Author Topic: Soulgate: Identity Crisis  (Read 4012 times)

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Offline Feathertail

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Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« on: August 28, 2008, 11:20:25 pm »
Author's Note: Not very long ago, I admitted that I was a furry. It was something I'd wanted for years, but had been unwilling to admit it to myself. I was so embarrassed by how much I realized I wanted it that I said I felt like I was in a transformation story.

This is the story that feeling turned into. I've waited a long time to write it.

Some of you may have already read the first three chapters I posted. You will be pleased to know that this excerpt contains two more. Each chapter is a separate reply, but they're all in one thread, so you don't have to thread-hop to read them.

I've changed around a lot of what was already written. The opening up to the end of the chase scene is basically the same, as are the scenes at Amanda's house and most of the parts where Ian voice-chats. However, pretty much everything else is different. I edited the story so much because I decided that the original was not visceral enough, and did not deliver on the promise set up by the opening paragraphs. I also thought that the main character was not assertive enough. I have tried my best to amend these issues, as well as write extra material.

The Transformation Story has a name, now. And yes, it means something. You'll see.




Chapter One: Identity Theft

There are two kinds of obsessions: The kind where you want everyone to know about it, and the kind where you want no one to know.

The first kind is easy to spot. Let's say that your friend's interested in nanobiotics. So you're telling the story of how your pickup truck died and you got stranded out on the highway, and he's like "Hey! If you'd had a million spare nanites, a mechanical catalyst and a couple-three ounces of putty, that would've been no problem!"

And you're trying to shush him, but he just keeps going on. And you're wondering how anyone could have so much fun thinking about how to fix things with nanites, while all your other friends are wondering how long it's going to take for him to notice that they aren't interested.

The second kind is harder to spot. Because when you like something that much, you don't want to tell anyone about it. To even speak its name is an ordeal, because you hold it in such reverence that it's like you don't believe you're allowed.

It wouldn't matter to you if thousands, even millions of other people liked the same thing, and were perfectly okay with talking and laughing about it. You just couldn't do that. And you'd get all flustered and embarrassed if you tried. The last thing you'd want would be for your friends to realize why you were so embarrassed. Because they wouldn't get why you liked the thing so much, but they'd know they could tease you about it.

Well, okay. That's not the last thing you'd want.

If you longed for something that deeply, the last thing you'd want is to actually get it. Because you would be scared out of your mind.


* * *

As soon as I woke up that morning, I knew that I'd overslept.

The window above my bed looked out on the side of a gray building. Dull light poured in from an overcast sky, bright enough to see the cracks in the walls and the red flashing screen on my air purifier.

But not bright enough to have gotten me up on time. I sat up in bed, frantically looking around my apartment. It was narrow and cramped; a desk and a chair, a bed and a nightstand. A console right behind the desk had a sink, hot plate and countertop. The bathroom was down the hall, but what I was looking for was my notepad. I didn't own a separate clock, and I needed it to check the time but I forgot where I'd left it. Why hadn't I set an alarm?

It wasn't on my nightstand, but my glasses were. I stood up and put them on. A minute of searching and one light switch later I found my notepad up on my desk, with a monster cockroach on top of the screen. I took a wad of paper towels from the counter behind me, grabbed the thing and squashed it, then sprayed cleaner onto another wad and disinfected the top of my desk and the notepad.

Stupid bugs. I did not need this today.

I powered the screen on and checked the time. It was almost ten, which meant I had no time to eat breakfast. I'd have to hope they weren't busy there at the plant, or I'd have no time to eat anything until classes started at nine ... and not even then, if I got out late.

Why hadn't I set an alarm?

Tabs poked out of the side of the screen, showing the things I'd been doing last night. I looked down at the one on top. It was a story that I'd been reading online, a true-to-life account of ... of ...

I closed it and deleted the bookmark, embarrassed and mad at myself. No more delays, no more distractions.

* * *

One incredibly quick shower later, I was back in my room, to grab up my notepad and go.

I bent down to look in the mirror above the “kitchen” sink. Sandy blonde hair that hadn't been cut in a month flopped down over my eyes, and I pushed it back up. My nametag was crooked; I straightened it out, then peered up at my face, trying to see if anyone could tell how little sleep I'd gotten. Hazel eyes looked back at me, anxious and still much too youthful. I narrowed my eyes at them, and the face in the mirror responded in kind.

Too short for girls to take me seriously, too young for other adults to.

I went to the door and opened it, when it occurred to me that I hadn't done this morning's backup. I don't have time! I thought. I'm going to be late as it is!

But I hadn't gotten this far except by being diligent, and if I didn't back up my memories I might forget something important. I tapped open the neurocatalyst on my notepad, and it responded with a terminal display, a half-page of green text on a black background. A couple of keystrokes later, and I began to feel light-headed, as my internal nanites crowded my brain and pinched a few blood vessels off.

People, places, ideas and memories flashed through my consciousness, as I half-dreamed them all in rapid succession. I let them wash over me, and focused on not dropping my notepad. Then it chimed that the backup was finished-

* * *

The next thing I remember is the most vivid dream I have ever had.

The world was a black void. I couldn't see anything. But I could hear this buzz, this low hum like an insect's, and it kept getting louder and deeper. So deep that it shook me, like the cars that drove past outside my window with subwoofers turned up to max. And I turned every which way, trying to see what was coming at me. But I couldn't see anything, until two massive pincers grabbed me from behind. And it didn't hurt, but I could feel it anyway, I could feel them piercing my back, and I was scared and angry and frustrated. But I couldn't move, or even talk, and I screamed and yelled without making a sound.

The pincers held me in place, as a carpet of beetles swarmed up to me from out of nowhere. They were carrying things on top of them, but I couldn't see what. I panicked, and I struggled, and I could see they were carrying ... rubber boots and gloves? And they swarmed onto me, pulling the gloves and boots onto me tight, so tight that it felt like my feet were being pressed between rolling pins.

They crawled all over me, slowly, and they weren't biting or anything but I was flailing and trying to get them off. Then they reached my head, and all of a sudden the world started spinning. I could feel centrifugal force pulling me every which way, and I couldn't tell which way was up-

I woke up, gasping, laying on my stomach somewhere in a back alley. My arms were in between my head and the pavement, and at first I couldn't see anything. Then I looked up, and I could still barely see anything because it was dark, and the world was still spinning, and there was this fishbowl effect where I could not seem to focus on anything.

Then I realized two things. One, I could still hear that buzzing sound. Two, the “beetles” and “pincers” were still attached to me.

I freaked out. I jumped, scrambled to get up, feeling like I was walking on stilts on the deck of a ship in a thunderstorm. It took me three or four tries just to stand up, especially since all the while I was trying to shake all these things off, clawing at myself, trying to brush everything off.

Whatever was on my back was especially stubborn. The world kept shifting beneath me, so I waited until it tilted towards the wall and then I lurched towards it, slamming my back into it. The thing splayed out across the wall, feeling like an open rib cage behind me as its bones pressed into my back.

It hurt! I cried out in pain, and it was loud and piercing, a shrill bird's cry with the volume turned up. That startled me even more, and I jumped away from the wall and frantically looked all around. There were huge shadows behind and to either side of me, and I clawed at them with my hands, swiping and tearing-

Tearing away feathers.

I stared at them in my hands, in the light of a 40-watt bulb over a nearby door. They were black feathers, and they were huge. And my hands were black, and bony, and ridged like a bird's feet, with dull claws at the end of each of three fingers.

I would have started to sweat, if I were still human. I would have been sweating all over, and I wouldn't have been able to tell if I were burning hot or freezing cold.

I could feel my whole body get uncomfortably warm, but I didn't start sweating. Instead, it made my throat tighten up, and I felt like I had to gasp for breath all of a sudden, and keep gasping until I was hyperventilating. And my forearms and lower legs felt like they were swelling with blood, like when you stop sleeping on them all of a sudden, and they didn't look any different but I could feel my heartbeat inside them. And it was going fast, so fast that I didn't know I could survive with my heart beating that fast, and hearing it scared me even more.

That buzzing noise was still there. I looked up, and saw a hovering camera probe, with tiny fan turbines on either side of it. It was about a foot and a half long, and it looked benign and curious. But after a second or so of looking at it, I put two and two together. And I began to shake, still breathing fast, and my hands tightened into fists, my dull claws pressing into my heartbeat.

