(Warning, towards the end of this chapter there's a frank description of alien genitalia.)
Chapter 3: TMI
I became aware of my body and immediately regretted it. Information overload was the immediate and total condition of my being. My sense of touch was giving me too much data. The feel of sheets against my skin was nothing I'd ever experienced before. I could feel the weave of the individual threads, if you gave me a minute I could probably tell you the thread count. I could feel imperfections in individual threads. And it wasn't just feeling it, somehow I could also hear the texture at the same time. Synesthesia? Or just the way things are now? On top of that, there was a kind of uneven buzzing surrounding me that I was neither hearing or feeling or connecting to any sense I was familiar with. It just was.
I drifted for a bit, trying to get used to this sensory input, since it didn't seem to be going away. It was actually starting to feel less odd, so I took a chance and opened my eyes.
I recognized the ceiling and the apparatus on it. I was in Doctor Obertek's airship clinic. My best friend Gena, who played Striding Steel under the username “Gizmocrat”, was his daughter. But nothing was quite right. For one, it was way too big. The ceiling was too high, and the full-body scanner on it was immense. Maybe they ran out of regular sized rooms?
Then, more importantly, there were too many colors. The ceiling tiles were all white, but there were more kinds of white in those subtle gradients than I had names for. Likewise, the blue trim on the white plastic on the sides of the scanner held more shades than I ever thought existed, all of them blue. I wondered if this was yet another dream. Even my mouth was proving too complex to handle, as I muttered something that came out sounding like “tud uf a fish” instead of the profanity I had actually chosen.
“Watch your language there buddy!”
I laughed, turning to a voice I was glad to hear. “'Ey Deeda- oh gwap...” Way to go, Riv. Pronounce your best friend's name wrong why don't ya? And now I could see why the room was so big. She was big too, so either the whole world had grown, or I'd just shrunk. On top of the abundance of color she glowed, in a blotchy pattern that I guessed from my exposure to a healthy amount of sci-fi movies was probably infrared. I also noticed a very faint buzz around her, less harsh and more like a hum, almost drowned out by the stronger one I first noticed. Once I realized they had locations, I figured out the more extreme one was coming from above me. It was the scanner devise, but still being kind of groggy I had no clue what it could be related to both her and the machine I could be sensing.
Gena smiled reassuringly at my embarrassment. “Don't worry about it. As much as you changed, yer lucky you can talk at all. You'll probably adjust after a while and learn to talk just fine again. Still, you look really cool now and all but I hope you don't mind if I count myself lucky that I didn't get anything like that when I manifested. Could have used a nice mutant makeover, bit of a bust boost, but all in all there's worse things than being boring and nerdy.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the Queen of Tact. Still, I preferred that to somebody dancing awkwardly around the apparent fact that the scope of my current situation far exceeded “Small Problem”. I pulled my arms from under the sheets to look at them, which was easier said than done because they felt about a mile long. Judging by the sleeves of the medical gown I was wearing, they probably weren't that much longer in total than they were before, but due to my change in overall size they came down almost to where it looked like my knees were under the sheets. My upper arms didn't feel much different, but my forearms were much longer in proportion, even extending to protrude a few inches beyond the elbow from what I could feel inside these sleeves. And the hands that capped off those arms were definitely not human.
They had four fingers, two main fingers flanked by a pair of opposable ones. They were smaller in the palm and longer in the finger than they used to be. Flexing them, they had one less joint. It felt like the joint closest to each fingertip had fused, and looked like it had just up and disappeared. My thumbs, on the other hand, had an extra joint. My fingers seemed to thicken just slightly at the closest remaining knuckle to the end, and from that narrowed to a point tipped with a little dark gray claw. The skin on these hands and arms was a pale gray but with my attention on them, the skin on my hands flushed to the peachy tone I remembered for before fading back. Weird.
I looked over and tried asking, “Whezh da'?”.
“Your dad? He's out cold. Dad had to sedate him, he hasn't slept since he got you here three days ago.” He wouldn't have gotten me all the way up here, of course. He would have driven me to the clinic's nearest office front, and they'd have used one of the Doctor's devises to bring me here.
