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Title
  • unrepentantAuthor

    A cat that writes stories.
    Location
    UK
    Pronouns
    they/she
    Partner
    purrloin-salem

    1996, Kanto: a clone of Mew is created and named "Mewtwo". Its imperfect genetic code is completed using human DNA.
    2020, Galar: pokémon are going missing, explorers are driven out of the wilds, and a green tech company is hiring experts in gene-splicing.

    A story about pokémorphs, genetic engineering, identity, language, secrets, friendship, freedom, and a cat who becomes a person.

    DE cover small.jpg

    Cover art by @canisaries.


    Author's Note:

    Different Eyes is my take on the 'pokémon/human hybrid experiments' trope, as a character-driven story from the perspective of pokémon-turned-morphs. You may like this fic if you're a fan of pokécentric fic, scifi, drama, introspection, angst, slow-burn, and of course, anthros.

    It's a long-running project, which started with jumbled notes circa 2010 and eventually became a carefully structured project conscious of its own themes in 2020. It has been the subject of much revision! I expect it to reach about 400,000 words and 80 chapters in length by the time it's finished, and I work on it nearly every day.

    Updates are irregular, but at the time of writing I have over 70,000 words of buffer material, so this is definitely happening. My goal is a monthly update schedule.

    I appreciate any and all civil feedback, however short or long, however gushing or critical. Please do leave a comment, even if it's only to say that you're a fan. I'll appreciate it enormously. Thank you for reading.

    Content warnings for trauma and abuse, dysphoria, fantasy violence, profanity.
     
    Last edited:
    Prologue — Conception
  • unrepentantAuthor

    A cat that writes stories.
    Location
    UK
    Pronouns
    they/she
    Partner
    purrloin-salem
    2020/04/17: replaced old expository prelude chapter with a full prologue chapter featuring Dr. Fuji, to better indicate the themes and scale of the story.

    2020/08/17: revised the prologue as informed by reader feedback, mostly general improvements to prose and trimmed-down faux-jargon.


    Prologue

    Conception



    The first pokémon-human hybrid was floating in a tank full of life-nourishing fluids, silent and still. Its skin was a muted violet, almost white. Its bulbous, purple tail was easily as long as the creature was tall. Through the amber liquid and dim lighting, it was a dreamlike thing to behold. Perhaps it experienced dreams of its own, asleep in its tiny world.

    Dr. Fuji reached out to his creation and placed a hand on the tank glass. He willed it to open its eyes and reach out to him, to speak to him, to justify its existence to him.

    A horrible thought; it would owe him nothing if it lived.

    If it lived, perhaps it would be the first of many pokémon-human hybrids. Capable of sophisticated cognition — endowed with fantastic elemental powers.

    …If it lived.

    "No choice," he murmured to himself. He had been given no choice but to give life to this creature, or at least that's what he had believed all this time.

    At what point did a threshold in science become inevitable, however terrible it seemed? When someone first conceived of it? When it was no longer theoretical, but a practical possibility? Perhaps only once it became an irreversible reality, already in motion, and impossible to stop.

    He knew the truth: this had been inevitable only so long as he'd remained committed to it. He could have turned back at any time, right up until the moment of genesis, but instead he had told himself, over and over, that he'd had no freedom to do otherwise.

    If there had been a single moment he could identify and say "Yes, there, that's when it became destiny," it was when he'd first said those words —

    "I suppose I have no choice."

    ∗∗∗​

    June 1996

    Cinnabar Island, Kantō


    A black, dual-rotor heliplane cruised over choppy ocean waves and under a clear sky.

    It was bound for an island off the Japanese coast, too far out at sea for the mainland to be visible. This was Izu Ōshima, known as Cinnabar Island to tourists and to trainers on the League Circuit. The presence of human structures was visible in a white-grey mottling against the green of the island's forests. Merely a small town, clinging to the coast. The aircraft passed over it and cruised for a few miles inland, the forests soon giving way to the red-brown tones of the central volcanic mountain. At its foot huddled a building complex, squat and angular. A tower at its corner rose well above the tree-line to support a modest landing pad.

    The aircraft drew close and made its descent.

    A man stood on the platform, his wild hair swept back and lab coat blown about by the airflow from the heliplane. He clutched his glasses to his face and waited for the whirling rotor blades to come to a standstill. When at last they did, another man in a dark suit stepped down from the heliplane, a feline pokémon at his side, and not a hair out of place on either.

    The geneticist bent at the waist and waited for the crime-lord to speak.

    He kept silent for a long moment as his financier adjusted his jacket and tie. He knew well that this was a powerful man — someone who could afford to keep others waiting, and would naturally take issue with impatience. It would be unwise to give offence by speaking first.

    "Ah, you're the one called Fuji, yes?"

    "Doctor Fuji," he replied, straightening up. "Sir," he quickly added.

    Giovanni did not bow in return. The pause before he replied made Fuji's breath catch in his chest.

    "Of course," he said at last. Giovanni's smile grew wide, but it never reached his eyes. "Thank you for your time, Doctor Fuji."

    Fuji's breath returned. Perhaps that 'sir' at the last moment had saved him. He'd like to think it was his own value to Giovanni as a scientist, but that would be flattering himself. Now that the sample had been obtained and the groundwork done, Fuji would become ever more replaceable as an asset.

    "Naturally," he said. "You are financing the project, after all. Your man on the radio didn't mention the nature of your visit?"

    Giovanni merely raised an eyebrow and walked past him, ignoring the implicit question.

    When he moved, he did so with unhurried confidence. This was surely a man accustomed to commanding the patience and attention of anyone in his line of sight. Fuji was no scholar of psychology, but he found himself analysing his sponsor's intimidating persona even while hurrying past the man to open the door for him.

    His face held no expression but the tense blankness of a person keeping their thoughts behind a mask. He maintained total control of himself. The pokémon was a persian, judging by the gem set in its forehead — a pedigree, no doubt — and it followed at his heel without a sound or a sideways glance. He must have trained it strictly. Despite the Italian name he used, Giovanni's accent, facial features and mannerisms all suggested a Kantō heritage. It was obviously a pseudonym for a man with secrets worth hiding, but he must have had considerable arrogance to disguise the truth with such an obviously fake identity.

    At least, that was Fuji's assessment. Perhaps he thought wrong, and an honourable, philosophical man could be found under all that presence and menace.

    Giovanni didn't look at him once as they made their way into the facility.

    ∗∗∗​

    Fuji's benefactor appeared unconcerned with the wider facility. Perhaps he genuinely inspected each room they passed and judged what he saw against his private expectations but if so, he gave no indication of his approval. He made no comments of his own, but prompted Fuji to explain what each team had accomplished.

