|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
Chapter 1: Break In
The silence of the night was broken by the faint scrape of metal on pavement. Ruben winced at the noise and stopped to secure the offending tool, ensuring that it wouldn't poke out of its pocket again. He had just started to penetrate Biomia's defences, and though he wasn't in deep enough yet that such a small sound would give him away it might have done so later. This wasn't exactly an encouraging beginning to tonight's job.
Ruben was not one to believe in omens or luck, however. Having fixed the problem, he saw no rational reason to hesitate in going on. So onward he went, down the utility tunnel and under Biomia's lab complex. It was a route so obvious and clichéd that it would normally be foolish to try; indeed, the tunnel was riddled with sensors that were watching his every move. But the tunnel was weak in another way, one less tangible than concrete and motion detectors. An associate of his had, at reasonable cost, hacked the city's maintenance computers and given him a forged maintenance ID card. As far as the city and Biomia's computers were concerned, he was supposed to be here.
As he walked openly down the deserted tunnel, Ruben reflected that if Biomia had relied less on those computers these little holes wouldn't be exploitable and he would have a much harder time getting in. Ironic, really. Biomia's area of expertise was in animal macroengineering, yet they hadn't even saw fit to place ordinary guard dogs on the premises. Perhaps, knowing living things so well, they were too well aware of their weaknesses and not well enough aware of the computer's. No matter. Ruben dismissed the chain of thought as he reached the next stage of his plan.
He had reached the closest manhole to his goal that he could get to without being flagged as an intruder, and from here on he would be at constant risk of discovery. Getting out some tools and wire, he bypassed the manhole's lock sensors and climbed up into a parking lot. A car, carefully parked by bribery, shielded him from the security cameras as he replaced the manhole cover and opened a small junction box. The box was dedicated to the parking lot's car recharging system, but as with all power systems these days there were data cables in there as well. Working fast, he spliced a small box into them.
Waiting tensely, the minutes ticked by as a custom-designed viral program snuck through I/O ports and into power system processors. Finally, a little green light flickered on the box. Fervently hoping the box had been worth the price he'd paid for it, Ruben stood up and walked across the lot to the building's door. No sirens sounded; the green light remained lit. Ruben smiled. The stupid computer was convinced that its sensors were being temporarily fuzzed by a geomagnetic storm, and was busy switching over to shielded lines. It would be blind for several minutes.
Wasting no time, Ruben opened the lock and went inside. Another little box was connected to the keypad next to the door, and within minutes he was again considered authorized personnel. This time the computer thought he was a janitor with access to all the halls in the building. He smiled grimly. This hack had been even easier than the computer outside, but he would have to be more careful not to run into anyone. Beyond this point, Biomia's defences would be less concerned with scaring off amateurs than neutralizing him before he could get away with anything.
Walking down the hall toward the lab rooms, he made a mental inventory to be sure he was ready for them. There were three adjacent rooms that might contain his target; one for animal storage, one for actual chemical and biological work, and one design lab. The design lab was probably his goal, but beyond that he hadn't been able to get much in the way of information. He didn't even know which room was which, though he could extrapolate enough about the security systems that he felt confident of fooling them. There remained an element of uncertainty, however, and he might have to get out in a hurry if he tripped anything.
Arriving at the first of the three doors, Ruben checked for the presence of guards inside and then began to work. First, he quickly overcame the door's locks and sensors. Breaking the seal and opening the door a crack, he slid a tiny sensor wand into the room. No ultrasonics, no IR, no EM fields or active cameras. There were only lasers. Ruben frowned. This seemed too easy, but it did fit Biomia's pattern. They sometimes used a shell defence strategy, which would mean that he'd already passed the tough stuff. If you consider that tough, he thought derisively. Withdrawing the sensor, he put on his goggles and slipped quickly inside.
Ruben examined the room slowly and carefully. The goggles enhanced the dim light to full visibility, and outlined the laser tripwires in red. They formed a sparse grid on the floor, obviously only good for catching someone who didn't know they were there. Ruben would be able to step over them easily. But he could also see the reason for the lax security, and silently cursed. This didn't look like the design lab. Still, he decided that he should make sure before leaving to try the next room. He leaned inside, careful to keep an eye on the laser tripwires.
There were racks of small cages along one wall containing small animals that were probably rats or mice, and other shelves nearby held supplies related to them. A bare table was in the middle of the room, with a sink and other utilities but no computers. And along the other wall... Ruben froze. There were three large reinforced windows, each next to a small door. The cubicles beyond the glass had padded walls and cots, like psychiatric cells, and lying on one of the cots was a large hairy form. Ruben could easily see that it wasn't an animal, or a man. He'd known Biomia was experimenting with bioroids, animals designed to do human jobs, but he'd never seen this particular type before.
Checking a sensor for pressure plates or silent alarms, Ruben cautiously stepped over the lasers to get a better look. He really shouldn't be bothering with this, but his curiosity was piqued and if he didn't look now he'd never find out what it was. Leaning close to the glass without touching it, he adjusted his goggles and peered inside. The bioroid was a good approximation of human form, the proportions being roughly right even if the details weren't. It was obviously of bovine stock, with hooves, a tail, and a bull-like head. A minotaur out of greek legend; large and muscular, especially in the shoulders, it was probably designed for heavy labor.
Still examining the sleeping bioroid, Ruben distractedly put the sensor he had used back into its pocket. It slipped, and Ruben's heart clenched with sudden fear as it fell from his grasp. He retained the presence of mind not to make a grab for it; the last thing he needed to do right now was to knock it into the lasers. But he still winced as it hit the floor; the noise seemed almost as bad. Standing frozen as the clatter faded, Ruben strained to hear the sound of alarms. He couldn't hear any, so he bent to pick up the fallen sensor. Then he froze again as the sleeping bioroid twitched its ear, groaned, and turned over in its cot. Shoddy design! He thought angrily. That cell should be soundproof! Holding his breath, he hoped the bioroid would go back to sleep.
His hopes were dashed as the tossing bioroid bumped a horn solidly against the wall. With a grunt of pain, it grabbed its head with thick two-fingered hands and blinked its bleary black eyes. Then it looked directly at him and moaned softly. Ruben looked back, momentarily held by the bioroid's gaze. It seemed at once puzzled, fearful, and pleading. With an expression of dawning comprehension, it crawled off the cot and staggered unsteadily to its feet. Grunting urgently and incomprehensibly, it stepped forward and gestured wildly. Ruben almost backed into the lasers, but kept a grip on himself and turned to watch where he walked. He had to get out of the room, and fast, before anything more went wrong. Silently cursing his curiosity and clumsiness, he hurried out the door.
Behind him, the bioroid stopped gesturing to the cell door and pressed its broad muzzle against the glass, forlornly watching Ruben leave the room. Heaving a deep sigh and sitting heavily on the cot, a tear trickled down its broad, hairy cheek.