I reached up to feel my face, which again was made more awkward by my forearm proportions. I had to tilt my head back a bit to bring my hands to it. My facial features seemed to be kind of smoothed out a little. I didn't have a nose anymore, just a bit of a bump in that part of my face with some diagonal nostrils near the bottom of it. My lower jaw seemed to have been divided down the middle, with each side moving independently. That made the whole speaking difficulties thing a lot clearer, and I worked them around getting a feel for how to manage them.
I asked Gena how I looked, honestly, and I'll save anyone from having to decipher a large amount of my slurred dialect by saying that getting acquainted with my new mouth helped, but I was still getting the hang of it.
“Honestly? You look like Casper the Friendly Xenomorph.”
I tried to picture that and got the most bizarre feeling, as if I should have déjà vu but for some reason wasn't getting it. I didn't have long to examine this sensation, because at that moment there was a quick knock at the door, and Gena's dad came in.
Doctor Obertek is your basic physician in business casual, well-trimmed brown goatee, he doesn't even usually wear a lab coat. The only unusual element of his appearance is the chromed devise on his head. The three-pronged circlet extending from his forehead over his temples and the crown of his head is grafted to his skull. It's his personal “cure” for the stereotypical megalomaniacal “mad scientist” disorder, Diedrick's Syndrome, which among other things has left him with not quite the best relation with the authorities in the US. It pumps a powerful sedative into his brain whenever it detects an episode. Basically, he's chosen to trade Diedrick's for narcolepsy, a “treatment” semi-popularized several years ago. And when he walked in I felt that very faint hum in him too now that I knew to look for it. Around his headgear I got an edge of that harsher buzz, though not nearly as strong as the machine on the ceiling.
Before the Doc could say anything, his daughter interrupted him. “Oh no, I've seen that look before, I don't care how interesting those scans are, River's a patient, not a test subject.”
“Don't worry, dear, I assure you that I have no exceptional or unusual tests planned whatsoever. But speaking of said scans, River, I have some rather personal medical things to discuss. Perhaps Gena should leave the room...?”
I shook my head and mumbled a “no”. Judging by the slightly guilty look that crossed her face just then, she'd probably already looked at the data, and even if she hadn't, having her here would save me having to explain it right after her dad left anyway.
I nodded, and he had me do a few quick vocal exercises. “While most of your body appears to have reached stability, your brain is still changing slightly. Even so, I don't think your speech issues are a sign of any neurological debilitation. Your mouth has simply changed, along with the rest of you. Your internal anatomy and biochemistry has altered so drastically that I would classify yours as a “Very Severe” level of Gross Structural Dystrophy. To put it bluntly, I can barely identify any terrestrial DNA in you, let alone human DNA. I want to stress that the fact you are still alive right now is a good sign. Still, such an extreme change puts you as a patient and I as a physician in a bit of a situation. I'm supposed to be helping you become healthy and stay that way, but I currently have no idea what healthy is for you. This is not uncommon for those who have experienced changes, of course, every case is unique, but yours is so particularly extreme that we're going to have to proceed cautiously.”
“What dear Daddy is saying is that you'd better be ready to be poked and prodded, 'cuz you're going to be here for a while.”
“Ahem, yes. We can't treat you until we know more about your body. As it is, well, I can't even identify your biological sex for certain.”
I blinked, but Gena looked like she'd known it was coming. She'd snuck a look at the data alright.
The Doc continued, “Anatomically, you seem to have structures that could be of either sex, and a few organs I can't identify the purpose of yet. Genetically, you have neither X or Y chromosomes. You have seventeen where a person ordinarily has twenty-three, and it will take time and observation to know if any of this will cause any health issues. You are a complete mystery, and while the ceiling scanner above you tells us quite a bit, it has its limits. So later today we will begin with a full physical examination, but before that I think you should try to eat something. We'll start with some very basic nutrients that shouldn't harm you until we know more about your digestive system, I'll have some things brought in shortly. Before that, however, can you tell me what this is?”
