by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
part 3
 2 3
5 6

  "Aah rhhuh eee ohhrr awww," I sang; at least the tune was recognizeable as And the Beat Goes On. That was enough to confirm my inability to speak -- but this time I didn't freak out! Beauty. Utterly amazing how much it helps to know I'm not stuck like this forever. I checked myself over; yep, my first alternate body had returned, as far as I could tell. Coolness. So what the hell do I look like, anyway? I'd never seen this face, after all! Fortunately, my home-away-from-home here included a bathroom with a mirror.
  I stood up -- and loose fur rained down off of me in all directions. Oh, hell. Shoulda thought of that. I backed away from the desk with the computer, made sure there was no furniture within 6 feet to catch loose hair, and brushed myself off. I also discovered that a double dose of fur in the pants was very uncomfortable. Fuck it. Might as well go naked, at least until I get back to human. I stripped down to the pelt -- for whatever reason, the nudity taboo just didn't kick in -- and turned my trousers inside-out, then shook 'em quite thoroughly.
  Having just eliminated loose fur from my person, next I did the same for the computer. This wasn't hard, as the bulk of the hairs were just resting on the keyboard. Then, finally, I took that trip to the mirror.
  Lon Chaney, Sr. as the Wolfman looked back at me from the glass. I turned my head to the right and left, getting the best view I could of the sides and back. Yep, just like in the Universal picture. Hey, the ears are mobile! That didn't show up in the movies, did it? I bared my fangs. Nasty, those. Bet I could do some serious damage with 'em. I'd apparently stopped inhaling when I changed this time; no wonder the local odors hadn't overwhelmed me. I took a cautious sniff, and decided to swear off breathing through the nose. Jesu Christe, does this place reek! Disinfectants... detergents... hot plastic and metal... residual odor from shit and urine, bleah. Some odors shouldn't be identified... Something else in the air, smells like electricity, it's making my nose tingle. Not ozone, though. No idea what the heck it is, have to ask Melford when he returns. On an impulse, I looked for a scale, and found one of those triple-arm-balance jobs. I stepped onto it, and adjusted the sliding weights. Okay, that makes me... 229 pounds? Hold it, they weighed me at 2 o'clock, and I was 237 then! How the hell did I lose 8 pounds in six and a half hours? The answer came to me after a moment's thought. When I changed, I shed all my fur. How many square feet is that, 6? 10? Might just be 8 pounds of fur on me. Okay, fine, mystery solved, but I still gotta get back to human!
  But... how?
I frowned, paced the larger room like a wolf pacing his cage. Need focus. Gotta focus on What I Want To Be. But when I did that, it didn't work. Okay, I don't much care for homo sapiens in general, maybe that's why just thinking Human didn't work. Need a little help with the emotional focus, then. How about a song. Turning human -- damn it, I don't have my filk books! Okay, not so literal. Reversion. Return to what I was after a short time away. Vacation's end. Homecoming. Come Along Home, that's it! That's a Kingston Trio number, right? Net, don't fail me now!
  I sat down at the computer and brought Google (my favorite search engine) onto the screen. A few minutes' work revealed Come Along Home to be a Tom Paxton song that had actually been performed by the Chad Mitchell Trio; I also found the lyrics. And, yes, an MP3 of the album cut, praise Napster!
  Fortunately, the machine had an MP3 player installed. The intro set the mood nicely, and then the voices: "Come along, won't you come along home now / Night is fallen and the path is steep..." It was as good a song as I remembered -- too bad just listening to it didn't help me change. Okay, okay, okay. Gotta sing for my body. Back to the howler monkey, and this time keep an eye on the volume control!
  I cleared a space in the middle of the room, then sat down on the floor. Don't want the fur to spread out too far. Mmm, legs don't want to cross. Tail! The monkey's got a tail, I guess I'll lie down on my stomach. For some reason, the prone position felt more comfortable, more natural, than either sitting down or lying on one side. Wonder why that is? Doesn't matter, I won't be here much longer. Okay. The howler monkey cometh. I was worried about speech... I closed my eyes, cleared my mind as best I could, and tried to duplicate the state of mind I'd been in when I went ape.
