The Transformation Story Archive Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...


by Bob Stein

"Ticket, please."

Thomas smiled as he raised his wrist up to the scanner. They were really carrying the old-time Carney illusion as far as it would go. Paper tickets hadn't been used in decades, and the Ringmaster's outfit the ticket-taker was wearing came from the last century. He even had a handlebar mustache and long sideburns to complete the period look. You could almost forget he was an alien, and that this giant amusement park was floating two miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

There was a soft tone from the scanner, approving Thomas' identichip. He winced a bit, mentally waving goodbye to the rather large number of credits that had just been automatically deducted from his savings. The one comforting thought was that his hosts guaranteed satisfaction, and claimed that they had never had to refund a single credit. Considering the millions of people who had been to Cloud City since it opened five years ago, the Maskers were either incredibly good at making people happy, or convincing liars.

Thomas mentally kicked himself. The aliens called themselves Ifliunagadarams, or something like that. The term Maskers was vaguely derogatory, referring to the fact that no human had ever seen their true form. The smiling, middle-aged man sorting through various colored bracelets was supposedly one of the aliens in an elaborate, perfect costume. Not that there weren't any humans here. A huge number of men and women had been hired as part of the deal to build this floating island, most of them coming from Earth's unskilled and unemployed. However, one of the biggest drawing cards here was the promise that all direct contact was with genuine, if disguised, aliens.

"Here you are, sir." The ticket-taker held out a blue bracelet, which Thomas took. "Place it around your left wrist, please. This is your pass to our entire park. Blue indicates that you purchased our Intermediate Tour, which includes all adult rides and the Casino. This is your last chance to upgrade to a Deluxe Tour. For a moderate fee, you will also enjoy..."

"I know, I know." Thomas shook his head. "The great outdoor Savanna, wooded parks, and erotic adventures to satisfy every whim. You know, your agent back in Vienna said that the Intermediate Tour would be the greatest experience of my life. Are you telling me that I'm going to be disappointed if I don't upgrade?"

"Oh, no sir!" The alien flushed slightly, and then waved him towards the entry gate with an exaggerated smile. "I know you will have a wonderful time!"

It was comforting to know these creatures weren't too superior to get flustered. The human race had been stunned when the first aliens arrived a decade ago in a ship the size of Munich. Their ability to mimic human form might have caused panic if identichips hadn't already been in widespread use. Thankfully, the implants were organic, individually coded to a person's genetics, and absolutely impossible to duplicate. Besides, it was awfully hard to be frightened of alien ambassadors who looked like Lucille Ball, Beaver Cleaver, and Gilligan. Especially when all they wanted to do was build an amusement park in the sky.

Thomas' line of thought was interrupted by a scuffle on the ramp behind him. The punked-out kid who'd sat next to him on the Hovercar was grabbing at a little girl who had apparently tripped. He succeeded in stopping her fall, but somehow tripped over his own feet and stumbled into the table of colored bracelets. The teen, the girl, and the table all went down in a tangle of legs.

After a bit of confusion, the arrival line resumed operation. The teen was already past check-in, his brilliant purple and green Mohawk easy to track as he pushed through the crowds. Thomas stepped aside as the kid pushed past, receiving a curt nod of recognition and a fast "K', bud." He nodded at the boy's greeting, amused at the casual slang. The kid was in a hurry, almost running as he fastened his bracelet on. Thomas had no reason to rush. There was enough for all, and he was patient.

Robbie didn't stop until the check-in counter was out of sight. It was hard not to shout out in triumph. He'd done it! The ultimate freebie! And he'd been so worried about the all-powerful aliens. These guys were dopes! That faked fall at the check-in had gone perfect! Oh, man, the guys were gonna freak over this. And Jon-Jon had bet a month's allowance that he wouldn't even get on the Hovercar. Looked like that dweegle was gonna be beggin' for lunch credits.

Now what? He spotted a large map and headed over to it. Everything was color-coded with dots. He glanced down at his stolen bracelet. Green. There weren't many green dots on the board. He held the bracelet up to one of the marked attractions. The image animated, showing a large carousel with realistic horses. The Casino didn't have a green dot, and remained static. A quick look at some of the family groups confirmed his fears. All of the other green bracelets were worn by kids, none more than ten or twelve. Frack! In the scramble, he'd snatched the wrong color.