Ruben closed the door behind him, and took a moment to regroup. That had obviously been the animal storage room. The next room down the hall would probably be the working lab, then, and the one after that the design lab. But should he abort? He had been seen, and if security was alerted he would have just enough time to get away. But he had only been seen by a bioroid, a caged research animal. It hadn't seemed very clever, he reflected, and training was one of the major costs of producing bioroids, so perhaps they hadn't bothered teaching it anything. That made sense. Calming himself down and checking his sensors for any silent alarms he might have tripped, he decided that he was too close to his goal to back out now. He could finish the job and be out within fifteen minutes. Wasting no more time, he walked to the third door in line.
Working carefully but a little more quickly this time, he unlocked the lab's door and inserted his sensors. He had to restrain himself from working too fast; if this was indeed the design lab, it would be better protected than the animal storage had been. And it was; he detected laser, IR, and active cameras within. This would take longer to defeat, and again he questioned the wisdom of continuing. But his sensors indicated that no silent alarms were active, so he still hadn't triggered any security devices. He would have the time. Pushing the hesitation out of his mind, he focused on his work.
When he finally heard the sound of guards running down the hall, he barely had enough time to leap to his feet and trigger the destruct on his data modules before he collapsed under a barrage of stunner fire.
Ruben was barely aware as they put his limp form in a stretcher and carried him away, searching him and securing him to a padded surface. Through the numbing haze of the stun he heard people talking, coming and going. He couldn't make out any words, but they seemed to be arguing. After an unknown period of time the stun finally started to wear off, his twitching muscles beginning to obey him again and the room coming into blurry focus. He subtly tested his bonds, hoping they had only taken into account an unconscious prisoner. No good; he was tied tight. He heard someone say "he's awake," and the voices died down.
Ruben turned his head toward the voice. A small cluster of men stood beside his platform, a mixed bunch wearing lab coats and security uniforms. One of the lab-coated men stood out, clearly in charge; the others stood slightly and respectfully away from him. He turned to a security man and told him, "go and check with Chief Sampson. I think he'll agree to my handling this, and we won't do anything irreversible until you're back anyways. I'll just start the preliminaries while I wait." The guard nodded and left the room. Then the lab-coated man went to a cabinet and loaded a hypospray. "Just a mild truth serum," he explained to Ruben as he gave him a small dose and checked his watch. Ruben tried to suppress his nervousness, but even with the stun's remaining aftereffects he remained tense.
"All right then, young man. Who do you work for and what were you after?"
"I work for Palamar." Ruben answered immediately, speech still slightly slurred by the stun. He knew that no human, no matter how well trained, could resist modern interrogation drugs in the end. It was best to cooperate fully at the beginning, to save himself the discomfort of harsher chemicals later. "I don't know what I was after."
"No?" The man seemed slightly puzzled. "How would you find it?"
"I mean that I don't know the exact purpose of my job," Ruben explained, keeping his voice calm. "I was to get into the design lab, where I was told there would be two GeneBlaster workstations. I was given data modules to plug into them, presumably to copy data or insert viruses."
The man nodded and muttered "they were probably after the restructuring processes..." under his breath. Then, after a long and thoughtful pause, he continued. "Palamar's good. They wouldn't hire a dummy, or be careless with information. I think I believe you." Ruben relaxed slightly. But there was still the possibility that he'd seen too much here already, and Biomia could easily afford to make him disappear. The slight buzz of the truth serum couldn't hide that unpleasant possibility.
It did, however, make him a little reckless. "If I may ask," Ruben asked, "how did you catch me? I didn't detect any silent alarms go off." They were undoubtably going to change the security system anyways, so there seemed no harm in asking.
The man seemed unconcerned. "The experimental subject you found is wired with medical sensors. When he woke up, a tech turned on a camera and saw you there. He called the guards directly."
"Oh." Ruben said with a sense of irony. Biomia had ended up relying on a living guard, after all, even if not an intentional one. And he, himself, had relied too much on his equipment to decide when to run.
"And speaking of the experimental subject..." The man continued. Uh oh, Ruben thought, and started to sweat slightly. "Tell me everything you saw."
Ruben tried to focus his description on the room itself, trivial things about the size of the table and number of rat cages. But a full description of the bioroid he'd seen also slipped out, and Ruben feared that those details were damning.
The man remained silent for some time. "Unfortunately," he resumed at last, "we can't tell exactly how much Palamar knew when they sent you here." Ruben winced and drew a sharp breath as he received this confirmation of his fears. He knew too much. "What you saw could be useful to them," the man continued heedlessly, "it could at the very least tell them how far we've gotten in our work."
Before he could continue further, however, the guard he'd sent away earlier returned and the man turned to speak quietly with him in the corner. While they talked, Ruben's gaze darted around the room. The drug had weakened his self-control, and he was starting to panic.
The man came back smiling. "Good news, for all concerned," he said. "I've used my influence as head of research, and you're going to live." Ruben let out a relieved breath, but remained wary. "Why?"
"You're going to be useful in helping me finish this project," the man explained. "A new way to make bioroids, quickly and economically." Ruben didn't want to hear more about the project, every word he heard dug him deeper into his hole. But at the same time a terrible sense of foreboding gripped him and he felt a need to know.
"Basically," he continued, "I take a normal adult human and inject a virogenic macrophage that turns him into a bioroid. No need for tanks, gestation, or all that much in the way of teaching. He's already got a full life experience. When we finish working out the designs, we'll get a steady supply of raw material from the jails, or perhaps welfare..."
"No!" Ruben interrupted, realizing exactly what he had seen in the room next door and exactly what kind of help he could give to Biomia's research.
"Oh, don't be such a baby!" The man snapped back. "Sure, we haven't got the change process balanced exactly right, yet. You lose speech, some fine muscular control, perhaps a little mental quickness. That's why we're doing a brute-labor-type prototype design first, you see? It's marketable as-is. But we haven't figured out how to do a selective mindwipe yet, so you'll still be you. Better than death, eh?"
Ruben wasn't so sure, but he was hardly in a position to argue. He strained at his bonds instead, thinking perhaps to escape and avoid both options. But they were meant to hold creatures far stronger than he, and the man waited patiently while he exhausted himself.
"Finished? Good. Now, we'll give you a quick physical workup, that'll take maybe a day. Then we get to work. The process isn't too painful, but it's tiring." The man began to walk away, writing on a pad. As he left, he spoke over his shoulder "Oh, by the way, since we'll be seeing each other a lot over the next few weeks; I'm Doctor Gormel. Pleased to meet you."