It just floated there watching me, a little ways over my head and in the middle of the alley. And it looked strange in the fishbowl-lens vision I had, but I thought I could tell where it was nonetheless. I lunged at it, but I misjudged the distance, and it floated back a few feet.

I landed in a feral crouch, my bare feet splayed out across wet concrete, glaring up at the camera and thinking about how I was going to claw it in half. I thought of that cockroach, and of all the annoying bugs that I'd had to kill in my apartment, and I resolved that I would not let this one get away. I was still scared, but I let my adrenalin fuel me, and ran and jumped at the camera.

The world started to tilt again, and I stumbled and nearly fell. The camera, meanwhile, hovered away, about ten feet off the ground, and it was watching me while moving backwards faster than I could run.

There was a fence coming up at ground level. I jumped up and climbed it, climbing as fast as I could, watching through the chain links as the camera just hovered away. Then I got to the top, and my feet wrapped around the bar on the top of the fence as I perched there, and it felt weird because feet didn't do that. But they grabbed on tight, my front and back “toes” touching each other, and I didn't even need to move my arms and wings to keep balance.

The camera was flying away. It had turned around, and it was flying away. I was still scared, and frustrated, and I had all this nervous energy inside me and I couldn't let it get away!

I didn't know what to do next. But I felt it. And the thought scared me again, but I couldn't think about it, couldn't argue, could only decide whether or not to act. I leaped off of the fence, and my chest muscles tightened as my wings began to flap, and I didn't even notice where my arms and legs went. Because all I could think about was getting to that camera and knocking it out of the sky.

The night sky was black, and was still overcast. The lights from below reflected off of a rolling cloudbank. The buildings out here were tall, and I did not reach the top of any of them. Which was good, because I felt like I was just barely staying aloft, like I was riding a bicycle for the first time. And if I consciously thought about what I was doing, I knew that I would get tangled up and drop straight down to the ground.

Five seconds. I was still flying. I was not going fast, but it was a rush, and it awed and terrified me. I could see the camera up ahead, and it'd turned its lights off so that I could barely see it. I only had one chance.

We passed over a quiet street, with lights and a couple of cars and somebody walking a crosswalk, and closed-down storefronts on either side. And it shocked me, and I looked down, and all of a sudden realized what I was doing as my wings held out straight and glided. Then I looked up and saw the camera right in front of me, so I grabbed hold of it, and my wings stopped working because I could not think how to use them and my arms at the same time.

I fell, still holding on to the camera, having just cleared the street and gone into another alley. And the ground was coming up fast, but I had the camera, but I had to start flying again! I pumped my wings, and it brought me up short so fast it was like pulling the ripcord on a parachute, and I choked and dropped the camera. Then it was flying free, and I was gliding about fifteen feet off the ground, dim lights shining off of huge puddles beneath me. And I tried to look behind myself to see where the camera had gone, but I got all tangled up and fell and crashed in a heap, skinning my hands and knees and tumbling end over end to land on my back in front of a parked car.

Feathers drifted onto the puddles beside me.

Offline Feathertail

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2008, 11:21:23 pm »
Chapter Two: Technical Difficulties

I lay there flat on my back, my wings and arms splayed out to either side. Rain fell on my kinetic field, smearing drips of water a few inches from my eyes. I let the world blur, catching my breath, breathing through my beak, letting myself calm down. Making myself calm down. There was nothing in the world except my lungs and my heart, and they both had to go slower. No wings-

I have wings

No beak-

I flew with my own wings

No tailfeathers pressed into the pavement-

This isn't working

I tried to sit up, flailed in the air with my arms for a second, then fell back down on my wings and tried not to cry out, as my “shoulderbones” hit the concrete. My wings went all the way down my back and part of the way down my legs, and I couldn't just sit up or I'd end up breaking them.

I rolled onto my side and tried to stand. Pain shot through my right foot as it gave out on me, and this time I did cry out. The sound pierced my ear-equivalents, and scared me half to death. I didn't know what I was anymore! I felt like my own body was going to attack me.

Down on my knees, hand-claws inside a puddle, I heard a window scrape open overhead. I crawl-limped towards the car I'd landed next to, pressing myself down beneath it and trying hard not to bump my foot into anything. I couldn't see the window, couldn't see whomever was looking out. But I saw the light reflecting off of the raindrops and puddles. And I waited until it went away to let out my breath.

This is insane, I thought to myself. I'm acting like a scared animal ...

I froze. That thought scared me more than anything that I'd been through.

The part of me that had read those stories, that would be deeply affected by this, was in shock. I mean so much in shock that my heart was racing, and my hands and feet were still burning with “sweat,” and my insides felt like they'd turned into ice. I could feel something major coming on, and I didn't know if I was going to burst into tears or scream in terror or laugh like a crazy person. But there was something there in me, as though it were caught in my throat.

I let it stay there. I needed to think. What on Ardea had happened? Who could have done this to me? Turning someone into a-

I'm not I can't be don't think about that

-a ... something was a major investment. It took ... it took catalysts, and calculations, and it had to be tailored just right, and it had to be done in a clean room environment because you didn't know what could go wrong.

I knelt there clenching and unclenching my fists, bony fingers tipped with dull claws. I couldn't look down at them, but I could feel the claws pressing into my palms, which were raw and sore and still throbbing with heat. Obviously, I thought to myself, what I thought I knew about this was wrong.

So why couldn't I remember anything since that morning? Because I'd been Erased, I realized. Whatever had ... had done this had wiped out all of my memories, and had tried to install something else over them.

I needed to check the logs. I fumbled to get out my notepad-

It was heavier than I remembered it. And it wouldn't come out of my inside coat pocket, because it was bigger than the opening.

This took a long time to sink in. It didn't seem to make sense, and my motor controls were on autopilot since my conscious mind was still in shock. I kept thinking I had to just twist it a certain way, or straighten out the lining, or something. But nothing worked, and I had to stop there and think, bewildered.

It didn't occur to me at first that whatever had changed me had made me shorter. It didn't even occur to me that I'd have to be smaller, and much more lightweight, in order to fly. But I eventually realized what'd happened, in the part of my brain that was still working, and that my clothes had been altered as well ...

... just not my notepad, and its optical circuits.

I latched onto the problem, making myself think about it to the exclusion of all else. I found a piece of broken glass, and was able to use that to widen the opening inside my jacket. Then I tossed it aside and brought out my notepad, which seemed alien and unfamiliar thanks to its – or my – new size.

Getting it turned on and running was tricky. It was bigger and a lot heavier, and I had to hold it up to keep it from getting wet. I couldn't hold it in one arm for more than a minute or so before I had to switch, and the palms of my hands were still raw, from when I'd hit the ground. I'd broken the fall for my notepad itself, but I was still hurting and wet.

Worse, my eyes were on the sides of my head, so I had to hold it out at an angle. And I couldn't move them more than a few degrees, so if I wanted to look at a different part of the screen I had to physically turn my head. This frustrated me so much that I had to stop and clench my fists and fight back tears for a second, because I couldn't see how I was supposed to read anything this way and I didn't know how long I'd be having to do this. But I made myself ignore it, and pretty soon I found that I was reflexively tilting my head in quick, avian motions, scanning over the text. I let myself do that, and tried not to think about it, concentrating on the words themselves.

First things first. I tapped open the neurocatalyst, and scrolled through the injury logs. My right ankle was in bad shape. I set most of my nanites to work repairing it, and sent the rest of them to my skinned knees and hands. I wouldn't be able to walk like this, but if I put a field around my right leg I'd at least keep it from twisting further.

I did so, holding it out as well as I could and making sure it wasn't in pain, then tapping the button. My foot froze in place, like something had just solidified around it, and I let go and let it drop. It hung there a half-inch above the pavement, an invisible “cast” preventing it from moving or being touched.

I tucked it in beside me as well as I could, still knelt down next to the car, and scanned back through the logs on my notepad. About twenty minutes ago, at 11:03 PM, my nanites had received a long string of commands through a direct neurocatalyst. Someone had plugged a physical probe into my nervous system, bypassing the security set up to block wireless connection attempts, and basically read out to them step-by-step what to do.

Because of this, it'd been able to get them to do ... a lot of things, that you couldn't normally get other people's nanites to do. I tried not to dwell on what they'd just done. Fortunately, ten months of working with nanoengineers who liked practical jokes had made me paranoid. I'd encrypted my personal nanites, so that some of the probe's instructions were rejected. Like the instruction to format themselves, and delete all my backed-up memories. It'd tried to break the encryption, but had been unsuccessful.

