting, gave the water a moment to heat up, shoved the curtains angrily aside, and stepped in.
The water beat on me, but only for a second as the tub had no rubber bottom, nothing to stop friction. Suddenly I was falling and something banged against the back of the tub, and tore at the front of my skull. Lights flashed--
-- I woke up, my head sore, my head pounding. But not at the back where one'd expect, but on my forehead above my eyes. I could scent the coolness of the water, the dirty fear of myself, a hint of the hot bitterness of blood, but not much else. The shower was still going, the water banging against the tub sounding harsh in my ears. I could feel that the water was cooler on my skin -- my building had an apartment building sized water heater which only I ever used -- but still comfortable. I could see stains of crimson dribbling down the tub towards the drain.
What the fuck had happened?
I snorted. I'd fallen. My hooves had slipped on the slick bottom of the tub and I'd hit my head.
So why was the pain in the front.
I felt upward and brushed past my ear pushing it painfully out of the way, and along the side of my head, a flash of pain at the sore bit and then up along something the swept over and then down the back of my head.
I had horns.
I couldn't feel them directly, but I could feel them tugging at my skull, and I could feel that my head wasn't laying against the back of the tub, but against something that was.
It didn't even phase me.
Fine. Great. Wonderful. Something good had come with this fucking nightmare.
I wiggled around, getting onto my lower leg and knees, screeching my hooves against the side and banging them against the back of the tub, and finally leaned forward and sealed the drain.
If that was the way it had to be, then that was the way it had to be.
The water felt nice pouring from the showerhead onto my furred back, digging into the stiff muscles, and sliding down and dripping off my sides. Slowly the tub filled up and I grabbed some soap, dropping it and chasing it and getting more and more angry, finally holding it by digging my fingers deep into it so that it couldn't slide out.
I was too pissed to do anything else so I just rubbed the soap all along my body, along my back, along my chest, around my boobs, down my legs, in my crotch -- I refused to go any further there. Dropping the bar into the deepening bloody water, I grabbed a brush and scrubbed.
I finally stopped only when my entire body was screaming in pain. The water was dark red with blood and dirt and clumps of torn and bleeding hair and scraps of flesh. The shower was a drumming pain on my back, each impact tearing at the torn and bleeding flesh.
In horror I dropped the brush.
I was mad. Stark raving fucking insane!
Without even thinking about it I'd tried to scrub off my body. All of it.
Fortunately it seems I'd concentrated on my back...
A flood of soft yips and moans tore their way from my throat, echoing through the bathroom, the sounds bouncing off the surfaces into weird echoes which my ears whipped all over and around trying to cup.
I began sobbing, uncontrollably. Hot tears ripped themselves from my eyes and I leaned forward, letting the water rain down upon my bleeding back.
God! Why? Why?!?!
I'd never believed, or had said I didn't, but now, now when I was desperate, when everything else had been torn from me, I cried his name.
But all that came out were animal barks.
The water was cold, and I could hear the water gurgling down the overflow drain and dribbling along the sides of the tub onto the bathroom floor. My nostrils were in the bloody dirty urine stained water and my mouth just above, hanging opened as I breathed. My eyes were red, sore, and my body was just a dull ache rather than a screaming agony.
I was calmer now. Cold. Smelled more or less clean.
I couldn't stay here.
I wasn't human. Would never be again.
I pulled myself out of the tub and onto the floor, water dripping. Grabbing a towel and dropping it, I ran my hooves over and around it again and again getting them dry. There are some things I just would never do and walking on all fours was high, if not top, on that list. Creatures that walked on all fours were animals. I was a thinking sentient individual.
That was when I finally believed. I knew. I was no longer human. I would never be again.
And that changed everything.
One night, or however long it was, and I was no longer fighting the SCABS. It was time to fight the humans.
But first, I had to get away. I had to die.
Still dripping, I slowly made my way down the dark hallway, wobbling and grasping the wall as I slowly found my balance. The computer was easy to get too, and getting it out of power-save was easy -- just move the mouse. I sat down, the chair felt awkward and too low, as did the table, but I wouldn't need it long. Touch typing was impossible, so much for that skill. Peck typing was almost too. I ended up grabbing a pencil and pressing the rubber on the keys I needed to press. At least I still had no trouble moving the mouse.
In my line of work you're always prepared to vanish. And that's all I had to do. All I really needed to do was disable the links that would tell my former employers how to reach me, or that anything had happened. I funneled my hidden moneys into different swiss accounts but left the money they had paid me in the open -- if it vanished they'd immediately be suspicious. Then I started the timer.
I didn't take anything. I ignored the emptiness in my stomach, or was that stomachs -- they'd have to wait. I tried drinking down some water but couldn't hold the glass. I ended up plugging and filling the kitchen sink and tried lapping from it, but that failed miserably. I ended up sucking it into my muzzle and then raising my head and swallowing it. I didn't need anything from my apartment -- I'd always kept my possessions small and there was nothing personal. I'd had to change lives before and keepsakes are identifiers.
The only question was where to go? It didn't take long to decide. I was obviously a new SCAB. I couldn't speak. All I had to do was appear naked in front of the St. Francis Shelter. Another SCAB abandoned and beaten.
I left the lights on, and the water dripping in the bathroom, grabbed an old winter coat I kept for when I needed to be unnoticed (you'd be surprised how many people never give beggars and homeless a second glance) and made my way to the elevator and down. This time down into the basement to grab a flashlight and crank up a camouflaged cover. The basement was musty, dirty, cold, camp, but the stench from the sewer almost drove me into unconsciousness with its warm thick gooey odour.
Danger! Flee! Grasslands? Where! Fleefleeflee!
I ignored the voice clamoring in my head.
I looked down at the ladder into the sewer...
I had hooves. They were on the large side. I had to do this. I had to do because the exit from the sewers had the same thing. My original plan had been to wear boots, and then abandon them, but with my hooves that was impossible. Instead I injected myself with a wide spectrum antibiotic from the military certified safe for most known forms. With the open scars on my legs I had no choice but to use it. The needle smelled sterile, and it went in easily though my skin flinched and I wanted to run. The antibiotic hissed in and I tossed the needle aside. I had a gas mask too, but that was hopeless given my muzzle.
Slinging the flashlight strap over my shoulder, the coat hanging loose on my thin frame and tugging at my fur painfully, I started my way down. It was hard, almost as hard as walking. Half a dozen times I slipped and only the elbow I had wrapped around an upper rung kept me from falling. At the bottom I splashed into the cold sewer water and shivered, and then turned on the flashlight and splashed my way over to the thin walkway. Pushing a button caused the concealed door to seal above me, and stopped an automatic pause in the countdown timer.
Then I made my way. There were no marks, no signs, no clues. But I'd memorized the routes. After maybe an hour I felt a wave of cold air behind me and knew that the explosives had gone off.
Where I'd lived was now burning wreckage.
As was my life.
Given the length of the timer, and the time I'd seen on the computer, it was now 0:01am Jan 1st.
A strangely appropriate time to end an old life and start a new one.
Happy new year.
I snorted, and kept walking, following the known path to the exit, and mentally working out the shortest path to walk to the St Francis Shelter...