Chapter 2: Break Out
The next 24 hours were pure hell. Dr. Gormel and his lab techs put Ruben through a thorough medical checkup; probing, drawing blood samples, and scanning him in a dozen different ways. But though they were physically uncomfortable, the tests themselves weren't the main source of anguish. It was the helpless waiting for the inevitable, like a prisoner on death row. The doctor was a very careful man, and not once was Ruben given the slightest opening for escape. He had been completely stripped, and bound to a special stretcher like some sort of mental patient. Houdini himself wouldn't have been able to get out of it.
Not that Ruben didn't try. With a bizarre and potentially worse- than-death fate looming, he rubbed his skin raw trying to slip free. He didn't sleep a wink, though the tension and exertion had exhausted him almost to the point of collapse; they hadn't infected him yet, so there was still a chance of getting out of this.
Dr. Gormel entered the small room Ruben had been placed in after the last batch of exams, carrying a tray with vials and needles on it. "One last blood test," he explained, almost cheerfully. Ruben's anxiety went up another notch; they must be nearly done.
"Look," he almost pleaded, fatigue eroding his composure, "this isn't necessary. Can't I... Isn't there anything..." Ruben floundered, all his ideas having already been offered.
"You really are stubborn," Dr. Gormel muttered as he loaded a syringe. "I hope we can break some of that or you'll be worthless as a bioroid. Now just relax hold still, this will be over in a sec." He positioned the needle, and Ruben tried to obey. His arm still hurt from when he had struggled during an earlier bloodletting. There was a slight twinge as the needle went in, and then after a short pause Gormel withdrew it. Ruben let out a breath and grimly resumed testing his bonds, glancing at the doctor to see if there was anything more.
The syringe was empty. That fact took a few moments to fully register, and then the horrifying implication blossomed in his mind. Gormel saw Ruben's expression and nodded, grinning widely. "Yes," he confirmed, "that was actually the macrophage injection. We're done."
Ruben screamed in fear and anger as the tension that had built up over the past day burst free. Additional lab techs rushed into the room but Dr. Gormel waved them off as Ruben spent his remaining strength and collapsed, sobbing and broken. It's done! I'm doomed! he wailed silently with despair. And, strangely, with relief too; the terrible wait and uncertainty was over. It was out of his hands now.
Releasing his grip on the exhaustion he had held in check all day, Ruben fell asleep less than ten minutes later.
Ruben woke up in one of the empty cells he had seen during his break in attempt, naked but no longer bound. His skin was raw where the straps had chafed, and his muscles were somewhat sore from his struggles, but other than that he was comfortable; the cell had all the necessary sanitary facilities and a dispenser that supplied as much bland food as he wanted. Over the next few days even the mild injuries quickly healed.
But beyond his purely physical needs, Ruben was quite troubled. Gormel intentionally kept him in the dark about the process' expected symptoms in order to avoid skewing his results, and after a few days the boredom was almost as bad as the uncertainty. Ruben tried to talk to the bioroid in the cell next to him, teaching him a simple code of grunts; but the bioroid was depressed and resigned so there wasn't much effort on his part. Ruben learned that his name was Chris, and that he was an unemployed bystander who had been kidnapped by Biomia. That they had apparently used their own employees for the job caused Ruben to increase his opinion of Biomia's ambition; petty organisations usually contracted local thugs to do that sort of dirty work.
Though Chris was a reluctant and inefficient conversationalist at best, Ruben managed to learn a few things about him and what to expect. Though his "speech" was slow, to Ruben's relief he didn't seem particularly stupid. Chris had realized that Ruben was a thief when he first saw him, and was now feeling quite guilty about getting him caught. He apparently thought that his impulsive reaction had destroyed a chance at a rescue and cure. Ruben tried to assure him that it wasn't really his fault, but didn't mention the fact that he wouldn't have rescued Chris anyhow, even if he could have. If he had simply controlled his curiosity a bit better, he would have moved on to the next room and be home with his fee by now.
As the days wore on, Ruben's boredom grew worse. Chris had apparently finished changing just after Ruben arrived, and was now being transferred to another area; Ruben heard them explaining that it was for physiotherapy and training. Chris went willingly, and Ruben assumed he was hoping to earn a cure somehow; Chris had made it clear that he hated his condition far worse than he hated captivity, and was willing to do anything for a return to human form. Not that Ruben thought there was a slightest possibility that he could get one from Biomia; that would defeat their whole idea.
Chris might have been happier with a cure to work towards, imaginary though it may be, but now Ruben had no one to talk to. He had checked the cell thoroughly already, and could find no way out without his tools. Likewise, there were no weaknesses in the security when they took him out for regular physical examinations. He was almost looking forward to the examinations now, not just because security might slip up someday but because they were more interesting than just lying around his cell, eating and sleeping. Things he found himself spending more time doing as time passed.
Ruben finally realized that the hunger and fatigue were oncoming symptoms when, during one of his regular examinations, security did slip up and he was simply too tired to take the opportunity to try anything. Until that point he had convinced himself that he felt fine, but he couldn't do it any more. He became a bit of a nervous wreck again; any day now, he realized, he might actually begin to change physically. Trying to talk with Chris about his early symptoms had felt abstract and impersonal at the time; but now this brought home the knowledge that now it really was happening to him! He was infected with an incurable disease that would inevitably cripple and deform him, reducing him to a sub-human, possibly for the rest of his life.
Then, almost immediately afterward, it began; one morning he woke with a terrible itch. Scratching, Ruben found that his skin was flaking and covered in stubble. He was growing new body hair. In a cold sweat, he could only sit on his cot and wait for the doctor to come for his daily examination. "Ah-ha!" Gormel exclaimed with delight when he saw the shadow of growth. Ruben looked at him with loathing, and said nothing. He was too frightened to think of anything.
After that, a biological dam broke and the changes began happening rapidly. Back when Ruben had first been told of his fate, Gormel had said that the process wouldn't be painful. That was true only in the literal sense; Ruben couldn't honestly say he was in pain, but it was very uncomfortable and unnerving. He was constantly exhausted and hungry, and his muscles and joints were stiff. Each day Ruben woke to find himself worse; his old hair fell out, followed by his nails and then later by his teeth. Though he was rapidly gaining bulk, his muscles were weakening. Ruben realized that he had waited too long, and every day now lessened his ability to simply overpower Biomia's security and escape.
But another plan was forming. Ruben began hiding what little strength he had left, pretending to be even more incapacitated than he already was. It wasn't much of a hidden reserve. His very bones were beginning to shift now, mostly growing but in a few places shrinking. Already the ring and little finger on each hand and the three smallest toes on each foot were shrivelled and paralysed. Though he didn't have access to a mirror, Ruben could feel that his face was clearly not human-looking any more. A pair of lumps had appeared on his scalp, presumably nascent horn buds, and to top it all off the stub of a tail was growing from the base of his spine.
