|Rejoining the Gang
by Bryan Derksen
© Bryan Derksen -- all rights reserved
As I lay in a pool of roach vomit, struggling to rise but unable to coordinate my spastic limbs well enough, I realized that today would probably be the worst day yet in what had become a steady series of increasingly bad days. It had begun simply enough, with Bob taking a sudden vacation due to that unfortunate horse head incident; apparently it shook him up pretty badly. He referred his patients to me and I had agreed to temporarily take over for him as much as I could; that had been a mistake, considering how much important research I was doing already. Trying to juggle everything had become a nightmare, I couldn't shut down all of my own experiments and so I had to work two jobs.
Then Bob had extended his vacation in order to continue working against Barnes in some unnamed fasion; strangely, this came right after the scandal that finally broke the voters' back and caused Barnes' ratings to plummet. I would have expected Bob to be able to lay off after something like that. Even though I generally didn't get involved with politics, I was certainly pleased; Barnes had been likely to oppose funding for all SCABS research, even research towards a cure such as I was doing. I didn't have much time for celebration, though. Bob's decision meant another couple of weeks of double shifts, and it was of minor importance to me anyways.
I suppose some might consider my emotional detachment from the Barnes situation a little hypocritical considering my own status as a SCAB, but as a rather potent polymorph I was able to chose whether to become directly involved or not. So I chose, and I stand by my decision; the 'SCAB lifestyle' just wasn't for me, despite being able to fit in well enough. Besides, Barnes was just a symptom of anti-SCAB hatred, not the cause of it. One couldn't cure a patient by attacking symptoms alone.
And speaking of symptoms... I finally managed to rise to my hands and knees, twitching and groaning but at last beginning to recover a little control of myself. I would have to try moving slowly and carefully to avoid collapsing again; I was intimately familiar with both human and cockroach forms, but I had never been stuck halfway between them like this before.
I crawled laboriously back toward the living room, trying to reach the phone and call for help. There was definitely something far more serious than a mere flu developing here; I had woke up half an hour ago with only slight nausea, and now I was throwing up in roach form (or, at least, in half-roach form). What the hell could possibly make a roach puke? I had switched to my roach form to recover from an upset stomach a few times before, and I had felt better within about ten minutes in each case. This time, my attempt at transformation had only exacerbated the condition. Or perhaps it was the condition that had screwed up the transformation...
I reached the table and tried to pull myself to my feet. One of my middle pair of limbs lashed out uncontrollably and knocked the phone to the floor; apparently my reflexes thought that they were the same limbs as my hind pair, even though they looked a lot like arms right now. I felt stranger than I ever had before in any full insect form, since at least then I had had appropriate reflexes for my body. My hindbrain must be as much of a mix as the rest of my body; I kept wanting to blink my eyelids or flex my wing casings, neither of which I had right now.
Dropping back to my hands and knees, I crawled over to where the phone had fallen and dialled. "911 emergency," I heard a voice answer despite not knowing exactly where my ears were. I wheezed, trying to speak, and then realized I couldn't even make air come out of my mouth. Damn! I'm still only breathing with spiracles! I thought with equal parts frustration and fear. I really needed help! Concentrating hard, I tried to force my body just a little more towards human form.
"...aaaAAAH!" I shrieked in pain as my trachea reopened, the change burning my tissues like acid. When I'd regathered my wits I decided to avoid trying to do any further changes until I found out more about what was wrong with me, just in case the pain was indicative of actual damage. My current hybrid form was unfamiliar, but at least it seemed to maintain itself without effort.
"Hello? hello? What's wrong? Where are you?" I heard the 911 operator's urgent voice through the pounding of my hearts.
"Uh... Derksen..." I rasped; I obviously hadn't got the larynx quite right yet, and my alien mouthparts didn't help my pronunciation any. "...3419... 108 street. SCABS... problem. Need help. Doctor."
"I'm sending an ambulance, just hang in there. Is there a SCAB attacking you? How are you hurt?"
I tried to sound indignant as I specified the internal nature of my problem, and I heard a little fear and hesitation replace the concern in her voice. I think I felt a little of the resentment that the less fortunate morph-locked SCABs must have to deal with every day. It didn't help when the paramedics arrived wearing gloves and filter masks, or when I actually had to convince them I was harmless enough to put in the ambulance. Perhaps it would have been better if I had lived closer to the SCAB neighborhoods, the personnel there were probably more used to dealing with things like I currently was.