    He lingered longest in the psy-assessment area; his cold eyes took in every detail of the psychic pokémon performing their telekinetic tasks under the observation of Fuji's colleagues, armed with clipboards and brain-shielding headwear. So too did he pass his piercing gaze over the rest of the complex, in all its drab, metallic coldness. Narrow corridors, glass partitions, harsh white strip lighting. Evidently, it all passed muster.

    He spoke little, except to prompt Fuji to continue talking about the work, and various tangents. To Fuji's surprise, Giovanni seemed to take a genuine — if terse — interest in the research supporting the project.

    "I read your report on the South American expedition," he said, as they passed the cafeteria, cordially enough. No time for a light lunch, it would seem. The man probably only ate gourmet fare in any case.

    "I'm glad to hear it, sir."

    "This genetic sample of yours," continued Giovanni. "It came from an authentic mew fossil, isn't that so?"

    Fuji willed his heart rate to remain steady. This man had no reason to suspect any deception.

    Besides, it was a subfossil, and the man would know that had he paid attention to Fuji's report.

    "Indeed. I — that is, we — believe it to be the fossilised eyelash of an ancient mew. One worshipped by a now-extinct culture several centuries ago."

    "Intriguing. It is peculiar that a preserved genetic sample of such great significance should come from something so insignificant. So easily overlooked. Just think how easily such a fragile thing could have been lost forever."

    Giovanni's gaze seemed to tug on the secrets in Fuji's heart, but he returned it evenly.

    "I quite agree, sir. Although as I did mention in my report, it's not a fully intact sample. We will have to fill in the gaps with appropriate genes from other species — alakazam, for example, given their natural proficiency with psychic power."

    "I am aware of this necessity," came the reply. "It is regarding this matter that I have come here. I intend to ensure that the clone you produce for me is not diminished, but enhanced, by the modifications made to its genes."

    "I see."

    Naturally, someone like Giovanni would see an incomplete genetic code as an opportunity for improvement, rather than a setback to accept.

    Fuji prayed that his deception had not been a mistake. Oh, Mew. Perhaps you made a mistake entrusting me with that eyelash.

    ∗∗∗​

    Giovanni almost looked hungry as he stared at the incubation tanks.

    "Your report mentioned you had already produced test subjects. Why are these empty?"

    Fuji gestured to the engraved stone tablet depicting the ancient mew.

    "Pokémon are strange beings, Mr. Giovanni. Their bodies do not behave as ours do, and so they have long been called magical beasts, fae, dæmons, and yokai. Mew's genetic code is stranger still, unlike that of any pokémon yet studied. It would seem the myths of its ability to transform into other pokémon have some truth to them. Whenever we attempt to reproduce it in a fully intact state, the subject becomes…"

    He trailed off. The cultural reluctance to name uncomfortable things was strong, even as a scientist with international colleagues. Fuji walked over to the far end of the cloning bay, towards the anomalous specimens containment unit.

    "The partial copy we have available is unstable when cloned, and, well… you can see for yourself what the results are of creating life from unmodified mew DNA."

    He flicked the light switch, and the lighting overhead came on strip by strip, in flickering bursts.

    The vivaria they illuminated contained the subjects he'd mentioned in his reports. These creatures had no official name, given that their existence remained secret. There ought to be a name for them, he thought. After all, one could not possibly call them 'mew' in all good sense.

    Each vivarium was a box with glass panels, housing one or more shapeless, pinkish masses. They looked almost gelatinous, each one's epidermis gleaming a little in the artificial light. They moved slowly, somewhat like that of a mundane snail, or a slugma: they stretched out their amorphous bodies and then pulled their mass forwards using the extended part. Their bodies were almost featureless, except for their odd little faces: beady black eyes and a darker line, like a seam, beneath them.

    As they both watched the creatures, one of them transformed into a copy of its own water bowl. Another, into a stone.

    Giovanni's face remained stiff and his eyes wide, but Fuji thought he could see a hint of a smile too.

    "Have you found a use for them?"

    "Not yet, sir. They are poor learners, and do not perform well in many tests. They only manifest psychic abilities when they take the form of psychic pokémon, and they only match the abilities of the copied individual. Temporarily at that. Still, they are intriguing. Some of our western staff have taken to calling them 'metamon', 'omnimorph', and 'ditto' -"

    "Ditto? That's a strange word."

    "It's Galarish, sir. It means 'that which has been said before.' I confess I quite like that one."

    "Hmm. You are right to call them intriguing. Monitor them, but use an intern or some other insignificant person. I want you and your useful colleagues to remain focused on the main project until its completion. No distractions."

    "Sir, I must-"

    "And you may pursue your personal goal as well. I am a generous enough man to permit that. How is she?"

    Giovanni's face displayed the slightest flicker of empathy for a mere half-second.

    "Much the same, sir. I remain hopeful."

    "And your wife?"

    Fuji sighed. Felt a tug at his heart.

    "She left her ring with her last letter. That was some weeks ago, now. It's no great surprise; I did miss the funeral after all."

    "I'm sorry to hear that."

    An automatic response, given with little sincerity.

    "Thank you, sir. It only gives me more reason to complete my work to the best of my ability. As such, I have since begun living in this facility full time."

    "Well. Good luck. May you meet with success in the due course of time, and have your daughter back once more. Just don't let it interfere with the project. Remember, I'm not in the business of human cloning."

    "Of course. On my pride as a scientist, I will strive to succeed."

    "Very good."

    ∗∗∗​

    "Enhancements, sir?"

    "Anything to make this creation the most powerful pokémon to ever exist," said Giovanni, his eyes fixed on a vision that did not include the scientist in front of him. "The most powerful tool. A uniquely dangerous weapon."

    Fuji considered his words carefully while Giovanni's full attention kept focused on the statistics, readings and projections arrayed on the table between them. He'd chosen the material carefully to show the competence and potential of his team, while also promising as little as possible in practical results. So far it seemed to hold up to scrutiny.

    He spoke with some hesitation still in his voice. "If mew is, ah, truly the most powerful psychic pokémon to ever exist, then its genes are— are already the pinnacle of psychic power. If we can find a way to… to stabilise the DNA and produce a viable specimen, then that would be a great enough achievement to begin with. Ah, one might say."

    "I will determine what achievements are sufficient for my objectives," replied Giovanni, without looking up.

    Fuji's whole body felt exhausted from the tension. How much more of this before Giovanni left him to his work?

    "Of course, sir. I didn't mean to presume. What, then, would be sufficient?"

    "Psychic power is only one of the many possible assets this being could have," said Giovanni. "I also require intelligence, aggression, loyalty. The ability to use tools. Communication. Independent strategy. An intimidating physical form. Can you alter the temperament of the clone and so on to achieve these things, but without compromising its power?"