Nonetheless, Ruben resolutely ignored what was happening to him and watched the pattern of Biomia employees coming and going. As time had passed without incident and his condition had worsened, the security around him had relaxed. It was still better than when he had first broken in but the improvements had been designed to keep intruders out, not in. Most of his new plan was based on guesswork, and he was having some difficulty thinking straight, but it was so simple it was hard to mess up. Or so he hoped, at least.
One morning Ruben finally decided that he had to put his plan into effect. He had discovered the tips of his horns actually erupting from his skin, and that pushed him over the edge; he clearly wasn't suffering from some conventional degenerative disease. He had to do something, anything other than just sitting and waiting out the change helplessly.
Ruben called out, his voice hoarse and his tongue feeling thick and clumsy in his lengthening jaw. "Doc-thor! Docthor, I need you!". Within a few minutes, Dr. Gormel arrived.
"Yes, Ruben. What is it?"
"Docthor, I need helf. I... I canth do thith."
Dr. Gormel smiled condescendingly, speaking as if he were addressing an idiot. "You don't have a choice, Ruben. There's no cure at this stage."
"Nooo... No, I mean... I'm too thick... I canth get up, I'm hungry..." Ruben lay on the cot breathing heavily and drooling, not having to work very hard to make himself sound pathetic. There's no way he'll fall for this, Ruben thought. This is stupid...
But amazingly, his simple ruse worked. Shaking his head and muttering, Gormel opened the cell door and stepped inside. "...final product'll have to be able to care for its..." He was cut off in mid-sentence as Ruben lunged from the cot, slamming into him and tumbling both to the floor. "Securi-" He began to yell, but Ruben slammed a fist into his jaw and he collapsed unconscious.
Ruben nearly did the same; he had expended every ounce of his remaining energy in the lunge, and his malformed hand was a blaze of pain. Struggling to his knees and gasping for breath, he forced himself to focus. His plan had worked! But there was more... he had to run, now, but there was something... ah, yes. He fumbled with the doctor's lab coat, clumsy even with his good hand, and grabbed his ID. It might be enough to open doors with, if Biomia was sloppy. That was the limit of his planning ability right now, but hopefully surprise would be enough.
Surprisingly, it was. Ruben was a professional, and had tried to time his escape carefully, but in his current mental and physical state it was only luck and willpower that saved him in the end. Nobody saw the naked half-bioroid staggering through the hallways for several minutes, and when security was finally alerted they didn't deactivate Gormel's security clearance in time. Ruben left by the same door through which he had entered weeks ago, and crawled into the manhole outside. A nightmare escape through the dark tunnels ensued, fleeing imagined pursuit with no particular goal in mind. Ruben was beyond thought; sheer willpower was all that kept him from passing out, and he picked his path at random. At last, totally spent but in an unmonitored side tunnel, Ruben collapsed. He was asleep almost as soon as he hit the floor.
Ruben woke up almost a full day later, though he had no way of knowing how long he had been out. He somehow managed to feel even worse than he had the day before; he had been exhausted yesterday, but now he was in agony. His muscles burned, the effects of his exertions exacerbated by their continuing transformation, and he was starving. But he could force himself to think clearly, and there were more immediate and painful things to consider.
Firstly, reluctant to move even that much, Ruben conducted his now-habitual wakeup self-examination. Slowly feeling his body from head to toe, he groaned at the changes that had taken place while he slept. No good news on that front, he thought, although he hadn't really expected any. He was even a little bit thankful for his toughened, hairy hide; he would have been a mass of scrapes and scratches without it. He would have been willing to trade those conditions, of course.
On the other hand, Gormel and his goons obviously hadn't found him during the night. He was actually free. He found that it didn't cheer him up as much as he would have hoped, both because he still didn't know what he was going to do and because he was very hungry. At least in Gormel's cell, there was as much food as he needed. Freedom meant insecurity and uncertainty, and he was too sick to deal with that right now. He needed to find someplace safe, to recuperate and try to think about what to do next. Most importantly, he needed food.
Gasping in pain, Ruben propped himself up against the wall and struggled to pull himself to his distorted feet. He considered heading to his apartment, but almost immediately scrapped the idea; Biomia would be sure to watch it, and he couldn't exactly move about the neighbourhood unnoticed either. He knew he must be rather distinctive-appearing right now and he didn't have a scrap of clothing to hide it. Then he remembered someone he could go to for help, though he hated the idea of anyone he knew seeing him like this. But Jack was discrete, and he owed Ruben big time. If he had to trust someone, he decided, he would trust him.
Fighting back the pain in his limbs, Ruben supported himself against the tunnel wall as he slowly walked towards the nearest manhole. Climbing the ladder and pushing it open was like trying to shift a mountain, but somehow he managed it. He was in a low- density business park, it seemed; squinting at some of the signs, he decided it was probably the one about two miles south of Biomia. Fortunately the hour was late and there weren't any people around to notice him as he crawled behind a dumpster to rest again. What I really need is a phone, he realized after a long period of sluggish thought. There's no way I'm going to get far in this sort of shape, I need a ride.
Unfortunately, there weren't many pay phones in the neighbourhood. Ruben broke into one of the local businesses instead. Though the security system would normally have been ludicrously simple for him to bypass, his lack of tools and poor condition made the task extremely difficult. At last he was inside, undetected and once again exhausted. I can't keep this up much longer... Picking up the phone and trying to position it correctly against his shifted ear and prognathous face, Ruben punched in Jack's private address. After a moment, Jack answered.
"Jack!" Ruben croaked, enunciating as clearly as he could. "Thith is Ruben. I need helf..."
"Ruben?" Jack paused, and Ruben could imagine the wheels whirring in his head. "I heard you'd disappeared. Are the big boys after you?" The 'big boys' meant bounty hunters and FBI, as opposed to petty powers such as the police.
"Nooo... Captured during a job, jutht escaped. Need to hole up..."
"You sound pretty bad, there. Are you beat up?"
"No, I'm thick. Very thick. Not contashuth, but I look pretty bad. I... I'm changing, not human..." Ruben coughed and tried to clear his throat, but his voice remained deep and guttural. "Pleath, I need helf bad. Place to thtay, jutht for a little while..."
"Okay, okay. I suppose you need a lift, or you would have shown up already. Where are you, and are you being watched?"
Ruben gave him the address of the building he was in, and then Jack disconnected. Ruben hung up, hand shaking with fatigue and hunger, and then began the long struggle of crawling to the front of the building to wait for him. He waited there for half an hour, fighting to stay alert and watch for possible intruders. Finally Jack's car pulled up.
Rousing himself and wrapping a raincoat he had found around his body, Ruben pulled himself to his feet and staggered outside. Hobbling to the car, he pawed at the door handle. It was locked. Squinting through the glass, he saw that Jack was looking back at him with shock and horror. He realized that he must look quite awful, and the coat was too small to hide much.
