|Action MUST be Taken!
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
Dear Mr. Edward Drysdale III
You are hereby given notice that on April 28th of this year, at no later than 10:00am, you shall present yourself at 857 Charles St., in room 218C, and sit in the BLUE chair. There you shall be briefed and prepared for your species reassignment, as outlined in Resolution 1,893, subsection C, paragraph 10.
Failure to show up at the designated time and place will be considered an offense against Canadian law. Your passport has been suspended until the completion of your reassignment.
If you have any questions, please contact your local MP, Miss Alice Collins, at (555)-189-5555.
Signed, Mr. George Arnolds
Director, SRD, Ottawa Office
Most of Edward's friends had already received The Letter when he got his, so he wasn't too surprised. When he'd voted for the TSA party, their policies hadn't seemed too outrageous, but it wasn't supposed to happen to him by God! Why he'd donated almost $5,000 New Dollars to the TSA party in their last election. They were the only party that stood for anything meaningful these days. The only party that supported technology and change. The only party that was able and willing to take the action needed to restore the Canadian economy and technological world leadership. Action had to be taken!
For a moment Edward considered fleeing. The border with Mexico was patrolled, a legacy of the US immigration policies before their economic collapse in 2007. When the states had started joining Confederation, the Mexican border patrol had lapsed, but had been restored by the Canadian government as a non-obtrusive base from which to monitor and control the religious madness in the deep south.
There were rumours of an underground, a hidden railroad to Mexico, but who wanted to go there? Mexico was even worse off now than the US had been at the lowest point of their collapse. He had friends who could smuggle him out by sea, but they knew which side their bread was buttered on and would turn him in, just like he'd turned in Michael five years ago.
They could have at least given him a choice! But, they didn't, and that was no surprise. The first few years of reassignment had resulted in everybody wanting to be a fox and parliament had no choice other than overturning the legal right of choice.
Edward breathed deeply, and forced a level of calm over himself. There was nothing to do. Well, maybe nothing--
"Minerva command; prepare to take dictation," Edward stated out loud, a signal to his study's computer. It was not an AI in the classic sense, but it did take voice cues.
Edward talked out loud, pacing back and forth in his study, his slippered feet soft on the plush carpet. His first dictation was to Mr. George Arnolds, acknowledging receipt and confirming that he would be at the designated place at the designated time. The second was to Miss Alice Collins, reminding her of his contributions and requesting her to do what she could about selecting specific species. He was stuck, but there were some things he just refused to even think about being. The same letter was sent to the president of the TSA party. After that, it was a number of dictations to friends informing them of his unavoidable absence after that date. Finally, it was a letter requesting a leave of absence from his teaching position at the University of Toronto where he specialized in arctic biology.
Then he booked a vacation to Florida for his last two weeks of humanity.
On April 28th, at 9:57am, Edward opened the door to room 218C. He was tanned, healthy, scratched a bit from some coral, but quietly happy. There was nobody else waiting, so he walked over to the blue chair, his shoes slapping on the polished floor, and sat down and waited.
Sadly, none of his correspondence had any evidence of achieving anything. He had receipts for them, generic form letters except for that from his department head at the university, and for that from Miss Alice Collins. There were no guarantees, no offers, no escapes.
Edward had done some research on the whole Species Reassignment program whilst waiting for his flight, just a quick browse of internet and wiki resources. The results once again flickered through his mind.
In the early days of the program, it'd been flooded with applicants. Social costs had gone down, unemployment had plummeted. But then came the most recent recession, and the debt had threatened to rear its ugly head -- it still hadn't recovered from the bubble when the Canadian Parliament had assumed responsibility for the substantially reduced debt of the bankrupt US. Long entrenched laws had prevented any reduction of human coverage in the social net but--
Outside the window, one of the church towers started chiming the hour.
Edward looked up at a small bespectacled man holding a clipboard in one hand and a cane in the other.
"Your file picture doesn't show you so tanned and fit, but the features match. Would you follow me?"
