Story and Images by Mertail
Part 5: Conclusion
Katie Oswald worked as one of the many junior accountants at TransRepo Industries. Normally, that meant she and her team stayed pretty much in the sixth and seventh floors of the main building. Today, something was different. She was touring part of the newly developed Nanite Containment Facility. There were some minor irregularities in the cost reporting and they needed to be rectified before the monthly reports could be completed. Her, along with two other junior accountants, and her immediate supervisor were in a group of temporary cubicles just outside the Biological Level 2 Containment Zone.
She caught as strange flicker in the air but it had vanished when she turned her head towards it. After looking around a while, she decided it had to be some kind of hallucination or something. She returned to the pile of invoice slips that had become her duty to reconcile. She really wished these scientists would take better care when doing the accounts. Didn’t they know how important it was?
After a few hours, she noticed an itch at her waist and absentmindedly brushed the dark hairs away. Sheena’s hair, she noted mentally. How could that dog lose so much hair chasing frisbees and not end up bald? When the hair didn’t brush away, she tugged at it. It was solidly attached. This was strange. She walked over to the women’s washroom for a closer look at the hair.
It wasn’t, as she first assumed, just a few loose hairs that had become trapped. She had the strange fur covering her entire body from her waist to her feet. The First Aide team dashed into the washroom at her screaming.
“What is it?” asked Julie Rivers.
“Don’t ask me. Nothing like it was ever covered in the course,” responded Gerald Kensington.
“She’s not in any danger, I don’t think,” decided Julie after a quick assessment. “There’s not much point in calling an ambulance, though. I wonder who needs called.”
“Let’s get …” Gerald’s statement was interrupted by the containment breach alarm coming from his communicator wrist band.
“The Level 2’s got a seal leak,” he announced. A short pause. “We’re just outside of Level 2! Shit!”
Julie quickly activated her wrist band.
“Containment central,” she ordered.
“Julie Rivers. Lab 2 First Aide Team. We’ve someone showing some odd symptoms.”
“Understood. Stay where you are. Containment Team is on the way.”
Surprisingly quickly (they’d never managed under two minutes during the drills), Julie, Gerald and Katie found themselves bundled into containment suits and on their way by the emergency elevator downwards. Each found themselves in their own medical isolation cubicle being interviewed by a carefully suited person.
Within an hour, though, Julie and Gerald were escorted back to their stations. They’d not been exposed and were considered safe. Katie, though, was still in isolation and, for some reason, couldn’t be reached on the company intranet.
Katie found herself in a continuous series of tests and procedures. They knew she’d been exposed to whatever had escaped but they didn’t know how to stop the process. They weren’t even able to tell her much about what was happening. That got her worried. She tried to phone her husband but the building shielded the signal. There was just no using the phone from this part of the building.
After an hour or so, her lower body was covered by a fur coat that was virtually identical to Sheena’s. She began to get worried. How could she be growing dog’s hair over her entire body? How far would it spread? She climbed up on the bed in the room and sat, worrying. She was relieved when, after a few more hours, it hadn’t spread any farther. Maybe it had stopped before going too far.
Nothing new was told to her by late that night. Katie just looked at strangely furry body one last time and then decided to go to sleep.
The next morning, one of the medical androids came in and took a series of measurements and left. Katie did her own assessment. Her feet were long and a lot narrower. Her feet ended in four toes with strangely claw-like toenails. She tapped them with a piece of plastic. They clicked with a distinct hard sound. Definitely more like dog claws than toenails, she decided. As she felt around, she noticed three extra bumps. Two were just below her ribcage. The last one was at the base of her spine. She knew they hadn’t been there the day before. She panicked and began to repeatedly push the emergency call button.
A fully containment-suited person entered her room.
“I’m still changing!” she shrieked.
“Calm down,” a female voice. “You were exposed to incompletely programmed nanites from the dog intelligence improvement lab.”
“What the hell do you mean by that!”
“I don’t know a lot other than what their stated purpose is. They’re creating intelligent service dogs.”
“I don’t want to be a dog!”
“You won’t be. Something got out.”
“And attacked me! You have to stop this thing!”