At 11:14 PM my nanites had detected an inconsistency between my current memories and the backup, and had wiped my brain clean and restored everything.

They'd given me the option to abort the process. I read five entries where I had tried to give the right password, and it chilled me to the core because it hadn't been me that had done that. It had been someone else's memories and personality, in my body. But after whomever-it-was hadn't been able to do that, my nanites had automatically done a restore ... just in time for the real me to feel what it was like to be physically violated, and changed into something else.

That I could think about. I could think about the process, and the helpless anger I'd felt, without thinking about the results. My fists clenched so tight that my arms shook. I could imagine this rich person somewhere up in his mansion, having himself changed into a different anthropomorph every week just for the heck of it. Then when his organs failed, and his DNA started to break down, he said “Eh, whatever. If this body's worn out, just get me a new one!”

I wanted to hit something. I wanted to beat him into the ground. I didn't know if he existed or not, but this hypothetical person seemed like the only culprit who would've had both motive and means, and I hated him with a passion. I was so mad I couldn't see straight, because I knew I would never be able to get back at him. I was nobody. That was why he had picked me.

At least he didn't actually have me, I realized, and the thought made my wingtips flutter with pleasure. Take that, Mister Indecisive. Mister Your-Dreams-Are-My-Afternoon's-Entertainment. Take that and die. Maybe your heirs won't be in such a hurry to find you a replacement life.

I was still shaking with indignation and vengeful triumph, when the whole “your dreams” thing came back and hit me, so hard that it took the breath out of me. I had to struggle to breathe, to keep from panicking, to force the lump back down in my throat and make myself go into shock again.

No I'm not that I don't want to be yet I can't deal with this yet please don't make me

Teardrops squeezed out of my eyes, as I struggled to fight them back. Then the feeling was gone, and I knelt there gasping for breath, shuddering and calming myself down. I sniffled, and realized that my nostrils were going to start running, and my hands were soaking wet, and I had very few surfaces that I could dry them on. That brought me back to reality, as I had to put away my notepad and try to find a dry handkerchief that I could use on my face.

It felt alien, and I had to be careful not to poke my new eyes out. That was tricky enough that it occupied my attention for a few minutes. Afterwards I looked back out at the rainy alley, and tried my best to think what I needed to do next. I could hardly think at all.

I need to find out where I am

Again I latched onto the thought. If it kept me from having to deal with my situation, I was all for it. I dug my notepad back out of its pocket, and searched for a wireless network in range.

Pages of text scrolled past me, and I tapped the screen and dragged it all into view. There were a half-dozen public networks in the vicinity, but the only one close enough to rely on was the kind where you had to pay for it. I made sure that I had a secure connection, then sent them my debit card information, and opened the outline of the local map.

I was more than a mile away from my apartment. In between were blocks of abandoned factories, slum tenements and psych dealer warzones. I couldn't walk with this ankle, and it wouldn't be healed until tomorrow morning.

I could see the path that I should have taken. I followed the path that I'd ... traversed ... back to the street that I walked to get from my classes to the bus stop. It wasn't that far away, but I had no way of getting back on track. With this limp I couldn't walk to the bus stop, let alone back to my apartment.

I sat there looking at the map for what seemed like a very long moment. I knew what I had to do ... I had friends that I could ask for help, and I knew that they would, too. But I didn't want to. I didn't want to ask them for help, and I especially didn't want them to see me like this. But the tightening in my throat intensified, and it occurred to me what would happen if I hesitated too long.

My friends were usually on at this hour. Hands shaking, I dialed into their channel.

* * *

Somewhere in the suburbs. The kids have been put to bed; their shoes and things have been tossed in the hall closet. A studio just off the foyer has a makeshift easel on a side desk, hammered together from wood and metal, and on it is a crude painting that might be a tiger's face. Next to it is a photo, taken out of a magazine. More “paintings” adorn the walls, displayed proudly next to certificates and degrees.

A large, worn-out computer, with crayon stains on the case, sits in front of an overweight woman with grass stains on her jeans. She's tired from having played with the kids today, but her husband is working late at the hospital, and she wants to say hi to her friends before going to bed.

It takes her computer a minute to boot up, but she clicks on the bar of text that reads “Common Voice Chat Interface” and cheerily talks to the microphone. “Hi, everyone!”


* * *

A dorm room the size of a closet, with loud music coming from the darkened space past the door. A desk lamp is on, and a tight squeaking sound is coming from underneath.

It stops, and a kid with long black hair gets up from his hands and knees, and puts his screwdriver back in the drawer. He sits down in his chair, its back held on with duct tape, and straightens out his black t-shirt.

A sleek notebook computer is open on top of his bare wooden desk. It is one of the latest models, and it even has a color screen for displaying photos and video. He runs his thumb across the fingerprint scanner, and takes a swig from a narrow can that is painted black before speaking into his headset. “Okay, back. Now can someone help me uninstall the catalyst on this thing? I don't need it pulling these CPU cycles.”


* * *

“It's part of the OS,” a man explains, no headset or microphone visible. He has a trim moustache and neatly-cut hair, and looks to be in his thirties. His room has slate-gray walls and a metal desk, with a transparent screen that slides up from the surface. Glowing text and outlines are visible on it.

“Meaning?” The college kid's voice comes from nowhere.

“Meaning you can get rid of the shortcut, and prevent it from loading on startup, but you can't uninstall the catalyst itself.” The man checks his clock, a glowing outline on the wall, and then opens a plastic canister beside him on the desk. He counts out four tiny pills, and sips them with herbal tea, one at a time, before setting the teacup back on its saucer.

“Lame!” the kid shouts. Noise that might be music is heard in the background.

“If you're all done with your techie talk, it's time for our daily accountability session.” The woman's voice is cheerful, but matter-of-fact. “My Stigma is responding very well to treatment, and the doctor says I can start taking half a pill a day starting next week.”

“I am pleased that your therapy has helped.” The man presses the tips of his hands together and looks out past the screen, concentrating on something.

“What about you, Kayton?”

Kayton grits his teeth. The pills haven't taken effect yet. “I have doubled my own dosage.”

The woman gasps. “You should talk to your doctor first! That's not a decision you should make on your own.”

“I ... “ Kayton's voice trails off. Someone has started to type in the chat.


* * *

“helo can someon plese hlp me?”

My on-screen keyboard had tactile feedback. But I couldn't feel anything with these claws, and it took me ages to type out a simple message. I fumed at the screen after I hit “Enter,” and resolved to try harder next time.

“Ian? Why aren't you using voice chat?”

That was Amanda, a homemaker who lived in the suburbs. She had started our little support group, after the last one we'd been in had collapsed due to infighting. She only had Class 1 Stigma, and was taking it in stride, even able to do limited housework and things. I'd heard that she had gone swimming last week.

A laugh. “Like he ever talks.”

That was Jerome, a student at Ardelion National. He had been born with a genetic disorder that had deformed his nanochondrions. Because his body couldn't make any nanites, he had to get a transfusion every week to keep from getting sick. And because he couldn't repair them, either, they didn't last long enough to attune.

As far as I knew, Jerome had never opened a catalyst in his life. At least, not on his own nanites. But I'd never heard him complain, either, so either he didn't know what he was missing or he just didn't care. He didn't have the Stigma at all; he'd hung around in the last support group because his sister had been there with Class 3. She was dead now, but he was still here. Just because we were people to talk to, I guessed.

Kayton's measured voice. “Is something wrong?”

He was the oldest member of our group. At least, he seemed that way. He rarely laughed, and he spoke in this soft voice that made you have to be quiet and listen. I could barely hear him over the rain.

Kayton had Class 5 Stigma. We weren't sure why he wasn't dead. Any time one of us tried to imagine him we saw this guy with no hair, in a hospital bed, straining to talk into the microphone. With IVs hooked up to his arms, plastic tubes running into his nostrils, and an EKG counting off his last heartbeats.

He'd been in our group for two years, twice as long as I'd been there. And while I'd sort of lost myself in operating my notepad, somehow hearing his voice brought me back to reality. My knees shook as I typed:

“yes”

“Oh, no.” I could just see Amanda sitting there, one hand pressed to her heart. “What is it, Ian? Are you at the hospital? Did you have an acute attack?”

