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When on Earth
I grip the metal rail of the great, white boat and look down. Frothy whiteness and speed confuse my vision of the dark water from here, so I again move my gaze to the ocean that spreads far and wide around my transportation.
Many others ride this ship with me, and though I do not know many of them, one is my companion and will stay with me all the way to America.
Lani stands next to me, and I can hear her long, black hair move in the wind. Her presence makes me calm on this voyage; I would not know what to expect otherwise. I have been on a boat before, but only for a short time, and I have never been to _America_.
It is their "turn" with me. I know that sounds thoughtless, as though the scientists and doctors are just using me for their own curiosity's sake, but I am not treated badly. They are compensating me for the time and the tests and the travel. I do not know where else I would go, anyway. I do not know who I am.
Oh, I know who I am _now_. In Australia they named me officially, because I needed records and passports and things. I remember everything from the time I walked over the grasslands to a ranch in Tasmania, and was given a first name by the lone man there because I could not remember my own. So now I am Hannah Merle, but you can call me Anne.
Anne was the only way I felt comfortable pronouncing my name at first, before I was more skilled at controlling my voice. I still have a sort of whispery voice, and am working on it. Lani has a beautiful voice, and helps me to practice. I may not see her again after we get to Hawaii and the mainland beyond, but in all the ships and cabins so far on this trip she has been near, and helped me. I will have someone to meet me, and a short trip on a plane. I don't know what that will be like, except that the doctors were worried about it. I am making most of the journey on ships because they were concerned about my being claustrophobic, maybe unpredictable. So I hope I can conduct myself well on the plane. Lani stays on the west coast of the United States, and I go to the east coast. I am going to college.
The university in question wanted to study me, same as the institutions in Australia, but the Australian scientists kept me in their care for two years. I have been learning to use my body and behave in society and take intelligence tests, until I am now ready to continue my education elsewhere, and the scientists are satisfied with their study of my body. Now the Americans at the University of Egypt, Massachusetts, have decided on a plan of compensation so that Australia will trust me to them and I will be well provided for. I guess the school is some kind of private institution, but quite prestigious, as the doctors tell me, and with an excellent record in the study of marsupial creatures from Australia and Tasmania. So there I go.
I watch for sea creatures from the deck of the ship. I have no fear of falling, although the rails seem skimpy and my paw-hands are all that keep me balancing when the water builds up suddenly under the boat and flings us down and forward. Others seem to be less fascinated, but I can understand that. I have, the scientists are guessing, eighteen empty years to catch up on and I am trying my best to attend to every detail. Although sometimes I would rather be in a cabin alone, where no one can bother me. When I start coughing instead of speaking coherently, Lani knows I am on the edge of getting _too_ nervous and she takes me where I can avoid everybody. On the deck I am usually okay. In the dining rooms and such, though, I never know ahead of time when someone is going to bump into or brush against me. All the smells and sounds are in the same place and it's almost impossible to predict. I can stand it pleasantly for about an hour before I need a break.
I hope to get better with time.
The college will be paying for my room and board, and as I am a human being with rights, although we do not know _what_ human being, they are adding free courses in my chosen field for the years I am studied there. They hope that in this way they will be shown to be generous and caring, even though they are getting something out of it. Of course, I had no idea what I wanted to study. First I said, to the Australian doctors, when they told me where I was going, that I thought I would study the Tasmanian wolves. They were very nice about telling me that there are no courses for that sort of thing, even though the university I will be attending specializes in marsupial biology. I knew why I was going, but I had not been aware that no one studied my species especially. After all, I had heard that they studied long-extinct species like the brontosaurus and other dinosaurs, and I thought there might be a marsupial class like that. But it seems there isn't.
They took me into a room that smelled overly
clean, and showed me a seat where I was to "get
comfortable". Only they forgot my semi-rigid
tail, and there was no gap in the back of the
chair. I didn't say anything, still being very
shy, even though I had been having treatments and
therapy to try to awaken my memory. A search had
been made for my family, including a tracking of
all people who had entered Tasmania through
airlines and travel companies, but so far there
had been nothing. I was an unknown. They decided
to proceed with satisfying their own desires in
regards to me.
For all the scientists knew, I could have been an old man or something, or a woman, living alone in the wilderness until lost from my own home when my memory was erased. I have SCABS. That is really all they know about me as an individual. I could have been young, old, or in the middle, but I am now eighteen-year-old Hannah and as a Thylacine they know a _lot_ about me.
On that day that they began to deal with me in this new way, the doctors wanted to explain that museums and research facilities would pay to keep me housed and fed and educated, as if they were my family, provided they could have the chance of studying the Thylacine. The marsupial wolf.