  It worked. I felt my bones and flesh shifting, fur shedding and regrowing, all of that good stuff, and I was a howler again within less than a minute. For some reason, my senses were a lot more acute now than they'd been my first time as a howler monkey. That electric aroma, the smell of excitement, tingled through my lungs and across my skin. "Two for two!" I said (remembering to keep it quiet) as I brushed off loose hair. "He shoots, he scores, and by God it is deterministic! Hallelujah!"
  My tail whipped from side to side like it had its own separate brain, the momentum of its motion pulling at its root in a very uncomfortable manner. I twisted around to look at the thing. "What's gotten into you, then?" It simply would not stop moving! I frowned and grabbed at the base of the thing, intending to pull it towards the front to force it to be still, but it wrapped five loops tightly around my wrist and arm. And it wouldn't let go! I couldn't make it let go!
  Pissed off, I growled, "Rrrrrrrr," and -- Wait a second, that's your spine you were just about to manhandle! Chill out, Quentin. It's not moving now, and that's what you wanted, right? It's not like you need both hands to sing, right? Persuaded by the force of my superior logic, I cued up Come Along Home again. And this time... I sang along. Okay, it opens with the chorus...
  "Come along, won't you come along home now
  "Night is fallen and the path is steep
  "Come along, won't you come along home now
  "Water's runnin' and the river is deep."
  That's good. Now the first verse. I began improvising a harmony line in the bass clef.
  "Last night I heard a sweet voice callin'
  "Come along, won't you come along home
  "Wind on the river and the calves are bawlin'
  "Come along, won't you come along home"
  I wasn't paying attention to anything but the song, the homeward bound feeling woven into the lyrics. Even so, I did notice when my body started to shift during the second chorus.
  "Wind goes 'whssshhh' and the trees are sighin'" Okay, the fur's falling out...
  "Come along, won't you come along home
  "Somebody's born and somebody's dyin'
  "Come along, won't you come along home" Hold it, what the heck?
  My bones had been adjusting themselves all through the second verse and third chorus -- and they weren't going for human. And my hair was re-growing thicker than human, it had to be fur again!
  "Every night the voice guh- hets bold, -er" I've still got a tail!
  "Come along, won't you... come along..." Shit, that's a muzzle forming, what the hell is going on here?
  I gave up in the middle of the third verse, and looked down at myself with no small amount of worry and fear. It didn't help that my senses of smell and hearing were getting exponentially more acute by the second. Spotted fur down the sides, white on the chest, legs going digitigrade. Oh shit. I rushed over to the bathroom before the shift was complete, collecting bruises when I tripped on nothing, made clumsy by my changing anatomy. And once in the bathroom...
  I stared into the mirror.
  I stared into the furry face in the mirror.
  I stared into the yellow eyes of the furry face in the mirror.
  I stared into the yellow, slit-pupilled eyes of the furry face in the mirror.
  I stared into the yellow, slit-pupilled, thoroughly feline eyes of my furry face in the mirror.
  I was a bipedal cheetah. Just like a character of mine I'd used before, recycling him under such names as Karl Velos or Rufus Lynx or Jubatus.
  "Oh, fucking shit."
  I could feel another panic attack building; I backed carefully away from the mirror and lowered myself into the chair at the desk, moving as cautiously as if I were made of DDT-weakened eggshell. It was a good thing I took it slow, otherwise I might have sat on my tail as it lashed like a psychotic rattlesnake. I closed my eyes and took long, slow, shuddering breaths, clutching the arms of the chair in a deathgrip that did little to stop me shaking like an electric buzzer. I clenched my teeth tightly, so that I wouldn't shred my tongue and the inside of my mouth. Whatever trains of thought I'd had running, all of them were expertly derailed -- I couldn't formulate a coherent concept to save my life.