“We’d love to stop it. We’ve nearly eighty altogether exposed but strangely only five of them are showing changes. No one knows what to make of it.”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“All get furry based upon the last dog they had contact with. Past that, some are almost entirely dogs, some are almost unchanged.”
“Why these damned stubs?” Katie poked at the ones under her ribs.
“No idea yet. Best we can do is monitor them.”
“And me? What about me?”
“I wish I could tell you more. Everyone exposed is still changing slowly. Past that, no one knows anything at all.”
“You stop these damned things!” shrieked Katie.
“You need to calm down. The researchers think high blood flow may speed the changes or make them worse.”
“Worse! I’m half dog! How can it be worse?!” Katie jumped from the bed and landed on her strangely shaped feet. Being unfamiliar with the new form, she stumbled. The nurse caught her before she hit anything but, in doing so, Katie tore a gash in her suit.
“Containment Central!” the nurse’s voice rose over Katie’s continued protest. “I’ve been compromised. I’m staying with Katie until you can arrange transport in room 45D-03.”
“Understood. Transport is on the way.”
Somehow, that calm exchange brought Katie down a little.
“Why aren’t you mad at them?”
“You tore the suit,” the nurse stated flatly. “I’ll be in one of the isolation rooms just down the hall I imagine. At least until they can determine whether I’m infected or not.”
“Look. It’s not doing you any good to panic. Help us help you. That’s the only way the scientists upstairs will figure this thing out.”
“No buts. You started this whole mess by shrieking. You panic at the least provocation. I’m worried, too. But not worried enough to go off the deep end.”
“I understand, I think,” Katie was still very much worried.
“If you’d rather, we can hook you up and knock you out for the next few days to let them get a chance to fix this mess.”
“Sedatives. They’re authorized and might make this thing easier for you.”
“Will I become a dog?”
“I don’t think so. Partly maybe. They’re probably working on a reversal right now.”
“You think so?”
Katie returned to the bed. She wasn’t sure she wanted to watch whatever changes would happen. She worried, though, as to what she’d end up as when she came out from the sedative. Which would be harder?
“If you’re infected or whatever,” began Katie. “Would you take the sedative?”
“Actually, I suspect I would. Taking everything in at once would be easier, maybe.”
“Okay. I want knocked out.”
“I don’t want to watch other things change slowly. All at once.”
The nurse entered the order on the computer and, a few minutes later, a syringe appeared in a wall slot. She quickly prepared the needle and gave it to Katie in her upper leg. Katie curled up on the bed and watched the world fade to black.
In no time at all, Katie found herself groggily coming around.
“Welcome back,” a familiar voice said.
“You get changed?”
“No. One of the larger number that the nanites simply ignored.”
“You’re no longer contagious. In fact, you never were, it seems. Only the original nanites caused the changes. They don’t reproduce so there’s no secondary infections. Good thing, that.”
“So what about me?”
“Lets find out,” the nurse said slowly lifting the blanket.
Katie looked at herself. She was furred from just below her breasts. Her legs were gone. In their place was a dog’s body larger than Sheena’s. She pushed herself into a seated position much as Sheena would adopt.
“How hard is it?” she asked teary eyed.
“Three others are already up and about. It’s a little confusing at first, dealing with six limbs. You’ll get the hang of it in a couple of days or so. Seems Nanites can carry more than just form information.”
“How long will I have to …” Katie’s voice trailed off.
“They don’t know yet. Likely weeks or months. The whole lab is hunting for a reversal method.”
“Will they succeed?”
“I hope so for all the women exposed.”
“Just eight. But that’s more than enough.”
“This is Security 193, reporting in at 45D-03,” Marlene Karatsi said while pushing the activity plate at the security site. “Absolutely nothing about.”
“Understood,” her shift supervisor replied. “Dog sense anything?”
“Serge is absolutely as bored as I am,” replied Marlene.
“Well, the big domes are doing something all night so you need to keep a sharp eye out.”
“Understood. I’ll start an IR sweep and then head over to 45D-04.”
Marlene continued on her patrol. It was the same thing every night. She was junior, of course. So she got the choice shifts like the graveyard on the inner line where absolutely nothing happened. Walking from station to station; reporting in every five minutes. Serge was all the company she had and, though she liked her, she wasn’t much for conversation. The only excitement was around midnight when a reporter and a cameraman were brought by company van. They dashed inside 45D’s basement level so quickly that Marlene barely had a chance to log their plates.