Oh, well. The fact that they used these bracelets at all was lucky for him. Most places just scanned your identichip, and Robbie's wouldn't be registered as belonging to a guest. Besides, even some of the kiddie stuff looked pretty cool. The rocket ride he'd seen from the Hovercar had a green dot next to it, and he headed off in the indicated direction. They'd probably catch him sooner or later, but he could make the most of things until then.

The Carousel was impressive. Thomas stared at the horses. There were striped zebras, ponies, even a pair of massive drafts pulling some sort of elaborate enclosed carriage. The animals were frozen in mid-stride, hovering over individual tracks. If they hadn't been motionless, Thomas would have sworn the equines were real. The illusion of life was slightly eerie, made more so by wild, frightened eyes.

On a whim, he climbed up onto the driver's seat of the carriage and took the reins. As soon as he exerted pressure, the horses seemed to come to life, snorting and looking around as other guests found mounts. He grinned and tipped an imaginary hat to a young couple as they climbed into his carriage. Might as well get into the act.

As soon as all of the guests were mounted, there was a faint whistle. The horses pricked up their ears, and at a second whistle, started off. Thomas was amazed by the realism. There was accurate feedback from the reins, and even though he couldn't get the animals to leave the established track, it felt like dealing with stubborn animals rather than artificial restrictions.

A squeal drew his attention to a small pony that reared back, and suddenly bolted off to the side. The other horses seemed to panic, including the drafts he was driving, and the entire group took off in a mad gallop. Although he'd been startled at first, Thomas quickly noted that none of the riders had fallen off despite the wild ride. This was obviously part of the ride, and he settled back to enjoy it amidst the terrified screams and delighted laughter of his fellow riders.

Robbie scrambled out of the Rocket car as soon as it bumped to a stop. He was only a little woozy, but the ten year-old sharing the ride with him looked ready to puke his guts out. Of course, getting shot across the entire park in an oversized glass artillery shell would be hard on most people. Not bad for a kiddie ride. He looked back at the huge lake they'd splashed down in. The car had actually gone underwater, and he'd seen some incredibly huge fish. They didn't look dangerous, but he wondered if anybody ever went swimming in there.

Heading for the exit, he was alarmed to see another scanner set up. The one at the start of the ride had beeped when he'd used his bracelet to get on, but the guy hadn't stopped him. Maybe it was just some sort of counter. He started through, only to feel a hand on his shoulder.

"Excuse me. There seems to be a little trouble with your bracelet." The man looked down at Robbie's wrist. "You look a little old for the Junior Pass."

Oh, Frack! The teen thought fast. "Uh, yeah! They musta messed up back at the check in. There was this accident, and things were sorta confused."

His captor didn't seem impressed. "According to the scan, this bracelet isn't assigned yet. And your identichip is not recorded with admissions."

Robbie tried another tact. "What? As much as you guys charge for this place? You musta messed up somewhere. I came in with a big group. We paid a lot of money to come here, and now you wanna start hassling me? You didn't even give me the right bracelet!"

"You know, you seem to have a lot of trouble with things like this." The man raised an eyebrow. "What we DID get from the identichip report was a list of other places you have entered without proper authorization or credit. I think we need to have a talk with security."

Time to go. Robbie slumped, trying to look defeated. "OK, man. No big deal..." As the man turned to pick up the phone, he leaped over the gate. There were enough people that he could lose himself in the crowd pretty quickly. "Oops! Sorry!" He banged up against someone familiar. The long-haired older guy he'd sat next to on the way up. Before he could say anything, Robbie spotted the ticket guy coming his way. "Gotta run!" He took off again.

These frackin' identichips! Maybe if he changed clothes, it would help. The restrooms were busy, but no one had left any jackets or coats hanging anywhere. Wait a minute. He saw an entry marked "Service," and after a quick look around, slipped inside. There had to be hundreds of employees working in this place. And now that he thought about it, the ticket taker and the guy at the Rocket ride hadn't been wearing any bracelets. If he could find some work clothes, he could probably wander the place at will.

Looked like his travel companion was still in a hurry. Thomas watched the boy push through the main walkway, and then bolt off down a side path. His haste was explained by the appearance of two Island security guards in close pursuit. One of them noticed him standing there, and walked over.

"Excuse me, sir. We're looking for a young man who ran this way." The guard managed a thin smile. "Purple hair, with a green stripe? Nothing serious, just need to ask him a couple of questions."

"I think I saw him turn off down there." Thomas gestured towards the area he'd last seen the kid.

"Thanks!" Both guards took off.

