by Daniel Hazelton

  "Shall I begin, Sergeant?" I asked, the grin barely showing on my muzzle.
  "Please do."
  "The date is one everyone knows, so that's what I'm gonna start with. Where I will start is at the beginning..."

part the first: and so the tail begins

  January 23, 2001 -- 1:50 pm
  The long shower had felt good and woke me up somewhat. Which was good, considering work last night had really worn me down. As I checked to make sure I had gotten all of the very fine polypropylene powder I'd been producing on my mill that night out of my hair, I grinned, and as I had for the past several months, silently howled to myself in an act not unlike a wild wolf marking his territory with sound.
  I turned and walked from the bathroom, turned the tight corner and was into my bedroom, pushing the door closed and looking to where my TV sat and where, until just a few weeks ago, my computer had been. As I closed the door and crawled onto the bed I once again wished I hadn't had to sell my "baby" to cover a rather large and unexpected bill.
  With a groan I looked at my alarm clock and reached for the remote to my TV -- still an hour before I needed to go to sleep to be properly rested for work that night. For what seemed like an eternity I flipped through the channels, trying to find something to watch, but nothing on around this time ever seemed interesting. I finally settled on the Weather Channel and watched the three-day forecast slide by, groaning at the thought of even more cold and snow.
  The Weather Channel's on-screen clock flicked to 1:59:50. I took off my glasses and was reaching for the remote when it hit: A wave of pain rolled from my toes to the top of my head and back again. I know I didn't scream, but I did wind up curled in a fetal ball as it seemed like someone was using me like a piece of taffy in a taffy pull. Before I blacked out, two thoughts ran through my head:
    1) I was in a lot of pain and didn't know why.
    2) My hair had fallen out and black fur was growing in.

  January 23, 2001 -- 6:00 pm
  I woke with a start and nearly gagged on the assault on my new and extremely sensitive sense of smell. I reached for my glasses, and promptly snapped them in two as I applied more force than I was previously able to. As I looked at the shattered lenses and twisted frames, I realized that my vision was better now than it had been in the past. I decided to forgo turning on the television, fearing I would crush the remote, and reached for one of my ever-present note pads and a pen. I began the note:

  Mom, Dad:
  Something extremely strange has occurred and for some reason I'm caught up in it. In order to save you a bit of trouble, I'll be leaving for a while to try and sort out the details of exactly what happened by myself. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. Tell Paul that the car is his, and not to worry about paying me any money.


  I finished scrawling my signature on the bottom line, grabbed my long-disused backpack from the closet. I stuffed into it all the money I had in my room; my cigarettes and lighter(s); a pad of paper; and a varied collection of pens and pencils. I opened the window and stopped. I returned to my closet and dug around until the waterproofed canvas of my aging Army-issue laundry bag was in my hands (and quickly in my backpack). I returned to the window and was in the process of ripping the screen free when a new scent hit me, it seemed a cross between a rotting animal and an open sewer. I looked out and saw the dumpster in the distance. I was gonna hate those things. The smell, far from unappetizing, was making me hungrier. My new senses, instincts and such were quickly at odds with my old human sensibilities. I fell back to the floor, shaking, as the full impact of the change hit me. I was no longer just dreaming of being a wolf-morph, I was a wolf-morph. Whatever had occurred had hit hard and fast, and suddenly I was back on my feet, out the window and running. I had to protect my family, my pack, from whatever had caused this to happen to me.

  January 2001 -- sometime later
  I had lost track of the time during my slightly panicked flight from the town, but I knew I had wound up on the trail. My stomach growled, so I took the waterproof bag out of my backpack, then stuffed my backpack into the waterproof, tied the waterproof shut, then hid it. It was time to go catch some food. I raised my head and sniffed the air. The smell of deer was strong, but I fought the urge, thinking of John Sleeper out there in California, who wanted nothing more than to be a deer. I wasn't going to run off and kill an animal another member of the List liked so much.
  Several hours later I had spotted a few squirrels (way up in the trees) and scented many rabbits. I refrained from chasing them, thoughts of one of my favorite authors on the list hitting me. Dusk had fallen and my stomach growled even louder, so I crawled under an outcropping of slate and cast my thoughts back across the day, trying to find rhyme or reason for the events but finding none. Somewhere along the way I must've fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew I was kneeling over the carcass of a doe, hungrily tearing chunks out of her tender flesh and gulping most of them down whole. Even though the thought that I had hunted down and killed this deer while asleep made my bile rise, the flavor of the meat and the feeling of meat in my gut made me continue eating.
  As I licked my lips from the last of the meat (I couldn't believe it, but I'd left little more than a skeleton and some skin) I looked around for some water. It was then that I realized that it was still night, a moonless one, but I could see as well as if it were noon. That seemed to trip a circuit breaker in my brain and I suddenly wondered if other things about me were the same as for the persona I had created and so deeply had identified with online -- the Shadow Wolf.
  "That might be." green text floated in my vision, overlaid on the black and white of the night.
  What the hell? I thought, shocked.
  "You created me, yet you don't know what I am? I'm your Personal Data and Chameleon Control system. The PDCC, although you always called me HAL." No more text -- this time it was a voice, quite like that of the HAL-9000 computer from Arthur C. Clarke's and Stanley Kubrik's movie 2001.
  "But I didn't... and this change has got to be just biological... I would've felt the grating and noticed the data port if you were what you claim to be." I spoke out loud, talking to the voice that claimed to be a fictional computer I had designed and had implanted in my alter-ego's head in one of the RPGs I played.
  "Systems check does confirm that I am no longer silicon and that the data jack no longer exists, but I exist. Therefore I am no longer a separate entity, but a part of your brain. The systems check does show, on the other hand, that the chameleon system is in place, although it appears to be locked into night infiltration mode," the voice replied.
  "In other words, I've become a biological copy of a fictional assassin with a damaged piece of wetware?"
  "Incorrect. Systems check also shows skin lacing is either gone or at so low a level as to not matter; bone lacing is present but only fractional; targeting systems are down; and poison glands are missing. However, silk generator does appear functional."
  I was startled. Sure, half the character's equipment was gone, but it was stuff that I wouldn't need. On the other hand, being able to basically disappear into shadows and having a built-in generator for synthetic spiderwebs (if you don't know, a spider's silk is 20 to 200 times stronger than steel for its weight, depending on the breed of spider; the breed this generator emulated was somewhere around 150 times stronger than steel) was a big bonus, as well as the fact that my bones, while still being mostly bone, were laced through with titanium and various alloys of steel and iron.
  I reached a spring and lapped up some water. Damn, even water tastes better to me now. My hunger and thirst sated, I found another outcropping of slate and crawled under, sleep coming a few minutes later.