I did not mention the unsuitability of the chair, but sat sideways on the floor in front of it.
"Are you comfortable, Hannah?" a woman doctor asked.
"Anne," I corrected her quietly, and she nodded.
"Anne, if you like. Are you comfortable? We would like to explain some things to you."
I nodded. "'kay." I wanted to tell her to get me a new chair, and to ask her whether this meant they would search no more for my past, and to explain that I liked the name Hannah fine but was still not able to say it well, so wanted others to do it my way. But at the time I was still a very bad talker so I stayed silent.
The other doctors, four in all, entered the room in their white clothes and rainbow nametags, and fiddled with the controls on a television that had a black video disc player attached. One man patted me on the head, and I looked up, but he was already looking at something on his clipboard and did not see my reaction. I felt a little odd. Scientists, I found, are not like teachers. The machinery and the notepads matter more than the person. But they will still pat you and speak nicely to you. They just quickly forget they have done so.
"Now, Anne," said someone, I think the one with the odd-smelling hairspray, whose name I forget now even though I learned them all... I can only beg excuse due to my confusion and the newness of their approach. They were going to use me, I could tell, but I did not think it would be unpleasant. They seemed sincere. "We have some things to show you, since you are in our care and it seems that no relatives of yours can yet be found."
The scientists did not have the accents of my teachers and the man who found me. I have learned that they come from many countries, and that I may expect the institutions in America to be the same way. The accents all overlap once they are in white coats, it seems. Though Lani says it is not always that way. She has been to several countries, so I guess she knows. But there is so much catching up to do!
"This video," one of the men explained, "will show you a little about the kinds of studies we might do. We have also included a movie of the last marsupial wolf kept in captivity, so you may get a better idea of the way your species looked in the wild. We want to keep you informed of any details we think are significant. This could be very important to us, and to you, as this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for study of an extinct species. You _are_ part human, and many of the Thylacine characteristics will no doubt be affected by this, but nevertheless we feel from records provided by museums that you have enough physical characteristics of the species to perhaps lead to a better understanding of their past existence and, in the future, to a development of a man-made replacement species, as has been considered in recent years. Do you follow me so far?"
"Extinct?" I asked quietly.
"Yes, Anne. Extinct. As in no longer living as a species. Are you familiar with the term?"
"The Thylacine is an _extinct_ species. For this reason, we wish to study you to learn more about them. The animals themselves are no longer available. They have all been dead for some time. All right? Now if you'll watch this video, it should explain--"
I sat, not breathing, for a moment as a white-clad person touched the "Play" button. Then, before the disc could start, I interrupted them: "All the marsupial wolves? They're not dead. _I'm_ a wolf. Right? Didn't you say..." My voice was not exactly right but I _needed_ to clarify. Something was hurting me and I began to feel afraid, although of what I cannot say.
"You are a SCABS Thylacine, or marsupial wolf, or Tasmanian wolf," a doctor said, mostly patiently. "It is important to understand that, although you cannot remember your past, you were human until the Martian Flu affected you. SCABS is capable, for reasons we do not understand, of changing a person until that person has some or all of the characteristics of another species, even a species that is extinct. You would not necessarily have had to come into contact with a Thylacine in order to be one."
"I know," I said slowly, "but why do you say they have all died? When did they die? Where did they go?"
The scientists sighed, collectively. They thought I had progressed past such elementary questions, I know that now. But I could not make them understand what I felt. I still don't know, myself. All I know is that I was upset and it did not make sense to them.
"Anne," they explained, "the marsupial wolf died out over a hundred years ago. We have here a movie of the last one kept in captivity. Ready to watch?"
Two sets of hands moved for the video controls but I interrupted again. "A hundred years ago? A century?"
"Yes, that's right."
"But that's-- impossible." I knew, somehow, that that was impossible. I ached. I have ached since then. Forgive me... I cannot explain it. "I came here a few _months_ ago. When did they all die? Not a _century_--" my voice gave way to quiet, nervous cough-barking and I knew I was beaten. Beaten by my own inability to understand and articulate. Yet. I still want to learn. I wanted to, then. And I knew these people had my best interests at the center of their actions. Still... Something was wrong. Something _is_ wrong.
The researchers waited a moment for me to calm down, then without further conversation they began the presentation. I was supposed to watch so I would understand the things they wanted to do, so I would know whether I agreed or not. But I decided I trusted them, and looked at the screen without giving the decision much effort.
Then the Thylacine came on.
The movie had been made a century ago, they said. It was in tones of black and white and little harsh squiggles dragged my eyes this way and that while I focused. The wolf circled anxiously in a grey cage and his stripes were black and his eyes sharp and smaller than mine, and I threw myself at the television. I did not speak, but held my face to the screen for the few moments that the creature could be seen. The doctors did not try to take me away, and I settled back anyway when the movie switched to something about research facilities.