    "It's possible, although it will require guesswork. Trial and error. Not to mention a solution to the instability concern."

    "As it happens, I've received a most interesting proposition from one of your colleagues. Dr. Katsura, I recall? Interesting man. He proposes splicing the sample with human DNA. Are you at all familiar with this idea?"

    Katsura. Of course. The accursed fool.

    "He ran the idea by me, yes. I understand the broad underpinnings, although gene-splicing is his specialism, not mine."

    Giovanni's raised eyebrow told him to go on.

    Fuji cleared his throat. "Ah, well… in the metaphorical tree of life, animals — including humans, of course — and pokémon are considered two different 'domains' of life. This is for good reason: we appear to share no common ancestor more recently than the primordial world of billions of years ago. And yet we are both complex multicellular life forms, with DNA. DNA that could theoretically be spliced regardless of our many differences."

    A nod told him Giovanni kept up with him so far.

    "The principle difficulty in pokémon genetics is the 'instability' associated with their genetic codes. They change, they adapt, they break down with terrible ease. The mechanism of evolution is possible because unlike us, pokémon are somehow able to use the strange energy they rely on for all their powers to alter their very genes. This same process is what results in the 'ditto' you've seen today. Adding eukaryotic DNA from an animal, perhaps a human, would potentially grant the morphology of the donor to the specimen—"

    Giovanni's frown warned him against too much jargon. He licked his dry lips.

    "Ah, it would force the creature to remain in a fixed form. A hybrid form. It is possible."

    "Is it also possible," said Giovanni, "in your professional opinion, that using human DNA for this process would grant the clone abstract thought, creativity, and complex language, while keeping its mastery of psychic power?"

    "It is… possible. However unlikely, it is possible. The specimen could have the same mysterious energy that all pokémon do and if so, it could be incredibly powerful."

    Giovanni's smile showed teeth. "And what did you say to your colleague when he explained it to you?"

    "I told him it broke countless legal, practical, and ethical restrictions on our work and that we had no compelling reason to adopt the method," said Fuji, as evenly as he could manage.

    Giovanni sneered at him as if at an impudent salaryman. "Well, how's this for a compelling reason? If making this thing a human half-breed has a chance of producing a viable more-intelligent specimen, then I expect you to do it. Dr. Katsura tells me it does, and I'm inclined to believe him. He is most articulate on the matter."

    Fuji set both his hands against the table littered with documents. His carefully-curated reports were nothing more than paper, now. They'd done nothing to curtail Giovanni's ambitions.

    "Even if it did work, and the clone reached healthy maturity, there's no way of telling what the long term consequences could be. A psychic that powerful could have interactions with its genetic relatives in ways we cannot predict or understand!"

    Giovanni laughed, abruptly, and held out his hand in pacification.

    "I can see you have some anxiety about this, Doctor. Allow me to ease your concerns. I am a generous enough man to relieve you of the terrible burden of finding a genetic donor for this project. You may use my genes."

    "What?"

    "One of my agents will leave a sample with your medical staff. I am prepared to accept the risks you feverishly imagine. Great rewards are earned through the boldness to take great risks."

    "I see. As you say, Mr. Giovanni."

    That man had such a cruel smile when he exercised his influence over someone else. Eyes narrowed, the left corner of his mouth curved upward, nose slightly flared. Did he smile that way when he commanded a pokémon?

    "I acknowledge you have reservations," he said, "but I've made my final decision. I insist you give your word that you intend to do what I ask of you."

    This was it. Fuji's final chance to decline. He could turn down Giovanni now, or else commit to the creation of a hybrid life form, and then there would be no telling where the science would go. Twenty years from now, would such things be commonplace? How could that possibly be in the world's best interests?

    Think of something clever. Lie convincingly that human DNA would not stabilise the specimen. Refuse on moral grounds. Insist that the scope of the experiments required would be prohibitively expensive even for Giovanni's endless coffers.

    He thought of Ai, and the impossibility of completing her revival without Giovanni's patronage. He thought of the savings he had emptied, the favours he had called in. He had even failed to attend the funeral. He'd been so focused on preserving the precious genetic memories held within those cells. His daughter's soul.

    He didn't have anything else.

    "I suppose I have no choice," said Dr. Fuji. "I'll do as you say."

    Damn you.

    "I'm pleased to hear that. Very pleased indeed."

    Damn you, Fuji, you coward.

    ∗∗∗​

    As Giovanni's helicopter left, Fuji imagined he could feel the future in his heart.

    It seemed a cold, and dark, and heavy future if so.

    He remembered Mew. If it had been typical of its species then the clone would be a playful, innocent creature. Curious. Gentle. Already the ditto were inquisitive, bashful creatures.

    By stark contrast, Giovanni loved to command others and make unscrupulous demands. Giovanni! King of veiled threats and intimidation! Was he so cruel and uncompromising from birth, or had he grown to become that way? Be it nature or nurture that imbued such malice, his violent character would surely taint Fuji's creation.

    Once he gave this thing life, what kind of being would it be?

    What would it one day become, in the shadow of Giovanni?

    It might be a monster, like him. Or worse, a victim to his cruelties. In either case, what devastation could be wrought by a creature in such conditions?

    Fuji gripped the railing on the rooftop's edge. It felt good to put his weight on something solid. He spent so much time leaning on an imagined future, one which contained his daughter once again.

    To keep Giovanni from possessing a mew clone to mould in his image, Fuji would have to sacrifice that future.

    And he couldn't do that.

    Coward.

    ∗∗∗​

    "Katsura! Katsura, you blind fool! Haven't you got any discretion? Katsura!"

    Fuji hammered on his colleague's office door, releasing all the pent-up energy he'd contained during Giovanni's visit. He couldn't feel his hands.

    "Katsura! Damn you!"

    A voice came from inside: "What is it, Fuji, you obsessive bastard?"

    "Open this door and explain yourself!"

    Katsura wrenched the door open, and it thudded into the wall as he did so.

    "Explain what, man?" he barked. "I didn't study at Université de Lumiose to be spoken to this way!"

    In addition to being a great scientific mind, Auguste Katsura served as Cinnabar's gym leader and Kantō's fire type specialist. As such, he affected an exaggerated, theatrical persona. In his case, he had chosen a 'mad scientist' aesthetic, which he was suited for in both appearance and intellect.

    He cultivated a large, white, paint brush moustache, and kept his scalp perfectly bald. He wore his lab coat open, revealing a flame-patterned tie, worn in a loose knot. His glasses of choice were shaded pince-nez. He looked bizarre. Yet, the man's glower burned so hot even through the glasses, Fuji faltered despite himself, stammering as he replied.

    "Y-you sent that proposal to Giovanni! Now he wants us to use his DNA in the project! Haven't you any idea how badly that could go wrong?"