He showed me a little plastic container that held what looked to be an inch-wide glass marble with a structure of thin glittery branches suspended in it. I shook my head, I'd never seen it before.
“When you were brought in, this was in your right hand. Embedded into your right hand, which was... twisted around it.”
The only thing I had in my right hand at the time of the incident was the phone receiver. I shrugged.
“Well, there will be plenty of time to figure this mystery out later, I just asked in case you could give us a quick head start. For now, though, Gena, I think we should give our patient some quiet rest.”
In a bit of a daze, I had no response as they left, still processing this new information. But before too long a conclusion floated to the top of the static. I had to see what I looked like. According to stories I would hear later from other transformees, this was not an uncommon reaction, and thinking about it later it was probably why the normally exceedingly wordy Doc was so quick to give me some privacy.
I managed to clumsily cast aside the thin hospital coverings, which didn't reveal anything. I was still covered by the hospital gown. And in that moment, I was suddenly filled with a claustrophobic loathing for this garment, as if it were both a gag and blindfold. I tore at it, shredding and tearing it away from me. Apparently, those little claws were only the tips of larger claws with retractable sleeves. With the skin pulled back from them, they looked much more dangerous. But this was far less compelling than what had been revealed by my momentary frustration.
My legs were even less human than my arms. They weren't lengthened like my arms were, but the shape of them looked more appropriate for a dinosaur than what I thought I should be seeing there. When I got around to walking again, I'd be doing it on my toes. Just two large toes on each... should I even call them feet anymore? Up near the joint that used to be my ankle were smaller versions of the mirrored thumbs on my hands. And coiled neatly beside my feet, probably done by some nurse, was an exceedingly long tail split into two tips. Both ended in a small claw, sheathed like the ones on my fingers. I could tell that it had to be longer than I was tall.
Now that I was aware of it, lying on my tail was just a little awkward. Imagine that where your butt crack is right now, you instead have a third leg. Lying on your back, it would push your hips forward and your legs apart. What I saw between those legs seemed to be just a smooth bump curving down to seamlessly meet the underside of my tail, and I wondered what exactly happened to the numerous rather important parts I used to keep down there. It didn't help that my pelvis was now slightly narrower, If I wanted to bring my knees together, either they or the base of my tail were going to be sticking out at an angle and with the mattress below me it wasn't going to be the tail.
I was starting to get a little light-headed at the surreality of it all. This wasn't some weird dream. This was the real deal. Just like on that show Tales of the MCO, I'd turned into a bizarre monster, though the producers of Tales could only dream of having the budget to make something that looked like me. Forget TV, I could be the next big movie monster if Hollywood's special effects and makeup guilds didn't have an unwritten ban on actual metahumans. No need for someone's expertise in creating and applying costume prosthetics or paying for CGI wizardry if they let people like me into the biz. But scratch all that, now a mirror was my highest priority.
Of course, on a show it's so simple, anyone who wakes up in a monstrous new body is perfectly ready to immediately take it on a violent rampage. Most of the time, it doesn't work out like that in real life. I was actually ahead of the average in that I had enough motor control to sort of talk and manipulate my limbs mostly with intention, but walking across a room? That requires another level of coordination entirely.
I managed to roll myself onto the floor, and now that I was beyond the influence of the scanner's buzzing feeling, I could feel it in the walls in linear patterns. I realized that I was picking up electromagnetic fields. Electricity moving through the wiring in the walls and the appliances in the room. Had I been sensing Gena and her dad's bioelectric fields? File it for later.
I then contemplated my next step. Crawling would probably be the easiest to manage, so I struggled up onto my hands and knees. I hesitated there unsteadily until I tried to move, at which point I collapsed.
Trying to get back up, I discovered something odd. I was sticking to the floor. There was a sensation of tension in my skin where it touched the floor. And then I relaxed and it went away. But this was progress. If I could figure out how to do it on purpose... there. I didn't have to worry about the whole issue of balance now, I just sort of shuffled and pulled myself across the floor toward the bathroom.
