Lucas typed rapidly away on the analog keyboard, testing out line of code after line of code. He typed in a change, tested it, and observed the results, writing them down in a document. He'd been at this for an hour. It was his routine every day after getting home - much to Meagan's displeasure.
Every morning he got the old laptop out, typing away before getting ready, and he did all he could after getting home from work. At work, he had access to machines that weren't astounding, but far better than this old thing. But when he wasn't at work, he needed a way to keep going, keep testing. The laptop was an ancient thing, being as much as ten years old. It wasn't able to compact, change into a tablet, or any other modern conveniences - but he liked the feeling of the analog keys.
It continued on and on, comparing the canis virus that was actively changing people throughout the world, and the later cancer treatments that had proved inert. Somewhere, he was certain, he would find the key to unlock this. It was incredibly unlikely he'd discover that key when he was combing through the virus's instructions by hand, rather than using an AI or a supercomputer - or both, but doing nothing on this pained him.
Lucas jumped a little at Ashley poking her head into the bedroom. She now had completely changed. Covered entirely in fur, two big drooping ears. She was so... different.
"Yes?" Lucas asked, making only a slight glance to her. He'd learned that looking directly at Matt or Ashley often led him to involuntarily making a displeased expression - and so not looking directly at them, while unkind, was preferable to the alternative.
"Mom has dinner ready."
"Alright," Lucas said, "tell her to put mine in the oven for now."
"She said specifically she wants you to come now."
Lucas let out a long pained sigh. It hurt him to not be working on this - but his nonstop working had been straining Meagan. They'd had a tense conversation several nights ago, where she said some things that sounded a lot like a suggestion to give up. He wished he had responded to her better.
"Okay," Lucas said, "I'm coming."
He got off of his and Meagan's bed, and made himself look presentable in the mirror the best he could. Walking out into the kitchen, he found a different scene than normal - the table was actually set, with a nice pork loin dinner.
Lucas suddenly realized how hungry he was - and hungry specifically for real meaningful food, not the bare essential, fast food stuff he'd been shoveling in. He immediately felt a deep guilt wash over him as he looked to his wife and children, and joined them sitting down.
He had been neglecting them. So much had happened, and he had responded with contempt rather than the love and nurturing a father should provide. Ashley and Matt were feeling more and more distant from him. He'd grown so obsessed with curing their disease at some future date, that he hadn't given mind to caring for them in the present.
There was a moment of awkward silence at the table. It had been a great deal of time, weeks, since they had actually sat around as a family at the table. He caught the gaze of Matt and Ashley, and looked deeply into their altered appearances. Lucas desperately wanted to help them feel like their home was a place they could relax - but then he looked at how they had changed...
"Eh hem," Meagan said.
Lucas looked to her, and she bowed her head - and began saying grace. Lucas was surprised, and the kids seemed to be as well. It had been... a very, very long time since something like this. The impression from Meagan was very clear - she felt that their family needed serious help.
When they said amen, and Lucas looked up and opened his eyes, he began to feel a growing weight on him. He needed to do something. He had gotten so entrenched in this cause that he had neglected a far more important one.
Meagan was trying to very hard to keep a strong face, but he knew what the difference between that look and an authentic one was. Matt surprisingly, seemed to be in a good mood, though slightly dampened by the uneasiness of the abnormal dinner. Ashley however, looked very tired, very weak. Even through her altered facial features, it was very obvious she was depressed.
Lucas had to do something. He had to heal this growing rift. He needed to apologize to Matt for getting so angry at him when he'd infected Ashley. He needed to be willing to reach out to Ashley, to talk to her.
"So," Meagan broke the silence," how has school been going for the both of you?"
"Good," Matt said confidently. "It's been a bit hard adjusting to everything - especially several of my friends now having canis... but it's been good to talk with them, know we all share that experience."
Ashley said nothing.
"I'm glad to hear that," Meagan said, "how has your coding class been going?"
Matt gave that trademark "I really don't want to talk about this," look. He obviously didn't like it, but at the same time claimed he wanted to go into computer science. Lucas had suggested he look at some other options then for a future career, but Meagan had been uneasy. She was insistent that Matt went into something he was sure to find a job in.