"Ith me, Ruben!" Ruben gasped, pleading. "Helfed you to cover up your thcam on Microthoft, remember? Thnuck in and thtole the evidenth, account recordth... I'm not contashuth, pleath, let me in!" Jack continued to stare for a moment, and then abruptly broke eye contact and hit a switch. Ruben heard the back door unlock, pulled it open, and collapsed breathlessly inside. "Thankth..." Jack cut him off with a sudden start, the car leaping down the road. "My god, what a mess..." Ruben heard him muttering under his breath, but he was too drained to reply. Ruben lay in the back for the rest of the trip to Jack's house.
Jack lived in a small house in the suburbs; it had a bland, homey appearance that completely belied his profession and lifestyle. He brought his car to a stop on the driveway near the door, and quietly said "Okay, Ruben. We're here."
Ruben groaned and crawled out of the car. His muscles were cramping and spasming too much to stand on his own now, and Jack looked reluctant to help him up, so he gritted his gums and began to slowly crawl to Jack's door. Jack hesitated, and then held out his hand to pull him up. Ruben murmured thanks and leaned on him as they went inside; Jack staggered slightly under the weight and Ruben was amazed by how much he had grown. But he didn't really have the strength to think about it right now. Jack led him into a spare room, and Ruben collapsed on the couch with a huge sigh. Soft...
But he couldn't go to sleep just yet. "Hun-gry" he grunted, startling Jack from some deep thinking.
"Uh, right. What do you need?"
"Don' know..." Ruben was losing his grip, without being able to actually pass out. "Fooood!"
"Riiight," Jack replied thoughtfully, and walked out of the room. After a while, he came back and fed Ruben something. He didn't pay attention to what it was. His hunger finally sated, Ruben fell into another deep sleep.
When he woke up, Ruben was delirious. He sent an indeterminate time like that, slipping in and out of awareness, unable to keep track or think straight. Jack cared for him during that time, bringing him food and water, but Ruben hardly noticed it through the daze. His escape had taken a lot out of him, more than he could really handle, and it had nearly killed him. He struggled with a fever as he continued to change.
Then, one day, the fever broke and Ruben regained full consciousness.
Chapter 3: Living
Ruben had a monster headache. Groaning, he tried to turn over and go back to sleep. But his head caught on something, and he couldn't get comfortable. Yawning and blinking sleep from his eyes, he reached up to scratch his head. When he saw his hand, however, he stopped dead and stared at it dully. Oh great, he thought, not quite believing it. It was a large, bulky hand; with two blunt fingers and a thumb, thick black nails and leathery brown palms. But it flexed as he wanted, and he felt what it touched. It was his, all right.
Ruben touched his face, crossing his eyes to stare at the muzzle that projected below them. Running his hand over it, he felt his broad, square nose. He ran his tongue over his lips, discovering that he had teeth again. Small compensation, he thought, closing his eyes and taking several deep breaths. His head hurt too badly for this to be a dream, so denial wasn't an option. Panic won't help either, I've got to take this slow and easy.
After a moment Ruben resumed his self-examination, starting at the top. He found that it was one of his horns that had caught on the upholstery when he woke, and was amazed by their length. Those are actually part of my head!? he wondered disbelievingly, tugging at one and trying to get a good look at them in his peripheral vision. He would need a mirror soon, that was for sure.
Pulling the tip of his horn free with only a slight tearing of fabric, Ruben struggled to sit up and swing his legs off the couch. He shifted uncomfortably; it felt like he was sitting on a lump or something. Reaching back, he pulled his tail out from under him and stared at it in astonishment. He could feel his hand touching it, a location he simply hadn't had before. After a moment Ruben recovered his composure and snorted, letting the tail drop. He would deal with it later; he had more important things to do first.
As he hung his legs over the edge of the couch, Ruben immediately noticed the effect of their new configuration. They were a little shorter overall, and he couldn't comfortably lower his heels to the floor due to the angle of his ankle. Grunting and groaning, he pushed himself up to stand on his toes. His hooves, that is; his feet were tipped with broad cloven hooves. They felt almost like shoes, letting him feel the pressure of the floor but not its texture.
Panting, Ruben wobbled unsteadily as he tried to keep his balance. Jeeze, this is harder than it looks! Then he had an attack of vertigo from standing up too quickly, and he fell to the floor with a solid thud. Shit. As he caught his breath and propped himself up on his elbows, Ruben heard rapidly approaching footsteps. Ruben stifled the brief burst of alarm as he remembered that he was in a friend's house.
Jack burst into the room and skidded to a halt. "Are you all ri... Uh, Ruben?"
"Uhn!" Ruben looked up at him and tried to reply. "Ah, Urr, Hunh! Hunh!" He coughed and tried to clear his throat, but that wasn't the problem. He simply couldn't get his larynx or mouth to work properly, to form words. Grunting and clutching his broad bullish neck, Ruben shook his head vehemently. Remembering his 'conversations' with Chris back in Biomia's cell, he realized that he was now on the other side of the communications barrier. The best he could manage were animal noises. It was actually the scariest thing he had discovered since waking up.
Jack seemed to understand what was wrong. "Don't try to speak," he instructed, "just nod, okay? Are you all right?" Breathing heavily but managing to keep calm, Ruben gave a more restrained nod.
"All right, then." Jack paused uncertainly. "Do you need help back to the couch?" It wasn't quite what Ruben wanted, but it would do for now. As Jack strained to help lift Ruben's bulk back to the couch, Ruben realized just how much weight he must have gained. Jack felt puny against him, even though Ruben knew he was of above average build. Again sitting on the couch, Ruben sighed and massaged his sloped forehead.
Jack stood back and stared at him for a moment. "You were out of it for a week, there. Couldn't get a coherent word out of you. I suppose you're hungry again?" Ruben did feel a bit hungry, but for once not terribly so. He shook his head, deciding that he could put that off. Instead, he mimicked writing on an imaginary pad. Jack got the picture and fetched him one.
Ruben gripped the pen carefully, his hand still clumsy and unfamiliar. "I'd like a mirror," he wrote.
Ruben spent the rest of the day recuperating, both physically and mentally. The shock and disbelief at his change wore off slowly; Ruben wondered if it would ever go away entirely. It was such a big change, he doubted he could ever get totally used to it. He spent a long while simply staring at himself in the mirror, trying to get the feel of his new body.
It was a massive, hulking body; quite unlike his formerly lean build. He was literally built like an ox, with a hump of muscle over his broad shoulders and a squat-looking physique. Though he felt weak after the long illness, he had already nearly smashed a chair and a door while trying to move about. Ruben wondered just how strong he would be after he recovered for a few days. This was a bioroid body, after all; it was designed for heavy work. He also found that his senses had improved overall, especially smell and hearing, and he had a wider field of vision from his widely- spaced eyes.