Edward got up and followed the little man, who hobbled back into the office, a cane clacking on the floor. He followed the man into a sterile office with gleaming metal walls and shining racks of DVD reference books. Closing the door behind him, it's soft clunk cutting off the bongs of the hour, he sat down in the chair he was motioned to.
"Well Mr. Drysdale, I'm actually a little surprised, and happy, to see you here on time. The betting pool was that you were going to run."
"That would be illegal."
"Oh, of course it would. It's actually a pleasant surprise to have somebody come willingly these days. I'm so used to the RCMP escorting fugitives here handcuffed and muffled. One of my colleagues down in Philidelphia says that they always have that problem. Those south of the lakes seem to take it as a personal affront, think that it's against their civil rights. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after the combined armies removed their firearms."
"I've adopted a family in Oregan -- get pictures every month and updates on their training into a civilized mindset."
"It's so nice to talk to people who understand their social responsibilities these days. Anyway, and I apologize, I do need to make sure you are who you say you are. Too many people these days hire blackmarket surgeons and send a physical duplicate in. Not that I think you are, not at all, it's just procedure. All those forms you know--"
The procedure didn't take long, the little man handled it all himself, muttering about how nice it was that he had somebody who wasn't screaming, and consisted of fingerprints, retinal scan, and a blood/DNA test. Edward remembered supporting the law that required DNA scans attached to each e-mail after the net was rebuilt on a centralized control model. SPAM had dropped off wondrously fast.
"Well Mr. Drysdale, it seems that you are who you say you are. Excellent. Excellent indeed. Now, if you'll come--"
"What am I being re-assigned as?"
"They didn't tell -- of course they didn't. Against policy and all that. Usually makes a person more likely to run. Now if you'd volun--"
"What am I going to become?!"
"I am sorry Mr. Drysdale, but I can't tell you."
"Policy Mr. Drysdale. Studies have shown that it most often causes the individual being re-assigned to struggle harder. The directive was handed down almost two years ago."
"But I came!"
"I know you did Mr. Drysdale, and I wish I could tell you. But the only exception the policy allows is for volunteers."
"Once you got that letter, my mouth was sealed. I wish I could help you, you've been so much more accommodating then most. Did I tell you that somebody even smuggled a gun in here once -- and they drew it on me. I was never in danger of course, " he motioned up at the overhead camera, "and he was shot dead in an instant, but still-- We live in dark days Mr. Drysdale. Civilization is just barely hanging on against the forces of chaos."
Edward sighed. "Are you allowed to tell me anything? Will I be a fish or--"
"No no Mr. Drysdale! The science hasn't advanced that far yet. Gills just aren't efficient enough to keep a warm blooded sophant both warm and sufficiently oxygenated. Now a dolphin--"
Edward leapt to his feet. "I'm going to become a dolphin?!"
All around the room concealed panels slid opened and stun dart shooting barrels poked out of some whilst lethal bullet shooting barrels poked out of the rest.
"Mr. Drysdale! Please calm down! You are not becoming a dolphin. There was some discussion in your case, and we're quite certain you'll be happy with what you're becoming. Please calm down!"
Edward sighed, his hands still gripping the arms of the chair. "Is there anything you can tell me?"
The little man sighed. "Well-- I guess--. I can say that you'll be joining Order Artiodactyla."
"That still leaves a hell of a wide range of options!!"
"Mr. Drysdale, you need to calm down!"
Edward took a step forward, and the little man took a step backward. As Edward opened his mouth to say something, one of the darts pffted out and impacted in his chest. Seconds later, Edward slumped to the floor, his weight pushing the steel chair backwards with a loud screech.
Edward woke, standing naked in a cold transparent cylinder, his wrists secured in metal bands attached to the top above his head. Electrical leads were taped to various places on his chest and on his head. His entire body had been shaved bald. Shivering, he looked around.
"Subject is awake doctor," a distorted female voice said.
"Flooding the tube," another distorted voice responded.
Edward looked out at the twisted and deformed world at a number of people dressed in clean white uniforms and wearing some kind of breathing masks. Hoses led from each to the wall, and the room seemed small and claustrophobic with all the computers and monitors and cables and hoses.