Thomas watched them go with mixed feelings. He certainly didn't have any reason to lie for the kid, but he did feel a little like a snitch. And to be honest, he was a little curious about how the aliens handled trouble. This sort of thing tended to puncture the illusion of perfection they tried to generate. Still, it really wasn't any of his business. Sighing, he put the matter from his mind and looked at the display board.

Not another ride, at least not yet. He was pretty sure there had been a malfunction at the end of the carousel ride. During the mad stampede, one of the horses had apparently lost whatever signal guided it, and gone careening into a wall at full tilt. Fortunately for the small girl on its back, the force field which had kept her safely in the saddle also protected her from injury. That didn't keep her from screaming and crying for a long time afterwards.

Thomas understood her reaction. He had trouble remembering that the crumpled white stallion wasn't a real animal with a broken neck. It had even shuddered realistically before its mechanisms locked up. What bothered him even more was the crowd of gawking tourists who hung around the mechanism until Park employees dragged it off through a service door.

The aliens were already catering to the darker side of human nature, throwing in ' blood' for entertainment purposes. One of the reasons he had decided against buying a pass to the African Savanna exhibit was the implied promise that he'd see lions bringing down prey. Nature in the raw, with all the danger and death. All more of the incredible machines, of course. Earth's wild animals were endangered species now, carefully protected. Well, he'd seen enough simulated death already.

Let's see. There was an old fashioned Freak Show, a couple of musical reviews, and a three-ring circus. He held the bracelet up to the last and watched the animation. Clowns, jugglers, animal acts. They even had popcorn and peanuts.

The maintenance hallway was long, and luckily for Robbie, empty. There were a few open rooms on either side, but he saw no useful clothing. He was about to give up when he spotted a large room with the icon of a fancy tent. The circus, if he remembered right. A cautious look inside determined that the place was unoccupied, and he saw a rack of costumes near the door.

Any hopes of taking clothing were dashed when he tried to remove the jacket from a humanoid lion outfit. The costumes were one piece, almost like thick balloons waiting to be inflated. All of them had some sort of thick black lining that looked like oily velvet, but felt dry. He vaguely remembered something about the Maskers using disguises of some sort, but none of the outfits seemed to be made for any particular shape.

The clown outfits gave him the creeps - they looked too much like people who'd been skinned and made up. The lion-man was sorta interesting, but also pretty unique-looking. He gawked at a massive draft horse outfit, amazed by the realism. They'd even made it anatomically correct. No way he could manage more than just the back half, though. However, several equally perfect donkey costumes hung behind the horse, and they were about the right size.

Or maybe not. Even though the overall body was much larger than his, the legs tapered like a real animal's. He pulled off his shoes and tried to force his way through the tough fabric. It didn't seem like the costume was going to give, but then it suddenly opened up enough to just get his toes down into the hoof. As soon as he was all the way in, the fabric tightened again, molding itself to his legs. Cool! The costume had some sort of automatic adjustment! The proportions were wrong now, and his knee was in the wrong place. Still, it looked more like deformed animal limb than a costume.

Standing on two hooves proved to be a challenge, but he managed OK. The top part didn't quite fit over his jacket, so he pulled it off and stuffed both it and his shoes into the oversized chest. The useless bracelet was removed and tossed aside. After pulling the donkey head over his own, he slid his arms into the forelegs and shrugged the rest of the costume on like an overcoat. How was he supposed to close it up? There were no zippers or buttons, and he couldn't work anything like that anyway with hands stuck in the animal forehooves. As it turned out, the body seam simply fused invisibly when he pushed it together with the hooves. He couldn't move his arms high enough to close the neck, though.

Voices! People were coming. There was no place to hide. Moving awkwardly, he clomped down towards the end of the hallway, and stepped into an alcove. Looked like this led into the main circus arena. He could see people taking seats. Frack! He wouldn't be able to sneak out this way. And the costume was already hot and itchy. He rubbed at the chest, surprised that he couldn't feel his jacket and shoes through the material. The donkey ribcage was full and solid, even moving slightly as he breathed.

Standing upright was getting a little harder. The costume had tightened up again, pulling him down into a slightly hunched position. Dropping onto all fours helped a lot. Whatever setup they used for the forelegs worked well, providing support and almost hiding the telltale crook of his elbow. If he stood still, the difference was almost undetectable.

Noise came from the main arena. The circus was starting up. Luckily, the main entrance seemed to be on the other side. He had a good view from here, and got so engrossed in the parade of animal acts, juggling, and high-wire balancing that he didn't hear a large group of clowns until they were already moving around him, apparently getting ready to enter.