"It's going fine," Matt said. "You know something that I'm excited about though - tomorrow me and my friends are going to try to hold a support group thing for other canis people. I hope it works out well."
Meagan looked to Lucas with a blank expression. She was obviously trying to have a conversation about something that didn't have to do with the virus.
"I think that's a decent thing to do," Lucas said. "though be careful that in trying to comfort people, you don't... let's say, paint this all in too good of a light."
Matt blinked with a confused look on his face. "That was the last thing I was worried about, but alright."
"I just am seeing stuff online about people who... well, get really, really into this," Lucas said. "It concerns me."
"Why should it be concerning?" Matt shrugged. He took a bite of his food, as if his statement needed no explanation.
"You've all been transformed by a harmful virus," Lucas reminded, "it's not a game. You're all at risk for all kinds of complications as long as you aren't your normal selves. I don't think it's wise to get too comfortable with it."
"I don't know Dad," Matt said. "I understand that this is serious, and I do take it seriously - but any cure is at least years away. I don't see any real option for now other than accepting what's happened."
"I understand that," Lucas said, "but it needs to be done carefully. If you can live your life and be in good mental and physical health, I'm happy, but you need to remember that you're a human at the end of the day."
"Of course I'm a human," Matt smiled, "I just look a bit different on the outside."
"What I mean is," Lucas said, "you need to remember that being a normal human is who you really are, what you're supposed to look like. This... " - he gestured - "even if it isn't actively harming you, it isn't natural. I would avoid getting attached to it."
"And what if I do feel attached to it Dad?"
"Then you," Ashley spoke up, "are really, really, really weird."
Lucas locked eyes with Matt.
"I understand everything you're saying Dad. I get your concerns. But I feel perfectly alright. And being honest, when I look in the mirror - I don't know. I know I look strange, even a bit funny with my big floppy ears - but something about that... I feel like it suits me. I kind of like it."
Lucas didn't know how to respond to that - not at all.
"I...," Meagan said, "am not sure if this is such a good idea Matt."
"It's not like I can really control it Mom. Sometimes... the way I am... it just sort of feels good."
Lucas clasped his hands, and rested his chin against them. "However you feel about it, don't get used to it. I don't intend for this to take years. It's going to take months at worst."
Meagan gave Lucas a sharp look. "And how do you intend on getting all of this done so quickly?"
Oh dear. That was a mistake.
"I... okay. I understand that I've been working really hard..."
"You never stop," Meagan said. "As soon as you get home, that's when work should end."
"But Megan," Lucas said, "some days I don't get a lot of time to work on the cure. I have my work responsibilities, and they don't always allot me and the others time to work on this."
Meagan shook her head in disbelief. "Lucas... you need to accept the fact that this isn't going to be swiftly changed just by you. The cancer treatment all those years ago took the efforts of people around the world to work, and prying this problem open is going to take the same."
"I know you want to help Matt and Ashley, and all the people who have this, and I'm not telling you to stop - but I'm telling you that your biggest responsibility is to be here for your family."
Lucas was quiet for a moment. Breathing slowly, with intention. He straightened up.
"I'm sorry for my behavior," he said. "I will try to manage things better, keep my work from crowding out everything else."
Meagan nodded, and her eyes seemed to have some amount of relief in them.
"I want us to get back to normal," Meagan said. "That's all I want."
Matt shook his head. "I don't really think things will be normal again."
Lucas smiled. "Don't give up hope. We'll find a cure eventually."
Matt was silent.
He looked up, and stared Lucas square in the eye.
"I don't want to be cured."
Lucas's mouth slowly dropped open. Meagan and Ashley showed similar disbelief.
"I want to be there for Jackie. She feels happy like this, and I don't want to leave her. She needs someone like her to support her."
"So...," Lucas said shakily, unable to process this information, "you... you're going to forgo a cure... for the girl you've only been dating for a few weeks? You seriously want permanent changes to your body for someone you don't know all that well?"