    Katsura stared for a moment. Then, he removed his glasses and looked Fuji in the eye. Without the shades, he looked entirely serious. Older, too.

    "You'd better come inside."

    Fuji nodded, and obliged.

    With the door closed behind them, and his colleague making him a cup of hot tea, Fuji's anger left him.

    Katsura attended to the tea with industrious efficiency in his tiny kitchenette. He didn't speak again until Fuji calmed enough to sit down. Before resuming the conversation he said, pointedly, "You haven't seen my analysis yet, Fuji. I assure you, the science is sound."

    Then he shushed Fuji with a finger to his lips, and activated his dishwasher. It made a great deal of noise, as if he'd left something solid inside. Fuji raised an eyebrow. What was he playing at?

    Katsura brought the tea, sat with him, and softened his voice. He left his glasses off.

    "Fuji… Yosuke, didn't you think I'd have thought this through?"

    "Explain it to me, then. Tell me why you told Giovanni we could make this thing part-human."

    Katsura's moustache bristled as he skewed his mouth in irritation.

    "You don't know Giovanni as well as I do, old friend. He's not just some wealthy gang boss who wants to win some private pokémon battles with an illegally enhanced pokémon."

    "I didn't think that—"

    Katsura ignored him. "He's got his filthy hands in high level organised crime, the government of half the prefectures in the country, private businesses, the tech industry, you name it. Even the League. Did you know he's posing as gym leader in Hakone?"

    "No, I didn't."

    "Indeed not."

    "So, what, he intends to— to use our creation to commit some great crime? And you'll help him do that?"

    Katsura's brow furrowed with displeasure. "What do you take me for, old friend? Don't you know what kind of man I am? I want him to fail. He's a madman, Yosuke. I've heard the drivel he spouts for his sycophants. Listen, listen to this: 'all pokémon exist solely for the use of Team Rocket.' I heard him say that to justify stealing pokémon from children, for goodness' sake. He's got to be a damned yakuza boss. Of course I'm not helping him. Will you hear me out?"

    Fuji took a deep, shuddering breath, and quieted his mind to listen.

    Katsura nodded. "Thank you. Just think — he believes that if he controls the most powerful pokémon in the world, that he can rule it. Not from the shadows. Openly."

    "Then we can't let him have that!"

    "He's going to have that, Yosuke. It's too late for your fudged figures and redacted reports. It's happening. The question is not whether we can deprive him of his prize. Short of destroying every trace of our work, he can find some bright mind to continue it from what our colleagues recall. No. The question is whether we can prevent him using the clone. The question… is whether the creature will actually obey him."

    Something clicked in Fuji's mind.

    "You don't mean to say that we should teach it disobedience, do you?"

    "No. Not exactly. If we do as Giovanni asks, and create a mew-human hybrid, then that creature… well, it would have a mind of its own. The capacity to make decisions. Perhaps if we're lucky and clever, the capacity for better judgment."

    Fuji's brain fizzed with countless risks and contingencies. "But Auguste, you're gambling on the hope that what we make here will not only be… be a— a thinking being, but a moral one. A person, I suppose, with a heart good and brave enough to turn on its master. Who won't simply learn to be cruel and amoral from him. Doesn't that strike you as vanishingly unlikely?"

    "Perhaps. We may have more control than you think. Consider this…" Katsura jabbed a finger at him. "It will not be Giovanni that raises this child-creature, but you and I, Yosuke. This is how we beat him!"

    "Will that be enough?"

    Katsura shrugged. "It has to be. Ah! We will do our level best. And consider: it will even grow up alongside Ai, if all goes well. How could the sibling of your little Ai be anything but noble and kind, eh?"

    Fuji thought of the cluster of cells that rested in his lab, the preserved essence of his daughter. When he solved the puzzle of restoring life, there she would be. A child, standing in this world of metal and light.

    Would not a clone of mew be more or less the same kind of being as a clone of Ai? More so, with human blood in its veins?

    He sat back and put a quavering hand to his temple.

    "Even if it works… It disturbs me. This idea of giving a semblance of humanity to a pokémon. What kind of life will it have? What if it suffers because of our decision?"

    Katsura looked grim. "All humans suffer. So do all living things."

    "Yes, but will it thank us for this?"

    "Perhaps. What pokémon wouldn't want to be like us? To be human?"

    Fuji shook his head.

    "Even so… it would be a child of Giovanni. It could… take after him."

    Katsura put his glasses back on, and grinned ferociously. "Not if we use a different sample."

    Oh.

    Of course.

    ∗∗∗​

    The thing floating in the tank wasn't human, that much was certain.

    Still, could it really be said to be a pokémon?

    It hung there, suspended in its near-weightlessness by diodes affixed to its torso, head and limbs. It almost gave Fuji the impression of…

    Never mind.

    The creature had three digits on each paw, front and back. Its eyes stayed firmly closed. The proportions almost resembled those of a human child of six or seven years. As old as Ai when she passed. However, the ears were situated high on its head and roughly triangular, the upper torso and shoulders were gaunt and angular, and the lower legs had the thick haunches and elongated feet of a feline pokémon. Then, of course, there was the enormous tail…

    It could not possibly be human.

    Yet… it still gave him the impression of a sleeping infant.

    He checked the readings. He checked them twice. Three times.

    Healthy vitals, as far as they could tell. High brain activity. But… disconcertingly like a human's.

    With each passing week, Fuji thought the tiny creature in the tank grew just a little larger. Its tail had grown to twice the length it had been a month ago. Already they could detect telepathic probing coming from it, reaching out for other life. Opposite it was Ai's tank. Perhaps it was reaching out for her mind. She looked just like it in a way, suspended in a cocktail of life-preserving compounds. His great hope. He imagined he could already recognise her face.

    There they were. The human and the pokémon.

    Ah, but there lay his conceit. It wasn't a pokémon either, was it? How could it be, with brain readings like that?

    He stared through the glass at it, willing it to open its eyes. To speak with him.

    "What kind of life will you have? What will you think of me? What will you feel in your heart?" he asked, out loud. Then, aware of himself, he checked over his shoulders for an errant colleague who may have heard.

    No, he stood alone with his creations, and the stone tablet bearing the image of mew. The engraving stared back at him from beyond a thousand-year gulf.

    He thought of the mew he'd befriended back in Guyana. What would it think of this copy, this distorted mirror image of itself? None of the potential names felt quite right to him. Mew Clone. Second Mew. Mew-Two.

    "Mewtwo," he whispered to himself. "Will you be thankful that we made you the way you are?"

    What pokémon wouldn't want to be human? That's what Katsura had said.

    Fuji doubted the truth of that.

