|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
In Alien Waters
A dull, hazy yellow light. Muffled noises. Vague feelings of warmth.
My mind automatically went through a review of what I remembered, a habit I had to keep in order to force myself out of bed in the mornings. The year? 1998. My name is Mikado Lan, and I live four miles out from Juneau, Alaska. Okay, got the basics.
I had been hiking through the snowy woods to deliver a slab of bacon and some flour to a sick neighbor some one and a half miles off. Note to self: Buy a dogsled team.
I remembered failing to see the snow-covered branches, and the instant panic as they snapped beneath my snowshoes. I recalled the terrifying fall into the narrow ravine, my body ricocheting painfully off of jagged rocky projections and the sickening dull crack in my vertebrae as I landed headfirst onto icy stone. And the snow piling over me in endless white waves.
But after that, nothing. Just swell, Mikado, I admonished myself. Annie's sick, and you up and get yourself killed.
I tried to put myself into the present. What was going on? I couldn't see a blessed thing except that annoying yellow light, but the sounds were becoming clearer by the second. Was Heaven trying to decide if I should be let in, or was Hell sadistically savoring its time before my eternal torture?
"Can you hear me?" came a fluid voice.
I think I made a noise, but I wasn't sure. I must have, because there were a few sighs of relief.
"This is amazing," said an obviously happy male voice.
This time I was sure I made a sound. A low, harsh groan that came up my throat like fire. In pain, I inhaled. My lungs felt like concrete blocks.
"Don't try to speak," said the first voice, a gentle woman's voice. "You're still in pretty weak condition."
Though my eyelids were as sheets of lead, I managed to blink. The yellow haze blurred into a nucleus. Three dark shapes hovered at my peripheral vision.
"uuu... wh... where..." I somehow ground out. I knew I was in some hospital; somebody had to have scraped me out of that ravine.
"Shh, don't speak. You're in the medical bay in a space station orbiting New Terra," the woman's voice informed me.
What? I blinked several more times, and objects came into focus. I was lying on my back on some soft bed of some sort. The yellow light was just that-- a spherical light fixture on the ceiling. The nearest dark blur was a bland-looking, middle-aged balding man with gaunt, bony features. Blech.
The second I regarded with far more interest. He was young, about my age, with sharp, foxlike black eyes, bronze skin and long ebony hair.
The third was a nondescript woman in short brown curls, about in her mid-thirties, wearing a warm smile.
"You're going to be just fine," she told me. But her tone told me there was something wrong. "I'm Doctor Mariah Thalla."
The younger man moved closer, gentle delight on his smooth features. "I'm Timasa." He looked chagrined for a moment. "I'm not a doctor. I'm a pilot. I'm the one who found you."
"... b... but trees... snow an'... ravine... how... sss... see me?" I asked.
Dr. Thalla exchanged a confused glance with the gaunt man. The latter leaned over me.
"Can you tell us where you live?" he asked.
"And what year is it?"
What kind of asinine question was that? As pointedly as I could, I answered, "Nineteen... nin' eight... stupid."
Timasa snickered. But Dr. Thalla and the gaunt man looked even more concerned and surprised.
"My dear," the gaunt man said, "you are no longer in Juneau. Or on Earth. Earth was destroyed about four hundred years ago. And the year is now 2841."
"What?" I said, gaining energy by the moment. How could it possibly... no, this guy was crackers or I was hallucinating. Or something.
"There's no need to be so blunt, Dr. Ganthos," Dr. Thalla said, then looked at me. "Can you tell us what your name is?"
"Mikado Lan," I replied. "What's going on?"
"A great deal, I'm afraid." Dr. Thalla flashed a questioning look to Dr. Ganthos, who nodded slightly. "There's also a problem you need to know about. But first let's clear up a few things. Do you want to sit up?"
She was asking that, not long after telling me not to speak? "But-- you said..." I said, confused, but I realized I felt almost fine, just a little tired.
Dr. Thalla and Timasa helped me sit up. I was in a rounded room that looked like something off the set of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but somehow less imaginative and interesting in architectural design. Yet it had the same warm bronze and brown tones. Black screens flashed multicolored data and diagrams, and one showed what had to be my heartbeat and an internal picture of my skeletal system. There were slanted counters with flush buttons blinking.
