I was jostled awake.
"Matt, wake up."
It was pitch black, barely a light to be seen. In a moment, someone - my mom had turned up the dimmer switch. I glanced out the window with bleary eyes. It was still very dark out. My watch revealed that it was just past one in the morning.
"Mom... Dad?" I groaned. "What..."
"Get dressed," my dad said, "it's time to go."
I ran my hand through my hair. I looked over to Jackie's side of the room to see her slowly getting up. Her mom was here too.
"Like... now?" I asked.
"Yes," my mom said as she packed up my things into some bags, "now."
My dad handed me some folded clothes. "Some people I know higher up in the company have informed me that the whole place is going under. The government is going to send people here in the morning and anyone still here is going to be quarantined."
I looked down at the clothes, then got out of bed and went into the bathroom. Where I'd been wearing loose fitting, casual clothes the past few days, this was a normal t-shirt and jeans. I put them on, glad to be wearing something that made me feel a bit less crappy.
When I put them on, I discovered something - like I had unfortunately expected, there was a hole in the back of the pants. This time however, they hadn't been hastily cut out, but craning my neck to look behind me, I saw that the hole was actually nicely sewn. I pushed aside this strange new change to my clothing, and pulled my tail through. It kind of felt nice actually, snugly fitting around the base of my tail.
I wagged my tail slightly, and panted. I glanced to the mirror. My muzzle had grown. It was maybe... two inches long. I pulled my tongue back in, and... my tongue... felt... comfortable.
I hadn't known it until that moment, but my tongue, being longer than normal, had always felt just a bit... off. Cramped. Now however... it felt right. For the first time, it felt right. I shuddered, and walked outside.
In my effort to push thoughts of that away, something else came to my attention. My fever was gone. It had ebbed and flowed over this past week, but had always been there. Now it was nonexistent.
Jackie had changed behind the divider. She was wearing a nice looking mint green blouse, with little fringes on the sleeves. It was in strong contrast to what she normally wore, with even her own jeans being a brighter blue than the subdued colors I'd always seen her in.
"You look pretty."
Her ears flinched as she glanced to me.
"Uh... thanks," she said. "I... I guess I'll see you again after... after all this stupid quarantine stuff is over."
"Yeah," I smiled.
I gave her a hug, and she hugged back without restraint.
"Thanks," she whispered. "... just... thanks."
As we hugged, I gave her a little scratch behind one of her ears. She giggled, and scratched one of mine. It felt really good - not just the way it tugged at my new canine instincts, causing me to wag my tail - but just that... that knowledge that she liked me. A girl actually liked me.
"C'mon," my dad said, "we need to get moving. Do you want that?"
He pointed to the Switch, where it sat in front of the TV.
"The Switch? That's not mine."
"The company is going under Matt, do you want it?"
"Dad... I dunno..."
"Look," he said, "this company has left you to struggle with this for the rest of your life, offering no help whatsoever. They should be giving us millions. No one is going to bat an eye."
I glanced back to it, and gingerly unplugged it, finding the case that it went in, and put the dock and controllers in one of the bags my mom had brought. My mom handed me another of the bags, and I tucked the switch case under my arm.
We all walked out of the room, barely a sound in the building. It felt eerie. All the the past nights here, I'd always been able to open up my hearing a bit, and hear some people working. Now though... the building seemed to be vacant.
My footpads pressed against the cold tile floor as we went down the hallway. A part of me questioned if the heating in the building was running. We came to the top of the stairs, and to my surprise, my dad directed us in a different direction.
"Just follow me, I need to grab something and I want you both close."
I waved bye to Jackie. I felt so many emotions stirring in her, in the fleeting glimpse I saw of her eyes. Mom and I followed Dad to the bank of elevators, and he pressed the call button. I felt a strong urge to ask Dad more about the situation - but I got the impression from his very off-brand demeanor that this was not the situation. Illegal stuff was going on right now - more illegal than just me stealing a Switch.
When we got into the elevator, my dad pushed the button for the basement - the second from the bottom one, two floors below ground level. I felt my fur prickle at the circulating air, and the tenseness my parents both had around them.
Upon the elevator doors opening at our destination. I noticed oddly that Mom and Dad started noticeably shivering. We began walking forward through barely adorned concrete rooms. It was cold, I could tell that... but I felt warm still. Even my foot pads felt relatively fine against the cold surface. It was all the fur, I knew. Dogs and wolves were better designed for the cold than humans were. Human... was I really still human?
"Gosh...," Mom asked... ," why is it so bone-chillingly cold down here? I feel like it must be warmer outside."
"You're almost right about that," Dad said.
We walked into a new room. On either side of us were rows upon rows of metallic boxes with thin pipes all over them, the boxes about the height of a person. In the center of the room were desks set up with monitors and keyboards. Junk was strewn all over the place. At one terminal was an employee.
"Oh," the man said, "I thought you were taking the night off Lucas."
"I was," my Dad said, "but I've heard from people I know higher up that this ship is going down. I'm getting Matt home. Jackie's mother just got her, and I contacted the families of the other patients. I recommend you get home before morning."
