Jackie did not want to think. She focused on the feeling of her paw pads hitting the floor as they ran. Gosh she wished they could split up and search for Lucas separately, but that was a sure way to get them into trouble.
After a long stretch of nothing happening, a muscular man suddenly burst through a door and punched Clive in the side.
Patrick drew his gun, pointing it at the man.
"You make another move," Patrick said. "Just try."
The man made an amused smile. "This is what Seth gets for not letting more people into his confidence. He could've had guards at the front. More researchers in his lab. He touts his broader, larger organization, but -"
"Shut up," Clive said, sticking the barrel of his pistol into the man. "Take us to Seth."
"Take me to Melina first."
"Melina?" Clive asked. "You mean the woman who kidnapped Matt and Ashley so you could do this to them?"
He gestured to the two dogs. Matt growled slightly.
"Yeah," the man said candidly, "take me to her."
"We didn't see her," Patrick said.
"Liar," the man scowled. "You are lying. She's not answering her phone, or anything. You did something to her."
Matt barked, and began heading off down one hallway. Clive was confused for a moment, then nodded to the rest of the group to follow, making sure to keep their guns trained on the man. They found themselves at an open door, leading into a carpeted room.
With great revulsion, Jackie realized this was where Matt and Ashley had been held. There were dog beds, food bowls... and a place to relieve themselves. It was just.... how could someone do this to other people?
Then they heard a whimper in the corner, and noticed something.
A dog. A border collie. It sat amidst discarded pieces of clothes.
"Holy shit," Clive whispered.
Their hostage, oblivious to the threat of being shot, ran to the dog.
"Oh God!" he yelled. "What did they do to you?"
Jackie just... couldn't believe it. That dog... was Melina?
"You bastards!" the man yelled. "I'll -"
Before Clive or Patrick could even shoot, Matt pounced onto him, and bit him on the leg just above the ankle where skin was exposed. The man screamed and fell to the ground, but Matt held on. Jackie averted her eyes from the gruesome scene.
Patrick and Clive kept their guns on him as Matt released. He laid there prone on his stomach, breathing heavily. Matt patted the man's back pocket with a paw. Clive walked forward, pressing his gun against the man, then pulled out his wallet.
"An access card," Clive held up with satisfaction. He scratched Matt behind the ears. "Good boy."
Matt barked and wagged his tail. He did so happily, but... but for some reason seeing that blank look on Matt's face made Jackie feel sick.
Clive took away a few of the man's other things - his tablet, car keys - then went to what seemed to be the remains of Melina's clothes.
"Yep," Clive said, as Patrick trained his gun on the wounded man. Clive held up an ID. "Melina really became a dog."
He shook his head in disbelief.
"I just... I just can't believe how something like this could happen," Meagan said.
"Umm...," Patrick said, "I think I might have an idea."
They looked to the man as he clutched his wound. He had taken off his shirt and held it against the bite to hold back the blood. But something strange was happening. White and black hairs were growing on his arms. Then on his chest.
"I'm going to get you all for this," he said. "Especially for what you've done to Melina. Her life collapsed all around her, and you treated her like dog shit. I hope you're happy."
Matt whimpered slightly, backing away. Ashley did too. It was obvious then, that the two had been behind Melina's change as well. Jackie knelt down to them.
"They kidnapped you," Jackie said, discomfort in her voice from looking Matt in the eyes. "They did this to you. They do not deserve your remorse."
Matt swallowed, and slowly nodded.
The man suddenly let out a guttural cry of pain, causing Jackie's ears to perk straight up in fright. His face began cracking, pushing out, forming a snout on the end. His ears peaked and traveled up his skull.
"Oh my gosh!" Meagan cried out, "how on Earth is it happening so fast?"
It was horrible. Like something Jackie had seen in a hundred-year old monster movie.
"I don't know," Clive said, "forget him, we need to keep moving, especially if he's alerted Seth."
The group left the room, Patrick taking the rear and keeping his gun pointed at the transforming man, then slamming the door. Jackie glanced back, and the man was able to open the door, before collapsing.
"Leave him," Clive told Patrick. "I got his and Melina's guns."
Clive turned to Jackie as they went up some stairs.
"You know how to use a gun?"
"I... it's... it's been a long time..."
"Okay," Clive said, "doesn't matter. I'll carry the extra."
After their long search down one wing of the building, on the second floor they finally found what they were looking for - a hallway blocked by a door that required a keycard. Clive scanned it, and they were able to get in. There was the sound of someone talking in the second door to their right, and they went inside.
It was a lab of some kind. By the looks of it, one that had been used as a classroom. Clive had mentioned this used to be a satellite research center for a university.
"Ah, you're back," Seth said, his back turned, looking at a computer monitor. "So what was the ruckus..."
He turned around and realized that he had not been talking to his lackey. They were in a lab -
"Well dammit,* Seth said casually. "I suppose this is what I get for not taking the time to learn how to use the security system."