Dorothy had most definitely ditched Kansas.
"What's the last thing you remember, Mikado?" asked Dr. Thalla.
"I fell in a ravine," I replied.
"Was it cold in this Juneau?" Dr. Ganthos asked.
"Well, yes," I said. "It was just after a snowstorm when I fell."
"That would explain it then," said Timasa. "I found you floating in an ice asteroid near the nebula."
My eyes popped open. "Nebula?" I demanded incredulously.
"An explanation is in order, "Dr. Thalla laughingly said. "You must have frozen fast enough to be put in natural cryostasis. Mikado, around the year 2460, about 450 years after your fall, there was a continental breakup so forceful, some chunks of the planet were hurled into space. You were in one of those chunks. You must have been encased in enough ice to survive the trip out of the atmosphere.
"Of course, this left Earth uninhabitable, but most of humanity was offworld by then. And in about 500 years' time, Timasa here found you adrift."
I shook my head, trying to clear the last of the cobwebs. "So... What you're saying is... I'm almost a millennium old?"
"Eight hundred sixty, to be somewhat exact, "Dr. Ganthos replied tonelessly.
"And you don't look a day over eighteen," joked Timasa. Dr. Ganthos pinned the young pilot with an annoyed glance. Timasa did his utmost to look contrite.
"Let me guess," I said. "Medical technology now is advanced enough to correct splattered brains and snapped spinal cords?"
Dr. Thalla looked amused. "Your injuries weren't quite so severe, Mikado. But yes, compared to late 20th century, our technology is very advanced. Although," she continued, her tone more of rankled frustration, "my equipment here on the station is almost obsolete. It's so difficult to get upgrades with these idiotic policies."
"But that's not why I'm here, Mariah, "Dr. Ganthos calmly interjected.
"Yes, I'm sorry." Dr. Thalla looked me square in the eye. "Mikado, I'm afraid I have some... disturbing news. Your... Perhaps Dr. Ganthos can explain it better."
Dr. Ganthos took up the thread. "Miss Lan, I am not a medical doctor as Mariah here. I am a geneticist. Shortly after you were, eh, thawed out, she discovered some aberrations in your genetic structure, and called me to investigate."
"What are you saying?" I asked, a knot forming in my stomach, dreading what he would say.
"Your DNA is rewriting itself. You are becoming something that is not human."
Dr. Thalla turned to Timasa. "You need to leave."
"But," Timasa protested. "What about Mikado?"
"Out! Doctor's orders," she said, ushering him out the self-operating door.
"Not human?!" I said, starting to get off of the bed. Dr. Ganthos gently pushed me back on it.
"Please stay calm, Miss Lan."
"What is happening to me?"
"Please, Mikado." Something in Dr. Thalla's tone put me in my place. I stopped trying to get up. Both doctors looked at me, then each other. Dr. Thalla opened a slim drawer under one of the blinking counters and removed what had to be a hand mirror.
The knot in my stomach grew tighter. If I had to be given a mirror...
"Dr. Ganthos and I are going to do everything we can, "Dr. Thalla said, sliding the mirror into my hands.
Slowly I lifted the gleaming silver glass.
Eyes of an unnatural electric blue stared back at me, eyes that were far too large. My eyebrow hairs were gone, leaving smooth, slightly exaggerated ridges that ran down to the out of my nostrils. My nose itself was a great deal flatter, and almost in a v-shape. There was a tiny slit in the middle of my upper lip.
My hairline had receded, and cresting my skull was a slight ridge, beginning subtly at the center of my forehead. My ears were smaller, higher and too far forward on my head.
I dropped the mirror. Something else caught my attention. My hands had changed as well, the index and middle were fused together up to the first knuckle, as well as the ring and pinky. It was like my hand was going into a permanent Live Long And Prosper salute.
I barely felt Dr. Thalla take the mirror from my lap. Numbly I looked up at Dr. Ganthos. "Can you stop it?" I asked pleadingly.
Dr. Ganthos was wasting no bedside manner. "No promises. But I will make it a priority."
No promises. No... promises.
Alone. With my thoughts. And my dissatisfied DNA.