Something warm oozed around his feet and Edward looked down at a milky liquid rising from the grill he was standing on. It surrounded his feet with warmth, and slowly rose higher.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Edward screamed.
"Subject's vital signs increasing. Heart rate 115 and rising."
"Start procedure when he reaches 200 after drowning."
Edward started struggling, but his mobility was limited both due to the size of the tube, and the restraints on his arms. The liquid was not water, it didn't respond to motion like water, instead it sluggishly gurgled around, refusing to foam or bubble.
"You're drowning me!!"
There was no response, other than a periodical readout of his heart rate. The liquid rose up around his waist, up around his chest. Edward gasped for breath, knowing that soon he wouldn't be able to. He should have ran! Whatever the risks, he should have ran!
The liquid rose up his neck, and covered his face. Edward stretched upward as far as he could, sucking air frantically, until the liquid covered his mouth.
Then there was silence, except for the faint thudding of pumps, and the loud pulsing of his heart. He couldn't make out the voices anymore, and couldn't see anything other than a faint blur. The liquid buoyed him off the bottom of the cylinder and pressed his lower arms against the wrist restraints. Edward hoped there'd be some way to get air -- they couldn't be drowning him. Why would they be drowning him? -- but the narrow cylinder, his restrained arms, held him down.
His heart beat thumped loud in his ears as he just floated there. How long had it been? How many minutes? He'd never been very good at holding his breath. His chest started burning, and he let out some air before he could stop himself, the bubbles slowly sliding up across his eyes. He had to breath, but to breath was death. He had to. His chest burned, burned. More air glurped out, slowly rising. That, and his heartbeat, was the only noise.
He gagged, more air blurbed out, and he couldn't stop himself from sucking some of the liquid in. It oozed down his throat, sliding down like some kind of slug, and he coughed and gagged, struggling like a madman, the liquid gurgled down his throat, settled into his lungs. Silently he screamed, the last few bubbles sliding out as his mouth gaped open like a fish's.
Fire burned through him, all through his body, tingling and itching, and the liquid flashed into transparency.
"Mr. Drysdale, I'm most sorry for doing that, but we need the instant of blind psychological panic to initiate the procedure. We couldn't tell you."
The fire slowly faded from Edward's chest and he realized that he was still alive. He tried speaking--
"You can't talk Mr. Drysdale. We need you to concentrate on slow steady breathing. The liquid will sustain you. Try and relax as the procedure runs its course."
Edward felt the warm grill at the floor of the cylinder press against his slowly sinking toes.
There was another burst of fire, a tingling along his nerves, and he felt, or heard, his bones creak.
"It won't be long now -- you reached the metabolic panic the procedure needed to run successfully. You're in good hands."
Frantically Edward looked around, he could feel his muscles twitching. A bone-ache swept through his legs and he looked down and watched as his feet deformed. On each, the two middle toes grew larger and larger, the nail darkening and thickening. The toes to either side, including the smallest, curled backwards, growing a little, but remaining small. The largest toe shrunk and vanished as each leg stretched and thinned.
The skin never broke, he never saw the actual bones or muscles, but he watched as his leg deformed into a pair of some kind of thick fleshy tentacles, his toes tentacles, and then he watched as the nail darkened and hardened, slowly forming a curved hoof. The shape nagged at him.
Pain poured through his teeth, into his jaw, and he silently screamed as his face slowly expanded outward. Liquid gurgled in and out, less out than in, as his face stretched out further and further. His tongue felt his teeth change, each getting larger and flatter. Agony stabbed out from his forehead, and something stretched and creaked. His eyes moved, and his vision grew to cover a larger and larger area, the room changing from bright white and silver and glowing yellow and green lights, to bright and dark blacks and grays and whites. With his new eyesight, he watched the soft cartilage of his ears grow and stretch outward, growing into long cups that twitched and moved, swirling the liquid that surrounded them.
Pain spilled through his fingers and, looking up, he watched as they grew slightly stubbier, each nail growing until it capped each finger in a black tip. The thumb shrank a bit, but it remained large enough to be usable.