“There's nothing cute about it,” Jerome pointed out, as I struggled to type out a sentence.

“ive been Erased”

Silence.

“Ian.” Kayton sounded dead serious. “If you were Erased, how are we talking to you right now?”

I was starting to breathe through my beak again, and my hands and feet felt like they were swelling as I began to “sweat” uncontrollably. “total memory bakup,” I typed.

“Ohh, right,” Amanda said. “Because he's-”

“Only a year's worth of memories.” Jerome sounded sure of himself. “You can fit all that on a Mesh and have plenty of room to spare.”

“But if he was Erased, wouldn't they have, like, taken over his nanites so they couldn't restore his memory?”

“they didnt,” I typed out. Now my hands were shaking, and I struggled to keep holding my notepad upright. “my nanites re ncryptd. they couldnt break the lok.”

There was an uncomfortable pause. “Well, I guess if anyone could pull that off, it would be Ian ... “ Amanda's voice trailed off.

“Or me,” Jerome pointed out, unfazed. “If I'd wanted to.”

“Not on yourself.”

“So ... if your full memory has been restored, then why are you typing incoherently, instead of speaking?” Kayton asked.

I just stood there a moment, breathing hard, feeling like I was burning up inside. I was embarrassed to death, and furious with myself because of it.

Finally I clicked the microphone on, and put my beak up to it. “Because you wouldn't have recognized me.” My voice sounded small and high-pitched.

* * *

Somewhere in the suburbs, a woman stares at her computer screen, as though the words of the chat transcript can explain what she's hearing.

A college student spits energy drink all over his notebook computer, laughing and nearly dropping the can, and a slurred voice in the next room asks him what's so funny.

And a man in a small computer room sets down his cup and saucer, forgetting his own pain because his friend is having a crisis.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2008, 12:50:58 am by Tachyon »

Offline Feathertail

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2008, 11:22:11 pm »
Chapter Three: Invisible Wings

I shut off the microphone, my face burning. “its not funny,” I typed.

“Yes, it is.” Jerome was still laughing. “You sound like a little girl!”

“i do NOT.”

“Jerome has a point,” Amanda said, and she sounded nervous. The rain had just picked up, and I fumbled with the volume controls while still hunched over, trying to keep my notepad from getting wet. “How do we know you're not Ian's little sister, or something?”

“He doesn't have a sister,” Kayton noted, as I struggled to type in a sentence.

“amanda, your stigma is in remission because of your new therapy. you're using paint to create pictures, by hand, based on the photos you like. at first it was something to do to take your mind off the pain. but now you do it every day, and you think that it's helping.”

They were quiet, as they saw that I was still typing. I was upset and embarrassed, but I tried to remain clear-headed enough to write in complete sentences with these claws. “jerome aced his last test because he hacked into the school server. he nearly fried their whole database.”

“It wasn't my best work.” He sounded unruffled. “I could've done better if they hadn't given me a deadline.”

“kayton. you helped me through it when i was afraid my class 0 stigma would go acute, after i got out of the hospital. remember?”

“I remember.” His voice was quiet.

“Ian ... “ Amanda sounded hesitant. “Talk to us, Ian. Tell us what happened. We're not going to laugh at you.”

“Yes, we are.” There was a smile in Jerome's voice.

“Well, I'm not.”

I knelt there next to the car, looking down at the screen for what seemed like a long time. Then I switched the microphone back on, and tried my best to tell them what'd happened while being calm and rational, and preserving my dignity. I spoke in a quiet monotone, and used long, technical words that were devoid of emotional impact. It was the only way I could keep from breaking down in front of my friends.

I felt almost disembodied as I spoke.  The voice that I used was not mine, so it didn't feel like I myself was speaking. I concentrated on the sound of the words, instead of their actual content, and it gave me something to think about.

I couldn't help thinking about what I must have looked like, though, as I spoke. The image came to mind of an anthropomorphic raven, in a trenchcoat instead of a rain jacket, carrying a submachine gun and threatening people in that strange high-pitched voice. I didn't know what I actually looked like, of course, and the image was so ridiculous that I couldn't take it seriously.

I hoped that they weren't imagining the same thing. I wanted them to take me seriously, and I hated the thought that they wouldn't.

Finally, I finished. Nobody said anything for a few seconds.

“That is totally lame.” Jerome sounded incredulous. “I mean, if I'd done it, I would've made sure there were like goons and such, to hold you down while you-”

“Jerome!” Amanda's voice was stern.

“What? It's what they should've done, seriously.”

“You say you can't walk.” Kayton was trying to take charge of the situation. “Do you need a ride to your apartment?”

“Nnn ... yes.” I sighed, with relief and resignation. “Yes, I do. Thank you very much.”

“Alright. I'll be there shortly.”

“Kayton!” Amanda was shocked again. “You can't drive in your condition. Not now that you're Class 5, and with the side effects from those drugs ... “

“Oh, he could drive,” Jerome pointed out. “But he could crash even better.”

He didn't respond, so it was Amanda's turn to take charge. “I'll drive you home, Ian. Can you send me your local map?”

I did so. As soon as she got it, she took off, with a jangling of keys and the assurance that she'd be there soon. The chat was quiet after she left.

* * *

Grayson and Arianna are asleep in separate rooms when their mother comes tromping up the stairs in her rainboots. By the time that she turns on the hall light and walks to the master bedroom, jangling a set of car keys and walking on creaky floorboards, they are both wide awake and confused about what is going on.

Their doors are right across from each other. They meet, bleary-eyed, across the lit hallway, Grayson in his plaid pajamas and Arianna in a pink nightdress. She is holding a fluffy, floppy cat in both arms, like it is a stuffed animal, and it looks as tired as she does.

“Do you know what's going on?” Grayson asks.

Arianna shakes her head.

Their mother comes back out of the master bedroom, putting something into her purse, and she stops when she sees them. “What are you two doing up?”

“What're you making all this noise for?” Grayson stretches his arms, still visibly tired, and yawns.

“Someone I know online is stranded. I need to go give him a ride.” She walks past them and turns the hall light off, then stops at the landing and looks back at them. “Go back to bed! Your father will be upset if you're still up when he gets home.”

The two stand there, listening to her footsteps in the stairwell. Then the front door creaks open, making the noises of Outside for a second before it's shut again.

Grayson looks across at Arianna, and says “There's still ice cream in the freezer.”

“Mrow,” the cat says.


* * *

After the chat died out, I excused myself and put my notepad back into my pocket as well as I could. That was that, I thought ... now I just had to wait for her. For however long it took her to get here.

I didn't have anything to do now but wait. Wait, and dwell on what'd happened. I knew what was coming, and braced myself for it. But to my surprise, I couldn't feel anything. The shock was still there, but nothing was moving beneath it.

I looked down at my hands, the hands that'd typed everything out ... that was it, I thought. Talking to my friends had brought me back to reality, so to speak. It'd put me in a different mindset. I was still using the social part of my brain, the part that figured out how to relate to other people and decided what to say next. Introspection had gone off and hid in a closet, embarrassed and unable to face what was happening.

This was not good. If I didn't get this over with now, I thought, I might break down in the car when Amanda was driving me home. I needed to get this over with, so that I wouldn't have to deal with it later.

It amazes me now that I thought of it that way. But at the time I was genuinely scared. I didn't want my friends to see how much of an impact this had had on me. After the attack, I was traumatized enough as it was; I didn't want my friends to know my deepest secret, to boot. Something had to remain private, or I was never going to be able to show my face around them again.

So I tried to coax my vulnerable self to come out of its closet, to open up and deal with this before- no, there's no time limit, I thought to myself. I will not keep track of how long this takes. I took a deep breath and started talking myself through it, without speaking out loud. “Remember those stories?” I asked, as the rain fell around me.

Yes. Interesting stories. Made me feel strange. Had to keep reading them. Don't know why.

“Okay, that's good ... “ I could think these words clearly, but the response came as a feeling, quicker and stronger than talking out loud. It was what I was hoping would happen, but it made me nervous.

I kept going anyway. “How do you feel about anthropomorphs, then?”

No answer. I could tell that my feelings were complex. “You remember when we first heard about the Birthing Crisis?” I asked.

Yes. People are just being born as anthropomorphs of all different species with no rhyme or reason. It's happening all over the Outlands. But it doesn't happen here. That's why people are migrating to Ardelion. It's a scary thing, I don't blame them ...