By morning, she was tired. Even Serge was plodding. It was time to get her back to the kennels and rest and then to head home herself. She approached the lower level security access and keyed in her passcode. A quick scan of her biometrics by the security system soon had her inside the outer perimeter. A second security scan let her into the main security zone.
Serge suddenly yelped as they passed under the main ventilator for the area.
“What’s up girl?” asked Marlene tiredly. Serge, of course, couldn’t tell what it was. Marlene simply gave her the command to search. Serge spent several minutes hunting about underneath the ventilator before sitting directly under it. Marlene looked at the dog, puzzled. There was nothing around. Maybe she was as tired as Marlene herself. Marlene led Serge to her kennel and turned her over to the kennel master. She reached down to ruffle the fur behind the dog’s ears. There was a sudden feeling of cold on the palm of her hand. She looked down at the hand expecting to see moisture but it was totally dry. Marlene was too tired to worry about it. She logged herself out and walked to the carpark. Within a few minutes, she was on the main highway heading home.
She quickly pulled into the driveway and walked upstairs. She barely had the energy to make a breakfast before hitting the sack. It didn’t register with her that she was far more tired than a shift usually left her.
She awoke to the buzzing of her alarm. At first confused as to whether the clock read 6AM or 6PM, she shook her head. 6PM, of course. She was due on shift at 9PM. She dragged herself into the shower and turned on the water. At first, she was content to just let the water sluice down over her. But then she caught sight of something in the porcelain tile walls. She was covered in short black fur from waist to knees!!
She quickly dialled the phone to Central Dispatch. She was almost incoherent as she dripped onto the rug. The fur was real and it was attached and it was hers and … When the supervisor came on, she listened to Marlene try to ask for a day or so off due to illness. Something in her voice made the supervisor realize something more than the flu was happening. Since the entire lab was on contamination lockdown, it didn’t take long to put two and two together. She quickly gave permission for Marlene to miss a shift to get well. As soon as Marlene hung up, she quickly dialled Quarantine Central and reported her misgivings.
Marlene was sitting, still a bit damp, when the Quarantine Team arrived at her front door. She quickly let them in once they identified themselves. She’d never put on an isolation suit before and had a good deal of difficulty putting this one on. The legs seemed the wrong shape. They strapped her onto a gurney and dashed out to the waiting ambulance. Less than ten minutes later, they’d arrived at the basement entry of 45D and had quickly transferred Marlene into the waiting hands of the quarantine team before heading off for their own decontamination.
Marlene soon found herself in a private hospital bed, hooked up to a vast pile of strange equipment. She’d been in hospital before for a few hours and recognized some of it but the strange scanners and sensors they taped onto her were totally unfamiliar. When a medibot appeared and started taking all kinds of strange measurements, Marlene had had enough and began shouting for ‘a real person’.
A few minutes after the midibot left, her demands were answered by an isolation suited nurse.
“Marelene Karatski?” she asked.
“Yes,” Marlene’s worry was spilling over into anger.
“I’m Olga Fredricksen. There’s been a bit of an accident at the lab.”
“No kidding,” she ran her hand through the black fur of her torso.
“Uh, yes. The Canine Intelligence people …”
“They were using nanites to increase the intelligence of service dogs.”
“Well, there was a seal breach. A swarm got out before they were fully programmed.” Marlene just glowered at the nurse. “Eight women were contaminated with the nanites. Seven are here in isolation.”
“And the last?”
“She’s the lead researcher. She’s upstairs right now trying to find a way to reverse this whole thing.”
“Wonderful!” Marlene’s voice fairly dripped with sarcasm. “What do these nanites do?”
“Well, they should be doing nothing. They weren’t completely programmed.”
“Since they clearly are doing something …”
“Yes. They seem to have absorbed the missing DNA portion of the program from whatever animal the person contaminated last handled.”
“Doberman security guard who was my partner last night.”
The nurse made a quick note on her tablet and pressed the send button.
“They seem to be reprogramming the person’s biological structure somehow.”
“The person ends up part dog.”
“How much dog?”