"Sorry," I rasped, quietly.
"Are you all right?"
"Extinct," I replied, and looked up at my benefactors. They seemed to notice something about me that disturbed them. Their smells changed to those of reluctance and compassion.
"Are you sure you want to be involved in this? There are institutions where you could stay."
"No, educate me, please." I could not think where else I would go. And their scents were honest.
"We will continue the disc, then."
I nodded. I tried to pay attention. But I kept seeing other things, not before my eyes. Memories? They could not be. But sometimes I still have them, still see them, especially at night, in my dreams. They are black-and-white like the long-dead captive wolf. They are like nothing I have seen since emerging on the outskirts of that man's ranch. If I am imagining them, I do not know what to call them. If the visions are real, they must be happenings I have experienced. But that makes no sense. I see in color.
I looked down at the fawn hairs on my paw-hands, comparing to the aching vision of the filmed Thylacine. I knew my eyes were large and dark and liquid, and I knew that under my clothes my stripes were as a Thylacine's, halfway down my back and over the rear of my legs, although I walk upright like a girl. And I turned my slightly rounded, oddly wolfish ears to the television speaker and listened. But shadows and sounds from somewhere else in my mind kept interfering.
The ocean wind can ruffle even my short,
coarse, fawn-colored coat when it blows roughly
enough. Lani stands next to me and laughs
pleasantly, noting my eager nostrils and straining
ears as I scan the vast water for signs of life.
"Anne," says the tall, dark-skinned biologist, "what are you looking for? Are you like a mermaid? Do you belong to the sea, and are looking for the merman who will rescue you? You are so dramatic."
"I am looking for whales," I say.
"Well, I must say I agree with your interests. Do let me know if you see one."
I nod. I know what it is I want to study, at the University of Egypt, Massachusetts. If anything can live in these enormous blue and black spanses, I want to know it and see it. That is so much better than politics, or psychology or those other societal things I have to keep my mind on all the time. I am trying, I want to try, but I would rather keep a lookout for whales. Or seabirds. I have seen a few creatures, such as a school of large fish that flashed their sapphire sides and leapt near the boat, swimming with us for a time. I want to see more. I wish I could speak their language, as well. Seems I should be able to do that, with all the work I have put into English. And I am doing all right.
I turn to see a mother and her small child walking on the deck, in my direction. I know they are intending to continue on by me, so I keep my long, brown tail out of the way and press my torso against the rails. Lani glances at me, just to see that I am conducting myself properly. I give her a little grin, knowing not to open my mouth to its full gape around sensitive public. I just wrinkle my lip. She smirks happily at me.
The child is passing, his small hand held by his mother's, and as he looks up at me he says, "Mommy! Hello, Doggy!"
I smile at him, too, but a sudden scent of mistrust wafts from his mother and she hurries his little body along. "I don't think that's a doggy, Honey," she murmurs, shooting me one glance of what might be a sort of pity.
I am not a "doggy". I look over at Lani.
"What do I look like to you?"
She shades her eyes and takes a careful look. She has done this many times, of course, but this time I asked her to. "Anne, to me you look very pretty. It is a shame that you can't show your stripes. Your tail is very smooth and stiff-- I think that is what confuses people."
"No," I say. I have figured this out. When looking at my tail, people wonder, but they do not look away. "It is my face. I have never been seen. I make no sense. I am nothing but a wolf, and a wolf who is not quite right for a wolf looks _wrong_. I know. I have been thinking about it."
"Maybe a few uneducated people have mistaken you for a Dingo, and then thought you didn't look right, but you are a beautiful Thylacine, Hannah Merle."
"Well." I don't know what to think. The ocean distracts me from visions I am not sure I am even supposed to have, and so I soak its color in through my large eyes. I am silent.
I turn towards my companion again. I wait to see what she will do or say, but as the researchers in the lab when I was shown the film, Lani does not continue. Instead, she gazes at me sadly.
I watch her eyes and she watches mine. Hers are black and small, but I begin to sense my reflection in them. Her gaze becomes deeper, and more and more sorrowful.
I wonder... Where that sorrow comes from.
The ache inside me must be kept away, for I am a person I do not remember, and I must do right. I break the gaze we share and look desperately out over the moving water again.
The ship travels on, and I know its course from globes and maps I have been shown. I can see the point made on the page in the atlas, where I will be going to school. I do wonder what they will learn about Thylacines from me.
I think I hear a cry, high and short, calling, eager, but as I prick my ears to the ocean, the only place from where it seems it could have come, I hear...