The moment of truth. The bathroom doors in these rooms opened outward, had full-length mirrors on them, and were always left open. All I had to do was shimmy up a little more, and I'd see myself. And now I was having doubts. After a long moment, I figured I'd better do it quickly before I lost my nerve. I covered those final few feet and turned to look.
The eyes were the first thing that struck me. There were five of them, a pair where you'd normally find them and a smaller trio above those. One vertical in the traditional “third eye” position, and the last two diagonal, slightly wider apart than my regular eyes and slightly higher than the one in the middle. And that wasn't even the weirdest thing about them. The irises on every one were wide gray ovals and the pupils were like stretched asterisks, with one longer horizontal bar crossed by two shorter ones. The face in general wasn't featureless, but rounded roughly where a nose would have been. Casper the Friendly Xenomorph indeed. The cranium I saw wasn't bulbous like that cartoon character's. It was a little narrow and long, but within human possibility. No hair of any kind anywhere, no ears or ear canals. I looked at my dark gray teeth, instead of incisors I had beak-like triangular plates, one larger one on the top jaw and a smaller one on the tip of each lower jaw. These were flanked by the sharp canines of a meat eater, but I had something kind of resembling molars back there so I figured I was still probably reasonably omnivorous.
I managed to pull myself up to a seated position and considered the whole image. I didn't think the thing in the mirror looked malformed at all. It looked like something that was the way it was supposed to be. I saw the image in the mirror two ways at once. The first was an ordinary room with an unusual creature in it. But at the same time it also looked like a perfectly familiar me in a wildly unfamiliar environment.
The stress of all this finally began to overtake me, and I slumped against the wall, exhausted. I must have fallen asleep, then, having no current driving concerns left to keep me going. Some time later I became vaguely aware of being picked up and moved to the bed.
* * *
Judging by the light in the room it wasn't too much later when I woke back up, and I could tell before I opened my eyes that there was someone in the room by the faint humming sensation off to my left. Sure enough, my dad was sitting where Gena was earlier. He was very unshaven and looked liked the past few days had hit him hard. He looked up when he noticed me moving.
“Hey. The Doc said you should try to eat some of this stuff when you wake up, but between you and me, he's no chef.”
He wheeled a bed table over and I could see his point. The bowl on the tray in front of me contained colorless, translucent, gelatin-like cubes.
“Apparently they're full of synthesized basic proteins. Yum.”
My first instinct was to use my claws to eat these things, but I realized I needed practice with the whole manual dexterity thing. I grabbed at the plastic spork and attempted to scoop a cube up. Clumsy as I was, it was still less of a challenge than lassoing a duck. As I sampled the cuisine, dad pulled the chair closer.
“You scared the hell out of us, Riv. There were mystical symbols scorched into the floor of your room. Half the windows in the second floor blew out. What were you trying to do in there?”
“Tryna tog to Mom.”
That quieted him for a bit. He leaned back in the chair, and pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead. I considered the gelatinous cubes, and decided they really didn't taste like much of anything at all.
“Don't suppose I can blame you for that. Tried to do the same myself, at first, asked all of her magically-inclined friends if they could do it. There were only a couple willing to try, but after doing some planning they changed their minds, got all mysterious about it and wouldn't say any more.”
“Sheh did'n die, did sheh.” I more stated it than asked.
“That's hard to say. When you were born, your mom disappeared on us.”
“Ran ou'?” If Mom just left, why would Dad try to contact her spirit like I did?
Dad started laughing softly, and tears came to his eyes as the wonder of what he remembered that day hit him again as fresh now as ever. “No, no, she disappeared. Vanished. In a cloud of gold butterflies. And you were there when she was gone.”
* * *
It was some time after my particularly uninspiring but thankfully inoffensive meal. Dad had gone to find out if the Doc had figured anything more out, and I wouldn't be surprised if he'd been told (or forced) to get more sleep. I was trying to find something on the TV worth watching, but the picture was odd. It was jittery, like stop-motion, and whenever anything moved quickly I could see the motion-blur on the frames.
I was beginning to consider giving it up for a lost cause when Gena came in with a med cart. “I'm here to take your blood, muhuhuahahaaa!”