“What about when we first found out that humans could be changed into anthropomorphs? That it was difficult, but that it could be done, and even reversed?”

YES. Ambassadors specialist laborers emigrants to anthro communities. TV personalities, children's show hosts, actors and sports stars and teachers. Reasons, reasons, always the reasons, have to have reasons for doing that ...

“Yes,” I said carefully, “because it takes a lot of gold to make it happen.”

Oh yes.

“Remember how we thought about-”

NO! There's no reason, you can't just do it 'cause you feel like it, you can't just say you don't know why, you can't just keep wondering what it would feel like when there's no actual reason to do so. It's not right, it doesn't make sense, I shouldn't be thinking about it ...

“But we kept thinking about it. We didn't know why, but we had to. We had to keep wondering how long it would take to save up, how many years it would be once we got out of college, what kind of fields we could go into that would give us a reason to do that. Remember?”

Yes. Oh yes. I'm so ashamed ...

“Well-” The wind picked up and blew rain in my face, splashing all over my field and leaving wet streaks in front of my right eye. I shivered, and coughed, and started again. “Remember we're planning to go to that book signing next month?”

Yes. FEAR! I have to, it's scary but I have to, I have to see her in person ...

“Yes ... “ It was awkward to think about, but I had to get it all over with. “We've seen an anthropomorph once before-”

Yes I remember it was across the street and I only saw it for a few seconds but I remember it I remember it I remember exactly what he looked like-

“We're going to take this opportunity to talk to Melinda Chatfield and ask her about her book. She decided to become a cat, remember?”

YES! I remember she wrote a whole book about what it was like and the feelings were just so real and I felt like I was there-

“Do you remember why she decided to become a feline anthropomorph?”

She was a school principal. She said that if the students raised enough money in one year she'd become a cat for the next, and she'd spend her own money to do it. That's insane, that's ridiculous, that's something I wish I could do and I envy her!

“Yes ... “ Tears were forming at the edge of my eyes. “She played it for laughs at first, while she privately coped with the changes. She tried to act like a stereotype. But then she started getting the letters. From anthropomorph kids in the Outlands who had heard about what she had done, and were trying to correct her and tell her how she should act. And from humans all over the city, not just kids but also grown adults, who secretly wanted to do what she'd done and wanted to know what it was like.

“They were confiding in her.”

Oh yes I remember I wanted to write to her too. I wanted to just tell her everything like it was a confession and like she could tell me what to do next. I wanted to but I couldn't ...

“No, I couldn't.” I shook my head awkwardly. It wanted to move in quick motions instead of smooth ones. “I read all the letters she posted. And some of them moved me, and made me feel this longing so strong that it almost made me cry. And then some of them were from people so obviously messed up in the head that I just felt so embarrassed ... “

Such crazy people, I'm better than them, I could never be them-

“And I didn't want to be them, either. So I told myself I didn't need any of that, and I decided that I wouldn't write to her, and I threw all the bookmarks away and resolved never to read it again.”

But the signing's next month-

“And I can't stop thinking about it.” I sniffled, and swallowed, and tried to moisten my dry beak.

I'm going to be so nervous. I don't know what I'll say ...

I coughed and began whispering out loud, in a hoarse voice. “Hi. I'm Ian Matthews ... ”

Stop it. This isn't fair, don't make me do this-

“And I'd like you to know that your book meant a lot to me.”

Please don't, I can't take it-

“And this is the first time that I've actually met an anthropomorph, and ... could I please shake your hand?”

Oh, it's furry on the back and has pads on the front, it's so soft, I've actually touched her hand, she's such a nice person, she shouldn't have to hear this ...

I had to cough again. It took me a moment to work up the nerve to speak this next part. “I know you've probably noticed something about me ... “

Don't say it ...

“It's because ... I'm ... “ I started crying. “I'm an anthropomorph!” I whispered. And it just made me cry even harder.

* * *

The wooden floorboards of the dining room are creaky, but the downstairs is quiet. Arianna looks out into the living room, and thinks how strange it looks with the TV and the lights turned off.

Floppy scrambles out of her arms, and she stands in front of the table, watching as Grayson scoops ice cream out of the carton. It occurs to her that Mommy would be mad at her brother if she saw what he was doing, and for a second Arianna worries that Mommy might step through the door any second now. But if she does, Arianna decides, she'll just tell her that it was Grayson's idea. Which it was.

“Here you go,” Grayson says, and sets a bowl across the table near her. She reaches up and takes it.

Metoo comes running into the dining room as Grayson starts serving himself, and hops up onto the table, eager and interested. Grayson waves his arms at him. “Shoo! Go way!”

Arianna sets her bowl down on the floor for a second, then reaches up and carefully lifts Metoo off the table. He's fluffy too, and she wants to hug him, like she used to hug Midnight. But Metoo hates being hugged and petted, and he struggles and squirms if you try. She sets him down on the floor, and picks up her ice cream before he has a chance to start eating it.

It's tricky to hold onto the large bowl while eating from it at the same time, but she manages. While she licks at it she watches Grayson put the lid back on the carton, and take it into the kitchen.

Arianna doesn't like being alone in the dark house, so she follows him in, careful not to bump her wings on the doorframe again. Most of the time they go through things, but sometimes she feels them bump into walls and she doesn't like when that happens.

The linoleum tile is cool on her bare feet, and the crickets outside the back door are loud. The freezer roars, as her brother stands on a chair to put the carton back in. He ducks and shuts the door, then looks down at her. “Anna, who's watching my bowl?”

She folds her wings to go through the door again, then looks up at the table. A black cat is licking the ice cream happily. “Metoo,” she says, towards the kitchen.

“Argh!” Grayson runs back into the dining room and swipes at the cat, shooing him off of the table. “Bad kitty! Go way!”

Arianna watches his tail poof out, the way that it does when he's mad at something. Grayson has a nice, fluffy tail, she thinks. She doesn't care if he doesn't believe her.

Offline Feathertail

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2008, 11:22:57 pm »
Chapter Four: Slightly Awed

What did I look like? I wondered, in that strange, detached way that you do when you've stopped crying, and there's no feeling left in you at all. My head tilted to look down at the puddle and up at the car windows, in the same way that my eyes would have glanced at them. I couldn't see my face from this angle. But I found that I didn't care.

I was soaking wet from the puddle I sat in, the one that had grown around me even though the rain pattered off of my field. And I was shivering from the cold, from the icy water itself and from the chill air. That, I did care about. But not enough to get me to move. I was just plain exhausted, physically and emotionally. I curled up as best as I could, my wings tight against me and my knees pressed up to my chin.

They felt so fragile, I thought, and sniffled. Everything felt so lightweight. My bones were all hollow and brittle, and I had hardly any meat on them. No wonder I was so cold, I thought, and shivered. And kept shivering.

My nostrils were running all over. I sniffled some more, and wiped at my sleeve, and tried to breathe through my beak. But I choked on something, and began coughing.

That's how pathetic I was when Amanda's SUV pulled into the alleyway.

Headlights shone on me from behind. I heard the rumble of a gas engine, and tires splashing through puddles. I tried to stand, but my legs wouldn't co-operate. I was just so worn out, and my right foot's restraints made it feel numb, like it was made of ice and the ground was slippery.

I finally managed to pull myself up by the car's side-view mirror. The whole alley was lit up by now, and the engine rumble drowned out the rain. I turned around and looked up at the SUV's silhouette, squinting at the headlights and trying to block them out with one hand.

It stopped about five feet in front of me, and I heard one of the windows roll down. “Is that you, Ian?” Amanda asked.

I tried to nod, but my neck did not want to move that way. So I just sort of bobbed my head, slowly and dejectedly.

She flipped a switch on the side of her door, and I heard all the doors unlock. “Climb in!” she called out, over the rain.

I limped to the front of the SUV, and leaned on the bumper as I went around to the passenger's side door. The handle was about at head level for me, and was plastic and slick with rain. I pulled it and opened the door, enough to get my arms inside and push the door outwards, so that I could get my wings through it. It took me a couple of tries, long enough to find out that catching your wings on something hurts.

“Are you okay?” Amanda asked, as I stood there breathing hard and wincing.

“No,” I said, and did not look up.