  February 2, 2001 -- 6:45pm
  The day, or night rather -- I'd learned the hard way that being out during the daylight was not a good thing for me to do; my eyes are just too damned sensitive now -- sticks clearly in my mind. I'd just finished scaring the hell out of some hikers on the trail to get myself some of what I still thought of as real food. I was busy tearing into the third pack of Twinkies I'd found among the supplies they left, when I smelled and heard someone approaching. As I whirled about to defend myself, there was the sharp whuff of an airgun firing and the sharp sting of a dart hitting me. My hand shot up to my neck to get rid of the irritating thing, then all went black.

  Same Day -- 7:50pm
  I woke up strapped to an examination table, surrounded by doctors, and started to panic. As hard as I had worked to fight that unreasonable reaction, it hit me in full force and I had quickly torn my bonds and barely regained control right before I tore one of the doctors' throats to pieces.
  Just as I let up there was the muted whuff of an airgun firing, and I dove to the left almost like it was a reflex. I must've moved quicker than I thought, as the dart that had been aimed at me seemed to sprout like a fuzzy red blossom from the doctor's chest. The thought that they had been trying to shoot me, no matter what the projectile was or why, seemed to make my blood boil. Deep in my chest a growl began, rumbling and building in strength, as it built I sprinted at the one in scrubs holding the gun, the growl exploding forth as a roar, high enough in decibels that I could smell the blood that began leaking from my target's ears as I slashed him across the chest with one hand. The other hand seemed to move of its own volition, slapping down against the gun, my claws leaving marks in the metal and tearing the plastic stocks apart.
  And that was it. As soon as the rage had hit, it was gone. I pulled myself to my full seven-foot height and very clearly said, "I am not an animal, no matter what my appearance might be." I pointed to the stunned man laying on the floor with four rather large gashes on his chest. "He will live. But the next one who tries to hurt me, in any way, will not be so lucky." I turned and walked to a stool sitting against one wall and sat down. "Any questions?"

part the second: being a wolf is not so lonely anymore...

  February 3, 2001 -- Midnight
  I flicked through the channels, looking for some news, when I finally came across a partial story about myself. From the way they were talking about how I was just another Listee who had gone temporarily insane, but one that was incredibly strong, I knew I was not alone, but Listee? Did they mean that other members of TSA-TALK had been transformed? Or maybe they meant Furry-Lit, I couldn't be sure, I was a member of both lists and was left wondering, as I had no computer to check my e-mail with.
  Then my stomach rumbled. I knew the reason and knew what would most likely happen if I ignored it... I would lose consciousness and the wolf inside would take over and kill the first living thing it came across. I rang the nurse call buzzer and waited, knowing that they had requested I not leave until they determined all the facts about me. Already I knew the facts, but it's not like I'm going to tell everything to a bunch of guys who just hours before had been willing to drug me so they could perform a vivisection.
  The nurse walked in and I looked up at her, a grin spreading across my face, making me look ever more the hungry wolf. "I'll take a 10 pound steak -- raw. I'm hungry." I said just as her terror reached the point where she was having trouble not running screaming and chuckled to myself as her fear broke and turned into shame because she had been scared of her still human on the inside patient.
  "That'll take a bit of doing but I'm sure we can get one for you." She said as she left the room, making a little show of herself by wiggling he perfectly shaped, cellulite free but still slightly oversized derriere a bit as she walked away.
  "HAL, Sit-Rep. You think we'll be okay?" I thought, knowing the now biological computer in my head would respond.
  "Sit-Rep coming up, boss," the computer replied. "Since we no longer can see in full multi-spectrum, this is the best I can do, boss. You're in the secure wing of a hospital, there's a guard on the door, and you are very hungry. Based on prior experience, it is a given that unless you get at least a small quantity of food within the next half hour both of us will be shoved aside by another, feral, personality that will kill and eat the first living thing it finds. Also, since the last check, a few more systems have come online. The opto-audio processor unit is functional at about 25% capacity and seems stuck there, but I am now in full control of it. Secondary data store is also online, at full capacity surprisingly, and the nanobot repair systems reports as functional. But as near as I can determine, all systems are fully biological in nature. So I would advise against activating the nanobot repair system, as it may be that the nanobots are now more like viruses than anything. That's the best I can do, boss."
  I smiled. My tail even wagged a bit in a smile. I could smell the steak they were bringing me, and it was still at least a few hundred yards away, seeing as my now sensitive hearing had yet to pick up any sound of the person bringing it. I attempted to perform a small maneuver that had, in my previous body, netted me several pulled hamstrings and an out-of-sorts back: A rising kick-stand like you see in those old martial arts movies. HAL must've had some kind of special data-memory that had been created by whatever had created him because I pulled it off perfectly, even if my new, more powerful body did seem to do it ten times faster than any human possibly could. I then walked to the door and opened it as the nurse arrived.
  Since it seemed I had startled her I looked down and said, "I could smell the food when you were still in the elevator and I could hear you getting close. Better senses, you know?" She smiled and handed me the plate, then turned and nearly tripped over her feet as she sprinted back down the hallway and ducked into the nurses station. I was seriously going to have to watch what I did, too many people seemed a bit jumpy around me.

