by Jason Shockley
I remember awakening, but I did not open my eyes. Within the self-induced darkness I gathered what I knew of me. My memory had fled; I could remember little, other than the fact that I had lived once. But there was a voice that cried out from the back of my mind, its whispers echoing within the caverns of my psyche, telling me that something was different.... something was wrong.
My mind reeled, considering the possibility that Death had finally come for me and my state of disjointed mentality was Heaven.... or Hell. The churning mental gears chewed on the idea, but the end result was neither. I could feel no torment, and the missing memories of me were hardly a blissful state. My mind, undaunted, came up with the suggestion of Limbo.
As I sighed, not knowing whether I was heading in the right direction of thought. Was I dead at all? I got my answer. A bolt of pain slammed through my chest as it expanded and I groaned at the sudden sensation. With my missing memories it felt as if it was the first time I had ever felt pain. The soreness spread down, seeping into every cell, burning like my entire body was being cast in molten steel. I was alive.... dead men felt no pain.
The pain slowly subsided, but did not disappear. It remained as a throbbing pulse within my flesh, a constant reminder that I was alive for now. My eyes parted with the assurance of life and I surveyed my surrounding for the first time.
The room was painted an off-white, the same eggshell color as the bed which I was resting on. The walls were featureless save for a large, oaken door with no doorknob, just a touch-sensitive pushplate. My senses slowly started to assimilate the items around me. The air was sterile, no smell whatsoever to it. There was a faint click in my head, like a door being unlocked.... a hospital, I was in a hospital and a dreking good one at that.
My head swiveled to the side, resisting the creaking stiffness that rested in the multiple joints of my spine. A large IV tube ran into the underside of my burly arm, disappearing beneath the walnut colored fur on it. I flexed my thick fingers and felt the pain rising up again, screaming at me to never try such a stunt again. I was still alive though.... I had to keep checking for it was still the only thing I was sure of.
But if I was still alive what was it that I felt was wrong? I looked along my body, searching for signs of surgery. The same dark brown fur layered my entire body, even covering my palms with a soft fuzz. It was stiff and wiry, much like the bristle of a brush. If there were any surgical scars, the fur hid it well. I slowly decided that no surgery had been done to me. Illness maybe? Yes... an illness, that had to be it. I must have been sick, and they brought me here to rest.
Again the sludge of my mind moved aside allowing a small memory to slip through. I remembered being on a yacht, a large one with scarlet red trim along gleaming, ivory white sides and the name The Sea Falcon along the one side in huge black letters. It was a party... yes, a large party, a celebration of some special event, but I could not recall what it was.
It must have been there I became sick for I could feel that this was the last memory I had before awakening here. I concentrate hard trying to dredge the depths of my synapses and come up with more. Bits of conversation between me and other guests floated up. I had been in the middle of some discussion of finances when I had blacked-out, my body suddenly going slack and impacting with the hard floor as my consciousness drained away.
I sighed again, the pain in my body this time was less... I must be recovering quickly. I swung my head to the other side of the bed, looking for more clues to the life I had before. A small picture frame was propped up on a macroplast table. Within was a color holoprint of two men. My eyes concentrated on the two of them. They looked much alike -- tall, maybe 1.8 meters for the elder of the two, 1.6 for the younger -- and a bit lanky. Their hair was almost the same color of brown except one had a slightly more blond tinge to it. They were definitely related; the proof was in the eyes. Even through the replicate holo I could see a cold determination in those brown orbs, the stare of professional predators.
Maybe they were brothers. I looked again.. no. There was a large age difference, perhaps uncle and nephew, but I would lay my money down on father and son. As I reached over and lifted the small picture in one hand, something nagged at me that the picture was too small, that I should have to use two hands. A third sigh passed my lips, my memory seems to be very bad, it is not even making sense anymore.
Something is familiar about the older man... I could almost remember his name. I scratched at my forehead, rubbing my thick fingers between two jutting, bony projections that grew from just above my temples. My eyes rolled up, trying to look at them, curious as to their appearance. Out of the side of my eyes I was able to catch sight of the black pointed tips of what were obviously long, smooth horns. I smiled to myself and could only imagine how handsome they looked on me, I'd have to ask for a mirror when I saw someone... if I saw someone, I hadn't seen a doctor yet in this place... maybe my assumption of a hospital had been wrong.
My attention slowly drew back to the picture in my muscular hands and the name of the elder slid forward into the light. Theodore Pliekov. Yes, he was the one throwing the party, he and I were friends, good friends. I remembered now, the memories of our times together flooded forward swamping my troubled neurons. He was a businessman of high caliber, a powerful CEO. I struggled for the name of the corp. Aegean Something Something and Research. I tsked mentally at my memories, praying for them to return further.