I sniffled again, tried to wipe some of the water out of my face and topfeathers, then climbed into the passenger's seat and pulled the door shut. Then I belted myself in carefully, cramming the tips of my tailfeathers into the crack in between cushions and trying not to lean back too hard on my wings. Holding onto the armrest grip helped.

The seats were vinyl, and the dashboard and heads-up display were lit up with green outlines. Once I sat down and tried to remain still I found that I was shivering uncontrollably, even though the inside of the SUV was uncomfortably warm. I unzipped the front of my jacket, as hot air blew on my feet from the heater. My feet and hands felt numb as ice, while my core was burning hot.

Still shivering, I shifted around a bit to look up at Amanda, whom I realized had been watching me the whole time. It would have made me cringe a half-hour ago, but at this point I didn't know how I felt. She was about a foot taller than me, and I found myself wondering if I shouldn't have gotten in behind the driver's seat.

Amanda seemed unwilling to meet my gaze, and looked away from me awkwardly. “Don't worry, Ian,” she said, gripping the steering wheel. “We'll get you the help that you need.”

“Sure,” I said, wrapping my arms around myself to try to warm my hands and stifle the shivering, and looked out the windshield. All I could see were the windshield wipers, splashing water across it. “Just add the bill to my college loan ... ”

She shifted the SUV into reverse, and looked over her shoulder to make sure that she didn't run into the wall as she backed out of the alley. And I just sat there shivering violently, unable to think about anything else.

Amanda pulled the SUV out onto the street, and shifted it into drive again. I reached for the armrest and held on as she turned.

After a few minutes, my shivering had started to settle down, and I had to dig for a handkerchief again. Amanda noticed what I was doing, and dug in her purse for some tissues, which I promptly used.

Waves of light washed over the inside, from streetlights and windows and signs. It didn't seem real, I thought, looking up from the tissues to look out the side window. It all seemed so far away. I wondered if I'd ever rode in a car that somebody else had driven, when I was little.

I sniffled a bit, looked for a place to put all the used tissues, then finally crammed them inside my pockets. They were still wet. But the heater was starting to dry my clothes now, along with my moist feathers. It felt glorious, and so did the soft upholstery. The engine seemed a quiet purr now, instead of a roar.

I wondered if I'd ever fallen asleep inside a car before.

My tense muscles relaxed. I leaned up against the armrest, and dozed.

* * *

I woke up when the inside light turned on. The rain had stopped, the engine had been turned off, and a chime was ringing to signal the fact that the driver's side door was open. The heater was no longer running, and a blast of cold air from the open door chilled my bare feet. I shivered, and looked up just as the door closed and the lights turned back off.

I sat there groggy for a second, my brain half-asleep and not sure what was happening. Then the door I was leaning on opened an inch, and I jumped in my seat, wide awake and looking out at the door. It opened the rest of the way, and as the light turned back on I saw Amanda standing outside, her black rain jacket over a pink sweatshirt and blue jeans.

“Come on, Ian,” she said, and I froze as she reached around me to unbuckle the seatbelt. “Let's get you inside.”

She held out her hand. I took it in one hand and the armrest in another, and stepped out of the SUV shakily, leading with my left foot so that I wouldn't slip.

It touched wet grass. There was no grass in my apartment complex's parking lot.

I looked up, and saw a wide lawn with a wooden fence about twenty feet in front of me. To one side was a winding street in a quiet suburban neighborhood, and to the other was a closed, white garage door, with a light on right above it. A dog was barking, somewhere in the distance, and a crescent moon peeked out through the clouds. “Where are we?” I asked.

“I decided to bring you to my house,” she said. “It looked like you could use some help getting back on your feet ... “ My legs wobbled, as she reached around me to shut the door. “So to speak. And if you can't stay at the hospital, I figure a doctor's house is the next best thing.”

I leaned on her arm all the way to the front door, the slippery field around my right foot parting the grass in front of it. She helped me up to the door, one brick step at a time. My left foot gripped the kitten design on the welcome mat as she reached in her purse for her keys. “Jeff should be home soon,” she said, pulling her keys out and trying to select the right one one-handed. “He can take a look at you when he gets back.”

“Thanks,” I murmured, and looked away as a sudden pang of guilt struck me. “Sorry.”

She started to put the right key in the lock, but looked down at me for a second. “Hm?”

“Thank you for helping me.” I lowered my head. “I'm sorry for that remark about the hospital bills.”

“It's alright, Ian.” She sighed, and unlocked the door. “I know what it's like.”

She pulled the door open and stepped in. The inside was hardwood, and rich wallpaper. My foot splayed out across the floor, and it felt uncomfortable to walk on. I held onto the doorknob, as Amanda hung her coat on a peg. Then I took hold of her arm again, as she shut the door.

She led me down the hallway, my gaze lingering on a grandfather clock and a glass display case of old books and miniatures. Then she took me towards the kitchen. We stopped in another room with a hardwood floor, and a faux-crystal chandelier over a table with six wooden chairs, and I realized that this was their dining room ... of course they'd need a separate room for eating in, I thought, they had a whole family here.

The living room was adjacent, and I saw books and a couple of magazines sprawled out across real leather sofas. Amanda pulled a chair out from under the table, and helped me up onto it. I looked up at her, confused, as she disappeared into the kitchen. “Wait right there,” she said.

“O-kay ... “ I heard her rummaging through a drawer.

A flash of movement caught my eye, and I tilted my head to look at it. There was a little girl in a pink nightdress, looking down at me from in between the bars on the stairway in the hall.

My wings spread a bit, and fluffed themselves out. I did that instead of smiling, without thinking about it. “Hello,” I said.

She said nothing, but a grin slowly spread over her face.

It was starting to make me feel uncomfortable. Then I heard a clatter from inside the kitchen and looked to see what had happened, and by the time I looked back the little girl was gone.

“Drat,” Amanda said, and came out holding a large pair of scissors.

“What happened?” I asked, and tried to keep my eyes on her as she came up behind me.

“I dropped something. Now hold still.” I felt a tug at my jacket, and heard the scissors cut through it. Then I felt their cold metal point on the skin in between my back feathers and held still, as they crawled all the way up my back.

My feathers stood on end. It felt like goosebumps, and was probably closer to what actual geese went through than the real thing. “What are you doing?” I asked, even though I was pretty sure I already knew.

“Your wings are stuck. Look,” she said, and tugged on the fabric beneath my left wing. “I'll find you some clothes you can wear. But first you need to clean up and dry yourself off, and for that you need to get these off.”

I felt the scissors trace across the edge of my wing, and a nervous suspicion entered my mind. “You're not going to ... “

“No, Ian, I'm just cutting them loose. You can take them off when you get to the upstairs bathroom.”

I let out a sigh of relief.

I tried to look back and see what she was doing, with these eyes that were on either side of my head, and caught a glimpse of her trying to keep my wingfeathers out of her mouth, as she knelt down behind me and worked the scissors across my back. I wasn't sure yet, but I thought she was almost done.

A tromple of footsteps sounded upstairs, and then I saw the little girl back in the stairwell, next to a boy in pajamas whom I could only assume was her brother. She pointed at me, and he just stared.

I saw him mouth the words “No way.” She looked at him smugly, and said something I couldn't hear.

“Alright, that should do it.” The scissors cut something around the back of my neck, and I felt my clothing go loose at the same time as a draft blew across the small of my back. I instinctively pressed my wings in close, and reached around to try to hold my clothes together.

Amanda stood up and went to put the scissors away, and her children scurried up the stairs. She did not seem to notice. “Do you want to just wash up,” she asked, “or take a shower?”

The thought of the lukewarm, rust-stained water back home sent a chill running down my spine. Then I realized where I was, and imagined a big, glass-enclosed shower like at my boss' house, with metal bars and fluffy towels and everything clean and well-lit. “I'd like to shower, if you don't mind.”

The drawer rattled and clanged, as she crammed things back in and shut it. “Alright,” she said, and turned the kitchen light off as she came back out to the dining room. “That'll give me more time to adjust your clothes.” She held out her hand. “Come on, and I'll show you where to go.”

* * *

The upstairs bathroom had a tiled floor, a plush, pink shower mat, and an enormous sink and vanity with pastel soaps that were shaped like swans. After closing and locking the door I looked in the closet for towels, and figured out where to put the ones I was going to use. Then I looked up at the sink, which was about at head level but had a step-stool for children, and it occurred to me that there was something I hadn't done yet.