He recognized a couple of the costumes and being from the room he'd taken his from. Since none of them seemed surprised to see him, they must think he was just one of the regular performers. Robbie tried to guess what whoever wore the donkey costume was supposed to do. Frack! He'd been standing there too long, and his hands and feet had gone numb. He shifted around and stomped a little to try restoring circulation. The movement attracted the attention of one of the clowns, and Robbie froze as he came over. There was a pressure around his shoulders, followed by a slight tightening of the mask against his face. Of course! He'd forgotten the headpiece seam. The clown stepped back and gave him nod of approval.

There was a thunder of hooves, and a herd of miniature cattle burst into the center ring and scattered. At the same time, Robbie was startled when one of the clowns jumped on his back. Fortunately, the costume had some sort of reinforcement, and he could handle the weight easily. The others surged out into the open, and his rider whacked his rump with a whip. Robbie scrambled out on all fours as best he could, and he found that he could manage a slow gallop. It was pretty obvious that they were supposed to round up the strange little cows, so he started herding them back towards the center.

He thought he was moving really well now, but the clown kept whipping him to speed up. They were circling the herd, pounding faster and faster. Running on all fours was getting easier as he got used to the movement, but the clown pushed him to the point that he finally stumbled and fell. The clown landed in the middle of the cows, sending them bounding out of the ring, and up towards the audience. Just as they reached the first row, the animals suddenly floated up into the air, blew up like balloons, and popped out of existence.

The crowd went wild, and the clowns all took a bow. Robbie gave a very realistic bray, only to get strange looks from some of the clowns. Well, he might as well go all the way. Standing up was almost impossible, but he managed to rear back and wave his arms. Uh-oh. Apparently he wasn't supposed to be doing that. The clowns started running towards him. Time to go. Moving on two legs was out of the question, so he dropped back to all fours and took off. The clowns gave chase, prompting applause and laughter from the crowd.

Oops! He banged into the juggler, sending pins raining onto the ground. Before he could get his bearings again, the clowns had him surrounded. One of them grabbed his ears and started pulling. They were going to unmask him in front of the audience! The headpiece seemed stuck, pulling at his skin. It came loose with a wet, sucking sound and he heard a collective gasp from the audience, followed by more applause.

At least everyone else thought it was part of the show. He remained with the clowns as the crowd started to leave. Maybe the management would give him a break if he cooperated.

Thomas had found a seat up front, and nearly got trampled by the miniature cows. The aliens sure knew how to create a show. He laughed at the antics of the clowns and donkey, and had shared the rest of the crowd's surprise when they pulled off the animal's head at the end. However, the other people thought it was just some strange alien looking back at them. He was the only one who recognized the purple and green Mohawk.

Hanging back after the rest of the crowd had left, Thomas edged quietly over to where the clowns were standing. The two security guards were coming in now, adding to his suspicions. They were all talking amongst themselves, obviously upset.

Thomas stared at the strange creature that was the center of attention. It seemed to be a shaggy brown jackass up to the shoulders. At that point, it turned into the head and neck of the kid. Well, almost. The boy's features were recognizable, but the shape of his skull looked like it had been molded to the inside of the donkey headpiece.

"...too late now. He'll have to stay. Find his bracelet and make a dupe." Two of the clowns nodded and vanished down a hallway.

Enough was enough. "What are you doing to this kid?" Thomas strode up to the group and glared at the guard who seemed to be giving orders. "And what do you mean, he's got to stay?"

The alien blinked and looked at Thomas with obvious concern. "This is none of your business, sir. Please leave immediately."

That was not the right thing to say. Feeling anger rise, Thomas raised an eyebrow. "This boy came up on the Hovercar with me. I don't know what you have done to him, but you had better get that stuff off. Now."

This time, the alien didn't flinch. "It's too late for that. He chose to put on the costume. Now he will keep wearing it. Cloud City is our sovereign territory, and we will deal with him in our fashion. I advise you to leave. Now."

"Go on, Mister." The boy turned his odd head towards Thomas, managing a look of disgust. "This is some sort of big joke on me. My parents will pay up, and they'll have to send me home."

Thomas' mouth dropped open. A joke? Didn't the kid realize what was happening to him? The distorted head was no makeup job, and those animal legs were too thin and bent in the wrong places to be hiding anything remotely human underneath. It might have started out as a costume, but he was positive that the boy's equine body was completely real now. Only the distorted head and neck remained partly human.