But as this tide of memories rushed in, the name of the boy eluded me still. I stared at his image, haunted by it. I didn't realize how long it was, but I seemed to have been caught in a reverie by his picture. It was only the slow scraping of the oak door in my room that awoke me. The brilliant light flooded in and I discovered that my room had been unnaturally underlit; strange that I should notice it now.
Through the bright opening stepped a short woman, her sandy blond hair pulled back in a tight bun. She wore a crisp white lab coat with the symbol for the Athens' Medical Care facility emblazoned over her right breast. Her skin was bronzed with a light reddish cast over it. She smiled softly as she noticed I was awake. It was a perfunctory smile given to every paying customer I am sure, a grin of perfect teeth that said 'I'm being nice because you have cash.'
She sauntered to my bedside, her shoes clacking steadily against the marble floor. Her smile broaden, becoming even more phoney, more forced. Something disgusted her... I disgusted her. I could not figure out why, so far everything about me had checked out, I was perfectly normal.
"How are you doing? It is nice to see you awake," her voice flowed out with fake sincerity. She couldn't have given a devil rat's ass about me.
I decide to play along though. "Fine," I rasped... or at least that is what I thought I said. My voice seemed gravelly, and unusually deep. There was a slight pain to my speech, perhaps the injury had been to my throat.
The slitch doctor nodded, so she must have understood. She looked carefully down at me, and the smile faded away to reveal her true feeling of disgust for me. She fixed the faux smile back into place and looked into my eyes. "Do you know what happened to you?" Her voice was cold, and gravelly serious. It sound as if she was asking 'Do you know you are going to die in three minutes?' I shivered and shook my head, my neck popping at the effort.
"Don't worry, some of your memories will return in time, it is part of the strain put on your body in the last week." Strain? What was she talking about? She sighed and handed me what she obviously considered something akin to a death sentence. "You have gone through kuwaru." I racked my troubled mind... Japanese, I knew that, but this remained part of my lost memories..
In the distant recess of my mind something filtered forth. She was talking about goblinization -- or, as the scientific community called it, Unexplained Genetic Expression. For the last decade people had been turning into creatures of myth... orks, trolls and in Greece, minotaurs. It wasn't as common an event as it was 10 years ago, but it still happened. Large numbers people would simply collapse one day, their body mutating into a new form. There was no reason why it happened, only misfortune. And most of all.... there was no reversing the process. The mental dam collapsed as the realization came through that I had been human, but now was this... monstrosity of a creature.
She looked down at me, reading my expression and sensing my dread. "Mr. Pliekov? We have set up arrangements with your family. There will be a personal trainer to help you adjust and a servant...." Her voiced trailed away as I stared at the picture, looking at the young man, of how I used to be. I could hear the voices saying 'Theodore Plievok III, this WAS your life.' My hand slowly closed as I shut my eyes, I barely heard the picture being crushed....
It was a month before they released me. My life in the hospital had been one of pure physical torture as I was 'retrained' to use my new body. The change had destroyed the balance and coordination I had had in my body, along with rearranging my entire neural pathways. I had spent a week alone just learning how to walk again.
I had managed to gain back most of my memories of life as a human, but many of the skills that I had acquired during my normal lifetime had been lost. I guess I had been a type of protege, with a particular flair for business skills, at least that is what all the Tri-D articles about me said. But after kuwaru had come, I could not even read. Iconoliterate is what they called it. The ability to recognize letters and symbols, but not being able to understand their meaning. Even now I could only read at the level of a seven year old child, and according to what the nurse had told me I had been able to fluently speak four languages before.
It was the gift of a privileged life. Growing up a billionaire's son had given me access to all the perks. Even now, in my altered state, I was still privileged, though I could say with complete assurance that those perks had been seriously decreased. The natural thing for my father to do would have been to ship me off to a Minotaurian Enclave, one of the numerous settlements of minotaurs that have grown outside of cities around Greece since the Awakening hit the world and changed us all.
Instead of shipping me off though, we were on our way to my new home, the former vacationing home we had some miles outside of regenerated city of Sparta. It had been refitted for my special needs and I was even provided with my own servant. All of this was coming out of the pocket of generous Aegean Oil Refineries and Shipping, my father's business. Of course this was done in such a way that no one who looked at the records could tell that the money was financing a hidden lifestyle for the head CEO's mutant son, only that they were being used for medical care of a valued stockholder. This at least was true. It seems before my change I had amassed my own tiny fortune amounting to somewhere near five or six million nuyen.
Of course, those skills were forever lost to me; I was now dead weight to my family. I trudged slowly up the front porch, following in my father's wake. I was able to stare down at the man for once, but it gave me no pleasure. He hated me, he dreaded what I had become. He had made no attempt to hide his disgust for all Metahumans; Elf, Troll, Dwarf, Ork, it made no matter to him. But Minotaurs bore the brunt of his dislike, and now he could only keep it under a thin veil of civility for his lost son's sake.
