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When on Earth
part 3
by Feech

        From Tasmania to Australia, Australia to the west coast of the United States of America and from the west coast to the east coast. Egypt, Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts and now, Pennsylvania. It can be mind-boggling. I don't know how people do it, sometimes... I have only travelled to those few areas on the globe and already I go to my room at night and open the atlas, pinpointing the place where I stand-- as near as I can from the maps, anyway.
        My comfort with a place only comes when I know where that place is in relation to everywhere else-- except on boats. Somehow, looking over the sides, I know the ocean is as open and honest a place as one could ever find-- it still amazes me that creatures live there, and I have been studying them with a fervor that impresses some of my teachers... They say that if motivation decided progress, I would be outstanding in my field. I am still a little slow, though. I am always getting sidetracked by _life_. And, of course, there are others who desire to learn about my physical self as much as I need to learn about society.
        Some say the ocean is deep and secretive... In my mind, at least it is present _now_, and that is more than can be said for the me that was... or the Tasmanian wolves. They still say they are dead a hundred years. And still I ache. It is an ache of confusion, of time. Sometimes in the grey flickers of images over my vision I recall the months that passed between my appearance on the ranch and the discussion with the doctors in Australia, and I _know_ something is not right. Something... What it is, I will probably never know. It is as they have said. I am confused. Lost my memory. So I do not relate the memories I have, anymore. But still, _something_ comes to me. Did I go full-morph in the grasslands? If I stay here, and do as I am told, does it matter?
        What if I have a family somewhere?
        I have these thoughts everywhere, and the images will not be suppressed, as is proven by the fact that I am distracted from the questions being put to me right now.
        I am sitting in a pleasant room, clean, but smelling of disinfectant sprays, warm plastic electrical equipment, and colognes. My chair is plastic, but accommodates my stiff tail nicely with a curved opening at the back. Much better than lecture-hall chairs or waiting-room chairs.
        "What do you like to be called, Miss Hannah Merle?" The groomer asks gently, for the third time, and this time I turn my large, round eyes to him and wrinkle my lip in a smile.
        "Sorry," I say huskily. "I am distracted... And I have never... done this before."
        "I understand that, all right," says the groomer, marking something on the file he is supporting against the panelling of the room. His own smile is slight, but genuine. In fact I like the way he smells, despite the shiny smock that obscures most of his clothing and some of his natural scent as well. He seems trustworthy. I decide to pay attention to him and do this right. After all, I can't make a bad name for my university while visiting MacLeod.
        The graduate student from the University of Egypt who has been including me in his presentation on extrapolation of characteristics of extinct species from known fact has been invited to present at MacLeod University, and I came with him. He claims I am the best visual aid he could have, and should help to maintain interest in the topic. My supervisors gave consent, provided I can handle being on stage in a strange place. I will practice that later, before the students arrive for the presentation, much as I sat alone in the church in Boston.
        I really am not an entirely accurate representation of a Thylacine, I think as I inspect the thin fur on my wrist. But anything to improve the project, as the student says, and so here I am to be groomed. I must admit that even I can see the sense in this. I really do like to look my best when confronted with so many unknowns.
        "Anne is fine," I reply to Angelo, quietly, and the groomer nods, evidently writing this name next to my legal one.
        "Anne, then. Nice name. Now, the people from your university said they wanted you to get spruced up for a presentation someone is doing. What would you consider 'spruced up,' Anne?"
        I look at him. Red hair, small earrings-- I never wear that kind of thing myself, but they fascinate me on other people-- relaxed position as he waits patiently for my next answer. He wants to know. What do _I_ consider 'spruced up.' Of course, it's _my_ groom. I am doing it for the school, but... "Well, I don't know... Something to enhance the Thylacine, since I am one on two legs, mainly..."
        He looks at me, now. And something crosses his scent and his expression, but is gone before I can truly catch it.
        "Anne," he says, businesslike but friendly, "Why don't we go ahead and get started, and when I get the basics done and you have taken your shower, we can decide on any details that might please you. How's that sound?"
        "Okay." I say, getting the slightest of impressions that he is somehow testing me. I adjust myself for comfort in the seat and look down at the old clothes I wore for the appointment, having been instructed not to wear anything that might be ruined by hairs and lotions and such. Really, I am only truly comfortable in old clothes anyway, I have gotten so used to them. This is just one of my regular outfits. It's already been through seawater and chemicals and whoknowswhatelse. Angelo turns away, setting the file aside and taking up some metal object that I cannot quite identify right away, then reaching over to a black CD player as if this is part of his daily ritual and turning it on before returning to me.
        "Hope you don't mind music-- if it bothers you, we can turn it off," says the groomer. I nod, and when he is within range, I indicate my willingness to begin the grooming procedure by extending a hand-paw towards him.
        Again that indefinable look, but Angelo smells very much as if he has discovered something utterly unexpected. He takes my hand, and shows me the metal tool. "Guillotine clippers," he says. "I'm just going to shave the tips off your fingernails and see how it goes. In my experience, all species and ages of animals have differently textured nails, and in your case this could take a bit of experimenting-- I have never groomed a Thylacine before."
        At the appearance of yet another smile across the man's face I relax and try to forget the sound of the clippers snapping as they trim my claws, instead swiveling an ear towards the black CD player on the window sill. The musical sounds are harsh, but not unpleasant; the lead singer has rather a screaming voice, but the volume is not too loud and I listen closely out of mild curiosity.
        I have been scraped, examined, taught modesty and then had it blithely violated, yet having a relative stranger touch my hands and feet still makes me jumpy. Oh, well. I sigh, I hope inaudibly. No reason to behave as if I don't trust the friendly Angelo. After all, the first thing he did during this appointment was ask _my_ opinion. I am, for these few hours, free of the doctors' and researchers' decisions. It is rather soothing.
        "What music is this?" I ask, quietly, trying not to move the limb he is currently working on.
        "Guns'n'Roses. Popular years back. This was their best album, in my opinion."
        "Is that a violin?"
        "Electric guitar."
        Angelo pauses and reaches into a nearby plastic cart for an emery board. I place my hand in my lap as soon as he lets go, then raise it again when he faces me. "Thank you, that's perfect," he says, and begins rasping the edges of the trimmed claws. "I think later on in the album there's a violin, but I'm not sure. Is the music disturbing to you?"
        "Oh, no," I assure him. I watch the progress on my nails for a moment, but again find it more soothing to glance away.
        Angelo notices. "Does the nail trimming make you nervous?"
        "A little."
        "Now that is odd," he informs me, and again that curious demeanor is evident in the groomer's posture and eyes. "Do tell me if anything else makes you nervous."
        "All right."