The guard stepped in between him and the boy, his tone much firmer. "You have to leave. Now." Behind him, Thomas saw the clown with the donkey headpiece move next to the kid.

Robbie was confused, scared, and annoyed. Getting caught shouldn't have been such a big deal. Sure, he'd cheated them out of a fat admission ticket, but his parents would pay up. And if this costume was damaged, well, they were the ones who'd yanked the head off. He wished they would remove the rest of it. It wasn't uncomfortable any more, but he was feeling a little weird. Sorta swollen and heavy. He hoped he wasn't having an allergic reaction.

The older guy from the Hovercar probably wanted to help, but he was just making things worse. These big amusement parks were always the same. Keep things nice and quiet, and they'd let him go with a slap on the wrist. The worst punishment he'd ever got was having to pay the entry fee, and most didn't even do that. Trouble was bad publicity. It wasn't like these aliens were gonna risk some intergalactic incident over a kid sneaking in.

One of the clowns was coming over, holding the donkey head. Maybe now they'd take the rest of it off him. Oh, Frack! The guy from the Hovercar was arguing with a guard now. He was really gonna screw things up. There was movement to the side, and he turned to see the clown lift the headpiece to put it back on him. What were they gonna do? Make him wear the silly costume home? Sighing, he raised his head and stood still, hoping that cooperation now would mean less trouble later.

What was the fool kid doing? Thomas broke off his argument as the boy practically stuck his head up into the mask. The costume head was oddly mismatched now, too small and lacking the shaggy, wild look of the main body. But as the seam closed, matted dark hair started to spread up the neck. "Stop! Take that off him!"

"It was too late almost as soon as he activated the body suit." The guard's voice was casual, as if he were talking about the weather. "Besides, if anyone saw him like that, it might hurt the tourist trade. By the end of the day, he'll be just another wild ass in the African Savannah."

Thomas was shocked. "What? But those are all machines..." His voice trailed off as realization hit him. "Oh, God. It's all real, isn't it? The lions, the killing. You don't use machines at all."

The alien snorted. "We lose at least two prey animals a day. Why waste technology when organic substitutes are much more easily obtained." He glanced meaningfully at the boy.

"You can't do that! He's a human being!"

"Not for long."

"I'll go to the authorities! Earth won't stand for this!" The danger of his situation finally hit, and Thomas spun and ran for the exit.

Before he could reach the opening, two more guards appeared to block his way. "I'm sorry, sir. You can't leave."

Thomas tried to shove his way through, already knowing it was hopeless. One of the guards placed a hand on his shoulder. There was a mild sting, and Thomas lost control of his body.

The headpiece tightened again as the clown pressed the seam down, this time with a sharp burning sensation that faded slowly. Frack! What was causing that? His ears blocked up for a moment, and then popped as if he had changed altitude. Voices suddenly increased in volume, and he automatically turned his ears towards the argument. The guard was saying something about him going to the African Savannah. Wait a minute... turned his ears? A quick experiment confirmed that he could move the long, furry appendages at will.

As the discomfort of the mask faded, he discovered that more than just his ears were affected. He could feel and move the donkey's mouth and nostrils, and taste spittle with a broad, equine tongue. The headpiece was turning real! No wonder the old guy had been upset! He must have seen the changes before Robbie noticed them. Then he remembered that he'd been wearing the body a lot longer than the head.

Robbie twisted around, aware that his neck was a lot more flexible than it should be. The costume had changed drastically. Besides being considerably larger, the body was shaggy and scarred like that of a wild animal. The tail swished back and forth in an agitated fashion, and he found he could both feel and control it. He shivered in fear, only to have the movement trigger more strange sensations. The costume had always been anatomically correct, but now the donkey's maleness was obviously his own.

Panicking, he shook his head violently, trying to throw off the headpiece. "Ge' me outa HAW! Wha's haaaAAAWWW..." Speech was almost impossible, the few words he could manage breaking into coarse braying. One of the clowns threw a rope over his neck, but Robbie was too terrified by the rapid transformation to think of escape. The older guy! He could help! Vision was starting to distort slightly, but he saw his fellow human being escorted back by two guards. He wasn't struggling, but even from a distance it was obvious something was wrong. The man looked dazed, and he moved with slow, jerky movements. The bastard aliens had drugged him!

The alien in charge reached out and pulled Thomas' bracelet off as soon as the guards brought him back. After handing it to another clown, he turned back to the man and sighed. "More complications. I'm afraid you won't be going home, either. We'll find a nice place for you in the park."