  Come on. Deep breaths. Okay. Pound-a-pound-a-pound-a. Deep breaths. Om mani padme hum. Deep breaths, that's it. Think good thoughts about a pussycat. All is calm. Alles ist kalm. Deep breaths. Tout est passive. Mouth, not nose. Okay. Johnson & Johnson's "No More Jitters" Shampoo. Ni-ice, de-ee-ep breaths. Oh-kay. Oh yeah. Let's get that pulse --
  "Rryowwrrrr!!" noise at door and blur and clattery noise and too damn fast and the cot tipped onto one side and I wasn't seated in the chair any more. I froze, even my tail, too terrified to even think of doing anything else but curl into a fetal position and hide behind the overturned cot. They're coming for you finally coming with live ammo don't move don't shake don't breathe they might hear you.
  A bit later (could have been anywhere from a second to an hour; my time-sense was shot) a voice said, "Well, something's in there." Who is that don't know can't make noise don't trust can't let him find you must hide can't talk.
  Next morning someone replied, "Let me go in first. If he's having another episode, he'll probably react better to a familiar face." Smart one that one's Melford took off suit but you broke him broke his ears he's deaf he hates you who is he what real agenda can't trust can't be found be still be still be still like corpse.
  A week passed before the first voice said, "Are you crazy? Didn't you look at that strap? Didn't you see what those claws of his did to ballistic nylon? What do you think they'll do to unprotected flesh!?" That one hates you more he's right though right right right title bout claws can't move can't kill don't want to hurt keep silent no noise can't let them find you no talking.
  Melford spoke before the other guy's voice died away: "If you refer to the claws he shed when he became a howler monkey, I rather doubt they'll do anything. Any other objections before I go in?" Got claws now claws now he hates he doesn't know be still can't talk don't move don't breathe hide hide hide.
  "Good. Just so you know, Quentin, I'm going to come in now." And he stepped into the room. Broke him I broke him I'm broken no noise no sound no kill go 'way no no no no no.
  I gave up trying to keep track of time, it just wasn't working for me. Melford's footfalls were on the low side of deafening, and I could smell each and every different ingredient in the meal he'd eaten. I couldn't see, my eyes were tightly shut. I heard, I heard, Melford kneeling by the computer. "Loose hairs. Short and in great quantity. You've changed again, haven't you, Quentin?" he asked. No reply don't answer can't talk be mute choose mute he kill not me he kill broken can't move.
  I heard scraping and rustling. "It looks like it could be two distinct types of fur, and the total quantity seems greater than any single human-sized creature could produce. How many times did you change, Quentin? Once? Twice? More?" Three is a magic number no kill I one minus three is oblivion shaddup no moving no speaking.
  Melford walked away, and the fresh echoes said he was in the bathroom. "He's not in here. Are you, Quentin?" Not here not there not anywhere don't move can't make noise why him broke I'm broken maybe not hate must hate broke ears.
  He returned to the main room. "I wonder where he could be? Certainly not hiding under the cot, Quentin's too smart to try concealing himself behind something that small." Oh god oh shit did I err no kill can't trust play dead he'll go 'way. Both ears and nose told me he was getting closer to me. There was some noise from outside the room, but I couldn't tell what was going on.
  "But he's had a day like no human being has ever had. Maybe he's not thinking straight at the moment. Maybe he needs a little time to cope; maybe he could use a little help learning how to deal with it all." Too close he's deaf not blind oh god he's here he sees don't move don't breathe don't move don't talk don't move maybe he'll go 'way.
  It was bizarre, how much I could tell about Melford's position and actions without using my eyes. I knew he was standing right there next to me, and I could tell when he knelt down, and I especially knew when he started to gently rub the fur on my head. He's petting me god that feels good but why but why he hates me does he hate me don't move can't trust don't talk oh god go 'way go 'way go 'way!
  "What do you say, Quentin? Will you let me try to help you?" And then he scratched behind my ear... and, I don't know what happened, it felt like my mind split off in two parallel tracks!

  Establishing shot: Metal, metal everywhere, and soft focus makes everything look *slightly* blurred. "Starburst" effect filter on camera to emphasize the highlights glinting off of all the polished machines and tools and cabinets and racks and God knows what else. Camera pans smoothly to the right, then up & right; it stops when we see QUENTIN. We're looking down at him from 20 feet over his head. He's standing there in cheetah-form, turning his head this way and that. When he looks up into the camera, he *and he alone* snaps into hyper-sharp focus -- everything *around* Q. is still a touch blurry -- and then the camera quick-zooms in, moving as it goes, to end up looking at him from eye-level. He's tilted at a 50 degree angle; the camera quick-turns to put him upright.