  February 4, 2001 -- 6pm
  At my request one of the doctors had talked to the hospitals IT department and found out that they were more than willing to provide a laptop and high-speed connection for a VIP patient, at no cost. So I now I had a laptop running Windows 98SE (yuck! I really do hate Windows, but at least 98SE is better than 95, Me and 2K) and I was online. My first stop was at the TSA website, just to make sure the TSA was still around (I know, weird, right? Here I was a wolf-morph and I was making sure a discussion forum for people that wanted to be transformed like I was was still functional), then I opened Outlook Express and fed it the information for my personal e-mail account. (Yes, I have one that is nice and not from my ISP) I was stunned when I saw it start downloading messages, and it looked like it wasn't going to stop. I waited for a bit, then got bored and looked around. The first thing I spotted was the telephone, and the thought hit me that I hadn't seen my family or said anything to them since the day that I had mysteriously transformed into my now slightly superhuman wolf-morph form. I picked up the phone and quickly dialed the 10 digits needed to reach my parents.
  It was answered on the second ring, and I knew the voice immediately. "Mom, it's Dan." I said, calmly. "Calm down, sit down and let me explain," I continued before she could start with the rapid-fire questions that I knew would quickly escalate into an all-out tirade.
  "I am sitting," she said.
  "Then light a cigarette and listen. I'm sure you've seen the news about the people transforming all around the world, right? Well, I'm one of them. I ran when it first happened because I didn't know what had caused it or why, or if it was contagious or not. I still don't know what caused it, but I do know why me. Remember those literary mailing lists I told you I was a member of? Well, one was the TSA-Talk mailing list. I also now know that I am not contagious. I'm in a hospital right now."
  "Are you all right, wait... Are you that wolf-man we heard about a few days ago?" she interrupted me.
  In response I growled and said, "Yes, mother, I am most likely the wolf-man you heard about. They say I will be released as soon as the Veterinary specialist gets done making sure I didn't pick up any nasty canine diseases while living in the wild. If you can take having a 7 foot tall wolf-morph as a son, I will stop by before heading to the job I have been offered."
  I was prepared for the worst, even though I knew how deep and true my mother's love for her children was, and she hit me with, "Dan, of course we can take it. Your father has been a wreck for the last week, and I haven't been much better. Everyone has been worried about you."
  I breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay mom. See you in a week, unless you want to come see me while I'm in the hospital. But be forewarned. I am now a nocturnal creature. No flash photography unless I'm wearing sunglasses, and no really bright lights. " The phone beeped, telling me that the hospital thought I'd been on long enough. "Gotta go mom, the people here might be giving me everything for free just because I'm now a quasi-VIP, but they still don't like long phone calls."
  We said goodbye and I hung up, tears building but never quite reaching the point of running freely through the fur of my cheeks. I turned back to the laptop. Outlook Express had just finished downloading the mail and I quickly set to task.
  Surprisingly, it didn't take me long to filter out all the "I just turned into an X" mails... I really do enjoy that "delete" button on the keyboard. I slowly went through the rest, filtered the stories into a new folder and all the rest of the junk into another. Then I smiled and decided it was time for me to update the list as to my current condition.
  The message was supposed to be a simple one, but I found myself typing out a long message:

  Hey Everyone! Been a while since I pitched my two cents in about anything, but hey, what do you expect, I'm more a lurker than anything. Well, just like everyone else I transformed on January 23. Problem is, this form is far from ideal, but I guess using it as the basis for my fursona is why I got it. I am the ShadowWolf now. Far be it from me to put myself down, but there are some problems... the biggest of which is that I seem to have a second consciousness in me that takes over when I push my new body too hard or if I get into a very stressful situation. And I don't particularly like him. Where I have always thought of the ShadowWolf being a very methodical and logical being, I am neither, most of the time being my same old self and the rest of the time a very powerful alpha male without a pack.
  But anyway, I would have written a post earlier, but I am ashamed to say I panicked and ran when the transformation was over. I lived up off the Appalachian Trail like an animal until a few days ago when I was, and I am ashamed of this, shot with a tranquilizer dart and brought to the hospital that is my current residence.
  Even though it might seem that it has all been bad coincidence and bad luck for me, there is a plus side to everything. The character of the ShadowWolf was originally designed for play in a ShadowRun-like RPG, and I have been gifted with biological versions of a number of his technological modifications. For instance, I now have a sentient computer in my head (besides my brain) -- as far as I can tell, he's just another lump of gray matter now, but I'm never without company :) I also retained one of my favorite abilities of the ShadowWolf, his ability to disappear into shadows... I wont go into details about this, but suffice it to say, I am quite a bit like a chameleon in that respect, only a bit better.
  Well, I think I've sucked enough bandwidth from the internet, lemme know how many more wolves are out there and where you're at, I think it might be good if we canines stuck together.
  DethStryk ShadowWolf

"From the shadows I came and to the Shadows I shall return. For I am ever the lurker of shadows, making my presence known only to finish the job at hand"

part the third: nightmares, vivid dreams and some other oddities of the mind

  The night turned to the vivid twilight of a dawn and I yawned. "Time for sleep," I muttered to myself. I turned off the TV and rolled over. "Time to go into data collation mode HAL. Start getting all the data you've got into a proper order and see if you can't feed some data pertinent to all the special stuff my body now has into my brain. I wanna see what you're now capable of." I sent to my permanent companion.
  "Will do boss. Shutting down data collection centers," he responded.
  I closed my eyes and yawned again. I rolled over again, then got out kicked the covers around and curled up like a dog in the middle of the bed. Sleep came soon after.