Dr. Ganthos had left an hour ago with some tissue samples to examine in his laboratory. Dr. Thalla had pleaded weariness and had retired to go to bed in her own quarters.
I was completely alone. Alone in more than one sense: I was centuries and lightyears away from my family and those I cared for. Overwhelmed, I dropped to my knees and put my face in my hands. But before I could work up a good cry, I felt a strange sensations under my arms as I moved them.
Bemused, I put a hand to feel. There was a knob of hard flesh protruding from my side just underneath my armpit.
I pounded the floor in anger. "Why? WHY? You take my family, you kill my world, but you can't leave me my humanity?"
I debated calling Dr. Thalla about the knobs (she had shown me how to use the video intercomm system before she'd left), but Dr. Ganthos was probably the one to call on that. I discarded that notion; I disliked that man's manner.
Perhaps I could talk to Timasa. He seemed friendly enough, and though he'd be no help medically wise, he might help my morale.
As I was reaching to the comm panel with my fused fingers, it beeped. I paused. Then I touched the light that opened the channel.
Timasa's face lit upon the screen.
Wow. He was good.
"I hope I'm not intruding, Mikado," he said, giving a lopsided grin.
I shrugged, trying to hide the knobs by hunching forwards a bit. "No, not at all," I replied. "There's not really that much to do in here, and I'm sure Dr. Thalla would have a duck if I just walked out."
"A duck?" Timasa laughed. "Is that slang from your time?"
"Yeah. What's slang now for getting frustrated with someone?"
"Umm... 'Jumping a circuit'." He grinned. He took a breath. "Are you...?"
"Fine? Ask my DNA. I sure have no idea."
"Does Dr. Ganthos know what's going on with that?"
"He's working on it, but, and I quote, 'No promises'."
"I'm sorry..." Timasa said, looking uncertain. "I feel kind of responsible for you. I found you and all."
I sighed. "Don't be, Timasa. I'd still be icenapping if you hadn't been out." I paused a moment. "There's something I have to know. Are there any alien races?"
"You mean other than humans? We're the aliens out here. Last I knew of there are about two hundred known non-human races, give or take a few. Maybe more."
I couldn't help smiling. "Wow. Gene Roddenberry would love this."
"Nevermind," I said, laughing a bit. From offscreen, there was a beeping from his side. He looked aside.
"I've got an assignment coming in. Interplanetary delivery boy, that's me," he told me, apologetic. "Talk to you later?"
I turned the screen off.
Alone again. Somehow I felt a lot better.
I rolled a bit and moaned. It was Dr. Ganthos.
"Miss Lan, you've been asleep for over forty hours. One would think you would be quite hungry."
Gad, that holier-than-thou attitude. But I sat up and opened my eyes. Immediately I looked at my hands.
My fingers had completely fused, now giving me three thick fingers to the hand, and no fingernails. Dr. Ganthos slid a warm bowl into my altered hands. It was filled with a soup of some sort. I was too hungry to pay much attention to smell or taste as I spooned it in my mouth.
"I think I may have discovered the cause of your mutations, "Dr. Ganthos began, settling nonchalantly into a chair. Then he hesitated, looking hard at me.
I knew he could see the bulge of my underarm knobs underneath the straight gown. But they felt bigger.
"May I?" Dr. Ganthos said, gesturing.
I sighed. Since I had some extremely modest undergarments on, I decided it really didn't matter if he saw or not. "Why not?"
He lifted the gown and rolled it over my shoulder. I now saw now much the knobs had grown. They were about ten inches long, with three tiny nubs at the end.
"Crud," I breathed. "Am I growing another pair of arms?"
"It would seem so," he replied, prodding the chubby thing protruding from my side. "Can you move them?"
I tried to, and it was the oddest sensation. It bent a bit at the 'shoulder', but would not go anyway else.
"Interesting," he commented.
" 'Interesting'?" I repeated. "Yeah. Can you stop it?"
"I don't know,"Dr. Ganthos replied. "But I do have an explanation."
"Your physiology is reacting to something in the environment on the station. I think it may have come up from the planet below on ships going to and from the colony. Over the centuries we humans have adapted, apparently, to this element that's changing you. You don't have those adaptations in your DNA."