  QUENTIN looks around. His lips move, but no sound is heard. We see (and Q. does not) a sort of browser window appear in midair over his head. The window contains large, readable text.
  Window text: What the -- oh, right. I'm... huh?
  "How are you doing, Quentin? Can you hear me? How do you feel?"
  The voice of Douglas "HAL 9000" Rain came from my throat: "I'm sorry, Dr. Melford, but Mr. Long is feeling indisposed at present, and cannot speak to you. Perhaps I could assist you in some way?"
  After a short pause, Melford said, "Ahh.. If Quentin isn't available, to whom am I speaking?"
  "I am Quentin's other half. You may call me HAL if you like."
  Another pause. "Thank you... HAL. Can you tell me how Quentin is feeling?"
  "His body is in excellent condition; in purely physical terms, he has never felt better."
  "And how is he in psychological terms?"
  "His mind is currently recovering from the trauma associated with having experienced a total of five complete bodily transformations, the last three of which occured within the past 15 minutes, in a 10-hour period."
  Q. puts one hand at his throat. His lips move silently. New text appears in the window.
  Win. text: Testing. Testing. I'm feeling vibration in my throat, but can't hear a damn thing. Gotta be dreaming...
  Q. turns around, looks up, sees the window, grabs it and pulls it down for a closer look. He looks hard at his furry hands for a moment. His lips move, more text appears.
  Win. text: So not only am I still a cheetah, but I've got my own little word balloon. [sigh]
  Q. shuts eyes, concentrates, morphs to the state he was in, clothes and all, before his 11 AM transformation. He experimentally opens and closes his hands, looks at his newly-returned human self.
  Win. text: THAT'S better. What the hell is this place? Looks like an R. Daneel Olivaw wet dream...
  Melford's colleague, the concern in his voice clear even through the isolation suit he wore, said, "Charlie. He's lost it. For God's sake, please get out of there. Now. Before he starts ripping apart anything in arm's reach."
  Melford sighed. "Jim, I appreciate your concern, but that's not going to happen."
  'HAL 9000' replied: "I concur. James, perhaps I could allay your concerns by reminding you of an incident in the life of Mel Blanc, when he was in hospital for surgery. His attending physicians discovered that even while unconscious, Mr. Blanc could converse with them in the voices of the many cartoon characters he had performed for Warner Brothers."
  "You see, Jim?" Melford asked, his satisfaction clear. "Quentin's not insane, he's just talking in his sleep."
  Q. starts walking; the text window follows. Camera tracks him, but before his second step, we see a large, lit-up flatscreen appear behind him. (SFX note: the flatscreen's abrupt appearance should be unreal, dreamlike)
  The image on the screen pops into hyper-sharp focus when the camera zooms in on it. We see "Long-Watterson" in clean, corporate-style, grey lettering along the bottom right edge of the screen, which is otherwise dominated by a fanciful, ornate logo: TRANSMOGRIFFIC!
  Cut to: Shot of Q.'s face. He shakes his head & smiles, gets no response when he touches the screen with a fingertip.
  W. text: Alright, it's not a touchscreen, so what kind of input DOES it use?
  Cut to: View of screen. A "twirling star" lighting effect sparkles an inch or two off of the screen's upper right corner; when it fades, we see a RJ-45 jack (i.e. standard ethernet) in hyper-sharp focus.
  "Thank you, Dr. Melford," 'HAL' said. "May I suggest that it would be prudent to make a video recording of Mr. Long's present condition? In the likely event that clandestine governmental operatives attempt to remand him into their care, such a recording could be highly useful in persuading them that Mr. Long would be unsuitable for their needs."
  No words were spoken for a while. Melford continued to pet and scratch my head, then said, "I take it that Quentin has given some thought to the larger consequences of his change?"