* * * * *

        I got back to my dorm room after seeing the church and taking dinner with Mattie, and I flicked on the TV for awhile, just to make a smooth transition from the activity outside my private space to the quiet inside. I looked in the mirror.
        Same, fawn-colored wolf-headed girl I always knew-- that is, always since the first time I saw a human being, although I must have known many I cannot remember. The rancher showed me myself in his looking glass, hoping to spark some memory with what I could see there, but I just nodded, unable at that time to speak his language and picking up on the body language that meant "agreement" in his evident communication.
        Something about that reflection, back in Tasmania, confused me deeply, and I recall a pained expression on the rancher's lined face, as though I said or did something to sadden him, but I do not remember now what that was or why I became upset myself.
        I am reminded of the filmed Thylacine that I was shown in the Australian research center. Perhaps I did something like that-- pressed my face to the mirror, connecting with an object nonexistent. All I know is that I nodded, and with that the rancher seemed determined, I suppose to find my identity and return me, a poor lost girl, to her family. I obeyed whatever he, and later the doctors, said, and I learned again to speak the language they say I must have left behind... Although they do not really know for certain what nationality I might have been.
        I looked in my mirror in the dorm room, and considered the happenings of my first day free, on my own. It had been interesting, but I still could not be sure I was doing everything correctly.
        I slunk tiredly over to my bed and flopped, belly-down, onto it, leaving the thin white curtains open so the last of the sun could soak through the windowpane. I believe I slept... At any rate, I went into a sort of torpor...
        When I awoke, it was dark except for the glimmer of street lamps bouncing off the glass of my dorm room window. I felt dry and sweaty at the same time, and knew something was wrong when I felt the stick of sweat around my neck and chin. I only sweat on my palms and feet.
        I jumped up, and a sort of dizziness unsteadied me, and I felt a brushing of fur against my shoulders where it should not have been. My nose and ears were solid, useless. I tried to stretch and realign my jaw and could not. It all felt like that strange sensation that had overcome me in the Christian church, but I had thought there that it was a matter of having been out in strange places too long, coupled with my ongoing confusion. I knew now that it was physical, and strong, whatever it was, and I stifled an urge to flee.
        Running out into the halls, sick and confused, would be foolhardy until I knew where to go for help, who of the members of the college I could trust.
        I staggered to the mirror, no longer dizzy but frightened, and stared.
        The reflection was of a woman, dark-haired and blue-eyed, and I knew in an instant I had seen her before-- once. In the water placed in bowls at the church. This was _me_! Except that I knew, once and for all, it was _not_. The girl with curved black hair, melded with the Thylacine body I had grown accustomed to, was an utter stranger.
        I screamed-- or, more properly, I let out a high-pitched "Yip!" that could certainly be heard down the hall, then fell into a coughing fit such as I had not had since first travelling to Australia following my discovery.
        I only cough lately when I am dreadfully nervous. I had made up my mind to hide, curled under the sink in my room, until recovering myself again, but Brina in the room three doors down was approaching her own room, and heard my cry.
        "Anne! Anne, are you all right?"
        I coughed, and Brina pushed the door open-- I am always forgetting to lock it-- and came to sit beside me on the floor. "Anne! How do you feel? Look at yourself-- the SCABS has changed your face back. Are you okay? Why did you yelp like that?"
        I shook my head. I couldn't work up more than a whisper at first, then managed: "Stripes."
        "What, Honey?" Brina placed an arm cautiously around my shoulder and squeezed gently. I did not object. At least she was known to me. "What's wrong, Anne? What are you saying?"
        I coughed again and was silent. I had the distinct impression that I had said something silly, and felt it best to shut up once again. Anyway, the images like old film were piercing my consciousness again, so much like memories I could have _sworn_... But I just curled up next to Brina on the tiles of the dorm floor, and said nothing.
        Brina stayed with me. The next day a photograph of my human face was sent off by computer to Australia, so the search could begin anew for my family, if I have any. So far, nothing has come of it. Two days later my face reformed with another bout of dizziness and tingling, and with my trusted sense of smell and my typical body back, I began to feel much better. It was with immense relief that I looked back into the mirror at a Thylacine, no matter how odd the species, and with my usual wonderment that I attempted to fathom the emptiness of my deep brown eyes. They keep telling me I have the biggest, lonesomest eyes-- that it "spooks them out". But all I feel is a question. Maybe they are mistaking aching confusion for sadness. The same way they confused panic with excitement, when my face shifted like that.
        I listen to the experts, and I try to make myself better doing what they say. They help me with my learning. But still no one really tells me where the wolves have _gone_, and why I do not recall ever having seen that woman's face in the glass. Therapists only succeed in bringing forth more of the Thylacine, and concentrate instead on my education as a new human being. Well, fine... I do not remember who I was, they won't let me, and I might as well be new as anything else.
        I spend a lot of time at the shore, not just during class projects, and jog along looking for horseshoe crabs and other animals.
        I talk to them, sometimes. Is that strange? Talking to animals, I mean.
        I have thought of asking my professors, and I know some people talk to domesticated animals, giving them commands, but I tire of the confusing replies to my questing and I am not certain I have seen anyone but my own self talking to crabs. I watch, I scent the air and listen, and here and there I pick up something that is taught to me unwittingly. Sometimes I think that is the best way.