When I was ready I climbed up, as well as I could with my foot in a “cast,” then looked up at the mirror. What I saw startled me.

I remembered what I'd thought that I looked like, but I was not a raven. Or a crow, or a vulture, or any kind of bird that you'd think would be preying on people like me. I was some kind of songbird, of a species that I did not recognize. My whole front side, from the neck down, was white, while the top of my head and the backs of my wings were a deep, iridescent blue, of a hue so rich that it reminded me of a gem. A thick line of black ran in between the blue top and white bottom layers, from the orbs of my eyes to my beak and around the edges of my wings.

But that wasn't the startling part. What startled me was how ... lifelike, I was. There's no other way to describe it. It was not like looking at a human being, whether a fully-clothed one or no. It was more like looking at a zoo animal, of a kind that you'd only read about in books. And while you were fascinated with them, you'd never gotten to see one up close.

Because you'd only read about them, it'd never occurred to you that they move; that their claw-fingers twitch, that their wings rustle as they shift positions, that their heads tilt quickly and at odd angles when they are examining things. That their chests rise and fall rapidly with quick, nervous breaths. That their round, black eyes grow even wider when they are taken aback.

I'd seen an anthropomorph once, from across a busy street. It'd been a fox, and all that I'd caught was a glimpse of its muzzle moving with speech, and its tail swishing with mirth. But it had been real, and alive, and not twenty-five feet away from me. I'd mentioned it to my friends with deliberate casualness, when the subject had come up. Amanda had seemed impressed, and Jerome had been upset that I hadn't taken a picture.

I'd made myself remember every detail of that scene. But I had never seen an anthropomorph up close. I'd wanted to at the book signing next month, but up to that moment I'd never talked to one, or shaken its hand, or managed to brush its tail as if by accident. I'd never been one. And while I could accept the abstract idea that I was one now, and was starting to get used to the feel of my wings and feathers, none of that had prepared me for the shock of seeing one up close. Especially the one that I was. “This = Me” was not registering in my brain. Even though it moved, and shivered, when I did.

I don't know how long I spent in front of that mirror, stretching my wings and pulling them back, examining them from all angles. Looking up close at my beak, until I had tapped it against the glass. Trying to see into my own eyes, and wondering what I would find. But I finally got down from the sink and took a shower, and it was as luxurious as I had imagined it. I just hoped that the soaps that they had wouldn't damage my feathers, although it was a little too late by the time that I realized that.

I carefully dried all my feathers off. I was unsure at first how to reach the backs of my wings without an electric hair dryer, but I finally just wrapped a huge towel all the way around me and pressed it to them.

I was small and thin enough, even counting my wings, that it wrapped all the way around me and went almost down to my feet. Thusly garbed, I held the towel closed in front and opened the door, heading back downstairs to see if Amanda had any clothes ready for me yet.

Offline Feathertail

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2008, 11:26:19 pm »
Chapter Five: Recollection

I took off the field protecting my foot in order to come down the stairs. It was still a little sore, but I could walk on it if I was careful. My nanites had done their job well.

There was an extra coat and pair of boots in the entryway. When I got into the dining room area, I saw Amanda at one end of the table with a sewing machine and a huge stack of clothes beside her, and a man standing to one side who looked to be in his early fifties. His clothes were conservative, and his face was weathered but friendly.

I remembered that face, from the time that I'd spent in the hospital. And he, for his part, seemed unfazed at the sight of an anthropomorphic bird peeking out of one of his towels. “Hi Ian,” he said. “Find everything alright?”

“Yep.” I bobbed my head in a quick nod. “Thank you, Doctor Liandris.”

“How's your therapy going? Got back any more of your memory yet?”

“I, uh, stopped going to the sessions.” My wings wanted to rustle nervously, and pressed outward at the towel. I tried to rein them in and pull it tighter around me. “I didn't have any insurance to pay for them.”

“Ah. That's too bad.”

We hadn't spoken in awhile, and I wasn't sure what to say to him. Seeking a way to change the subject, I limped over to where Amanda was working. She had piles of folded clothes beside her and was running something through the sewing machine, and I didn't know what I was looking at. “Is all this ... “

“These are clothes that Grayson's outgrown, and some that're too big for him yet.” She brushed her hair out of her field of vision, and pushed another part of the shirt she was working on through the machine. It whirred as it stitched new seams through it. “I'm getting a bunch of these ready for you, so you can try them on and see which ones fit.”

I looked up at the piles of clothes. “Thanks ... “

“You can thank me when you find some that fit. Here,” she said, and stopped working the machine for a second to hand me a large stack.

“I'll get that,” Doctor Liandris said.

“Thanks,” I said again, feeling like I really ought to be saying something more than that.

“Please show Ian to the guest room, dear.”

“Come on, Ian,” he said, and went past me up to the stairs. He was tall and had a long stride, and I hurried to try to keep up with him.

By the time I got to the upstairs hallway, carpeted floorboards creaking under my feet, Doctor Liandris was waiting for me outside one of the doors. He waited until I got up to him, then opened the door and turned on the light, letting me step in ahead of him.

It felt cold inside, but I heard a heater vent turn on over the bed as we entered. The room had blue carpet that was soft under my bare claws, and I unconsciously kneaded it as I looked around at the bed and nightstand, closet and dresser and window. The furniture was pretty basic, and it looked like the room hadn't been used in awhile.

He set what were apparently my clothes on top of a chair. “Let me get you some fresh sheets,” he said, and ducked out of the room again.

“Okay,” I said, still feeling like there was something more I should say.

I watched a highly-paid medical doctor, who'd looked after me in the hospital with his clean white coat and his clipboard, change the beddings on a mattress in his own house while wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. And he did it with a smile, as though they took people in and gave them things all the time. I didn't know what to make of it.

He asked me if there was anything else I needed, and I told him no. He said “Alright” and patted me on the back, which almost knocked me right over, then wished me goodnight and stepped out of the room.

I looked out the window, still trying to make sense of all this, and hoped that my boss would be as charitable tomorrow.

* * *

Doctor Jeffrey Liandris goes back downstairs to where his wife is using the sewing machine, up on the dining room table. He gets a tall glass of water from the kitchen and downs half of it, then comes back out and looks down at her, still hard at work. “Almost done?” he asks.

“No, but I'll be ready to stop here in a second.”

Jeff glances up at the stairwell. “He still doesn't have any family he knows of, does he.”

“Not that he's told me about.” Amanda takes the shirt that she's done sewing up, and adds it onto the pile. She waves a hand across the sewing machine's electric blue display, still showing the pattern she'd downloaded, and it chimes softly and shuts down.

Jeff looks down at the stacks of clothes. “Trying to take him in?”

Amanda huffs. “Not permanently ... ”

“But you're hoping he'll stick around for that event of yours, aren't you.”

“Tomorrow's meetup, yes.” She collapses the machine back into its storage mode, and carries it over to the closet inside her studio just off the foyer. Jeff follows her in, and looks up at the pictures and photographs; of animals, near and exotic, and anthropomorphs. Lots of anthropomorphs.

“Going to surprise your friends with him, or vice-versa?”

She stashes the sewing machine away and looks up at him, her hands resting on the shelf. “Ian doesn't have to come if he doesn't want to.”

She gets up and closes the door to the closet. “But you're hoping he will,” Jeff observes.

“And you're thinking you married a crazy person, aren't you.” She sounds half-annoyed and half-vulnerable, and looks over at her paintings.

He kisses her on the cheek. “Now why would I think that?”


* * *

Jerome turns up the symphonic metal, and finishes off his energy drink. Then he cracks his knuckles and begins typing, grinning as he does so. He's just had an idea, and it's one of his best yet.

A few miles away, Arianna lays still in bed, her eyes wide open, the cat sprawled out next to her. She'd always known anthros were real, and not just in the Outlands. She'd even shown Grayson that book, and he still hadn't believed that there were any in Ardelion. But now he knew. Now they both knew, 'cause the anthro was inside their house. And his wings looked so much like hers did, except they were a different color.

He didn't look like a grown-up. She wondered what he liked to talk about. Was he an exchange student? Didn't they have to learn how to speak Nearan? Maybe she'd get to talk to him tomorrow. She was so excited!

It took her a long time to get to sleep.


* * *

It took me a long time to get to sleep. I was exhausted, but I could not get my wings comfortable. I would turn onto one side, but it'd feel like the edge of my wing was being pressed into the bed.