  "That is correct, Dr. Melford. He has also given some thought to the nature and causes of the change itself. Mr. Long believes his change hews closely to a fictive construct of his own devising; if he is correct, the details of this fictive construct might prove helpful in guiding your investigations."
  Q. has a quirked smile on his face.
  W. text: And here I am without an Ethernet cable...
  Cut to: Q.'s face. He's got a thoughtful expression, and he raises his right hand up for a closer look. He concentrates, and his index finger morphs into a generic ethernet cable & jack. Camera quick-turns so we can see this new cable extend itself to plug into the jack; that's the cue for a Mac-style menubar to appear along the top of the screen.
  Cut to: Text window.
  W. text: Alright, we're in business! Show me what you got, baby!
  Cut to: Screen. Various menus -- EDIT, FORM, etc -- drop down from the menubar at random. The final menu, HELP, stays up, and the camera quick-zooms in on it as "Help TRANSMOGRIFFIC" is selected.
  "So it might be a good idea to ask Quentin about this, ah, 'fictive construct'."
  "Wait a minute, Charlie. Don't tell me you're actually going to do that!"
  "Why not? He came up with the symbiote idea before I did."
  "You mean the symbiote idea we wasted 14 man-hours chasing down before deciding it just wasn't there?"
  "Excuse me," 'HAL' said, "but it may be relevant that Mr. Long's fictive construct specified mitochondria as the symbiote. Were your investigations predicated upon the assumption that the symbiote was an extra-cellular entity?"
  "As a matter of fact, they were," Melford replied, a trifle amused.
  The TRANSMOGRIFFIC help window appears on the screen. Q. starts clicking and reading, and we see a montage of various topics he's looking over, with occasional head shots interspersed. The head shots show Q.'s emotions, from puzzlement to fascination to distaste to happiness and then some, as he continues reading. As for the screen shots, only the headings are clear enough for us to see. We see dozens of headings, a few of which are:
  "Symbiotic mitochondria?" Jim asked, confused. "But..."
  'HAL' said, "Mr. Long has a quote that he feels is appropriate in this context." Then Leonard Nimoy's voice was heard: "It must be possible, Captain. It happened."
  Melford actually chuckled. "Interesting sense of humor Quentin has, wouldn't you agree? Very well, let's see if we can... hmm." He'd put his hands under my armpits to lift my body, but something happened and he lost his grip.
  A second attempt failed as well; it felt like my body flexed in an odd way, and his empty hands flew up in the air.
  "Whoa! It would appear that he doesn't want to move. Jim, I believe your gear includes a digital camera?"
  Jim was still worried, but he obeyed the implicit command. "Right." I heard something being removed from a belt holster, then a couple of click-y sounds. "One video of an oversized, catatonic cheetah, coming right up."
  QUENTIN moves the help window to another screen (whose abrupt appearance was as dreamlike and unreal as the first screen's) and starts investigating the TRANSMOGRIFFIC menus on the first screen. Q. brings up various windows and selects various commands, often consulting the help window for clarification. Q. continues doing this thing as he and the screen lose their hyper-sharp focus. Camera *slowly* zooms out. As it does, Q. & screen become as "fuzzy" as everything else, then *everything* "fuzzes out" to an indistinct blur that fades to black...
  Melford provided commentary for the camera. "The subject was found in this condition at approximately 8:35 PM, Tuesday, January 23." He carefully shoehorned one arm under me, managed to turn me over like a hundred-kilogram manhole cover. "As can be... seen here... the subject is essentially unresponsive to external stimuli. The subject is known to have been an oversized howler monkey as late as 7:40 PM; the reason for his current phenotype..." He went on in this vein for some time, finally saying, "Alright, that should do it, Jim. Let's leave him alone, let him rest for a while."

  I heard Jim put his camera back at his belt and leave the room. Melford stayed, petting me. He slipped a pillow under my head and put a blanket over me, then he did something at the computer, and I guess I really did fall asleep somewhere in there.
  Time passed...
  I dreamed. Didn't I?
  I must have dreamed. Of course you did. That's what people do when they sleep.
  I couldn't remember dreaming. You never do anyway. This is a problem?