"I can synthesize an antigen, but there are risks."
"Such as?" I prompted.
"It could kill you. Or accelerate the mutation. There's always serious risk when dealing with unknown conditions such as this."
I took a careful breath, fiddling with the spoon. "What if you just let it be?"
Dr. Ganthos folded his hands thoughtfully. "My guess is that will simply run its course. And there's no indication that the mutations are harmful, in fact they seem quite benign thus far."
He crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows. "The decision is yours, Miss Lan. I wanted to make certain you knew the risks."
I looked at my three-fingered hands. "Do it. Make the antigen."
I paced anxiously while Dr. Ganthos was preparing a hypo. I wondered jokingly if technology had advanced to where they could just beam the antigen into my body, but I guessed even science had its limits.
It had taken him a day and a half to get the antigen, during which my ears had diminished into lumps that looked like a continuation outward of my brow ridges, tiny spikes sticking out of my head. Surprisingly, not only could I still hear, but my hearing was more sensitive. My nose had flattened and my lip had split so that I looked like a hairless cat.
My extra arms had gotten longer, thinner, and I now could move them at the elbow. The pudgy baby-like fingers on them were still too small to move.
And, to my embarrasment, I was now growing what had to be a tail. This unpleasant addition to my anatomy was a bare six inches long at the most, thick and flat. I did not see fit to tell Dr. Ganthos, or even Dr. Thalla, about it. My hair now hung in sparse wispy clumps, as if I had had chemotherapy.
All in all, I was a freak.
Dr. Thalla caught my attention. "I've a counteragent ready in case something goes wrong."
"Doctor, I know you're doing your best," I replied.
She smiled. "I'd be no fit doctor if I weren't."
Dr. Ganthos turned. In his hand was a small cyllindrical instrument, my humanity or my death. I pushed up a sleeve and nodded.
With a cold hiss the antigen was released into my bloodstream. I waited expectantly.
"It will, of course, "Dr. Ganthos informed me pointedly, "take time to act."
No sooner had he said so...
Pain ripped through my body. I choked back a scream and doubled up, my original arms clutching my middle, my smaller ones trying to. There was an excruciating tingle over my entire skull, and I saw the rest of my hair drop to the floor.
"It's accelerating!" I heard Dr. Ganthos say. "Quick, the counteragent!"
I felt another hypo, dimly through my pain. I also felt my tail explode out of my backside (excuse the phrasing). My skin became streaked with a nauseating green, and I felt an agonizing blazing pain in my lower back.
"It's not working!" came a frantic Dr. Thalla.
No, really, you think?! I wanted to retort, but I was too busy writhing in pain. Spots swam before my eyes. I'm going to die, I thought. I'm going to die here, a mangled, malformed mockery of a human.
My breathing was tight. I felt myself sinking into a thick grey haze, and I welcomed the anaesthetic of unconciousness.
I was distinctly aware of myself slowly rising from a deep blackness, as if I were swimming up from a dark ocean to the bright surface. An incredibly wonderful warmth surrounded me. I inhaled humid air slowly, easily. I felt good.
I was dead. Of course I felt good.
Well... maybe not. Where was I? I was lying on my back on some rough-feeling bed. I could hear and feel a low, steady hum.
I opened my eyes. I was staring up at a soft white light. There was something green blocking my lower peripheral vision. I felt good, but strange. Not dead. I tried to sit up.
All four of my arms moved to prop on elbows. In the ease of the movement I almost overlooked it. I looked down at myself.
I was naked, but I really didn't care. I was too surprised by my body.
My frontside was a pale green, blending to darker, vivid green on my sides, legs and arms. My muscles were well-defined under my smooth, hairless skin. I had two long toes to each foot. I was still female in basic form; my breasts and figure had not changed. I sat up all the way, my tail moving to allow for the movement. I looked down at it.
My tail was round and ridiculously long, tapering to a neat point after, perhaps twelve feet. I curled the end of it, feeling the coarse texture of the floor underneath. Strange.
I examined my arms. All four were identical, both sets being mirror images, that is; the lower set equal in proportion and length to the upper. I now had twelve fingers; three to the hand.
