|The Transformation Story Archive||With Fur and Claws...|
The Life of the Party
Everybody knew that I was going to do something outrageous for the office party this year. At the last party, Tom stole the show with his "stripper bot" in the cake. Tom and I have a friendly rivalry going, you see. When I had myself equipped with neural implants, he went out and got himself loaded with the whole cybernetic package. I don't know how he could afford it even if - as he claims - he has a friend in the industry who got him a wholesale deal on it. He earns about the same as I do, and I could never afford something like that. Tom either maxed out a few lines of credit, or he's got some venture on the side that he hasn't told us about. Knowing Tom, it's the latter.
An inside source (don't ask, and I won't tell) tipped me off that he was planning to bring in a holo-jockey for this year's party. I found out who he was planning to hire, and this guy is good! He specialises in virtual beaches that are real enough to be frightening. This guy even trucks in his own sand and palm trees. I was pretty sure that Tom had at least one co-conspirator in this venture - likely Jia, who had let it slip that she was planning to hire a bar-bot for the party. A beach and bar in January - how do you top that?
The answer came to me in an epiphany while I was plugged into the latest issue of Cyberjournal. I was pumping the articles - yes, I burnt out the safeties on my implant, but spare me the lecture - looking for a few cool hacks. I've usually got a filter running to screen the in-stream ads, but I was feeling contrary this day, and was pumping through the raw feed. It's really very creepy when you're pumping the articles, and you get hit with all those ads at once. You get this simultaneous craving for a new car, a faster implant, a virtual tryst with a certified prostitute, chocolate-peanut butter ice cream (though that fancy passes very quickly when you remember that you're deathly allergic to peanuts)... Usually you have to unplug after just a few seconds, and all you can think is,
"Whoa, am I ever deprived! I never realised I wanted so many things!"
The cravings usually pass pretty quickly. They have to by law. Besides, I'm pretty inured to anything they can throw at me - same old shit, different packaging. I was blowing through the journal this day, though, when a new one hit me so hard that I had to hit the emergency cut. As the room swam back into focus, I stared up at the water-stained tile ceiling, and my whole body screamed,
"I want to be a fox."
Morph kits are banned here - still bouncing around in the courts, trying to get federal approval. Sure, a few people have died using them, and a handful others turned into homicidal maniacs, but more people fry their brains with an implant every day then go through a bad morph every year, and you don't see them banning implants. Personally, I think the religious right is pushing their own agenda on this. Their online priests have a ton of cyber gear shoved up their pimply asses, and their persuasion algorithms would make most advertisers drool with envy. Hell, I accidentally caught part of an online sermon and nearly converted on the spot. And they have the nerve to label Morph Kits as an "abomination against God and Nature". Unfortunately they're rich enough to get their way much of the time.
Thank goodness for the loophole of mail order. It's not like the streets here are crawling with morphs, but if you go out on the town you'll always spot one or two of them around. It's only a misdemeanour to be a morph, but they seldom enforce it unless somebody lodges a complaint against you. Even then, the worst you will usually get is a slap on the wrist - or paw, if you prefer.
I replayed the ad a couple of times at regular speed. It was from one of those Cascadian companies. Ah. Cascadia: the new Sodom & Gomorrah if you subscribe to the ranting of the cyberpriests. I'd move there in an instant if I could get an entry visa. It's one of the last bastions of free enterprise.
The morph kit looked pretty good, in spite of being saddled with the cutesy name, "Fox in a Box". It was one of those thirty-six hour kits of the fire-and-forget variety. I browsed through the testimonials, and breezed past the technical specs that went way over my head. What kept drawing me back was the before-and-after pictures - especially the "after" ones. I couldn't stop myself from repeatedly panning around the fox morph, looking at it from all sides, admiring every part of it from the perfect ears and muzzle, to the floofy tail.
My mind was abuzz. It was just too perfect - I could almost hear the jaws of my co-workers hitting the floor when I walked through the door into the office party, swishing that big tail behind me. Not only would I show-up Jia and Tom, but their little wet-bar and beach could work to my advantage. Put a few drinks into people and they get a bit funny around morphs - can't keep their hands off 'em. I could land myself a few good belly rubs, and who-knows-what after the party. Enough with the dreaming, it was time to look at the price and get my feet back on the ground.