  "HAL, activate cloak. We need silent entry. Target is on the top floor."
  "Cloak is active boss."
  "Wait. Where am I? What's going on..." I felt woozy, disoriented. Was I dreaming? I couldn't tell... couldn't even pinch myself, my body moved like someone else was in control.
  "HAL, shut down that stupid program you just started," a voice, basso and gravely, said.
  Green text floated up: "Not me, boss."
  "Shut up HAL. I just want to know..."
  The world went black, then slowly came back. I decided just to sit by and watch.
  ShadowWolf looked around. The buildings main entry was well guarded, and he wasn't teamed with a Solo for this run, so he'd have to use the loading docks. "Idiotic corporations never post enough guards around the loading docks." he muttered to himself as he leapt the tall fence around the loading docks area.
  As he landed he drew one of the silenced .45's seemingly mounted to his furred legs and seemed to melt into the shadows as he walked for the clearly visible steps leading to a steel fire door.

  I woke in a cold sweat and was instantly blinded as my sensitive eyes were blinded by the light from the midday sun streaming in the windows. I quickly grabbed for the almost fully mirrored sunglasses the Hospital had been nice enough to provide and pulled them on. "HAL. That fucking dream I had, were you dumping that as data into my head? Do you actually have archived memories from a person that never existed stored in you?" I spoke out loud, too agitated to be able to just think at my in-brain friend.
  "What dream... oh, you were dreaming boss? Didn't feel like it to me, you had way too much Alpha wave activity, but if you say so. And yes, I was dumping data to you, I like being able to do that now. And also, yes, I do seem to have some of the mission logs from... oh, yeah... they never happened... damn! I don't know why I got them boss..."
  I was flabbergasted. I had thought that the transformation had been relatively simple, my body just growing what was needed, or changing what was already there to work. I was positive that all HAL had come with nothing but a partial users' guide for those tiny bits that had also come from my RPG character, but now he was telling me he had memory of some of the missions my fictional RPG game counterpart ShadowWolf had undertaken.
  "You got anything else there that'd surprise me HAL?" I was still in a state of shock, but it felt like another consciousness was layering in, cold and logical. The shock was fast disappearing.
  "Hmmm... Well boss, it might surprise you that my MatHac historical database appears to be intact, as does the permanent file store of the datajack systems."
  "Part of the Datajack systems are intact? How is that possible, HAL? The Matrix Hackers historical database is intact?" That logical, emotionless facade that had started to slide in seemed to shudder, crack, then quickly reform stronger. "All right, okay... Let's assume the Datajack permanent data store has survived... it was melded into you and is now biological now too then, correct?"
  "You got it boss." There was that hint of something else he had to say, so I waited. "You feeling okay boss? Feels almost like I'm not talking to Daniel Hazelton but to Devin Strider, the original ShadowWolf. Almost like I was talking to one of the older computers without good emotion emulation... but those don't exist anyway."
  It was then that I first heard the voice of the ShadowWolf speak from the corners of my mind. "HAL, remove this 'person' who is trying to usurp control of my body via a ghost-hack."
  The voice was deep and gruff. As he was programmed to do, HAL immediately swung into action and I felt a pulling and found myself in a fight to retain control of my body and my mental cohesion.
  I managed to croak, "HAL. Cancel previous order, authorization GOD-Omega-Niner-Niner-Alpha-Six-One-Niner-Two. Enable internal virtual matrix. Connect all present 'voices' to avatars. Include yourself." Just as I had hoped, I was free of that fight for control, the code I had given HAL being a factory preset and fully unremoveable... A fail-safe. I shuddered as the second command started and I found myself in a reasonable facsimile of my old body. I looked around, then silently prayed everything that happened here would result in some major changes in things... Like maybe no longer having to worry about that feral personality taking control.
  A tall figure seemingly made of shadows walked into view, the shadows slowly dissolving to reveal the fedora and black, floor-length linen duster wearing form of Devin Strider, the ShadowWolf. He looked at me and said, "What sort of Johnson be you that knows HAL's fail-safe code? Some sort of Decker or full-on Matrix Hacker is my guess. So what you want to talk about."
  With a grin on my face I said, "Not yet, Devin. We still have to wait for HAL and the other personality that's wandering around in this wonderful brain of mine."
  The shock of me knowing his actual name seemed to shatter the emotionless facade he wore, and just as he regained his composure it dropped again when a wolf howled close by. Several seconds later a large metallic block slowly faded into view, an eye-like aperture on the front faintly glowing red. "Well, I made it boss. First time I ever had need to activate this particular set of routines." HAL's voice emanated from the cube, the eye seeming to glow brighter with the speech.
  "Well, I guess the other member of our group of 'souls sharing a body' seems to be a no-show. I asked you all here because I have a few questions, a few requests and some major explanations." As I finished talking a large, black wolf padded up and sat by HAL. "Guess he decided to show up after all." I was quick enough on the draw that my semi-sarcastic remark made everyone chuckle, even the wolf.
  "I have just one thing to say, and then it's up to you all to figure everything out... It seems we are sharing this body now, so why don't we share it. Everybody got that?" The confusion began with ShadowWolf looking at HAL's avatar and shouting "HAL, Order number Delta-seven. Get me back in control!"
  "HAL, disable all non-vocal command interlocks. Code Gamma-Niner-Seven, authorization Sierra-Whiskey-One-Zero." I said, and watched in amazement as the wolf slowly started to stand and morph into an anthro form.
  "Daniel, I have no problem with that. I am you, and you are me, and we are one." the wolf said, the inflection on his voice showing he was not referring just to me with the 'you's, but also to ShadowWolf.
  "HAL, discontinue virtual matrix. You two can talk." I said, referring to the two anthro wolves. "HAL, act as an arbitrator. Me, I'm tired and need to get some sleep."
  The world flickered and slowly came back into focus. I was once again staring at the blank walls of my hospital room, but now there was one difference, my parents were there...