    The first pokémon-human hybrid floated in its tank, dreaming silently in the dim light. What did it dream of?

    He prayed silently that its dreams were peaceful.

    It had been a long time since his last peaceful dream.
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 1: Human Dreams New
  • unrepentantAuthor

    A cat that writes stories.
    Location
    UK
    Pronouns
    they/she
    Partner
    purrloin-salem
    Author's Note:

    Thanks for bearing with me while I got the next two updates ready. Now the story proper can begin, and hopefully continue at a faster rate. If you’re an older reader, this is a different opening chapter than you remember. If you were a reader way back in 2012, it’ll be more familiar to you. It’s an important sequence, and I had to get it just right! I hope it was worth the wait.

    Chapter Changelog:

    2020/09/07: Replaced the old ‘Chapter 1’, partly with material originally from a later chapter, edited for quality and continuity, partly with new scenes.


    Chapter 1

    Human Dreams


    Salem was dying. Surely, this was how it felt to die.

    Darkness. Vertigo. Every body part, aching. Her eyes stung, so she screwed them shut. A barrier of rubbery material clasped against her face—she tried to shake it off, to pull her head away, but still it clung to her. It pressed her whiskers to her cheeks, and though she could breathe, the breaths came hot and stifled. She needed to push at it with her paws, but she couldn’t seem to move her limbs, or even feel them. She couldn’t sense the ground beneath her paws. She just floated, as if through water.

    Water.

    There was water; she was in water. Submerged. She was underwater!

    She held her breath against the instinctive panic. She had to surface, fast. She tried to swim, flail, anything, but her limbs protested every effort. She stayed in place, suspended in blackness. Her lungs strained. Her chest shook. She tried to reach for something solid. Her paws, barely drifting any distance at all, only met more water. She couldn’t hold her breath any longer, and drew in a wretched gasp.

    Then another.

    Air. Instead of water filling her lungs, there was air. Hot, suffocating, but breathable air. It did not run out.

    Taking ragged, shallow breaths, yet still not drowning, she fought to bring her paws up and feel for the obstruction at her face. It took an age, but her pads met rubber, and found it sealed over her mouth, perfectly watertight. Inside its confines, she could breathe.

    She kept her eyes shut. She could be asleep; this could be a dream.

    It was quiet enough beneath the surface that she could only hear the thumping of her own heart and the rasp of her own breathing. No, she was not asleep.

    She opened her eyes. They stung from contact with the water, but only for a moment—then she saw the room outside through the clear glass that surrounded her. Through the greenish fluid that immersed her, dimly lit from overhead, she could just about make out impressions: the shapes of beds, human silhouettes, the light from suspension tanks. Dozens of them. Tanks just like hers.

    That was it. She was in the tank.

    She kept forgetting she was in the tank.


    xXx​


    “Run!”

    She set her jaw and pushed herself faster. Faster. She could go faster than this. At long last, running once again came easily, felt natural. Her legs worked tirelessly beneath her just as they’d done before. In fact, she was stronger than ever. Faster, too.

    “Speed up!”

    She broke into a sprint. She pumped her arms harder, the way they’d taught her. Faster. Faster.

    “Ten seconds!”

    Unfamiliar energy surged through her body, neither shadowy nor chill. Her muscles relaxed, her body seemed to weigh less—this could be it; the technique called ‘agility!’

    “Alright! That’s enough.”

    What? No! She hadn’t reached her limit yet, she was sure of it. She kept running, willed her legs to work harder, closed her eyes, tried to force the energy, to use agility—!

    “Dusk, that’s enough!”

    Fine. Dusk slammed the stop button on the treadmill controls and let her arms swing loosely by her sides as the motors slowed. She could go faster than that, she knew it. Next time she would. She let out a disappointed groan, hopped off and bent forward to stretch, making a start on the warm-down routine before she could be told to.

    “You did well,” said Dr. Collett from her office chair. “A personal best.”

    Dusk paused her routine to sign [Thank you, Doctor,] in reply. She put one hand to her mouth and draw it away in the human’s direction, then touched her wrist as if taking her pulse.

    “Come on, you can say that in Galarish.”

    Ugh.

    “You under-stood I said ‘Doc-tor,’” Dusk replied between stretches, with exaggerated sullenness. “You are not my speech there-app-ist.”

    “It’s all good practice. Not everyone here understands pokésign. Anyway, you’re nearly done for today.”

    “What is next?”

    Dr. Collett placed her notes and pen neatly on her desk and stood from her chair to gesture to the full-length mirror at the far end of her office.

    Ah. This again.

    Dusk dutifully stood before her own reflection, suppressing a wince as she did so.

    In the mirror she saw something no longer exactly sneasel, but neither was it exactly human. It was unnerving, even after almost a moon, to look at herself at all. Let alone with the degree of attention Dr. Collett sometimes required of her.

    “Dusk, I’d like you to describe what you see.”

    “I know, I know,” replied Dusk, a tiny growl in her throat. “I see…”

    She saw a creature both profoundly strange and unsettlingly familiar, that she tried to think of as a separate being, despite it being caught in a mirror. She saw a body that was stretched out far past its natural height, clothed in the attire of humans like some tasteless joke—dark-grey shorts and a white sleeveless top; nothing like sneasel handiwork— and vulnerable for want of its naturally formidable claws. She saw herself.

    She knew in her mind that the reflection was her own; it moved when she moved and it shared her features. She just didn’t feel it in her bones yet. Maybe she never really would. Maybe, she didn’t even want to.

    “I see… strange creature, tall like humans, hands like humans, but not human. Blood-feathers at the ear and tail like sneasel, white-fur like tundra sneasel, but not sneasel. Some-thing differ-ent. Some-thing new.”

    Dr. Collett nodded, her face visible in the mirror over Dusk’s shoulder. “That’s a more measured reaction than last time, Dusk,” she said.

    Dusk nodded, and shivered her feathers a little. It was always too warm in Collett’s office, and her blood-feathers could only do so much to keep her cool. “Seeing my-self is normal now,” she explained. “May I go?”

    “Well, before our next appointment, I’d like you to focus on seeing the changes in yourself as positive.”

    “Didn’t go through change to feel good about my-self,” snapped Dusk.

    “Still, I hope you give it a try. I’ll see you next time, Dusk.”

    Dusk gave her a lazy two-fingered salute. It wasn’t pokésign but meant [see ya] all the same.

    xXx​

    Dusk had a few hours before her next assignment, so she took to pacing the polished corridors of the facility and glancing at her distorted reflection in the plaques on each office door she passed. Catching sight of her face, she could mistake it for that of an ordinary sneasel. Looking directly at it, she saw an otherness about her eyes, her mouth, her skull. Something not quite right.