* * * * *

        "Nice, coarse hair," Angelo murmurs, running his fingers over the top of my head. "If you're going to be trying to impress upon people the true nature of the Thylacine, I really hesitate to detract from it. What say we just spot-clean you, and use plain water otherwise. In your case, we don't _want_ 'fluffy'."
        I nod, listening, but also listening to the music and watching the movement on the street outside. Angelo gives me a small bottle of translucent gold shampoo.
        "I would like you to please wash the sides of your face, and your arms and hands, with that, and also the soles of your feet, since you say you sweat there. The shampoo is hypoallergenic and very gentle... I see you have been using human shampoos, which is not a good idea with your skin... This shampoo is safe enough for you to use in the corners under your eyes, too, but otherwise I want you to rinse off real well with water only. Then we'll use the blow-dryer, okay?
        "Towels are on the rack next to the tub... Towel-dry yourself as much as you like, with circular motions so we don't break any of those nice hairs, all right?"
        I wrinkle-smile back at the smiling man and enter the next room, which has been made over to accommodate any kind of SCAB bath needs... Except possibly the very largest of creatures, although there is only so much Angelo must be able to do with a smallish place like this. I proceed to rinse carefully in the spray from the shower. From the other room comes the muffled sound of Angelo idly singing with the CD player while he organizes his equipment.
        It doesn't take more than a few minutes to spot-clean and get water through my entire coat, as instructed, and I towel-dry to the point where I can change comfortably into my other set of clothes-- also old. I notice a dryer in the bath room, but with my short hair I do not need to do anything but towel off thoroughly before reentering the vacuumed and wiped-down grooming area.
        I go back over to the chair and arrange my tail. Angelo brandishes a white plastic dryer and a very finely toothed comb.
        "Okay, now that you're clean, we'll make you perfect." He grins at me and flips the switch on the dryer.
        I start. It's right there, whining, by my sensitive ears. I draw my head away to the side, trying not to show my discomfort. Angelo turns off the machine.
        "Anne," he says casually, as if he planned for this pause and it does not in the least inconvenience him, "If you don't mind my asking a personal question, when did you come down with SCABS?"
        "Oh," I say, just as casually, "A... couple years ago, down in Tasmania..."
        "In Tasmania," he says. He steps back and looks at me, not for the first time. "That's unusual, to say the least, isn't it."
        "How-- how so?"
        "Well. I don't know of many people who go swimming and then turn into SCABS sharks, or go to Borneo and become orangutans. It doesn't seem to depend on the place the individual is at the time, does it."
        He knows, or has a suspicion of, something I don't. At least, there is something he is not saying, almost as if afraid I might not want to hear it. What has the groomer been noticing about me? I decide to ask him a question, to see if he is as open and trustworthy as he seems.
        "Angelo? Where did all the wolves go?"
        "What wolves, Anne?" The song on the Guns'n'Roses CD changes, and we both listen to the next song's beginning for an instant. I keep one ear on the slow, yet wailing music and one on the man before me.
        "All the Tasmanian wolves," I say.
        "Like you."
        "No, not like..."
        Something in the music half catches my attention, but after one wondering moment I dismiss it. It was nothing, I guess. "Not like me," I continue. "Not human. Extinct. Just as all the researchers say. Extinct."
        "Hm. Well, if they're gone, then they are gone to Heaven, if you ask me, which you did. But tell me. What do you remember."
        "Nothing. I don't have any memory of anything that happened before I saw a rancher who helped me."