My elder step-brother, Alexander, walked beside him. He was from my mother's side, so he and I had never looked alike. Of course now we were totally different. He was short; he almost could have been mistaken for the dwarven metahumans that appeared in 2011. His hair was sandy blond and long, tied into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He was by no means handsome, with a rotund face that bordered on fat, but right now he could easily beat me in a beauty contest.
My mother was back in the limo. Her long strawberry blonde hair was pulled under a wide-brimmed hat. She was dressed all in black, mourning her loss of me. I knew that she did not want this to happen, but did not dare speak out against my father. She sobbed softly as she watched me leave, holding tight to my six-year old sister, Iliyana.
God, I thought, what if this happens to her too. It was very possible. Since Iliyana and I carried similar genes, it was possible the ones that caused me to be a minotaur were in her too. I pushed the thought from my mind. Lana was too beautiful a child, with bright green eyes and a constant smile, to have such a thing to occur. If there was a God, it would not happen.
I trounced through the door, following my father and brother down the hallway past a row of family portraits. I turned my eyes from the holos, not wanting to remind myself more of what I had been. My footfalls became heavy as we entered the kitchen.
Sitting at the table was a young man with raven hair. His body was noticeably small, short and very bony. His dark hair was cropped close and shaved at the back and sides. He was wearing a light black, cotton shirt and pair of jeans, an odd sign of informality that almost never occurred whenever my father was near.
The only thing that might have been of note on him was the gleaming silver half-sphere that rested in his temple and the four similar items that ran up his arms. The temple datajack was about seven centimeters across with a two centimeter hole in it. It was not an uncommon thing for a person to have one, as it helped facilitate working with machines by allowing a direct mental connection. But the i/o ports that ran along his arms signaled that the cybernetic implant was used for more.
Those small domes were the links to a system that ran through his entire body and allowed him to control a vehicle by sheer thought when he was plugged into it. The procedure was expensive, particularly for the level of complexity his was installed at, and only certain types of people had it installed. I recognized it instantly as a Vehicle Control Rig, a device any halfway decent vehicle pilot had in his body. Many high-class cars couldn't even be operated without them.
My father gestured, "Theodore. This is William Alexis. He'll be your servant and chauffeur." Natch, give me someone so I don't have to do anything that might give away this dirty little secret. Very keen, father, very keen. "There is a Phaeton limo in the garage and your yacht is out back." My yacht... my present for my thirteenth birthday, and the place where the change began. Thanks, dad, I know you really want me to have it..... right! You just don't want to be reminded of me any more than you have to.
My father smiled softly to me, his eyes filled with pain. I had betrayed him by becoming this form. I had betrayed everything I believed in and worked for. I can't remember what he said, but he smiled once more, turned and left. That was the last time I ever saw him....
I awoke quickly, the dream fading away with the breaking of morning's light. I slid out of my enormous bed and walked over to the window, staring at the sun rising up in the east, signaling a new day for all but me.
I shook the cobwebs from the inside of my skull. The dream of the change always left me groggy and a little disturbed and recently it had been occurring with greater frequency. I thundered into the bathroom, splashing water onto my face to give myself a sudden wake-up call. I glanced into the mirror and sighed at the reflection. I stood over two and a half meters and was somewhere in the range of two hundred kilos. My body looked like a huge furry wall and my face looked like... well it looked like a bull's head with two enormous tusks jutting out from beneath my lower lip. My eyes blinked as I turned on a light, the heat searing my now sensitive eyes. Three years and I still had not adjusted to my thermographic vision.
I rested my hands on the sinks edge, and listened to it groan under my weight. Three years I had been in this house, never leaving for shame of my appearance. Never once stepping into the light for fear someone might see me.
I sighed as I heard my manservant calling from the kitchen, "Mr. Pliekov!! Breakfast is on!!"
I turned and shambled to the kitchen, throwing on a tattered bathrobe as I passed by my closet. I shook my head and howled back, "I'll be right there, Will!! And call me Theo!" I haven't ever been comfortable with Will calling me Mr. Pliekov, but he never stopped. I cinched up the sash to my robe and trudged down a hallway of blank walls. I had taken down all the pictures of my family, I really wasn't in the mood to be reminded constantly of the betrayal.
As I entered the kitchen a I looked out to the patio. The sun's rays were making it around the house, illuminating the bright sea that stretched out behind the deck. I used to go out there when I was human, when I was normal. I would sit on the railing and watch as the ships sailed by. It was one of the things I had lost in the change. And worse, it was intentional. I could go out anytime I wanted, but I was ashamed of my form and had lost my freedom as such.