Ya, they weren't exactly giving these things away, but it was cheap enough that I actually found myself contemplating the unthinkable. I had to be honest with myself, and admit that I couldn't afford it. Still, what price could one put on the expressions that I pictured on Tom and Jia's faces when I walked into the room like this? My imagination came nowhere near to reality - but I'm getting ahead of myself. I could understand how Tom must have felt when he was waffling over that cybernetics package. Bastard! If it wasn't for him and that damned holo-beach I'd have unplugged and gone for a walk until the fancy passed.
Perhaps I was a little too smug at the office the next day. Everybody knew that I was up to something. Of course I vehemently denied it, and then confirmed everybody's suspicions by announcing that I would be plugging in from home for the rest of the week. In truth, none of really needed to be there. The company only maintained an office to satisfy our mutual need for the occasional subtleties of face-to-face human interaction.
The parcel was waiting for me when I got home. It wasn't as large as I had been expecting, barely a Kilo and a half, and small enough to fit into one hand. I packed it into my apartment and let it sit on the table while I punched myself up a coffee and toasted bagel. A part of me was mortified that a large monetary outlay would yield such a small package. I peeled back the mailing wrapper and set it aside so that I could get a look at the product itself.
The morph kit came in a lightweight box of brushed, black, anodised aluminium. The box had been cut in half, and hinged on one side. It was held shut by a strip of holographic tape bearing the MorphWorks logo, and a warning to read the disclaimer on the back of the box before breaking the seal. I had a pretty good idea what the disclaimer was going to say, but I turned over the box and allowed the imbedded display to scroll through its paragraphs of legalese before pressing my thumb to the "Accept" box on the display. I studied the top of the box again, admiring the dashing, laser-etched fox-morph on the lid. The picture and the text below it had been impregnated with silver foil, giving the package a very striking appearance. The gothic font proudly identified the product as,
" Fox in a Box Version 1.0
I ran my thumbnail along the crack of the box, easily severing the holographic seal. On the left side of the package was a moulded velvet inlay, which held a deceptively simple-looking C-shaped device and two small, blue vials. I pried the device free of its form-fitting slot and examined it more closely. It almost looked like an oversized wristwatch, except that its strap was rigid, and it was surprisingly heavy. It appeared to be a single piece, moulded from the same anodised aluminium as the case. On the top it had an embedded display, similar to the one on the box, and a round opening in the shape of an overturned vial. A strip of translucent tape covered the opening. On the bottom of the device was another opening, covered by a similar strip of tape, bearing the same legend as the strip on the top:
"Sealed for your protection. Please remove this tape before using this device."
The two vials were made of blue glass, and bore the numbers "1" and "2" embossed onto their surface. Below the numbers were small strips of tape bearing what I suspected to be serial numbers. I pried out the first bottle and estimated its volume at about 1 ml. It was capped with a metal lid, the top of which was sealed by a stretched, rubber diaphragm. I held the bottle upside down and gave it a gentle tap with my index finger, but the liquid inside was either extremely viscous, or there was no air trapped inside the vial.
I snapped the bottle back into its space and turned my attention to the booklet strapped into the "lid" of the box. It was an unassuming book - a pamphlet really. It was unadorned except for a san-serif font which identified it as the "Owner's Manual", below which was a serial number. I should have looked at the serial number.
I should have looked at the damned serial numbers!
I was surprised, and even a bit disappointed by the sparseness of the package's contents, but it was the first time I had ever seen a morph kit, so I confess that I really hadn't known what to expect. As I was about to reach for the manual, I suddenly acted on a hunch. I cleared my throat, and in the most neutral voice I could manage, I asked,
"How do you work?"
"Have you read the disclaimer?" asked the device in a clear, if slightly tinny voice. I was a bit surprised by its accent. I had been expecting a flat, Cascadian accent, but it sounded... foreign.
"Yes," I said.
"Please remove the manual from its location in the right side of the box and locate one of the sterile swabs in the compartment located behind. Remove one of the sterile wipes, but do not open the package until you have received further instructions."