Whatever they had used on him prevented much movement, but Thomas found he could still speak. "You can't get away with this. People will miss me. And the boy's parents? They'll call the police. People have seen him here."

"Oh, yes. A lot of people have seen him here. A lot more will see him leave." The lead alien pointed to a clown approaching with what looked like a large, flesh-colored bag. He spoke to the clown. "Sorry, but you'll have to fill in for him." The other grimaced, but then nodded and laid the object out on the ground. Despite being drugged, Thomas recoiled in horror. The bag appeared to be a complete human skin. The boy's skin, in fact, complete to the purple and green hair.

Grabbing at the center of his gaudy shirt, the clown pulled it open to reveal a dark, oily mass inside. What emerged was a nightmarish cross between squid and jellyfish formed out of oily black goo. The thing slid out of the clown and into the back of the new shape, filling it up like an air mattress. In less than a minute, the clown was an empty sack on the floor, and the boy stood up and brushed himself off. Thomas was stunned. Other than being nude, the kid looked absolutely normal. But not quite the same.

The alien leader recognized the problem before he did. "Too young. I was afraid of this."

Of course! The boy had been in his late teens, and this imposter looked more like a 15 year-old. Not a lot different, just shorter and a little thinner. Even so, most people would just put off the difference to faulty memory. "Too bad he took the wrong color bracelet. I'm surprised they were able to stretch the age up that high. Do you have adequate memory imprint?"

The fake boy nodded. "K' bud. Not a problem."

Robbie watched the body exchange in fascinated horror, almost forgetting his own problems. No wonder the aliens didn't want humans to see them. Yet it was even more frightening to see his duplicate rise up and grin back at him, like a trick mirror. Robbie's voice was that of a jackass now, so in a crazy way, it seemed almost proper that the duplicate spoke in his.

They were gonna send this fake back in his place! Robbie tried to convince himself that it wouldn't work. His parents wouldn't be fooled. His friends would notice that he'd suddenly gotten shorter. They had to! But as he watched the duplicate dress in some Cloud City souvenir clothes, even Robbie had a hard time believing that.

He blinked and shook his head. Thinking of home had triggered vague images of hot, open land and other donkeys. Scents. Sounds. Hunger stirred at the thought of sweet, dry grasses. Oh, Frack! The duplicate had Robbie's memories and personality. It followed that Robbie would get the same from whatever jackass they had copied. The realization should have terrified him, but confusion of identity combined with a growing thickness of thought. He knew he had been human, but as the clown started to lead him off, the donkey found itself more interested in returning to the security of its herd and the lush grass of the Savannah.

Thomas watched the real teen being led off with a sick hopelessness. There was no indication he was anything more than a common animal. His duplicate, however, was already in full character, arguing and complaining to the guards as he was escorted out of the arena. "The boy couldn't have hurt you. Why did you take away his life?"

The alien gave a very human shrug. "His life was meaningless. What difference does it make if he spends it on two legs or four? With luck, he'll have five or six years out on the plains before he becomes something else's dinner. And it will all seem perfectly normal to him. The source animal's imprint replaces human mentality completely."

Thomas paled as the implications hit home. "You've been doing this all along, haven't you? Changing people into animals and sending back imposters."

"Precisely. Our technology is much better than yours in a few areas, but our military weapons are almost evenly matched. . Instead of risking a war that would cost us lives and damage your planet, we have been replacing key people all over the world. It's amazing how few people actually make decisions on your world."

"But they'd never make it past Customs!" Thomas felt despair growing. "The identichips!..."

"...are organic." The Masker looked smug. "Our bracelets provide complete genetic and mental coding for the biosuit duplicate. The suit bonds to the wearer and triggers a complete cellular restructuring, including the addition or removal of indentichips. The process is temporary for us, but quite permanent for your species."

The alien turned to take a large white bag from one of the clowns. "Let's see what they came up with." He shook the suit out in front of Thomas. "Looks like you won't be going to the Savannah after all."

Thomas was still screaming when the headpiece closed in around his throat.

The stallion felt his neck muscles free up, and strained against the paralysis that gripped the rest of his body. Bright music played as the humans approached, picking out different members of the herd to ride. The Carousel would start any moment now, bringing a brief release from the horror of silent captivity. He hadn't found a way to break from the path yet. But this time, maybe this time, Thomas would escape.

Illusions copyright 2000 by Bob Stein.

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