"I do know her well Dad. I've known her for a long time, but in the past month, we've shared so much with each other. I feel closer to her than anyone else."
"I'm sorry Matt," Lucas said, "but it still feels like you're acting really flippantly. You are still just in high school."
"I love her Dad," Matt said confidently. "I'm not giving her up. I'm not blind, our relationship could change, but I only feel closer to her, stronger around her with every passing day. She needs me. If we ever broke up, perhaps I'd change my mind. You're acting like I'm flipping a switch to make this permanent. For all you know there's no cure and it already is. All I'm doing is deciding I'm not going to let this keep me from being happy."
"Being canis isn't going to just magically make you happy."
"I don't think that Dad. But I do honestly like who I am. I never thought about that much before the change, but now, people bully us, give us weird looks - and I'm forced to stand against those people and be confident in who I am. I'm a dog person, and I'm not ashamed of it. I feel happy because I see a path where I can feel comfortable with who I am, and find people like Jackie and Douglas who I can connect with."
Lucas shook his head. "You're going to change your mind Matt. This fleeting fascination with the weird and bizarre will wear off. It will cease being a novelty to you. All that will remain is the annoyances of what you have to deal with."
"I feel like it already has worn off Dad. Early on, every morning I would wake up, and have that sudden awareness of 'I'm a dog person now.' But now it's just who I am. At some point maybe it was strange and interesting to have a tail and fur, but now it's just 'that's my tail. That's my fur.' There's a lot of annoying things - the shedding, my paw pads getting in the way sometimes - but I feel okay with it. I think about my changes less and less."
Lucas let out one last, long sigh. "Alright. If this is what you want, fine. I can't do anything to stop you."
"You're mad at me," Matt said. He didn't look at Lucas as he said it. He just cut a piece of his pork loin.
"I'm not mad."
"Would you rather," Matt said as he took a bite, "that I be super depressed? That I just give up and act like my life will never be happy again, like Ashley is?"
"Shut up," Ashley shouted quietly, "and leave me alone."
Meagan gave Matt a cold glare for being rude to Ashley - but Matt didn't seem very remorseful at the moment.
"I don't know," Lucas said to Matt. "I don't understand."
"We," Meagan said, with a stern expression, "just don't want people to make fun of you. We don't want you..." she sighed in exasperation. "I don't know. Lucas?"
"He wants what he wants Meagan. We can't stop him."
"What a glowing endorsement," Matt said.
"It's not an endorsement," Lucas said. "Being clear, I don't really approve of this."
"You don't approve of something that you admit you don't understand."
Lucas frowned. It was really starting to set in that Matt was not speaking casually. He really meant this. He wanted to be this way, and he was willing to argue with Lucas over it. Matt was rarely so argumentative with him and Meagan.
"Sometime soon, Saturday perhaps," Lucas said, "I think I want to take you two to the lab, and test your condition."
Matt laughed. "What, you think you're going to find a specific gene I have that's 'making' me enjoy this?"
"When we last collected blood samples, we found that the virus was still active in you," Lucas said. "I am not going to rule out the possibility that it could be affecting your mind."
Matt was wide eyed. "Mom, this is crazy. I'm sorry that you all think I'm super weird. I can't explain exactly why I like this. I just do. Maybe I'll change my mind at some point, but you can't force me to change my mind."
In his son's eyes, Lucas saw something new - anger. Matt was seriously angry that they didn't want him to wag his tail like a dog. Lucas was dumbfounded. He and Meagan had thought until now that Matt had been a surprisingly mild teenager. Perhaps he'd been saving all that up for now.
Matt stood up from the table. "Thank you for the meal Mom. I think I'm going to go to Jackie's house."
As he left the room, Lucas nearly considered saying no to that. He recognized quickly however, that it would only prompt Matt to get more upset. And it felt... wrong. He'd be punishing his son... for disagreeing with him. And Lucas had no real evidence to support his view - only the gut feeling that it "felt wrong."
Meagan left the room without a word. Ashley finished eating soon afterward. Lucas was left alone, eating a meal that had grown cold.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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