        "Really? What happened? Didn't anybody claim you?"
        He still has thoughts he's not voicing, even though he smells perfectly honest under that smock. He hangs the dryer back on a hook on the wall and picks up a small, yellow towel. "We'll use this," he says, and demonstrates the towel's super-absorbency. "No one knew who you were?"
        I begin to understand. He will _listen_ to me. I look up at him eagerly from under the towel.
        "I dream in black-and-white," I tell Angelo.
        "What do you dream of?"
        "Thylacines. I smell in my sleep, and I smell them. And sometimes I remember--" Yes. I _remember_, no matter what anybody else says, "-- waking up on the first day after I left my mother, and feeling so sick I could not eat. And my body got larger and I got hungrier and--"
        Angelo listens raptly, in evident fascination, and rather suddenly the song on the CD dips into a quiet part, so quiet I pause and shift my ear to listen. The music falls into a building rhythm. A rhythm like the loping, not so fast but inevitable and able to go all night, of a wolf or two following one animal of prey to its inexorable death. I listen. And then I jump out of my chair, and press my ear to the machine, even though the music is too loud when up close, even though I know there are no Tasmanian wolves in there-- or, they say, anywhere, though I know better than _that_.
        "Angelo," I rasp, "listen to this."
        It is the exact note of the contact call. I would know it anywhere. Here, on the electric guitar or whatever it is, the sound is too drawn-out, but this is it. We are loners, or working in pairs, but as a family or a pair there is a voice for keeping track of the others' whereabouts. "Listen to this."
        Angelo listens from where he stands. He seems the slightest bit afraid of me, for an instant. Spooky, I realize. He had not thought his CD called to dead animals. I am beginning to get the idea of what is frightening to others, when I think about it carefully. Still I keep my ear pressed to the black plastic machine.
        "What is it?" Angelo inquires.
        "It's them," I say, knowing as usual that my words do not necessarily make sense. "If it was short and sharp..."
        "Ah, I see." And he _does_! He really does.
        "I don't know what to do," I admit.
        "You don't have to do _anything_ you don't want to do. But if everybody else assumes..."
        "Yes. I guess we should tell some people, the researchers, the students, the important people."
        Angelo chuckles. "I knew my gut instincts would be correct. They _almost_ always are, when it comes to clients. But in your case I had a hard time believing myself."
        I nod. The song ends and I lose interest in the music.
        "I had just started out on my own," I mutter quietly.
        "Well." Angelo scratches the back of his head thoughtfully. "They won't believe you, you know. Do you know where they can _find_ the other Thylacines?"
        I nod emphatically. Now that I'm allowing the images in, of course I do! "I could lead a party to them. Although they will be hiding."
        "You make a _great_ human," he says, seeming to know what kind of encouragement is called for right now. _I_ know my Thylacine self, but suddenly the human thing is slipping. I need to know I am not a bad one, even if I am due to--
        "Angelo," I say suddenly, "What about--"
        Again he knows, before I finish speaking. "My opinion. This is religious, so if you don't--"
        "I do."
        "Okay. Well, I have SCABS myself, and I used to be a woman. I am completely male now, though I too have memories from before. And as for the soul, Darling, if those eyes mean anything, and if I know _anything_ about SCABS, a virus does not create a soul. It comes with the territory and cannot be defined, made nor destroyed by a disease. And that's my two cents for the discussion today."
        I let my human side take over and I hug him.
        He seems pleased.