But the advantages didn't nearly make up for the disabilities, both physical and psychological. He couldn't speak, he was uncoordinated, and his hands were clumsy. Balancing on two hooves became easier with practice, and his tail helped a little; but it was like learning to walk all over again and Ruben knew it would take a while before he regained much mobility. Jack didn't have any clothes that fit him, but even if he did he couldn't possibly disguise himself. No shoes could alter the shape of his feet, no mask could hide his muzzle or horns. But the worst part was simply the fact that Ruben had fallen from the exalted condition of humanity; in the eyes of society he was a genetically engineered subhuman creature. It was almost enough to drive him to despair, but he resolved to ignore it until he could at least think about it clearly.
Jack was almost as interested in Ruben's body as Ruben was, a fact that led to much embarrassment on Ruben's part. It wasn't really because he was naked, since his body hair was so dense that his skin wasn't visible anyways. It was the way Jack stared, studying him like a fascinating sculpture, that felt like an intrusion. Still, Ruben owed Jack a lot for sheltering him for the past week. Without being given the slightest explanation, and possibly risking some dread disease, he had taken the effort to care for him while he had been incapacitated. He tried to bear Jack's examination with dignity.
He also tried to satisfy Jack's curiosity about what had happened to him. Revealing the details of a job was considered bad form for a freelancer like Ruben, but in this case it just didn't seem that important. Unfortunately, writing was still quite difficult for him. He was slow and sloppy and had a hard time concentrating through his headache, and as a result only wrote an outline of the events. It was enough for Jack to start with, however, and he went to a terminal to do some research.
While he did that, Ruben went to the kitchen to eat. He felt only mildly hungry compared to when Jack had first rescued him, but he quickly discovered that his body now had a much greater capacity and it took a large amount of food to fill that hunger. Being in no mood to cook anything, he settled for raw vegetables and breakfast cereals. He chose those because they were convenient, but as he finished eating he wondered whether he even could eat meat any more. What do cows eat, anyways? he pondered blearily, but then decided that he was too stuffed and tired to care and fell asleep on the couch instead.
Ruben woke, and lay for a long time thinking before he got up. His headache had gone down, and he felt much better rested than he had been the day before. The sense of stunned disbelief had also faded somewhat, though not entirely; it allowed him to consider his situation seriously, at least. He tried to think of what to do next. In the short term, Ruben was eager to finish rehabilitating himself. He wanted to be able to get out, should things catch up with him. But where would he go? As he tried to come up with an answer, he realized that in the long term he had absolutely no idea what he was going to do. The full implications of being a bioroid were starting to sink in, and Ruben didn't like them one bit. First things first, he told himself.
He got up and walked out of the room, carefully navigating his horned bulk through the doorframe. Though he stumbled slightly at first, he was already steadier on his hooves than he had been yesterday. As he clomped down the hall and into the bathroom, Ruben refocused his attention to immediate concerns. He still didn't have any clothing, and he realized that he hadn't had a shower in weeks either. He had hardly noticed either condition; he didn't really need much clothing and it wouldn't hide anything anyways, and his bovine aroma actually didn't smell that bad to him. Kind of masculine, even, he thought with some slight amusement.
Still, he had recently spent a night in a sewer and he didn't know how sensitive Jack was about it. Ruben got in the shower and turned on the water, nice and hot. He moved carefully, but now more to avoid accidentally wrecking anything than to keep from falling. He was actually getting the hang of this, he realized, though his hooves' lack of traction on the tile floor kept him from getting too cocky. After relaxing under the spray for a few minutes he picked up the shampoo and meticulously lathered himself up. He was surprised at the density of his new body hair; he had been under the impression that cattle weren't that furry. But then, he didn't have much experience with normal cattle and who knew what the engineers at Biomia had been up to?
Rinsing out the shampoo and a week's worth of accumulated grime, Ruben at last got out of the shower and dried himself off. His body still felt strange, but now it was a better, more invigorated strange feeling. Rummaging through the cupboard, Ruben found a brush and straightened out the thickest patches of hair. It seemed somewhat incongruous doing that; here he was, a minotaur with well-groomed and conditioned hair. He shook his head in disbelief, wrapped a towel around his waist and went in search of breakfast.
Ruben had slept in, and Jack was already up. As Ruben made himself a huge pot of oatmeal (an appropriate sort of food, Ruben thought ironically), Jack came into the kitchen with a pile of hardcopies. "'morning, Ruben," he began. "I did a little research last night, thought you'd like to look over the results." Jack paused, and after a moment Ruben responded with a nod and grunt. He continued. "Here's what I found on Biomia, if that's anything you don't know. Here's Palamar, a little more was available there. And here's some stuff on bioroids, legal and biological matters. Some of that's very interesting." Ruben grunted again, wishing he could be a little more expressive.
As Ruben ate, Jack made a few attempts at small talk but gave up quickly in the face of his muteness. "Well, I've got some stuff to do today," he excused finally himself. "I'll be back sometime this evening, you'll still be here, right?" Ruben coughed a deep, pained chuckle and nodded. He didn't have anyplace else to go right now, all of his old contingency plans had counted on him being human at this point.
Jack left and Ruben finished eating shortly afterward. Licking his broad lips and groaning quietly in contentment, he took a moment to relax. And now, to work. Picking up the pile of hardcopies Jack had left and a bowl of fruit for snacks, Ruben moved over to a work desk. He pulled up a chair and sat down, grumbling in discomfort as he spent a moment pulling his tail out from under him and threading it through the backrest. He flicked it several times, still somewhat amazed by the sensation of actually having one, and then returned his attention to the matter at hand.
Organising the papers by subject matter, Ruben decided to start with the information Jack had dug up on Biomia. Though he was intensely curious about the bioroid biology information, he was also nervous about what he might discover. Better to start in familiar territory, he rationalized. Pawing through the pages, Ruben began looking for possible contacts or sources of leverage. Jack was quite good at this sort of thing, and the records were quite complete; if there were any weaknesses, they'd be here somewhere.
After ten minutes, he shoved the papers away in frustration. There just didn't seem to be anything useful in them, and he couldn't concentrate in any case. Focusing his eyes on the paper was giving him a headache again, and it didn't help that his muzzle blocked the bottom center of his field of view. He massaged the bridge of his massive nose, and sighed. I guess I'm just not as stereoscopic as I used to be. He decided to take a break and rest his eyes before continuing.