    Her claws clacked against the hard flooring with each step in a comforting drumbeat. The repetition sounded hypnotic in a way, until she heard duller footsteps from around the corner and turned to see a human approaching her in long, easy strides. With amber-brown skin and a charcoal-brown mane barely kept in a thick ponytail, her narrow face was easy to recognise among the paler complexions and shorter hairstyles of most Perihelion staff. Every morph in the facility probably knew her: recruitment officer Alisha Renadier, the only human Dusk knew whose hands never seemed to stop moving in unconscious pokésign. Dusk didn’t even need to smell her to be sure.

    “Hey there, Dusk!” called Alisha, signing the words as she spoke them with one hand, while the other hefted a satchel bag. “Not got anywhere better to be?”

    Dusk answered with a shake of her head. [Nah.] Inside she felt a twinge of envy that a human could sign as well as her with only a single hand. “No,” she added verbally, a moment later.

    “Me neither,” said the human, with a smile of her own.

    Dusk shrugged and fell into step beside her. The woman was more than a full head taller than Dusk and had authority over many of the other humans, but she had a knack for putting morphs at ease. Even Dusk felt it. It was something about her eyes, maybe; Alisha didn’t stare the way most humans did.

    “Where are we headed?” asked Alisha.

    It wasn’t a ‘real’ question, Dusk knew. What she really meant was something close to ‘is there a way I can help you?’ Dusk considered this for a moment before replying.

    [I want to see another like me,] she signed. [One still growing.] It was a complex series of hand motions, head tilts and ear twitches, but Alisha was fluent.

    “Ah… you mean another morph, right? A morph still in the process of changing.”

    “Yes,” she said, grinning wider at her success in being understood.

    “Hmm. Alright. I don’t see why not. Besides, I have admin work in the tank bay.”

    Alisha led Dusk without further interrogation to the bay, as if it were a routine destination and not somewhere sacred where living things were fundamentally altered, body and mind. The polished concrete floor changed from the warm swirls of the residential block to clean grey and green angular patterns of the morphing wing. The Perihelion logo was stained onto the pattern every forty paces or so: Galarish runes in white, on a black hexagon rimmed with gold. Every morph uniform bore the same icon, including her own. Alisha spoke up, and Dusk dropped her line of thought as she tried to keep up.

    “A lot of active tanks were only recently filled,” the woman was saying, “so the morphs in those are practically ordinary pokémon, but we’ve got one on the way who went in shortly after you. She’ll be ready to meet you soon.”

    “She will be like me?” asked Dusk.

    “Like you? As in, similar? Well, it depends on how you see it. As social dark-types, your temperaments might be similar, and physically you’re pretty close. A feline-morph isn’t so different from a mustelid-morph. If you want a serious answer then you should ask one of the science staff, but I’m sure you two will hit it off just fine!”

    “Feel-ain?”

    “Feline. You know, like cats? Like a meowth. This one’s a purrloin.”

    “Don’t know purrloin.”

    “Well, you’re about to!”

    Alisha came to a stop at a pair of sliding doors. She swiped her key card in the lock beside them and they opened onto the bay—where morphs were made. Dusk brushed past the furniture and equipment by the door. An infinitely more fascinating sight lay ahead of her.

    Suspension tanks filled the room, spaced evenly apart in several rows. There must have been at least a hundred in total. Glass cylinders reaching from floor to ceiling, filled with greenish fluid through which bubbles drifted up, distorting the appearance of the creatures inside. The internal lighting of many tanks cast a faint, green-tinted glow on the surrounding floor. She stepped forward, hardly breathing.

    The lit tanks contained what used to be pokémon.

    Dusk wandered past them as Alisha set her bag down by an office desk near the door. Cables fixed to the subjects’ bodies linked each one to the socket at the top of their tanks. All wore some sort of mask around their mouths, she guessed to allow breathing. Most unsettling of all, each one was in some stage of bodily alteration. She took a walk around the morphing ward while her guide was busy and, as she’d been told, most of the hybrids were only subtly altered. Elongation of limbs, narrowing of torsos, something different about the jaw. Just enough to be obvious. She noticed more changes in the species she knew better. An eevee in one tank, curled up in apparent sleep, had hind legs twisted at the hip to support an upright gait. In another slept a noibat with their wings wrapped tightly around their body, their tiny clawed digits at the wrists and wingtips already shifting. Soon, they would resemble human fingers.

    The changes all seemed to progress together in tiny increments. Bodily proportions altered to resemble a human’s, many of them increased in size overall, facial features warped in some cases to fit a more rounded cranium. She kept walking, taking note of how the morphs in each row tended to be at a similar stage of development. Until less than a moon ago, Dusk had been in one of these tanks. She must have looked like this, once.

    Dusk soon came to the one Alisha must have meant, the only morph left in a row about two-thirds across the room. The next row contained subjects with changes too imperceptible to notice. Dusk faced a nearly-complete pokémorph, almost as tall as a human, with well-defined hands and an entirely upright posture. Large, triangular ears and a flexible tail ending in a curved hook: not exactly what Dusk expected, but definitely the ‘purrloin.’

    [Is that what I looked like?] Dusk signed, keeping her gaze fixed on the pokémon—person?—in front of her as she did. Head tilt, indicative gesture, hand motions around the face, pointing to the heart.

    Dusk got no answer, so she asked aloud: “I looked like her, before?”

    Alisha looked up from her desk. “Mm? More or less, yeah. You went through the same thing, after all. She’s changed plenty already, but the process will keep going until she catches up with you.”

    The pokémon in the tank was not much smaller than Dusk, a fully transformed morph. She didn’t resemble a meowth at all—her fur was too short, not at all like bedraggled, steel-wool meowth fur. It was prettier, too; her mottled black-and-orange coat was glossier and more colourful than a meowth’s. Dusk wondered if all purrloin had such an appearance, or just this one.

    She took a step closer and examined the morph-to-be. There were obvious differences between the two of them. That long, thin tail for example, and their opposite hues. Still, the similarities seized her attention. Human-like arms. A body covered in fur. Fingers tipped by claws. Dusk wished this one would open her eyes so that she could see whether those, too, resembled her own.

    “What is the name of her?” she asked, not looking away.

    But the human wasn’t paying attention, already lost in her work. Dusk shrugged, and kept her attention on the purrloin morph for a while. She found herself imagining what she might say to her when she woke up. Would it be it best to introduce herself in Galarish, or in pokésign? There was no way this one would understand sneasel speech, and Dusk didn’t know if purrloin even had their own language, but either sign or Galarish would be a safe bet. Even if the cat wouldn’t be able to fluently reply.

    What would this one think of her? Would she think anything of her? Dusk had no idea about her personality. She searched the purrloin’s face for evidence of an animating spirit, something that would tell her what kind of person was inside. Was the purrloin’s head slightly tilted? Asking about something? Perhaps she was an inquisitive sort. That would be nice.