“Depends. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. The others are still changing slowly.”
“That still doesn’t answer my question.”
“One is nearly all dog. Some have the hind quarters of a dog. Some are like centaurs. No telling what will change or how far.”
“I see. When will I know?”
“ We’re guessing within a day or so. The nanites seem to self-destruct after that time.”
“And my job?”
“You’ll have a job here as long as you want it. Little enough compensation for the accident’s effects.”
“Well, you’re on full company benefits now. Full medical, everything.”
“If you have any questions, just push the call button. Someone will definitely be there as quickly as we possibly can.”
Marlene sighed. Great! She was going to be a dog now. Aw well, at least she’d not need to worry about handling some of the big males any more.
“Thanks,” Marlene said quietly.
The nurse turned and left and Marlene took stock of her situation. She was changing into some kind of half dog creature. They’d probably keep her in some kind of lab for the rest of her life. Marlene was caught off guard when the lights dimmed until she realized most of the others probably were getting ready for sleep instead of just getting up for a shift. She decided to watch some videos on the computer system they’d supplied but she made sure she used the earphones. No sense keeping everyone else up.
Periodically, Marlene looked over her entire body. Her legs were changing shape and her feet were shrinking. It soon became apparent just what they were becoming. There was no doubt that she was becoming the virtual twin of Serge, at least from the waist down. She even discovered a nub of a tail developing. By morning, Marlene was feeling a little tired and felt the tail again. It was considerably longer than Serge’s. She remembered that the dog had had ears and tail docked. Her tail, of course, would be the original length.
She snoozed a bit in the morning. By noon, two smaller nubs were developing just under her ribs. She pushed the call button, hoping that she was guessing incorrectly. The nurse only nodded and confirmed her fears. She was developing a second set of legs. She was definitely going to end up some kind of strange centaur with a dog’s body. The nurse made a quick set of measurements before leaving again as another call bell sounded.
Halfway through the afternoon, Marlene got up to try to walk around and found she was unbearably clumsy. Her body was thin, far thinner than it had ever been. She was longer, too. Balance was impossible and Marlene found herself leaning against the bed for support on several occasions. Walking on feet that were halfway between paws and human feet was painfully difficult. After only a few minutes, she gave it up and returned to the bed. Maybe once these miniature monsters were done with her, she’d be able to move more easily. ‘As a dog,’ her mind supplied darkly.
An afternoon snooze was followed by the arrival of the evening meal and yet another round of measurements from the medibot. Marlene just lay on her back and let the damned machine do what it needed to. It couldn’t or wouldn’t answer any questions and all she would do is delay it. She took the opportunity to sneak a peak at the chart the medibot was writing on. Sure enough, it recorded all of the changes in her body to the millimetre. It was apparent that the tiny forelegs were getting stronger. It noted the transfer of mass from her legs to these new ones. Her feet were now mostly paws and she was starting to develop dark claws.
Lying down for sleep proved difficult. Marlene found she had to sleep on her side just as she’d seen Serge do so many times at the end of a shift. Twisting her human portion about, she finally called for some extra pillows to support herself. Finally, after what seemed like hours, she managed to create a nest that supported both haves of her body. Sleep, though, proved elusive for a long time. She should be on her rounds now instead of lying here. An unconscious twitch of her canine portion often disturbed her just as she was drifting off. Eventually, though, sleep found her.
Next morning, the nurse arrived after breakfast and the measurement session with a special machine and a second person in tow. None of them were wearing isolation suits. This puzzled Marlene completely.
“It seems that once the nanites are done their work, they safely self-destruct.”
“I take it I’m done then?”
“As far as we can tell. Ken, here, is going to do a final scan just to make sure.”
A few minutes later, he nodded and began to pack up the equipment.
“So now what?” asked Marlene.
“Well, I suspect you need to start walking. Get used to your new form until they can figure out some way to reverse the change.”
“I see,” Marlene frowned.
Looking down along the bed, she did a once over of her new form. She was definitely a dogtaur. She’d looked up the term on the Internet. She was human to about the waist and smoothly blended into the body of a large Doberman Pinscher. She pushed herself upright.
“I guess we’d best get going then,” she stated. “I’m glad Serge was such a beautiful dog.”