I nestled into a large minotaur-sized chair that rested on one side of an eating nook. There was little formality around here, save for William calling me Sir and Mr. Pliekov. I smiled at my servant as he set a large plate of five poached eggs in front of me, accompanied by 14 strips of bacon. It was a drawback to my size that I was forced to consume large amount of protein to keep myself healthy. Will placed himself across from me with a similar, but much smaller, meal in front of him.
I glanced over at him, amazed at how at ease he always seemed around me. I had never known Will to shy away from my massive form or any of my idiosyncracies that came with it.
I shook my head at the raven-haired human. William Jacobs, that was his real name and it had taken me two years to glean that bit of information from him. He was rather secretive, but nothing I would note as devious. He was 19 -- well he claimed to be, but I knew he was younger than that. He also said he was a runaway; somehow I had by slight doubts about that as well.
"Will?" I asked as I dug into my breakfast, "Tell me the truth, about your parents and your age. You owe it to me."
He paused and glared at me with deep blue eyes, attempting to stare me down. I glowered back and he relented. "I'm thirteen." Three years younger than I... interesting. He sighed deeply, "And my parents were killed in a firefight between some gangs and the London Police when I was five. I would have been dead, but a bunch of street kids helped me out. I made a life for myself in The Squeeze." I nodded. The Squeeze was London's version of the Minotuarian Enclaves. It was a huge district where they kept all the Orks and Trolls that appeared. Government patrols made sure that no one escaped; it was little more than a nice concentration camp. If Will had grown up among them, no wonder he was so comfortable around me; I was 'normal' to him.
"By the age of eight," he continued, picking at his meal, "I was ripping off cars with the best of them, making a good deal of money at it too. And by nine, I was repairing them as well. I found a dwarf who let me work at his chauffeuring business after he caught me trying to hotwire a limo that had happened into The Squeeze for some shady business. Well... a year later I had enough nuyen to get these implanted." He held up his arms and I nod again, "And after that, I was on easy street, doing servant work for rich folks like yourself."
I blinked, digesting his story with my meal. I swallowed a egg and watched him carefully, "You don't like it here." It wasn't a question, but a statement, a blatant fact.
Will nodded, "The Squeeze might have been fatal for me eventually, but it was exciting. I don't want to stay here anymore than you do." He knew my unspoken desire to leave. He also knew I couldn't bring myself to go. I had nothing; without my mind I was meat for the beast.
I glanced at the small human. I liked him and I felt a kinship with him, both of us were without a family, abandoned one way or another. I set down my fork and glanced back at the railing of the patio. I turned to Will and smiled, "Care to join me on the patio?"
He stared at me, knowing I never went outside under any circumstance. If something had to be done I sent him to do it. He must have thought I was starting to go mad. But if he did, he decided to humor me and nodded.
The air was tangy with the smell of salt water as we stepped out onto the deck. I ran my fingers over the wooden banister and recalled my times as a child here... a human child. I glanced up at the sea. I could feel Will watching me, knowing that I was thinking back to my times here.
My backside settled on the familiar banister, settling into it. My mind was trapped for an instant in the belief that I was back to being a human of age nine sitting here watching the ships pass by as I worked on my studies. Then my reverie was shattered by the sound of snapping wood, and the sensation of falling as the unreinforced banister gave way under me.
The sensation of falling to the ground was odd. It was ten meters to the hard rocky surface below, but I had more than enough time to realize this. It was amazing how quickly I could feel my death approaching, and how much time I seemed to have to regret things in life.
It was a century and half in my mind before I hit the pointed rocks below. I groaned in pain as my eyes fluttered open. My entire backside hurt, but I could move. I slowly took count. Broken bones? No. Cuts? I didn't feel any blood, and I had heard there was a thick cartilage layer in minotaur skin. Bruises? One or two I was sure.
I slowly stood and looked up to Will. I nodded that I was all right. My mind reeled at the thought, I had survived a ten meter drop with only a few bruises!! I was invincible, or at least darn close to it by 'normal' human standards. I smiled for the first time since the change and whispered to the world, "I understand what I am now, and what trades have been made." My mentality had slipped away but now I had a body that was tougher than any human's.
"Will, get the boat!!" I screamed, "We are leaving this place. We no longer belong here." I awakened to the horizon before me, and for the first time, my eyes were opened.
Acknowledgments: The author wishes to thank FASA for creating the system in which this story is based. I also want to thank James Flunker, who introduced me to ShadowRun. Most of all I want to thank Ben Zitterkopf who has sat through my devious scenarios for the game while I improved the characters used for the story. And a huge thanks to everyone in the class who actually read my whole story and helped me sort the numerous errors out. Thanks.
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