"Home? I can't leave right now Lucas. I need to - "
"Well if you want to live here for at least two weeks Clive, then stay. I just came down quick to check in on any progress on the last batch we started."
"This... is a lot to take in Lucas. You sure? Like really sure? There's a lot of people who - "
"I'm pissed off too Clive, but there's nothing we can do. Pack it up. You'll have to hope that we get access to this again... eventually."
Clive pinched the bridge of his nose, and then looked up. He looked at me.
"Gosh kid... that virus really messed you up."
"I've been dealing with it alright," I said.
"All you can do really," Clive said. "As for your batch Lucas, it's running slower than expected. Someone had left their own batch running that you hadn't seen when you started it."
"Hmph. Fine. Maybe someday I'll get to pick up where I left off. For now though, like I said, say your last goodbyes, grab up any belongings, because this is gonna be government property in not too much longer."
Clive leaned down and I heard him whisper a curse. My dad turned to the towers surrounding us, and placed a hand down on one of them.
"This is what has been helping us solve this problem," he said. "It was also what created it in the first place - well, I suppose its grandaddy did. Inside these boxes quantum chips are chilled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero."
"Wow," I said, touching the metal box. I wished that I could open it up, examine the technology that had transformed me as though with magic. But from the times that I'd learned about molecules and atoms in school, it knew that opening it up would show virtually nothing - like trying to learn about people living on a street by reading their addresses. I barely understood it all no matter how much I tried. For whatever reason, Ashley seemed to understand Dad perfectly when he talked about all this.
As I was looking at the towers and their complex piping, out of nowhere, I felt something catch me in the leg, and i lost my balance. I hit my palms against the floor, but none of the pain I expected came. The switch case and my bag fell out of my grip, and a bunch of the switch games scattered around.
"Oh, sorry Matt," my dad said, having fallen down as well, "there was some water on the floor and I slipped."
"It's okay," I gritted my teeth a bit as I stood up. I turned over my hands, expecting them to be skinned against the concrete... but no. That's right. I had paw pads now. They were unharmed. Other than some fading joint pain in my wrists, I felt fine.
My dad got down on his knees, and helped me put the games back in the case. I noticed that he'd knocked some stuff off the table that Clive had been working at. Knocked onto the floor was some sort of terminal with a bunch of connections in it. My dad picked up one of the spilled game cartridges - but it was different from the others. The card's connectors were much newer looking than the 2010s looking switch games. My dad slid it into one of the game slots in the case, making no mention of it.
Something... had just happened. I didn't know what.
We left, going back upstairs, and then finally to the doors, the ones I'd entered on Monday - what felt like a whole lifetime ago. The air of the winter night struck, but again, not nearly as cold as I was expecting. I continued walking up to the edge of the parking lot as the slight breeze ruffled my fur.
"This is... weird."
"What?" my mom asked as she pulled her hood up. My dad pressed the button on his keys to call the car.
"The cold... with my fur I don't feel it nearly as much. I'm not even wearing shoes and I feel fine."
My mom didn't comment. She looked over me the same way everyone did. That mix of so many thoughts, unsure how to respond.
Despite the continued existence of my problems however, I felt... calm. I felt wrapped in a blanket fitted to my body. My ears could pick up the echoes of the wind against nearby mountains. And as always, I realized again how much smell factored into everyday experience. It felt... simple, focusing on these senses. I curled my fur covered toes, the snow crunching beneath my footpads. I felt free. I was outside. The world was there in front of me again, even though it was veiled in the dark of the night.
The car stopped in front of us, and I got into the backseat with my bags of things. Even though I felt fine outside, it did feel good being out of the weather, even though the car's heater had only just barely started running.
Dad let out a long breath, leaning back in his seat as we drove away from the Generation facilities. We were halfway home when Dad finally sat back up straight. He turned off the car's main display.
"Matt, turn off your tablet," he instructed, turning back to face me.
He kept his eyes on me while I did it, and then when the light on my tablet went out, he turned back forward.
"We did it," he sighed. "Hopefully."
"Did... what?" I asked. "A lot of... illegal things?"
"Yes," Dad said, "Thank you for staying mostly quiet and not asking too many questions."
"Hand me that SD card in the Switch case."
I did so.
"This thing," he held it up, "is a very, very valuable prize. It came at a very high risk. No one but us can know about this."
"Al - alright."
"No one. Not Ashley. Not Jackie. Not your friends."
"What is it?"
"Very important data," he said. "We lost the quantum supercomputer, and so now we'll have to comb through it by hand. The bottomline is, it's company secrets about the treatment that we have now stolen. If I get caught with this, I could go away for a long, long time. Understand?"
"Yes," I said weakly. This situation was pounding stressfully against my brain. I was not ready for this.
"I apologize for the theatrics with the fall and everything," Dad said, "but the security cameras are all over. If - and likely when - people start going through all the footage on those cameras, the worst they'll see is a frustrated employee jumping ship - just like all the others, and getting his son out of there."
"And stealing a switch," I mumbled.
He chuckled. "Like I said, they owe us. If I owe anything to anyone, it's the people of the world who are afflicted with the virus, who need all this leaked data. And heaven willing, I'm going to spend the rest of my life fighting for them."
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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