I really didn't want to see my face. But I had a perverse curiosity. A sudden mood of fatality made me shrug with all four shoulders. I looked around for the drawer that held the mirror.
I seemed to be in a different room. Had Dr. Thalla moved me? How long had I been out? The room I was now in was identical to the one I'd been in, down to the counters, screens and chair. But everything was colored differently. What had been dull brown wall pannelling was now a rich terra cotta red. The wall struts and counter edges, in the other room a plain, flat bronze, here were gold, swirled with flecks of silver and copper. I liked the change. These colors were far more interesting.
There was a beep. "Mikado, are you awake?" asked a distorted Dr. Thalla's voice. My ears swivelled to the speaker on the comm console.
In shock I looked down at my ears. Down at them. "Oh, my--!"
"Mikado? What's wrong?"
Ignoring Dr. Thalla, I studied what used to be on the sides of my head. A pair of tentacles, about a foot and a half long each, extended out from my brows and down in front of my shoulders. These tentalces ended in diamond-shaped, flat paddles about as big as my palm, through which paddles I seemed to be hearing. And I could move the tentacles.
I let fly a few choice swear words.
"Mikado, I know this must be frightening, "Dr. Thalla said through the comm. "but you've got to remain calm. Get where I can see you."
She was on the screen, but I wasn't where the camera could see. "You've got to be kidding," I said.
"If it's about your nudity, the gown I had you in was irritating your skin terribly. If I hadn't taken it off, your epidermis would have burned. And no, Dr. Ganthos wasn't in the room."
I got off the bed. "So... you saw the tail."
"No offense, but how could I miss it?"
I snorted derisively.
"I just finished delivering a baby, "Dr. Thalla said. "But I've checked on you every hour or so. I've also got some clothes for you, so I'll be there in a few minutes."
The channel closed before I could ask why she'd moved me to a different room. I sighed. Did it matter?
While I waited, I got out the mirror. Easier said than done.
My lower arms tended to move in synch with the arms above them, so I got a few busted knuckles before I learned to put a bit of willpower to keep my lower arm still while I reached with my upper.
My coordination seemed not to have suffered beyond that. I easliy gripped the mirror with all hands and raised it to look.
I had a short muzzle, and the face of a panther or somesuch; catlike v-slit for a nose and a sloping profile with brows arched gracefully over large, bright blue eyes. I opened my mouth to reveal long, daggerlike canine teeth.
I frowned as I caught sight of the top of my head. Tilting the mirror I saw, cresting my head, a thick tentacle. On each side of it, feathering out, were many smaller tentacles. Underneath this was another feathered tentacle, and another, until I counted five. The small tentacles were about as thin as pencils, so it looked like I was wearing dreadlocks.
I started to shake. I had been in a kind of denial; now it was starting to sink in. I was a freak, a monster...
Then I remembered what Timasa had said about alien races. I wouldn't be an oddity. The only question was-- What was I?
The door hissed open, and I turned, automatically sheilding my breasts with all arms. Dr. Thalla walked in, a bundle of folded cloth tucked under her arm. Her skin seemed rosier, her hair a deeper shade of brown than I recalled.
"How long was I out?" I asked as she handed the bundle to me.
"About ten hours," she replied. "The mutation is complete."
"What am I?" I asked.
There was a long pause from her. "I don't know. I don't know of any mammalian specie with six limbs."
I sighed. "I didn't think so. No, that's alright-- I wasn't expecting an answer."
Dr. Thalla went to the chair and began to punch buttons. I couldn't make any sense of the nonsense on the screen, nor did I pretend to. "I'm doing a routine scan of your physiology," she announced. Pictures lit up on the other screens.
One was of my skeleton, basically a four-armed whatever with a long tail and catlike skull. As the image rotated I saw holes in my skull, positioned at the base at each of the feather- tentacles.
"Look at this, "Dr. Thalla said, pointing to a diagram of my organs (yuck). It was a realtime image, showing the throb of my heartbeat.
All three of my hearts.
More than a little disturbed, I shrugged into the clothes: a simple pair of slacks and a vest obviously tailored for someone with an abmormal amount of apendages. Dr. Thalla was rattling on about how I still had all the basic organ systems, and a few she had no idea what they were for. She had no explantion for the tentacles on my head, but she was intrigued by the way my ears had gone. She asked if she could examine one closer.