* * * * *

        That rose is in the same place in the church in Boston. I enter quietly, during a weekday as before, because I have had about enough lately of poking and prodding and questions and discussion. Let them go to Tasmania and find out. I am going to school.
        The rose rustles in the breeze of the indoor air system, and as I pause before the tiled representation of Jesus in what I hope is a respectful fashion, something occurs to me. Just as it does, just as the thought begins to cross my mind as I soak up the solitude of the church, another person enters the church.
        The man genuflects as he comes in the door, and I can hear him dip a hand in the water even though my focus returns to the altar area. He steps quietly to the front pew, and slides in next to the rose bush, nodding to me as he does so, seeming to want to be friendly in case I am new here.
        I slip into a pew off to the other side. I keep one eye peering at the rose and the man, and see the man lift a black folder from the pew, one that I know he did not bring in. It must have been sitting there already.
        The man slides closer to the huge rose bush's pot, and touches one of the blossoms. The branch does, indeed, curl around the man's wrist.
        I decide to pay attention to trying to learn to pray, but I can't help being interested in the interaction taking place in the front pew. I knew it. Maybe something of Angelo's intuition rubbed off on me during my stay with that graduate student in Pennsylvania.
        I wonder if she spends a lot of time here, or whether, like me, this yellow brick church is a haven for short stretches of time before going back to the pursuit of-- well, of what depends on the person, but the pursuit of something important to the rose.
        It occurs to me that the rose may have been a human, or may have been a rose, but it should not matter now. If Angelo is right, and a disease cannot create a being, then we all have equal invitation to be here.
        That's why they always leave the door open.

        I bought a Guns'n'Roses CD. "November Rain" is my favorite, of course, but I still don't want to go back to Tasmania-- not yet.
        I have twenty-five Washingtons to go before my next Whale Watch.

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