She started setting up.“Seriously, you wouldn't nearly be the first. I've helped dad treat people in all sorts of outbreak zones. Besides, this way I can show you what I found out about my PK field. When I touch things with it on I can send soundwaves through them and tell what's going on inside, like a sonogram. I can now find a vein better than almost anybody here. You're blue, by the way.”
I looked down and she was right. My arms and presumably the rest of me were a light blue. The exact blue of the bed sheets. Not only the same color, but the same texture.
Gena grinned. “Defensive camouflage. You don't like needles, or you just don't trust me? Lemme see yer arm you big baby.”
She had me there, needles did make me uncomfortable. I held my arm out and looked at the TV screen across the room as she tied an elastic band above my elbow.
She started prodding my arm. “Gimme a sec, I can't hear when I'm doing this.” She ran her hand across my arm and I could feel the pulses of vibration coming from it. She turned my arm a little and did it again. Then she untied the band and stood up. “I can't see any surface veins. Or arteries. I'll have to get Miz Pierce.”
She left and came back with a tall, thin woman who would look like a librarian if she weren't in scrubs, with wide, narrow glasses and her hair in a severe bun. “Well, let's see what we've got.” She stepped closer and touched my shoulder. “Hmmm. She was right. Most of your flesh is homogeneous, no variation until you get closer to the bone, and then we see layers of muscle, ligament, blood vessels. I'd rather not have to, but let's try the hand where it's thinner...”
Miz Pierce lifted my hand and an invisible force constricted my wrist to make the veins swell, no need for a rubber strip when you've got tactile telekinesis. She swabbed my skin and brought a needle close, but when it touched the back of my hand the skin there twitched and shrank away, a depression forming below it. She pressed closer and the skin buckled and pushed the side of the needle away.
“I presume that's involuntary. This does present a difficulty. I could try to go through it anyway, but I don't think I'd have much success hitting the target with it wrestling the needle like that. The only surface on you that doesn't have that skin is... the inside of your mouth? We could make that work, but it'd probably be unnecessarily painful.” She considered for a moment. “I was going to perform an examination after this, let's move on to that and see if a solution presents itself.”
She lifted the sheet covering me and it folded itself in her hand. “I noticed you destroyed your gown earlier, did you want another? No? If you're sure, then we'll proceed.” She put her hand on my shoulder again and pulled me weightlessly in front of her into a seated position with my tail coiled neatly on my lap. With her hands on my shoulders she pushed me to an examination room as if there were a wheelchair under me. On that journey my skin turned white like the clinic walls.
What followed was one of the most awkward and uncomfortable events of my entire life, and I will spare you the complete description of the event but many things were discovered. Turns out I'm just under 90 pounds and just over 4'9” when stretched out to my full height, with a tail that's a little over five feet long. My prehensile skin makes blood pressure cuff readings completely useless. It also is self-sealing, all of my personal pelvic orifices are only exposed when they need to be. Of those orifices, full medical description time. Yes, I do have a vagina, the muscular lining of which can evert and curl forward around my urethra to act as a flap-like sort-of-tube, like a curled tongue. And that of course is for the transportation of good old male genetic material. What look to be labia minora that abruptly end at said vagina are actually the base of this penile analogue. Up beyond that vagina is a womb, flanked by fully functional dual-purpose ovotestes that produce everything necessary to start the process of making a new whatever-it-is-I-am, thankfully putting those things in different places to prevent accidental self-impregnation. Right above all of these mostly familiar orifices is the entrance to a marsupial-like pouch that opens upwards to the front of my abdomen. It's lined with a very thin less-mobile type of the weird skin that covers the rest of me, and just for historical accuracy it was in there that Miz Pierce found her way to a blood sample, a nice deep purple in color. But that blood isn't found in my skin layer, that leaked a clear liquid when pierced. My brand new digestive system hadn't been operating long enough for certain other samples.
After that, I was brought back to my bed, where sleep thankfully took me. And that was how I spent the first day of the rest of my life as an alien.
* * *
-have flagged poss., attaching case synopsis, advise
-making priority target, will notify when extraction ready