I lifted the right diamond-shaped paddle and extended it to her, without using my hands to do it. Dr. Thalla seemed surprised for a moment, then took my ear-thing into her hand.
A horrible scraping sound thundered explosively in my right ear, so loud I jerked my ear away.
"Too loud," I explained in a whisper, for my ear was ringing painfully.
"Loud?" Dr. Thalla looked incredulous, then smiled. "Goodness, your hearing must be incredibly sensitive to have thought my touch to be loud. Well, we'll leave that be. Here's something else, however. Mikado, do colors seem more... intense to you?"
"Well... unless you moved me into a different room, yes. It's all gold and red in here."
"You've got twenty times the color receptors in your eyes than you used to. You've also got about four times as many nerve endings in your skin; that would explain why the gown irritated you so. You can feel textures and temperature with greater detail, am I right?"
"Also, your body temperature is about 110 Farenheit, and seems to be stable there. That's why it's so warm in here-- the normal 70 is too cold for you. 95 is comfortable to you now."
"But that's sweltering! We were lucky to get above sixty in Juneau sometimes."
Dr. Thalla gave a funny half-shrug. "That temperature would send you into hypothermia. And to explain the humidity in here-- you began to dehydrate shortly after you fainted, and giving you water by mouth didn't work, so I simply increased the air moisture, and that was the trick."
She leaned forward. "If this is making you uncomfortable, we can stop. I dislike picking you apart like this."
I shook my head. "No. If I'm going to live with this body I have to know about it."
"I have to admire you, Mikado." She smiled and turned back to the screens. "Now, here's something that baffles me. Look."
The picture of my organ systems pivoted to show my back. A single organ lit up. It looked like a stingray, just under the skin on my lower back, spreading over my hips. The 'tail' of this 'stingray' was a thin cord going all the way down my tail. "This organ is putting out some kind of energy. Every time I tried to get a reading it wouldn't register. I even came in with a delicate tuned hand scanner and it shorted out as soon as I turned it on you."
I put both left hands on my lower back. It felt just like the rest of my skin, no difference. I looked at Dr. Thalla and shrugged.
"If you feel up to it, I've arranged for quarters and a sum of money," she said. "You're in fine health as far as I can tell, and Dr. Ganthos says your genetic makeup is stable."
I realized she was right. I couldn't just stay in here forever, and I had a new world... worlds... to explore. I found myself a little daunted by the thought of having to get used to myself at the same time.
"I suppose it's too much to hope for a time machine," I commented drily.
Dr. Thalla laughed and stood. "I'm afraid not," she replied, leading me over to the door. "I just need to call for an escort... this station, I'm sad to say, is terribly crime ridden."
"There aren't any police?" I asked as the doors hissed open. A rush of chilly air washed over me, cold, but not terribly uncomfortable. I could stand it for awhile.
"None, "Dr. Thalla said. "No agency will work here any more. But it's been relatively calm lately, I wouldn't worry."
My mouth fell open. If crime was so bad that no police would work here--
My thoughts were interrupted by Timasa appearing at the door, suddenly. He stopped at the sight of me and blinked a few times. He glanced at Dr. Thalla, then back at me.
"Mikado?" he asked.
"You were expecting maybe Darth Vader?" I quipped.
"What?" asked both Dr.Thalla and Timasa in the same breath.
"Nevermind," I replied.
"More 20th century slang?" Timasa said with a grin.
"Just the person I need." Dr. Thalla gestured to him. "Timasa, would you be kind enough to escort Mikado to her quarters?"
"Sure," Timasa agreed readily. "Where?"
"Ring 7, section 34-b. The door should already be marked 'Mikado Lan'. And Mikado, if there are any problems or changes, contact me."
And so I followed Timasa out into my new world. The rough texture of the floor rasped under my bare feet, and the chill of the floor made me lift my tail up, and for lack of anything to do with the darn thing, I curled it around my waist.
I took a breath and looked around.
"Mikado Lan," said Timasa, "welcome to the 29th century."
End Part One The Dive
In Alien Waters copyright 1997 by Darcy Dallas.
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