After a minute's silence Ruben picked up an apple and bit it in half, easily grinding the large bite between his massive jaws and molars. Looking at the remaining half thoughtfully for a moment, he popped it into his mouth as well, core and all. He chewed and swallowed it as easily as he had the first half. Neat, Ruben thought with reluctant amusement. It had still tasted good, and now there was nothing left over to throw away. Eating a second apple in a similar fashion, Ruben felt settled enough to begin looking through the legal and medical information Jack had collected on bioroids. Let's see what my limits are.
As it turned out, there were plenty. According to international law organisms with a certain magnitude of genetic deviation from human norms were considered animals. Bioroids fit that legal definition, as they were designed to, and quite likely so did he. They didn't have human rights; some laws against animal cruelty and such applied but beyond that they were mere objects, the high-tech and moral equivalent of slaves. Perhaps his funds and contacts would be enough to overcome some of that, he mused, but it didn't look good. Unowned bioroids could be legally claimed by whoever captured them. Ruben suddenly felt very vulnerable.
Having spent more than enough time reading to give himself a headache and wanting to move on to a less disturbing subject, Ruben turned to the information on bioroids themselves. At least there are pictures, he thought with relief. In fact, some of the materials were sales brochures. He discovered that there was already a model of bioroid available that fit his current description, sometimes used in construction work and cargo handling. It was a bit costly for such basic work, explaining why Ruben had never seen one before, but if Biomia used Dr. Gormel's technique to produce them the cost would undoubtedly drop. His model was lauded for strength and endurance, but apparently not intelligence or flexibility. Both of the latter were things Ruben had considered his strong points, and he hoped that he had the best of both worlds. Time will tell, he reflected uneasily. It was hard enough to believe advertisements even under normal circumstances, and this one was supposedly talking about him.
Ruben realized he was getting a bit bitter, and focused on the important part: 'care and handling'. It was interesting, to say the least. Assuming he was physically close enough to the conventional design for its specifications to apply, he was preferentially a herbivore; too much meat would make him sick. But he wasn't a grass-eater either, to his relief, although the ad did boast that he could live on 'agricultural waste' unfit for human consumption. I'll stick to fruits and vegetables, thank you very much. And cereals too, of course. Ruben wondered with some slight humor whether dairy products would be appropriate, given the circumstances.
Finally setting aside the pile of papers, Ruben rubbed his eyes and spent a while thinking about what he had learned.
Chapter 4: Planning
By the time Jack got back that evening, Ruben felt like he was about to go stir-crazy. He had spent the rest of the day pacing the house, occationally improvising exercises, generally improving his feel of his body. He had become tired of it, but there was little else he could do. Watching TV for long periods hurt his eyes, no VR gear fit him, and he could only read through the material Jack had given him so many times. He tried to dig up some more on his own, but Jack was an expert on finding information and there wasn't much that he'd missed. There was nothing else to do except think about the future, and Ruben didn't want to do much of that right now. It was too depressing.
Jack entered bearing several large bags; Ruben saw that they were mostly groceries, but one contained a few articles of clothing. Ruben would have grinned if his lips had still worked that way, and wordlessly took the bag. There actually wasn't much inside, though, just some large pairs of shorts and a vest-like jacket. He made an interrogative sound. "I couldn't exactly drop by the 'Big and Bioroid' store without drawing attention, you know," Jack explained. "And not many places carry your size."
Ruben nodded and pulled on the shorts, fumbling for a moment with his tail and finally sticking it down one of the leg holes as a temporary solution. He would need to cut a separate hole for it later. Then he discovered why Jack had bought the type of vest he had; there was no way he would get his horns through the neck hole of something that didn't open down the front, and as it was his torso was too large to comfortably close it anyways. Jack had to help him get it on, Ruben's arms lacking the necessary flexibility. He tugged and patted his new clothing into place, and grunted in satisfaction. Aside from providing pockets the clothing had little practical value, but at least it made him feel a little more human again.
"So," Jack asked, "what have you been up to while I was away?"
Ruben would have grinned again if he could, and waved for Jack to follow him over to the word processor. He sat, remembering to be careful with his tail, and typed "read the information you found for me. Practiced moving around, I'm getting good at it, but by the way you need to buy a new end table. The old one was weakly built." Ruben typed laboriously with his too-thick and too-few fingers, but he had found it faster and easier than writing.
Jack smiled thinly. "I'll add it to your bill." He picked up the bags of groceries he had brought in, and went into the kitchen to put them away. Ruben followed him, annoyed and mute again away from the keyboard. I should ask for a portable, he thought. With big keys and a voice synthesizer, like they used to give disabled people before they could cure them. It wouldn't be as fast as speaking, but still...
"I suppose you're hungry?" Ruben nodded strongly. He'd eaten some during the day, but the house just didn't have much food in it. He guessed that he had cleaned Jack out while he was sick. I wonder if he was serious about giving me a bill? I've certainly used up whatever he owed me for the Microsoft job, that's for sure. Ruben had done some careful checking while Jack was away, and he only had access to a few of his smaller accounts. The rest all needed proofs of identity that he no longer had access to, or simply no longer had. It would be enough to live on for a while, provided he could stay out of sight, but he would eventually need to supplement it.
Jack set one of the bags on the counter. "Here, I ate on the way back. The stove's database has vegetarian recepies." Ruben nodded again, curtly, and began unpacking. Jack sat and watched him for a while, still embarassingly interested in his body.
"So Ruben," he said at last, "I assume you've been thinking. What are your plans?" Lacking even a pad of paper to reply with and in any case busy preparing his meal, Ruben grunted with annoyance. "I've been thinking too," Jack continued regardless, "and there's a couple of possibilities. You've got to stay out of sight for now, of course, but I'm pretty sure I can find a good labor company with bioroids that you could blend in with. Perhaps we could even arrange a human-like employment contract. Since we'd want them to keep this secret there would probably be a net cost for this arrangement..."
Ruben snorted and stomped out of the room, feeling a little short-tempered and tired of the one-sidedness of the conversation. He came back carrying the work desk, built-in computer console coming with it. He set it down and plugged it in, then typed a reply. "No, I'm not going to 'retire' like that. I'm going to fight this, I'm not really a bioroid. I'm a man that just looks like a bioroid. I started out human, and they can't change that!"
"Didn't you read the literature? The law allows initially-human tissue to be rendered nonhuman. There was a test case in 2052, on the manufacture of bioroid skin grafts; it was upheld."
"But the law was written before the technology to do all this," Ruben gestured expansively at his body, "existed. There isn't a precedent for this, an entire body change!"
Jack actually laughed. "And the laws that say bioroids are animals were originally written before bioroids with humanlike intelligence could be made. They're in place anyways." Ruben grumbled deep in his chest, frustrated. Jack was probably right; Biomia wouldn't have spent so much on research on this technique if they didn't think they could interpret the laws to allow it. On the other hand, perhaps they haven't prepared for a legal challenge this early... It wasn't likely, but it bore thinking about. If he could somehow prove that he wasn't really a bioroid, then at the very least he would be free.