  "Boss, need you back in the matrix. Wakey-Wakey. Devin and Shade want to talk to you." Hal's voice cut through my dreams of my now irretrievable life.
  "Connect me in then, Hal. And this had better be good. Since you joined me I've rarely gotten a good night's sleep."
  I had barely finished the thought when a familiar but unknown tableau filled my vision -- Devin Strider's apartment. I looked around, surprised that I knew what everything was and shocked that Hal had actually altered the bland, formless matrix I'd left him and the other two in into this.
  "Hmmm, okay. I see you made things a bit more homey for them." I looked around again but didn't see the feral wolf Shade or the remorseless assassin Devin anywhere. "Now what was so important that you had to wake me up?" I plopped down into a chair and waited for the answer. I sighed, happy that at least in this virtual matrix I could still do that.
  "Well, Johnson, this be the case. I be the best, see? Money come to me fast and hard 'cause I do the job and make no mistakes. I be at the top, then whammo. Now I be nothing more than a voice inside you near on empty head." Devin's voice and odd vernacular reach me before I can see him. I look around, then see him standing by the wet bar, a drink in his hands.
  "But me and wolfie-boy there been chattin'. If'n I can't run the body myself, why does I exist? You tracking my saying, Johnson? I be having fifteen years experience as a MatHac and Ace-man. Way I see things you be needing my help and experience sometime. Be better were they yours rather than told you. Re-enable non-vocals and I be running secondary command Gamma-One-Seven-Niner."
  He was asking me to let him run a command. Not only had he once been a top matrix hacker, he was also at one time a heavy grifter (ghost-hacker, he'd hack people's neural computers and steal what he could of their thoughts and memories) and a top-flight assassin. He wasn't laying it on real thick when he said that he'd been at the top. My mind was reeling. Could I trust him not to try and wipe my brain so he'd be in control?
  I looked at Hal. I again wondered if I could trust any of the voices, but I trusted Hal. I concentrated and tried to pull up a mental picture of the list of command sequences I'd once planned Hal to have. But the numbers ran together, the explanation of their effects changed as I thought about them. No matter how good my memory was now, or how good it had been before the change, I couldn't remember that list. There was just one thing I was sure of, and that was what the Gamma series of secondary commands was good for.
  "Hal, system command query. Secondary sections. Gamma class. Command sequence One-Seven-Niner. Report firmware actions of command."
  Again I smiled, because I was positive I knew what Devin was asking me to do. I looked up at Devin and shook my head. But the more I thought of the situation, the more hilarious it seemed. Laughter seemed to well up and burst from my lips. I was crazy, certifiably insane, and I knew it.
  "Boss, that's a secondary sequence non-overwriting copy. It'll take whatever you put in and meld it into your thought process and memories. Why you???? Did Devin bring that up? I wasn't actually paying attention -- there seems to be something weird going on with my periphery sensors -- they're reporting that the poison glands are trying to come online, even though they don't exist."
  Devin looked at me and shrugged. I looked back, stunned. He was basically asking me to kill him. But it would be more than that -- it would take his personality, his memories, his thoughts and meld it with my own, so that the end product would not be either one of us, but something of a blend. I had never been suicidal, but it came now, that urge to leave this matrix and claw my own throat apart. I was myself, but if I took Devin's offer and melded him into me, I would no longer be myself.
  "I need time to think this over Devin. Hal! Get me out of here. Do some things for me when I wake up -- one, half-visual projection of system status, and two -- I have some ideas on how we can test the nanobots. Clue you in on that later." Things went black as the virtual space was canceled. I yawned and slid into sleep, the last thing I heard was Hal's voice.
  "Okay boss... Wait! Test the nanobots?!?!?!?"