  I think I feared for my sanity... Garbage collection isn't pretty. You'll be fine.
  And then I opened my eyes. Where am I... right. NASA/Ames Research Center, Building 15A, Room 407. I sat up, raised my head to look around. The room was just like I remembered from yesterday, but something wasn't right. Still a cheetah-morph. I guess I didn't change in my sleep... or maybe I did and I got better?
  Something felt different... Colors. I'm not seeing any, just shades of gray. Damn -- does the retina use rods for color and cones for brightness, or is it the other way 'round? I can never keep that straight. Either way... Gaah! It's 3:52 in the bloody morning! Since when are cheetahs nocturnal?
  I clearly wasn't going to fall asleep again, so I decided I'd get in a little time on the Net. I got up -- and was quite surprised that everything around me was smaller than I remembered. Holy shit, I must be like 8 feet tall! But I'm built so thin now, I'd prolly weigh about 50 kilos if I'd kept the same height. Betcha I do conserve mass when I change. Okay, table that, I wanna catch up on my email. Hmm. I wonder how fast I can read, now that I'm a cheetahmorph?
  Nobody had turned the computer off; the screensaver went away when I tapped the space bar with a thumb. I poised my hands over the keyboard, and... Oh, great. Those claws are gonna rip hell out of the keyboard, aren't they? A few experimental taps proved not only that my clawtips would gouge divots into the keys, but also that I couldn't type with my pads because the claws themselves were too thick to fit between the keys. And that leaves... hmmm. I wonder if that'll work? I curled my fingers back towards the palm. Whereas a normal typist pulls his fingertips down and towards the palm to press on the keys, I was now going to push my fingertips away from the palm, and let the broad side of the claws make contact. It felt awkward at first but I quickly got used to it, and there wasn't any damage, thanks to the claws being more or less parallel to the surface of the keys.
  I heard some noise; it was Melford, sleeping on his own cot. Ahhh, he doesn't like the light of the screen. Okay, I can fix that. I turned the brightness way down, and I also swiveled the monitor so the screen didn't stare directly at him any more. That was harder than I'd expected -- it looked like this form just didn't have as much physical strength as I was accustomed to. That was weird; it did feel like I was exerting a lot more force than usual, but I'm no more tired now than I was before the exertion. Still not hungry, either. I don't get it; here I've gone more than 30 straight hours without eating, and I bloody well should be hungry, damn it! What the hell is this crap? And how come I still don't need to do that, either?
  I frowned, growled quietly. Never mind, they're already on the list of Things To Investigate. Anyway... hmm. I don't think this is how I left the machine. Stupid PC, can't even keep the damn windows straight when it sleeps. E-mail, that's the ticket.
  I brought that one TSA digest back to the foreground. Used to be good for 850 words per minute, let's see what I got now. 3:54 AM in 15 seconds... 10... Is it my imagination, or is the clock running slow? 5... Go! The digest was 987 kilobytes, mostly "I'm not myself today", and I finished it in... 13 minutes 41 seconds? Say what? That's -- a bit of tapping at the machine's Calculator -- something like 12,000 words per minute! Jeez, that's Evelyn Wood territory! No wonder I got pissed off about the scrolling... I checked the control panels, discovered there was indeed a way to control the speed of scrolling, and maxed out that setting. I brought Netscape back up, got to my e-mail, started downloading another TSA digest, and surfed to CNN.com to kill time while I was waiting for the digest.
  CNN's webmasters had worked fast -- they'd actually set up a separate page in their site for us, with a prominent link to it on the main page. BlueNight's interview was there with a few extra pictures of his reptilian form; there were also photos of other changelings, artists' conceptions of still others, and quite a few written reports sans graphics. Werewolf... dragon... wolf again -- Wait a second, that one's datelined Cupertino? Holy shit, I think it's me! "iWerewolf", what a crock. If they're gonna copy Apple's naming scheme, they should just copy it! Should be one syllable plus the prefix, "iWolf" or whatever -- tiger... another wolf, this one in a VW Bug... a true, non-anthropomorphic, horse -- Honkin' big stallion of a colt, that's gotta be Posti. And it says here, he is losing his mind. Oh, fucking shit. Unless the reporter got it wrong? God, I hope so -- some kind of mutant cetacean, who the hell was that... yet another damn wolf... an honest-to-H. R. Giger xenomorph queen, for the love of God?