In the mean time there was still the matter of his current status. He needed some way to be safe from the 'finders-keepers' sentence hanging over his head, to allow him to get out and actually do something. Exactly what, he didn't know; he'd figure that out after he got some breathing space. "I'm still not doing it," Ruben typed. "I'm going to need some freedom, and I won't have it if I'm lumped in with a big work gang. There's got to be some other way to stay out of Biomia's reach."
Jack was shaking his head. "No, Ruben, you're just not getting the situation you're in. You're unclaimed right now. And as long as you're unclaimed, the first time someone IDs you you'll be picked up and sold back to Biomia. Hell, you'd be worth alot to just about any employer who needs a strong back. Legally, you're the equivalent of a stray dog; you just can't be left roaming free."
Ruben sat for a long moment, chin resting on his fist while he tried to think. He'd been holding back these sorts of thoughts all day, but he couldn't ignore them now. Then, just as he began to lose his grip on his emotions, Jack spoke up again. "...Perhaps there's a compromise," he said reluctantly. Ruben looked up, ears perked. "I don't like it as much, but how about this. I could own you."
Ruben blinked. He hadn't been expecting that, and he didn't like how it sounded either. "Listen, hear me out here," Jack continued hurridly. "The way things are set up, you've gotta have a legal owner one way or another. So who would you rather be legally owned by, the guys that did this to you, or a friend you can trust?"
Ruben rumbled, upset but throughtful. The thought of being owned like some sort of object was still utterly repugnant, but Jack had a point... after a moment, he sighed. "OK," he typed at last, "but can you do it?"
"Piece of cake," Jack replied easily. "The registration needs your retina print, and Biomia probably doesn't have it since you were still changing when you escaped. I'll get your retina print and forge the files; I bet it'd be way more difficult for Biomia to change them afterward than for me to make them in the first place." Then he frowned. "The tricky bit is, what the hell will I be doing with a heavy-duty bioroid? Bull-types aren't common domestics, and I'm not the sort of person who would have a domestic bioroid anyways. This is going to be tougher to pass off than most other stolen goods. I'll have to make up a good holding company..." Jack trailed off deeper into thought.
Ruben didn't disturb him; Jack was a far better fence than he was, and no doubt didn't need his input. Besides, he was deep in thought himself. Even after all that had happened, he was having a hard time believing that he'd just agreed to be legally owned by someone. Still, there wasn't much else he could think of doing. There were a few places with relatively lax local bioroid laws, or at least lax enforcement of them, but he could hardly walk down to the airport and just buy a ticket. Besides, whatever was left of Ruben's former life was in this city; he was reluctant to simply abandon it.
After Ruben put the desk back where it came from, Jack went to work quietly on the arcane intricacies of record forgery. Ruben finished making his supper and began to eat with gusto. Focusing on the food helped clear his mind of these distressing thoughts; there was nothing he could do right now, so it felt better to forget about it for a while.
It took several hours for Jack to do whatever it was he needed to do, but Ruben had learned to live with boredom in Biomia's cell and they passed quickly. When he finally called for him, startling him out of the light sleep he had slipped into, Ruben almost felt as if they had passed too quickly; as if a point of no return had been reached. He got up and walked slowly over to Jack's worktable, reluctant but committed.
"I'm almost done here," Jack told him. "I just need your retina print, and it's official." Ruben nodded and sat next to the bench. Jack held a scanner to his eye, and after a few seconds lowered it again. He typed a few commands. "Bullseye," he reported. "You're mine now."
Ruben would have chuckled at the line, but he was a bit too nervous to see the humor. He leaned over to get a closer look at the registration papers on the screen, and Jack leaned back. "I've worked up a history and everything," he explained. "You were born four years ago and purchased by 'Neitzche Movers', a small moving company I have a share in. It's so small no one will notice that it doesn't really exist." Jack was grinning widely as he explained what he had done; he lived for these sorts of scams.
Slowly reading through the form, Ruben discovered that just after his serial number his name was listed as 'Keith'. "Keith?" He typed quizically.
"Oh, heh, I needed to give you a name, and 'Ruben' would have been way too obvious. Biomia's hackers would probably have been able to flag that. So I made one up, hope you don't mind."
Ruben felt rather annoyed at his presumption, actually. "Why Keith?"
"It's just a character from an old story," He explained. "Anyways, just remember that in public I'll have to call you that." Ruben sighed and acquiesced, not having much of a choice at this point.
"Well then, now that you're safely hidden and not likely to get grabbed the instant you step outside, what next? You can't stay here for the rest of your life, and I've got bills to pay."
Ruben paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He didn't know what his long-term goals were yet, but whatever he decided he would probably need cash to accomplish them. "I've been thinking about that," Ruben typed. "And I've come up with a possible plan. My available funds won't last long on their own, and I don't want to impose on you any more than I have. But how about this; Palamar originally hired me to steal data about Gormel's work. How about I sell them the finished product, instead?"
"Huh? Sell yourself?" Jack obviously had a hard time believing that after Ruben's reluctance to be owned even by him.
"No, no!" Ruben typed with visible exasperation. "Sell them a sample of my blood! It's probably still loaded with the magic germs that did this."
Jack looked thoughtful. "Makes sense," he mused, "though I'll probably have to check about these 'magic germs' of yours. Wouldn't want to try selling a dud..."
Ruben wasn't too worried about that; accidentally selling fake merchandise would have damaged his reputation before his transformation, but now it looked like his old self had legally vanished. He was more interested in the money, and in having some small measure of revenge on Gormel and Biomia by spilling their trade secrets to a competitor. Not having to cover the R&D costs, Palamar could quite possibly outcompete them and wipe them right out. That would be sweet, indeed. Of course, it would also drive the cost of Palamar's former-human Bioroids down and increase the demand, resulting in even more people in Ruben's predicament. But since it would only be practical to use the low- class criminals and jobless as raw materials anyways, he found that he didn't mind it that much.
Jack had also been thinking along similar lines. About the value of Ruben's 'magic germs' to Palamar, that is. "Even if this isn't as good as the design data would have been," he mused, "this could really be worth a lot. And you're going to need a human agent for this deal, too. How about letting me in on this? Say a 20% cut, for contacts and services? It'd cover the cost of the record forgery, the food, and a new end table too." Jack grinned, obviously in a good mood.
"10%," Ruben typed.
"Split the difference for 15?" Ruben nodded, having expected settling for something like that. "All right then, I guess I'll start looking into things tonight, getting set up. We can start looking into contacts first thing tomorrow, then." Ruben leaned back in his chair, again wishing he could smile. He was finally in control of his destiny again, at least a little.
-current end of file-
Break In copyright 1996 by Bryan Derksen.
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