The agony stopped, and Edward looked frantically around -- he had a muzzle now, with hard flat molars. His nostrils flared as the liquid oozed in and out. His fingers were stubby, and his legs were now slightly longer and thinner, his foot long and thin and now an extension of the leg rather than a pad to walk on. He now had cloven hooves, and found that he could move them slightly. He could even feel the two smaller toes behind them -- the fifth he couldn't.
"Mr. Drysdale, the worst is over. Just two more steps." The voice was different, growing louder as his ears moved to cup it, the sound richer and lower, with a faint distortion he'd never noticed before in the lower registers.
With that, another stab of agony blossomed in his chest, spreading out. He felt his ribs grow, the skin stretching around them. He could feel his insides twitching, moving, changing. His heart pumped frantically, he gasped for breath, helpless. After a timeless span of agony, it stopped, and he gulped for breath, the liquid curdling thickly around his nostrils, tinted with blood.
"One more step Mr. Drysdale. This won't hurt, and we apologize for the itching."
What felt like electricity stabbed through the cylinder, and he watched as tiny spheres of white sparks burst from the liquid and moved up and down along his skin. A slight itching burst from his pores, and spread across his flesh, becoming more and more intense and maddening. Sparks sped across him, and his body shook and tingled, his muscles twitching outside his control. Then he watched his muzzle, his ears sticking out of the side of his head which he could now see with his repositioned eyes, as brown and black hair burst out like growing grass seen in time lapse highdef. The hair thickened, grew all over his body, thick and continuous and warm, bobbing slightly in the liquid. Around his mouth and nostrils it was fine and white, fading to a darker and darker brown along his body. The fur on his chest grew thick and white, the colour fading to dark brown along his back.
Finally the sparkling electricity stopped, the itching fading, and Edward found he could move again.
"I'm sorry, but we had to keep you from scratching. Your skin was still tender and you could have caused yourself severe damage."
Edward drifted there, gasping for breath, as the pain and the itching faded to a memory.
"Just rest, breath easy. We'll give you some time to relax, and let the changes settle in and the outer layers of your skin die. There might be some pain, but your re-assignment is complete."
Edward just hung there, gasping, too tired to speak. The pain didn't go away, it faded to a dull ache, the dull ache of muscles overused and strained. He just floated there, slowly relaxing.
Edward Drysdale III stretched tall in the Yukon, his cloven hooves splayed for a better grip on the rough soil, his muzzle ripping leaves from the quiet forest. All around him, other caribou were eating likewise, preparing for the fall migration. A slight breeze rustled through his thick fur, but he didn't feel the cold at all.
It had taken Edward all of the previous summer to get accepted by the herd, his anthropomorphic caribou form looking odd and unusual. Fortunately, caribou were curious about things they didn't recognize, and he'd been able to remain close. A thin pack of emergency supplies was on his back, including medicines, rations, a radio, and a limited computer with which to record and organize his observations. He'd bought it all. Already, he'd discovered all kinds of things. The scientific part of him was fascinated, even though it was cold and lonely, and the food sucked.
Still, the opportunities!
Sure, there were some regrets. The itching as his antlers grew in had been extremely distracting. And the volume he had to eat reduced the time he had to work on his articles. Even when he was cudding, he couldn't talk, but at least he could use the special keyboard he had if he could find something flat to unroll it on.
In fact, his main complaint was the lack of social care. He'd broken a leg early during his convalescence and that was when he found out why there was enforced reassignment.
It turned out that the social net was entrenched in law, but only entrenched for humans. He'd had to pay for the medical care out of his own pocket. It was outrageous! There was a different system for the transformed, but his income bracket precluded any grants. Everything he had with him he'd had to pay for! The decrease in social costs before the recession had suddenly made sense.
He'd already sent one letter off to his MP. And he'd already talked to some other reassignees, including a wolf that was with a pack hunting some of the caribou. They all had the same lack of social care. The wolf had lost his radio, and Edward had arranged for a replacement -- though he'd had to pay for it. At least the wolf, his name was Chris, had said he'd pay Edward back once the delivery chopper positively identified him. Edward had also let Chris send off an angry letter to his MP about the complete lack of social medical support for the transformed.
Action had to be taken!
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