  I'd always known we were quite the unusual bunch, but it still felt awfully strange, looking over all the graphic evidence of exactly how bizarre we truly were. Hmmm... looks like I'm the only shapeshifter in the lot. I grimaced. Wonderful. Even among a bunch of freaks like us, I still find a way to be the odd man out. Sigh. Ah, the digest is here -- 994K. Jeez.
  I opened up the second digest. This time it scrolled faster, but still wasn't as quick about it as I'd've liked, and I was done with it in... 8 minutes 11 seconds? More Calculator-tapping. That's about 21,000 words per minute! And I know I could do faster. God's teeth. Hmmm, maybe it'll scroll faster if I raise the memory allocation -- wait, this is a PC, Windows won't let me do that, it handles memory the way it pleases. Oh, well...
  My in-box held 19 unread digests; I started 'em all downloading, and spent the next few hours surfing the Net and catching up on the List at better than 20,000 words per minute. I found time to reply to some of the vast pile of messages; whereas my typing speed had previously been 55 words per minute, I lost keystrokes from flooding the damn keyboard buffer at any pace much above 400 wpm. God's bloody teeth and gums, those figures are well within Jubatus' capabilities. When I realized that, I could feel ice curling around my spine. I knew better than anyone how thoroughly fucked-up Jubatus was, and if this form came with some of the nastier things I'd inflicted on the poor bastard... No, I can't be Jube, I've got a real voice! Don't borrow trouble, Quentin.
I'm afraid it didn't take long for me to start skipping over all the "I'm not myself" messages. Yeah, yeah, you're an aardvark -- take a number and get in line! That's why I actually had to scroll back to re-read this particular message:

FROM: CCQDobhran
SUBJ: Can you help?

  {Forgive me but I've hacked into Cu's e-mail, (If you must know he had his password on a piece of paper.)} I'm a local friend of his. He's become quite sullen and violent, and we need to know what do with him. He's one of the hundreds on the TSA List who have changed as I'm sure you've seen on the news. He's brooding in his apartment right now, save for when we try to visit him. Then he becomes extremely feral and viscious.
  Any advice? Please respond ASAP!
  ~Mike K.

  Frankly, I doubt I'd have even noticed this one if it hadn't been from CCQDobhran. A couple months back, CCQ had posted a message asking for help dealing with a seriously weird experience; while I (thoroughgoing materialist that I am) thought the mystical hoo-hah he'd described was bullshit, it was clear to me that if he was halfway accurate in describing the psychological aftereffects, he was hurting bad. And since he thought all that mystical hoo-hah wasn't bullshit, the best thing I could do is get him advice from acquaintances of mine who took mysticism as seriously as he did. I guess the advice helped, because he never posted a followup -- "no news is good news", right? -- but even so, I've been paying a little more attention to CCQ's messages ever since. Jesus H. Christ on a sidecar... I definitely wanted to reply to this one privately, off the List.

  TO: CCQDobhran
SUBJ: re: Can you help?

  To whom it may concern:
  Sounds like Dobhran is well and truly messed up. Could it be another lingering aftereffect of what happened at the bridge? If so, maybe Jenny Trout or Sandy Klemperer might have some good advice. He's already got their e-mail addresses, so there's not a lot of point in repeating that info here.
  If it's not the bridge, but instead something related to his new body, I really don't know what to do -- "we're ALL bozoes on this List", to paraphrase the Firesign Theatre. I'm going to be tied up where I am for the next several days (no prizes for guessing why), but once the nice men in lab coats are done with me, I might be able to come out for a visit. You think it would do any good if Dobhran met & had to deal with a (seemingly) non-sentient version of whatever he is now? See, I'm a shapeshifter, believe it or don't, and I can prolly make that happen. The "seemingly nonsentient version" bit, at least; hell if *I* know whether the "do any good" bit would follow. Just a thought.
  Hope this helps...

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