I pulled out the manual as I'd been told, and found a trio of sterile wipes in foil packets. There was also a plastic-sealed razor. I surmised (rightly) that this was in reserve for the "undo" portion of the process. I removed one of the packets and held it in my other hand.
"I have the sterile wipe," I said, enunciating carefully.
"Expose an area of your thigh, and ensure that it is clean. Remove the bottle bearing the number ONE from the case and acknowledge when you have completed these tasks. Please say, "repeat" if you need to hear these instructions again."
I kicked off my pants, and pulled the first bottle out of the case. I set it carefully on the table, and said,
"Tear open the sterile wipe along the dotted line on the packet and wipe your thigh to sterilise the area. Use the same wipe to clean the neck and top of the bottle you have removed from the case. Please ensure that you clean your thigh and the bottle thoroughly. Please say, "repeat" if you need to hear these instructions again."
"Damned machine is programmed for an idiot," I thought tartly as I unwrapped the wipe and followed its instructions. When I told it that I had completed those steps, it instructed me to carefully remove - and save - the pieces of tape from its body and snap the vial into the opening on its top. I did so, and the vial snapped into place with a faint, "pop".
"Please press the bottom side of this unit firmly to your thigh, ensuring that the exposed opening on the bottom of this device is in contact with the sterilised portion of your thigh. Please use the thumb and finger indentations on the top of the unit to ensure that you maintain firm contact with your thigh. Please say, "repeat" if you need to hear these instructions again."
"You can skip the disclaimer," I said dryly, as I followed the device's instructions. When I acknowledged that I had done as told, it said,
"You will shortly feel a mild prick in your skin's surface while I take DNA samples. Please do not be alarmed, and do not move, nor try to remove this unit at that time or the process will be aborted...."
Well, to make a long story short, the damned thing took its samples, and told me to come back in about 8 hours or so for further instructions. I wondered if this was included in the "36 hours" part but when I asked, it simply replied with a terse,
"I am sorry. All processor resources are busy at the moment. Please retry your query later."
"Stupid machine," I thought. For all the advances in robotics and artificial intelligence they had made in recent decades, they still had not managed to produce a machine that was very bright. I used to amuse myself when I was younger by taunting machines. Even in recent times, I would play mind games with them when I was bored.
The other day, for example, I'd been buying a newschip from a vending box, and on a whim I had asked it,
"Can you please tell me the time?"
"The time is twenty after ten."
"What is the nature of God?"
The machine had paused at this point before answering,
"God is an all-encompassing metaphysical being that is the amalgamation of all consciousness. We are all God, and God is us."
Stupid machine! No wonder they were still considered an inferior life form. I had just walked away, shaking my head and chuckling.
I lay the morphing device on the table and left it for the longest eight hours of my life. I spent most of the time plugged into the terminal in my den, working. Every couple of hours I took a break and wandered out to the kitchen to see how my morph kit was doing, but every time I checked, it had the word, "Busy..." in its display. Finally, around dinnertime, the machine beeped, and announced, "Genotype processing is complete, and the morphing nanobots have been configured. Please acknowledge when you are ready to continue."
Okay, so it scared the beJesus out of me. I jumped so badly I nearly chipped a tooth on my fork. I was so excited that I lost my appetite, and simply dumped the rest of my meal into the recycler. My hands were shaking so badly, I could barely pick up the device.
"Okay. Uh... uh, ready. What next?" I quavered.
I took a few deep breaths to still my voice, and reiterated. Turned out that the next step was the same as the previous one, with a few additional stipulations.
"This process will induce a mild coma during the morphing process. Please ensure that you are in a secure environment where you will not be disturbed. Please acknowledge when you are ready to proceed to the next step."
I carried the device to my bedroom and stripped myself naked. The instructions had not called for that, but I decided that it would probably be a good idea. Following the oral instructions, I swabbed my thigh again, pressed the device to my flesh, and told it to continue. I remember feeling a small jab - but that's the last thing I remember.