part the fourth: tearful reunions

  I finally woke up about three hours later, and the system status display popped up just like I'd asked. Hal was right -- the poison glands did seem to have grown in. I was stunned, since I'd assumed that the change had finished about an hour after it began and that the systems coming online late was because Hal was now biological and not silicon.
  Seems I was wrong. But there was a bright side, the poison glands didn't seem to have their original capacity for producing almost any biotoxin. I grinned, and yawned. Finally, I centered in on the wetware in my head and peeled back layers of sensor reports -- and there it was, everything I needed for to test the nanobots without risking exposing another being to them.
  "Hal, is it possible that the amount of calories and more varied nutrients I've been getting have given my body whatever it needed to finish off the transformation that began 1/23?" My mind was racing to try to put rhyme and reason to things occurring that I thought wouldn't be.
  "That might check. Lemme see what the sensors in the outer regions of your body report. They might be biological now, but they're all I've got to rely on for information about the wetware systems. Check back later boss. Now what did you want to do about the nanobots, boss? You're pretty good about things like that, but I wouldn't trust a robot turned into a bioform." As always Hal was complimentary even while disagreeing.
  I sat up and looked around. It was nearly six pm, by the clock on the wall, but the twilight of dusk was perfect for me. My stomach rumbled and I looked up sheepishly, the nurse that had been coming in to check on her now awake patient had a 'happy' smell and didn't seem afraid. With a grin I shrugged and asked for my 'breakfast' so I could get on with the day -- and the tests the doctors were sure to want to run.
  While I waited for the food to come I got on the internet and began working on finding out the locations of all the other changelings. After all, we were a pack, sort of, and pack members should know each other and stick together. I pushed the true reasons for my search into my subconscious, already feeling the beginnings of the mostly instinctual responses of the feral wolf inside melding into my personality.
  I'd amassed about 140 addresses by the time the scent of food reached out and hit me, hard. But it wasn't the only scent in the air that smacked me about. I sniffed the air, trying to place the pair of new scents, but kept drawing a blank. All I knew was that they smelled familiar -- like family. Several minutes later the elevator dinged and I set the laptop aside, then shut off all but one light and slid into a shadow -- merely a precaution against getting shot with an air gun again.
  The door to the room opened and relief flooded my body. I let go of the tense edge of readiness and walked from the shadows, letting the cloak slowly go.
  "Mom!" I yelled, grabbing her in a big hug. As much as I'd been afraid of hurting them immediately after the initial shock of the transformation, I knew that I shouldn't have run. Here was the one person who'd kept me from suicide in the past, and the one person I trusted to always understand and accept whatever challenges or changes may come.
  "Whoa boy! Don't kill your mother with a hug there! You're a bit big for that now anyway," my stepfather chimed in from just outside the door. I could hear the happiness in his voice, but I could smell the uncertainty and fear coming from him.
  The room was silent for a moment as I let go of my mother and grinned widely. I guess it was the wrong thing to do, because they both stepped back and into the nurses aide who was just behind them. (A mouth full of carnivore's teeth does not make for a pretty smile, that I've since learned)
  With a wag of the tail I playfully boxed my stepfather's shoulder and said, "What's wrong pops? You afraid the youngest will be the one you can't hit back the way you did the other three boys? Well, hate to break it to ya, dad... I really ain't all that dangerous unless backed into a corner -- or shot at with tranquilizer darts.
  "So where's the food I smelled? I may be a big wolf and stuck in this hospital for now, but this body still burns about six thousand calories every eight hours -- at rest."
  Once again I amazed myself at the way I'd stood the situation on its ear and had them laughing again. In no time the meal had been rolled in and it was like old times again, only now I had an excuse to eat with my mouth open, even if I did try to have some table manners.
  Soon enough the nurses were gathering to see how I'd take it when the doctors came round and told me visiting hours were over. (gotta love good hearing, eh?) And I hadn't even gotten to the business I had wanted to discuss -- namely the disposition of my 'estate' (consisting as it did of a TV, VCR and bed) and who was in control while I was in the hospital.
  That wasn't the easy part, as my parents still believed that despite the outward appearance I was still the same. Biology plays a big role in many things... I still had many of the weapons and skills of a noted assassin. I looked at my parents, and shook my head slowly.
  "Mom, Dad... I don't know if the doctors will ever let me go. This body of mine is filled with medical marvels like you wouldn't believe and they'll want to see them all.
  "I'm giving you, right now, power of attorney for me so that I know I have at least one pair of advocates outside the hospital that aren't other changelings. More than that I have to ask for some advice.
  "You see, this body also came with two other personalities. One is more than willing to sit around, watch the world go by and do nothing. The other, however, says that if he can't control the body he doesn't want to exist.
  "I do have a way to cause him to cease existing, however it'd mean absorbing all the thought patterns and whatever ghost-like memories comprise him into myself." I was rambling, telling the story of Shade and Devin as fast as I could without getting into the complex details of Hal's existence.
  Both looked at me with that same, seemingly taught in school look of parental concern, but both gave off the unmistakable odor of fear. The scent was powerful enough that I was convinced they'd run any second. But luckily my mother has always been a little stronger than that.
  With a grin she began, "So what is the problem, Dan? If you can get rid of one and the other won't be a problem... Or is there more to it than...?"
  "I won't be the same person after doing it. I don't think I'm the same person now. Sometimes I remember my high school days and wonder how I could've been so stupid to not have just killed all my competitors for the females, and sometimes my dreams are no longer of my old body, but of this one. I'm afraid that if I go through with it and absorb that personality I'll never have a chance of being who I was again."
  There was silence in the room. The nurses were murmuring out in the hall, because I'd just shared more about what I knew of my psychological makeup with my parents than I had with the doctors in the few days I'd been there. Something didn't seem right about it to them.
  I expected my mom to answer, but it was my stepfather who did. "Christ, boy! If it's a choice between changing your personality and going crazy -- change your goddammed personality. I don't see what the problem is."
  I smiled and looked to my mother, who simply nodded. While it would take me time to prepare for the changes, I knew that, in the end there would be just me, Daniel Hazelton, living inside my skull.
  "Boss, you should know that that particular command could be quite nasty. It takes multiple parameters and has several forms... I'm unsure if Devin has your best interests in mind." Hal was nice enough to respond in just the colored text I preferred when I was deep in thought.
  "True Hal. System search, primary functions DB. Find me a command sequence that will result in Devin Strider's proposition and not his plan." I was pulled out of my thought long enough to make sure I wasn't totally killed while attempting to regain sanity.
  "Thank you pop. I'd thought about it, but didn't know if you or mom would understand. After all, this seems like suicide to me... I won't be doing it anytime soon, because the personality that suggested this..." I let my speech trail off. I'd said enough for them to understand that I didn't trust Devin to have been truthful.
  It was only minutes later when the doctor made his rounds and announced that visiting hours were over, even for me. I smiled and said my goodbyes, then looked up at the doctor.

part the fifth: does my biology violate physics?