    Did it even matter? She’d get by no matter what. Was there any use in wondering?

    Well for one thing, this cat was the next morph due to fully change. A ‘feline’ morph, not so different from her. One to whom Dusk’s experience of being part-human would be similar. They would understand each other, yes? It made enough sense. This was about wanting allies, naturally. She just wanted someone like her, who wouldn’t be too distant to have a friendship.

    At least, she hoped so. She was used to lacking peers. It would be a far worse loneliness to have a peer who remained a stranger.

    “Time to go, Dusk.”

    “Already?”

    “Yeah, really sorry to cut this short. Something came up. After you, mate.”

    Dusk padded out and the human locked the doors behind them. She thought of asking questions—do you know anything about the purrloin? What is she like?—But Alisha was already pacing off, staring down at her phone at something more urgent than Dusk’s anxious curiosity.

    She headed off to the hub, wondering if she should do some extra training, or find out something in the library about purrloin to help make a good impression. She really needed to start making better first impressions.

    xXx​

    Each time Salem woke from sleep (if she was sleeping at all; her dreams felt like memories, and when she woke, it felt like a dream) it got a little easier to remember she was in the tank. Her vision became a little clearer. Her thoughts, too. Each time began with choking, then struggling, then opening her eyes. She would realise her situation anew when she saw the ward, green-soaked by the tank fluid. She looked down at the room as if from a height, so she must not be stood upright, but held in the tank as always.

    This time she was just barely lucid enough to notice alien intrusions in her flesh. A tube from above pierced her chest. Another pierced her neck. More connected to the breathing mask. Others that she couldn’t see. They hung her, held her in this half-dream, half-death. She pawed weakly at a cable and felt it tug inside her. She would never have the strength to remove it. Maybe that was for the best. Maybe the cables were remaking her.

    She hadn’t expected to wake at all while the humans remade her body. This wasn’t right. Something could be wrong with the tank, with the transformation, with Salem. Thinking about it only got harder, and soon she fell back into darkness.

    Salem drifted in and out of unconsciousness, her eyes never open long, her mind clinging only to a droplet or two of memory from her dreams or her final days as her former self. Her dreams poured through her head: human faces and her own; watching from a distance as her own body stood on two legs; needles; being held tightly, too tightly; blood and hunger and cold. Dreams of fighting. Dreams of losing.

    When she woke to the room, she would glance around for someone she knew. A couple times, she thought she could see Alisha as a momentary hazy glimpse past the water and the tank, or detect her scent. Surely an illusion. She could smell nothing but the dead scent of rubber, the mask fitted to her face. Still, she kept searching for Alisha’s face past the tank glass.

    Her reality was fleeting. Her eyes lied to her. Now she lay in the hospital bed from before, but a different room. Curtains drew close around her. Dangling containers fed fluids into her arm. Patches of fabric and metal circlets adhered to her body. Clean sheets covered her legs. She understood none of it. She closed her eyes and continued to wait out this incomprehensible ordeal.

    Now she floated in the tank again, and a multitude of wires connected with her skin with a bizarre sensation, a little like the way her pads felt on icy pavement. More numb than truly cold. The wires went up overhead and she could vaguely make out glass canisters of liquid fixed to the top of the tank.

    She was changing. She found it hard to perceive, hard to concentrate, but she could tell. Even through the clouds in her mind, she felt her body aching, saw it stretching out below her, tall and upright. She could feel sensations unfamiliar and strange: her tongue resting differently in her mouth, impossible to feel comfortable with. Her muscles twitched irregularly. Her extremities kept itching. Even her heart had changed. The beat against her ribs was slow and powerful, like the heavy thumping of human footsteps. A human heartbeat. She could hear it as a steady pounding in her head, slower than could possibly be right. She’d known she would change, but she’d thought of what she’d seen of evolution in normal pokémon, of instant growth and light. This wasn’t pokémon evolution that she was going through. It was a slow and gradual change. Like ageing. Like the growth of trees.

    Once, she woke up and tried to stretch, and she waved her paw in front of her face as she did. Her foreleg—her arm, it would be her arm—burned as she held her paw up, but she held it there all the same, to see the way her digits were lengthening. She tried to flex them, and they cramped up, making her whimper—a whimper that sounded strange in her head, a whimper that felt odd as it formed in her throat. It never arrived at her ears past the mask and the fluid; she heard it inside her own skull.

    She could see her paws nonetheless: pads pulled apart from each other and joints stretched out too far. They were neither paws nor hands now. They were ugly, useless, halfway things. Too stubby and crude to grasp with, but elongated enough that they would probably be hard to walk on. She imagined them stuck like this—useless for all but the most crude pokésign. She dared not move them much. They might stop growing.

    She tried to tell how long she’d been this way. Days? Moons? Seasons? Hard to guess, impossible to know. Electric lights illuminated the room from overhead in place of a dimming sun. No windows. No way to measure the suns and moons. As her ordeal went on, she tried to track time by remembering details: what level the fluid canisters were at, how many plasters she wore on her arm and where, how much further below her body her hind paws—feet—had stretched. She tried to count how many times these details changed and found that she always lost count after three or four.

    It never got easier to focus, to stay awake, or to control her body, but it did get easier to think. She struggled, but it became possible to hold an idea without her thoughts bleeding out of her head. The mental fatigue had become less raw, more like an irritating scab than a fresh cut. First it was just that her thoughts were clearer. Then she could recall details more readily. At last she was certain: the drip that fed into her arm had been changed six times since she started counting, half as many times as the plaster where the tube that bit her arm had been changed. She was certain too that she’d never recalled so many distinct moments at once. It was as if she’d slept her whole life away, to finally awaken in the tank.

    Holding many memories in her head to compare thrilled her enough, even through the continual, subdued panic of her submersion. If she could breathe freely, it would have stolen her breath just to consider something she’d heard and at the same time consider its context. At least, without the memory streaming out of her brain like water off her paw. More overwhelming still was the ability to think about both how she felt about something, and why she felt that way. The difference between remembering and understanding… She likened it to the difference between drinking water, and actually tasting it. For the first time, she could taste her thoughts. For the first time, she could ask herself…

    ‘Why didn’t I wait for Laura? What if she came back and found me gone? Will I ever see her again?’

    That was right. She had only ended up here in the tank, changing, because she’d left home however many moons ago. Why? Why had she done that? Hadn’t she realised that if she left, she might not ever find her way back? Of course she hadn’t. She’d been a purrloin. She couldn’t have known how to plan ahead for the consequences of her actions.

    Was she going to be able to plan ahead now?

    These thoughts did not thrill her. They terrified her.