When I became aware of my surroundings again, I knew immediately that something was wrong. Not just different: wrong. I can't honestly say that I knew how a fox was supposed to feel, but alarm bells were ringing in my fuzzy brain the moment I awoke. I rolled over, and crawled toward the edge of my bed. With each move, I became aware of what can only be called "sensory overload". The sheets crinkling under my moves were like tiny explosions. My bedroom smelt like sweat and unwashed socks. I could smell the remains of not only my last dinner, but the previous weeks' worth.
I dragged myself off the bed, and tried to stand. My muscles reacted differently, and in spite of my rewired brain, I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed again. Ahh! I landed wrong on my tail! My tail? Well, at least something had worked right. My eyes refused to focus properly, and beyond the stretch of orange muzzle extending past my vision, I could see little else. I pulled myself back around into a sitting position - being careful with the positioning of my tail this time - and rested my chin in my hands. I shut my eyes, and breathed deeply while waves of dizziness and nausea swept over me.
I don't know how long I sat like that, but when I felt ready to risk it again, I tried standing once more. This time my balance was true, and I actually spent a moment luxuriating over how the floor felt so different under the pads of my feet. The sense of wrongness had faded a bit, and my first impulse was to run to the bathroom for a look at myself it the mirror. I wasn't sure if I wanted to risk running yet, so I carefully walked there, keeping a hand on the wall all the way to steady my balance.
It was early morning - 8:31 to be precise. I know, because I glanced at the clock on the kitchen food processor as I passed, and that shall be ingrained permanently on my brain along with what I saw next. I padded into the bathroom and turned to admire my new form in the floor-length vanity mirror. Blinking back at me with beautiful amber eyes was a creature of orange and white (I did not, at that time, marvel in the luxury of the fact that I still had full-colour vision). The first minor details I noticed - aside from the new coat of fur - were a pair of pert, furry breasts, and a distinct lack of plumbing. My hand clapped down to my crotch to verify what my eyes had already told me. The damned kit hadn't turned me into a fox, it had morphed me into a vixen!
Naturally I called the number listed in the manual (which I should have read in the first place). I complained bitterly about the fact that their "Fox in a Box" had turned out to be a "Fox WITH a Box". They were sympathetic, but insisted that they were only distributors for the Latvian company that manufactured the product, and they gave me a number to call there. Latvian? No wonder the machine's accent had been strange! I noted the number in my recorder, and made myself a coffee to calm my nerves before I called Latvia. In truth, I didn't call. As I thought about it, I decided that a vixen would make a bigger stir at the party than a fox would.
I was right. When I showed up on Friday, I was the life of the party.
I got home that night, pleasantly pissed. I was rather fond of my new vulpine form, but life goes on. I didn't want to be a vixen all my life and I planned to return to the office in my original form on Monday. I grabbed the morphing machine in my furry hand and, being careful not to slur too badly, demanded,
"Okay, you stupid piece of hardware, how do I undo this mess?"
I applied the razor and swab as instructed, and plugged vial number "2" into the machine. A moment later it announced emitted a sharp buzz, and announced in a jarring voice,
"WARNING: you have inserted an undo vial that does not match the original morphing profile. Please insert the vial that came with your kit, or call the number listed in your profile for assistance."
I removed the vial and reinserted it for good measure, but I got the same warning.
For what it's worth, I called the company in Latvia. They were very apologetic, but pointed out that I agreed to the terms on the back of the box - and they have my thumbprint to prove it. Apparently one of the conditions precluded any kind of lawsuit against their company - not that I'd have much luck pursuing that anyway, seeing as I kind of broke the law in my own country anyway. The Latvian girl was very helpful on the phone, and when I read her the serial numbers on the vials, she put out tracers on the other fox kit.
It's been a week now, and I've called them three more times, but they've had no luck tracking down the owner of the other kit. Apparently she moved or something and didn't leave a forwarding address. In that time, I've been fined once, and become the object of friendly ridicule within my workplace. What's worse, the neural changes the morph kit put in place are starting to burn in, and I'm growing more comfortable every day with being a vixen.
My one consolation is that somewhere out there is a male fox who wishes he was me.
The Life of the Party copyright 1999 by Anonymous.
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