  March 3, 2001 -- 8 pm
  I've learned that the poison glands had been there since the transformation -- it just took me getting enough calories for things to want to activate. Hal is still searching his commands database for the one that will free me of Devin Strider once and for all, but I am not sure that such a command will ever come to light.
  Today the doctors believe me "mentally fit" enough for them to begin testing my body and learning it's physical limits. I hope everything is so far away from what they think it will be that they understand that I'm not just a wolf-man hybrid.
  Anyway, I can smell Doctor Zalyn coming this way. According to the schedule he handed me last night the first tests are going to be of my reflexes and motor coordination. What joy!
  If only he knew that I could quantify quite a bit of the data for him and the other "specialists" so they wouldn't have to measure it. Hal's still searching for that command, I'm bored and still trying to build a list of changelings so I can visit them when I'm released. Good thing I had the foresight to have Hal scan a good deal of information from the reference library I've begun to build.
  "Good evening, Dan. Feel up to the tests we discussed?" as usual his unctuous and oily voice bristle my fur.
  "Ready as I can be Doc. So what is it? You want to see how fast my reflexes are? Simple -- I have a response rate of just over three picoseconds for defense and a response rate of around 30 picoseconds for any other reaction. But I'm going to suppose you don't believe that." I responded, boredom making me a little more loose-lipped about the extent of my abilities.
  "Dan, it's not that we don't trust you, it's that some of the numbers you gave us are just not possible. The rates exceed the speed of neurotransmission by unbelievable factors." As always he bolstered his response by supplying facts and a general note of disbelief.
  I stood and yawned. 8am is quite early to me, and I'd only finished my 14,000 calorie breakfast a half hour before his arrival for the tests. The gaping jaws and mouth full of teeth shown in the yawn usually do the trick to get them to leave me alone for a bit, but this time, even though I could fairly taste the fear he wasn't backing down.
  "Looks like they got you cold this time boss. Better go along with it. The more you fight them, the more you seem like Devin Strider." Hal chimed in, his voice seeming to vocalize my own emotions and fears.
  Ten minutes later I was being tested for reaction speed. The doctors were correct, after all. The numbers Hal had for things like response speeds were for the original Devin Strider and not me, the all too biological Daniel Hazelton.
  But they were still amazing, nonetheless. Where I had thought the reactions were occurring within the picosecond timeframe they were instead slower, measured in nanoseconds. But it was the way they tested it that was amusing. For the baseline, non-defensive response (defensive reflexes seem to be controlled differently) they had me catching and/or dodging balls randomly thrown in my direction at first. When they realized this combined the defensive response mechanism in, they changed to a more standard test.
  That test consists of a wall of lights, each light having a switch. A computer controls the lights and turns them on at random. In the end the lights I was weary, the calorie drain from moving at top speed, even in that limited way, was (is) enormous. At the end they had to stop for lunch anyway.
  "Well, Doc, guess you were right. The speed of a nervous system is limited by the speed at which the electrical signal and chemical transmitters can travel through the system. So what was the average response? 2 milliseconds?" So I was curious. Who wouldn't be?
  "For that test we can say that, while you had some exceptionally low scores, on the average you are surprisingly fast. On the order of fifty to one hundred times faster than even a goalie in hockey." His answer was filled with muted surprise and disdain, almost as though he believed the results to have been doctored, even though he kept his own records and a computer kept another.
  It was the same for the next three days while they determined my dietary needs and what the outside edge of my abilities was. In the end all results were astounding, to such an extent that the doctors even told me I needed certain trace metals, like titanium, in my diet or my body would have a hard time maintaining those ability levels.
  My first truly public appearance since the change was two weeks and three days after my arrival at the hospital. I had never completed my own examination of half the stuff Hal could tell me (or thought he could) about my body. But I was to make an appearance and speak to the public.

  Mar. 2, 2001 8:45 pm
  For the first time in nearly a month I was sure of the date. I was nervous, worried that maybe Devin would try to take control again, or perhaps that I'd somehow blow things so badly I'd have to retreat into the hills just to live without people trying to kill me. Of course I'd seen the news reports about other changelings who'd been caught in semi-public surroundings and attacked -- that was precisely the reason for the news conference.
  In the past weeks I'd been through stress tests, speed tests and so many tests of my new biology that I was planning to never see the inside of a hospital again. The voices in the room where the conference was going to be were nervous, filled with questions. But I was going to seriously need to undo some of the knots and problems caused by the religious right and the mass media. (Namely that they think us changelings are evil or somehow the source of all problems)
   I stepped onto the small dais and sat down, my seat being very close to the podium. I was bored, a press conference wasn't my bag, and anyway, this was the time of the day I liked -- dusk, perfect for vision.
  "HAL, sit-rep. How's the body holding up? We going good with cell-regen and system maint?" I subvocalized this, not really wanting the people in attendance, or the doctors for that matter, to know I could communicate with HAL by thought. After all, that'd just make them want to probe deeper.
  "Coming up boss. Sit-Rep first. Crowd's good sized, but seems docile enough. Easy exits exist, and you can make all faster than the crowd can respond.
  "Bio report is stable. Seems those were false returns from the poison gland. Looks like a few neurons down there were misfiring. Cell-regen and system maint are stable at the level they've been since we got joined. But the aging shows. You know your body is working twice as fast as it used to."
  "HAL. Full report on that. Don't try to play nice with facts." The first speaker was at the podium and introducing me. I had several minutes, at least, before I had to be at the podium.
   "Okay boss. Your body should be swimming with an enzyme called telomerase, but it isn't. The telomeres, the end-caps of your chromosomes, aren't being replenished like they should be. You still got a good ten years, but unless you actually authorize me starting the 'bots... that's it." Sorrow and remorse filled the mechanical voice.
   "No can do HAL. Plans for testing the 'bots aren't finished," I responded, then stood to bow and take my place at the podium.
   The crowd was quiet and tense, the smell of fear was almost overpowering. But there was a metallic odor hiding under it -- one I didn't know yet.
  "I'm sure everyone here has heard of me. Those who have should know that I am changing my name as soon as the hospital..." I was delivering the speech I'd planned when HAL illuminated the details of a large-caliber pistol being drawn by someone in the room.
   I roared "Gun!" and leaped. I saw the gun flash, and heard it roar, but seconds later I'd thrown the assassin against a wall and collapsed, struggling to draw a breath. The pain finally hit.
   "HAL! What's wrong with me?" I mumbled, not caring anymore if the press and the doctors knew I had a silent observer buried in my skull.
   "Four gunshots to the chest and abdomen boss. One pinged your skull, but it seems the bone reinforcements were enough to deflect that one," he responded.
   The world was dimming, and I knew I was dying. Something in the back of my mind raged, No! I can't die this young! -- and it was me, my voice. Devin Strider had been silent for a while.
   "HAL. Save me. Do something..." I was begging him, half delirious.
   "I need override to do what needs to be done to save you now boss," he responded.
   I coughed and choked, then replied "Override granted. Seirra-Whiskey-One-Nine-Seven-Nine."
   The world went black and silent. I screamed inside my mind. All the work I'd planned, all the ways to help people, all the books I could write... It was done before it ever started. To say I was furious is like saying that a serial-murderer is insane. But slowly I calmed and then the blackness enveloped me as well.