    She could not escape the dark panic that came with such thoughts while remaining conscious. So she sought sleep again, and despite the cold bruise flowering in her chest, despite the burning of her skin and eyes, she found it. With sleep came an escape from these new and jagged ideas. Her dreams changed, too. She spoke fluent Galarish in a conversation with humans, full and plentiful sentences spilling out of her mouth like water from a tap. She stood as tall as them, and they met her eyes. They listened. They understood. She couldn’t make sense of her words, and when she tried to pay attention to the way her tongue moved to produce them, the dream wavered and reality threatened to pull her out of it. She stopped trying to listen to her own voice and willed the dream to continue. So long as she didn’t concentrate, she kept speaking. She would speak forever.

    Salem dreamed of talking to Laura, but the words were trapped in her throat and she choked on them, unable to make a sound. She dreamed of pokémon she’d met. Of signing with the mienshao from the pokémon shelter, fluently and at length. Of hissing at the glameow tomcat she’d seen as a stray. Of walking beside Church, the gentle gogoat-morph she’d met on her arrival. A hybrid she didn’t recognise, her red-rimmed mouth stretched wide and full of teeth, speaking to her, saying “well, soft cat, Salem, good well, all and happy.” The words swam in her ears, utterly meaningless but good, so good and so comforting.

    When she woke next, the ward’s lighting shone dimmer than before. A torrent of thoughts hit her, saying ‘is my body any different today,’ and ‘where’s Alisha is she here,’ and ‘Laura lied to me why would she do that,’ and ‘I’m going to live like this for the rest of my life,’ and ‘can I still become a liepard,’ and ‘I have never been this tired in my entire life.’ Not just feelings or half-concepts, but full, clear thoughts. A half dozen at once. Now a dozen. Bright, painful, beautiful thoughts.

    The green-soaked shadow of a human moved past her tank, unseeing and barely-seen.

    Salem’s body ached in every possible place: in her stomach and her limbs and her head and her pads and her eyes. Even her fur seemed to be hurting, impossible as that was. Once she’d paid attention to the cacophony of hurt she decided that the blunt pain behind her eyes was the worst of it. Still she made herself lift her forepaw in front of her face just to examine it one more time, as was her habit whenever she awoke.

    Five distinct digits, each long, dexterous and complete. A hand. An almost human hand, albeit still covered in dark fur, still with firm carpal pads, and still tipped with curved cat’s claws, but a hand all the same. One that could do everything a human hand could. A hand that could do anything at all.

    She curled her fingers into a fist, and squeezed. Her claws extended, and dug into her palm, but it felt more wonderful than painful. She’d never had such reach, such dexterity. She tried to flatten out her hand, then to waggle her fingers individually. The experimental flexing ached awfully, but the satisfaction overwhelmed the discomfort. Nothing had ever satisfied her so much. Not a meal, a warm bed, nor even a victory. This was the only moment that mattered.

    These were her hands. Her hands. Hers.

    Salem brought her other hand above her head, and the sudden effort made her pass out again. When she came to, the lighting was no different and she remained alone. She attempted a ginger, awkward stretch, and though her body complained in a chorus of aching bones and sore muscles, she felt faintly better for it. Simply floating where she was and listening to her body did not tell her much about the fullness of the changes she’d endured. All that she could be sure of besides her completed hands were her new size and proportions. Her size! She easily filled the tank. She could never fit curled up on a pillow now. Or squeeze inside cupboards. Or have her body stroked in one smooth motion from forehead to tail-tip.

    Perhaps, though, she could do other things. Maybe even better things.

    Salem waggled her hind-paws like her hands and to her vague surprise, they felt much the same as they’d always done. She tried flicking her tail and found that it was still very much there, hanging weightlessly in the tank fluid. That came as a relief. She couldn’t have accepted the loss of her tail. It seemed her limbs stayed her own.

    Her investigations continued, and for the first time it made sense why Laura had always made lists of things. With a human mind, you could feel satisfaction at so many things at once! Salem checked off items on an imaginary list as she tested each body part. She began to explore with her hands, starting with her face. Her fur remained, but the shape of her head was altered. Oh, she still had the same nose it seemed, and she discovered her ears where they’d always been, but the bones… the structure of her skull felt unfamiliar. New brain; new head to keep it in.

    A new brain. She would think differently now. Be different. A different person. That could mean anything. Now her new brain screamed at her with thoughts and memories and sensory input and fear and pain and tiredness and everything, everything, everything at once without letting up. She tried to gasp, but it died in her chest. She couldn’t bear to think about her own thoughts, not yet. Not for now.

    She couldn’t gasp, not properly. The mask that gave her breath also muted her. But gasping reminded her that she’d been promised a voice. Even with her jaw muzzled, she could move it as if she were trying to speak. She put a hand to her throat and tried to feel it vibrate as she mimicked human noises in the complete silence of the tank. She heard her own hums and whines in her skull like before, and she ached with yearning as her throat ached with effort.

    Every part of her body hurt to touch, from her neck to her abdomen. Her gut churned when she pressed into it. Her muscles cramped as she felt them. She felt as tender as if her entire body was nothing but a person-shaped wound. But the important part wasn’t that she felt like one enormous wound. It was being shaped like a person.

    Even overwhelmed by pain and exhaustion, she wanted to cry out with joy, to run and jump and climb, to roll about and stretch her limbs right out to their limit. Her fatigue rose to match her joy; she was so tired that it hurt. The emotions, the mental fog, the bodily pain, all of it was too much. This was too much, and she should be dreaming. She could still be dreaming even now, but for her newfound and unstoppable-unyielding-unrelenting ability to think and perceive and remember all together. Her eyes hurt from an unfamiliar pressure and her face contorted involuntarily as for the first time in her life, she managed to cry.

    She knew what crying was, of course. Laura had sometimes sobbed into Salem’s flank after difficult days, but Salem had never understood it. She understood it now, her chest heaving and her arms closing around her body as tears welled up in her eyes and dissipated instantly into the hazy green liquid of the morphing tank. Her sobs were silent, but each one hit her bruised frame like a tackle. She let them happen, some part of her relishing the new and entirely human experience even amid the pain.

    Eventually, she passed whatever threshold she had for endurance and passed into sleep once again.

    The process granted her no further conscious moments in which to think and feel. Only a fleeting mist of faint, tiny memories.

    Green shadows outside the tank.

    The roar of draining liquid.

    “Looking good, no problems here.”

    Gravity, absent too long, making its unwelcome return.

    “There we go. It’s okay. It’s okay, kitten.”

    The clashing scents of the waking world filling her nose.

    “Salem? Salem, can you hear me?”

    Her tongue, finally at ease in her mouth.

    “I hear you.”
     
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