I was taken to the Bradley Finn Hospital, a familiar sight for both SCABS researchers and sufferers alike. The tattered remains of my clothing were cut off, I normally shrunk fast when I changed so I hadn't removed them before I'd had my 'accident'. Then, after a long search for a vein, I was given an IV to help with dehydration. They also tried to administer oxygen, but that was just as difficult; I still had rows of spiracles down my sides, and since I didn't have a nose they served as my nostrils. Since I didn't seem to need it they gave up trying to get the tubes to stay in them, to my relief. Beyond that nobody had any ideas for what might help, so I was simply left under observation while my blood was sent for tests. They might not have any ideas after the results came back either, since every SCAB was unique and arthropod morphs were even moreso, but perhaps I would have some idea of what was going on. I was supposed to be an expert on SCABS, after all.
I laughed silently and bitterly; some expert I was. SCABS was especially frustrating for me; my own case was one of the most baffling ones I had studied. I violated a number of laws of physics and biology which I had once been sure couldn't be violated; when I changed into an insect not only could I reduce my mass to less than a gram, but I could somehow still operate my mind at full capacity using a brain the size of a grain of sand.
And all without much metabolic cost, either. I was a constant reminder of how little I really understood after spending my whole life trying to figure things out. If I hated the disease for anything, it was because of that.
Not that I was thrilled about what SCABS had apparently just done to me right now, of course. The nausea had largely gone away, but I still completely lacked coordination; it wasn't so much a lack of reflexes as it was too many of the wrong ones vying for control at once. I slowly got better at it though; first concentrating on getting my arms working right, and then concentrating on getting my other arms working right. That second pair was hard to figure out; neither my human nor any of my insect forms had a second pair of manipulative appendages. But I didn't have much else to do, and I didn't want to risk trying to return to human form until I knew more of what was wrong with me. I could live with this form until I got better, if need be.
Finally, a doctor came to my room. I had begun to wonder if they had forgotten me, though I guess I wasn't exactly pleasant company even for a doctor who was used to SCABs. Cockroaches, contrary to popular opinion, are actually very hygenic animals and I had apparently retained their grooming instincts. Considering how filthy my accident had made me, I was lucky I had had enough self-control to keep myself from nibbling my IV out.
"Sorry," I mumbled as I pulled my sheets back over my upper body. "I was itchy."
"Indeed." The doctor was vaguely familiar; it was possible I'd met him before, since I had sometimes worked directly with the SCABS medical community in my researches. "Uh, Mr. Derksen, we have some of the lab results back but I'm afraid they don't really tell us much yet."
"Doctor," I corrected. "Let me see them." He held out a folder, and I carefully took it; I had regained a lot of coordination in my upper set of arms but I was still a little unsteady. I was especially having trouble with the hands; I had two fingers and two thumbs on each, with some rather odd joints. My compound eyes and associated visual cortex, on the other hand, gave me a strange benefit; I found that they allowed me to somehow read a page 'all at once.' It was quite confusing at first since I'd never tried reading while in insect form before.
"Hmm..." the tests were inconclusive, and incomplete.
And worrying. "Doctor, I think I'd like a SCABS assay done, both bioactivity and particulate, another white cell count, and an antibody assay... and some water." My throat was still incredibly sore, and I was parched.
"Huh? How do you know... oh, doctor Derksen! Of course, the insect polymorph. I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you..." the doctor trailed off, unsettled.
I twisted my mandibles in what might have been a wry grin. "That's okay, I don't recognize you either." I wasn't being egotistical in thinking that he should have known me anyways, simply by name; it was a little frightening how he had failed to connect 'Derksen the brilliant geneticist' with 'Derksen the roach SCAB in the emergency ward.' Once again I felt a little more of the resentment normal SCABs must feel.
I hoped I could sort this out quickly.
As the tests came in and I convinced the doctors to show me the results, I began to realize my hope may be in vain. Something had seriously screwed up my SCABS organism; I couldn't tell if they were on a rampage or a rout, but whatever it was, it was preventing me from shifting properly. And I figured the most likely candidate for having caused it was something from the lab, perhaps spilled in a moment of inattentiveness or fatigue.
It was ironic. Something which could damage a disease could, in my case, be causing my condition to worsen by disrupting my SCABS-given power. And I had no idea whether I would recover, remain stuck this way, or get worse and possibly die. Contrary to the common TV misportrayal, scientists don't just whip out their tricorders and immediately figure out what's going on from the raw data. It takes lots of long and tedious work to explore the unknown. I realized that I was terrified.
I tried to cover it by forcing myself to work; when there were no more tests to be done, I tried to start relearning more coordination. Anything except remain lying there with my thoughts. I eventually tried getting out of bed, and discovered that walking wasn't so difficult after all; my legs were digitigrade, if that term could be applied to arthropods, and my abdomen was in effect just a thick, blunt tail. As my condition had settled down my mishmash of reflexes had begun to resolve themselves too, and I was even starting to use my lower pair of arms properly.
I stayed in the hospital overnight for observation, and for further testing. Beyond that, it was a fairly boring day.
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