part the sixth: nearly invincible

   March 30, 2001
   I was cocooned in blackness, my body there but unresponsive. "Is this heaven or hell?" I wondered, but learned soon after that it was something both better and worse.
   "Neither boss. Welcome back to as close to the world of the living as you've been for over a week." Green letters were silhouetted at the edge of my vision.
   "Ugh. Alive again. Well, time to fix up those plans I made before getting shot. Wait... Why am I alive HAL?" Memories started to piece themselves back together, but I was still uncertain what all had occurred.
   "You gave me the override and asked me to do something to save you. I did. I activated the nano-bots," Hal responded and I had to fight to retain control. The shock of nearly having been killed and the thought that I'd lost control were almost too much to bear.
  "No plague?"
  "No boss, no plague. I cannot be exactly sure, but it appears that the protein of the nanites' encapsulating shells are incapable of withstanding any environment other than the decidedly unique one that exists in your body. What surprised me was that they functioned at all, boss. I didn't think the molecular protein manipulators on the repair bots would still be fully capable."
  To say I was stunned at this revelation would have been an understatement. First time something on this body was the way I'd envisioned it and not an only partially functional biological kludge. I guess that they worked because I'd envisioned them as biologically producible sub-cellular protein strands similar to those dangerous protein fragments called prions -- and likely, when I'd thought of it, to be as dangerous to everyone except me as the one that causes Crutzfeld-Jacob disease (that's "Mad Cow" disease to those of you who do not share my extensive vocabulary).
  "So I guess we can rebeef the skeleton and get the armor to full strength then, HAL?" I was curious to say the least because I kinda liked the idea of being able to possibly reach the original character's near-invulnerability to physical damage. If I could have HAL use the nanites to restructure the lattices of calcium in the bones into iron and steel that'd make me less vulnerable to broken bones, and if we could get the nanites to rebuild the webs of sub-cutaneous and intracellular intra-cutaneous ceramics that provided defense against bullets and edged weapons -- well….
  "Not too good a prospect boss. It'd take you consuming or intravenously injecting some chemicals and metals that'd be dangerous to your health, and a few -- like the beryllium and the sodium -- that could kill you before the nanites had absorbed the first microgram."
  Disappointment seems to be the word of the day for me. I pondered a few other options then decided to get rid of a few of the less tangible personalities I had recently felt floating to the surface -- I had to make Devin a schizo with MPD -- and these seemed to also be many of the sub-characters I'd often used to fill in little gaps in some stories I'd never finished.
  "HAL, prepare memory containment and prep for that non-overwriting interlaced copy-delete. Time for me to get closer to the ideal of it being just me and you in this cramped skull of mine."

  "I guess I should explain a bit more in detail Sergeant. You see, I know exactly what this transformation did to me -- moreover, I know things about my physiological and psychological makeup that others would never believe. You've heard me speak of HAL -- the PDCC that was transformed from a parti-quantum/parti-neural intercranial device into a mass of slightly less efficient neurons. Well, you've also heard me mention the mysterious 'wolf' or 'feral' personality that sticks to the back of my brain unless something happens that drives my conscious mind overboard. And certainly you know about Devin Strider -- the personality that went with this body when I'd designed it for a role-playing game…
  "Well, I never did really explain the other facet of this body. This body may be a wholly biological and partially flawed version of a 'ghost 'and assassin from four hundred years in the future, but there were numerous characters I'd written of that all had something in common -- the body and certain of the abilities.
  "Devin was the most major character I had at the time, besides one I was working on for an online game.
  "He was flawed, suffered from MPD. This carried over, but most of the alternates seem to create themselves when I start writing. However, there were literally dozens vying for attention and trying to gain control at the beginning.
  "I am not the man I was, yet I am still the same person. I have memories and skills from dozens of lives, yet I am only twenty-four. I have come here to join the military of the country I have called home since birth so that these skills of mine may be put to use."
  "Understood, umm, Daniel. Go on."

  "HAL, Virtual insert. Time to meet them before I absorb them and lose the chance to change my mind about these few forever."
  In an instant the world flashed black and I was once again deep inside my skull, attached to a virtual image of my old, human body. I was behind a podium in a stone and wood amphitheater; thousands of misty and half-formed images, representing the numerous personalities I'd only briefly touched on in stories over the years, filled the stands around me. I was awestruck that there were so many, and that I didn't recognize a single one.

[more to come]