Finally I lay on my stomach, even though I knew that you weren't supposed to, and the pillow pressed onto my eyelid. It was a soft pillow, but not soft enough. Argh! I clawed at the sheets in frustration. What was I supposed to do? I'd had enough stress for one day.

I stuffed the pillow under my torso, so that my neck just rested on it. Then I folded my wings in, as well as I could. This felt kind of awkward, but it was still an improvement over everything else that I'd tried.

My wings felt stiff and restless. I tried stretching them a few times, glad that the side of the bed wasn't pressed up against the wall, but they just felt so tense. I reached around and felt them, feathers the size of my notepad layered on skin stretched over bones, and ran my claws over- oh. Oh, that felt wonderful.

I started tracing both hands over my wings, running my claws gently over my feathers, and I felt some of the tension evaporate. I hadn't had my wings for long, I realized, and I'd already tried to pull off a high-speed chase, along with keeping them outstretched for so long while looking at them in the mirror. I hadn't known it because the feelings were so unfamiliar, but I had worn them out, and I'd be lucky if there weren't knots in them tomorrow.

I continued massaging the backs of my wings, careful not to pull my arm muscles or pull any feathers out. It amazed me that I could feel so relaxed in these parts that I hadn't had just this morning.

My breathing slowed, my heart rate settled, and my eyelids began to droop. I stretched my wings again, slowly and contentedly, then tucked them and my arms in and fell asleep. The last sound I heard was that of the crickets chirping outside.

* * *

That night Ian has a vivid dream, the same one he had on his first night in the hospital. He didn't remember it afterwards, and he'll barely remember it now.

It is cold out, he dreams, and rainy. Large raindrops splatter onto his field, leaving streaks a half-inch away from him. When he looks up at the sky, dark with clouds and with night, the smears of water blur his vision, and all that he's able to make out are the lights of the city that shine off the cloud bank.

He looks down at the wall in front of him in the alley, until his vision clears. It's made of brick, part of some historic building, and it has embellishments on it. A gray, marble plaque spans most of its length, embossed with a detailed carving.

Ian holds out his hand, twirling one claw around and breathing a word, and his palm begins to glow. He holds it up, and shines its azure light across the carving. It shows a history of the Federation, from the time that they won the great War of Extinction to the time the Old City was founded. He feels a smug sort of pride as he looks at it, and his wingtips flutter with pleasure.

A noise behind him makes him turn, and he clenches his fist to dispel the light source. A man has come out of the building behind him, his brown leather jacket already wet with rain. Dark locks slide down in front of his eyes, and he slicks them back, looking nervous.

Ian feels condescending towards him. He addresses the man in an arrogant tone. The man is scared and evasive, and stutters. Ian narrows his eyes at him.

Ian asks him a question, and he tenses up all of a sudden. Then he blurts something out, and draws a handgun on Ian and shoots him.

There is a ripple like water, as the shot goes right through his shield. Ian's knocked back a foot from the dull impact in his chest, but when he looks down there aren't any holes in his robes. The projectile seems to have vanished.

He panics, wings fluttering nervously, and checks his internal nanites. A half-page of text superimposes itself over his vision, along with a green outline of a pictographic display, and he skims over it all with a practiced eye. But he doesn't see what he's looking for.

He looks back up at the man, who is by now visibly shaking. The man is still holding the gun out, as though to ward Ian off. Ian's eyes narrow again, and he glares up at the man, holding one hand up to block his attacks while he takes hold of ambient energy with the other. The alleyway shines, as the electrostatic ball in his hand grows brighter and brighter, and the man backs right up to the closed door behind him, glancing frantically from side to side.

Ian is watching the display that shows his projectile's charging time, and the man's mannerisms escape him for a second. But then it occurs to him what the other is thinking, and he swings around to face the entrance to the alleyway just as a car screeches in to block it. Doors open, and men in black suitcoats pile out, handguns drawn and aimed at him.

He hears heavy footsteps behind him as well, and the sound of rifles cocking. One of the men in black suitcoats begins charging a kinetic energy trap, and his form is outlined on Ian's heads-up display, along with a circling timer.

He tosses his energy sphere into the crowd and lets out an avian shriek, wings flaring as he holds out both hands to project his most powerful shield. Bullets ricochet off of rotating hexagons, forming a sphere all around him and glowing when they are struck.

Gunshots echo between the two walls. Ian's inner “eardrums” ring, and his head feels like it is splitting apart. A green circular outline on his display shrinks, and turns red. Finally his shield cracks, and pain explodes in his chest and his left wing before he realizes that he is falling.

He lands in a heap on his back. Footsteps sound all around him, growing fainter each second. The last thing he sees is a sunglasses-wearing face looking down at him, glowing purple in the light of his charged trap. Then the man holds out his hand towards him, and there is a flash of light.





End of Day One




I'm sorry about the length of this story excerpt. I am planning to find someplace offsite to put it, so that I can link people instead of posting it here. Please let me know if this is too long and needs to be removed.

If you've enjoyed the story so far, please leave a comment, either here in the thread or by PM. Thank you for reading, and I hope to have more of it written soon. *bow*

Offline Timberwuff

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2008, 12:26:32 am »
At first I hadn't read any of your stories, but reading your small intro at the first post here, I decided to take a look into it and...

Wow, the end of ch.1 made me feel --> :'(

And the rest of the chapters just kept on rolling. Truly, a very compelling story! Please do keep on writing!

[edit] a few minutes later, even after watching something funny, I still feel emotionally exhausted... great story man...
« Last Edit: August 29, 2008, 12:37:52 am by Lawrence »
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Offline McMajik

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2008, 06:12:16 pm »
Wow...That story really puts most of the TF stories i've read to shame.

There really aren't enough stories that deal with the consequences of transformation instead of the transformation itself.

The language/grammar had no visible mistakes, and i couldn''t see any inconsistancies in the story, also better than most TF stories.

Well done!

Offline Arbutus

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Re: Soulgate: Identity Crisis
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2008, 12:53:48 am »
Okay, so you remember how this story was good before?

It's fantastic now.

I have to single out Chapter 2, which intrigued me even in its original form, but which now gives me chills. You were able to flesh out a great many things about your world and your character's background-- details you were being coy with before-- while simultaneously upping the disorientation and confusion and pain to deliver a very powerful scene.

I also loved Chapter 4, and especially the descriptive scene in front of the mirror, which felt rigorously authentic and struck the perfect semi-fascinated, semi-detached note for that point in the story.

In addition to those plaudits, I have two specific suggestions, one small and one big:
--When I first started Chapter 5, I was confused about the timeframe-- I wasn't sure whether it was meant to take place immediately after Chapter 4 or several days in the future. I think I was misled mostly by the reference to Ian's foot being almost healed (which would take several days in our naniteless world) and by Dr. Liandris's “How's your therapy going? Got back any more of your memory yet?” (which might refer to some therapy whereby Ian was trying to recover the memories from just before he was Erased). It's still hard to tell conclusively when it takes place. But that's an easy fix.
--There were a lot of good things about the introspection dialogue in Chapter 3. I especially liked the way you had Ian's "inner voice" play fast and loose with grammar and punctuation in order to convey the desperate enthusiasm for anthropomorphs that, even now, he still retains. But honestly, that scene feels somewhat unnatural as it stands. I think it's the fact that you're trying to get across a lot of backstory and assorted details all at once, but you're doing it (innovatively, I might add) in the form of a dialogue-- a dialogue between a person and his own thoughts, two actors who both know all this stuff already. Whether or not Ian is trying to reason things through with himself, whether or not he just wants to hear himself say these things out loud so he can face them, he wouldn't need to explain the details of the Birthing Crisis or Melinda Chatfield to his own mind. I think those are details that really need to come out in narration rather than in dialogue. The good news is, I think you can do this and still keep substantially the same structure for this scene. If I were editing it, I'd suggest that you think of this scene not as a dialogue, but as a three-way conversation between Ian's voice, Ian's thoughts, and the narrator; you can have the narrator pop in with those short, backstory-heavy explanations that would feel out of place coming from anyone else, and leave the reactions and the emotions to the other two.

Those are really the only two points of critique I have. I loved everything else, and I can't wait to see what happens on Day Two. I hope you'll continue to post future chapters of Soulgate on Furtopia, but even if you do decide to host this story off-site, I'll be following it wherever it goes. :)