Jackie didn't much care for what Seth was saying - she was focused on the fact that Lucas was handcuffed to some lab appliance near Seth. He looked in their direction, a strong stoic look on his canine face.
"We're done here Seth," Clive said, pointing his gun.
"Ah, Clive," Seth said, "it's been a long time. And Patrick, you finally got out of your job in Generation's security - well, obviously we all got out of that company one way or another. Not all of us went up in the world though, I see."
"Can it," Patrick said, his own gun pointed firmly at Seth. "You know that both of us will shoot."
"Of course," Seth said. "You have me. What can I do for you?"
"Release Lucas," Clive said.
Seth snorted in derision. "Awfully rude of you all to go back on our agreement."
"You turned my children into dogs," Meagan said.
"Ah," Seth said, "it's been a while since I've seen you Meagan. DIdn't recognize you, what with the deformities and all. Surprising to me that you'd be so upset, considering your children actually look more correct now than they did last week."
"You're a sick man Seth."
"Everyone is so hostile," he said with a deep sigh. "I've done bad things, yes, I don't deny that. But because of the contributions of your children, I've gained more from this research than I would've from a decade of going through 'proper' channels."
"You were just like this before Seth," Meagan said. "You spoke at length about making great advances, but for what? We learn in science, we develop technology so we can help people. You however, are a sick monster who thinks it's funny to turn someone into an animal."
"You," Seth said, "do not know my mind. I do want to help people - but I want to help billions of them. We've long held the power to cure some of the worst afflictions known to humanity, but have been too afraid to do so. Someone needs to break through. Someone needs to show that it can be done - I don't even care if I go to jail, as long as this research leads somewhere. But all of you... you will hide this from the world. Hide that somehow, in a way I have been unable to parse out... your family and some others with the virus are different."
He crossed his legs, seeming completely relaxed. "But... I'm so close to figuring out why."
"You just want my husband as your guinea pig."
"I thought that's what we agreed to?" he asked. "Despite the fact that you have broken into my lab, I'll even let you take your children."
"And then you're going to turn Lucas into a dog too," Meagan seethed. "What is your plan exactly? Are you seriously going to write some research paper on how you turned some people into dogs?"
Jackie was growing more and more on edge. Seth however, seemed far too relaxed as the rest of them seemed to grow more furious. Why were they letting him go on and on?
Her thoughts were interrupted as she found a gun pressed into her hands. Meagan didn't look down at Jackie, keeping her gaze firmly on Seth. It was then that Jackie realized that Seth hadn't been able to see her very well, as she'd been mostly behind a cabinet. Breathing deep, she crouched down, and slowly began sneaking around the lab counters.
"They already had the agent in them that allowed it to occur," Seth said. "I was simply trying to cure them, on their request, when this regrettable outcome occurred."
"You're an idiot," Clive said, "if you think that's plausible deniability."
"It is ambiguous," Seth said, "which is all that I require. As I said, I simply want to give the boulder a push down the hill. If I end up in prison, so be it. All that matters to me is that people aren't so put off by these discoveries that they refuse to ever again engage in this research."
"You've made your case," Clive said, "now I'll make mine. I have a gun pointed at you, and it'll be hard for you to fulfill your dreams if you're dead."
Seth laughed as Jackie drew closer to the aisle at the back of the room he was in. Gosh she hated him.
"But I didn't say 'I rest my case', now did I?" Seth said. "My case in this situation - you want Lucas. I want you to cut your losses and leave."
"And again," Clive said, "I have the gun in this situation."
Jackie was close enough now as she crouched at the edge of the aisle, to see a dark, wicked smile grow on Seth's face.
"And in this situation," Seth said, "I have the true threat."
He raised a tablet from where it was concealed in his pocket. He held his thumb hovering near the screen.
"Right now, at any moment," he said, "I can send a signal to the collars those two dogs are wearing. In those collars is one small battery - but one that is strong enough to deliver a lethal electric charge."
Everyone was silent.
"Maybe eventually," he went on, "if I feel generous - like say, a year or so from now, I'll give you your husband back. Maybe he'll even be a human again - a real, normal human. But if you shoot me now, I will kill your children. Do you understand?"
Jackie shot Seth in the wrist, and he cried out in pain. She had aimed for the phone itself, but it had been a long time since those hunting trips with her Dad when she'd been younger.
Clive rushed for Seth, but Seth knew enough to run. He pushed past Jackie, then struggled to simultaneously turn the door handle, and transfer his phone to his uninjured right hand.
And Jackie's heart beat in slow motion. Seth pressed the button on the screen.
I came loose of the collar just in time, as I heard it emit a violent crackling buzz. Knowing Mom had gotten Ashley's off too, I had no other thought in my mind but attack. This man had hurt my family so much. I jumped onto him as he went out the door. We both came down onto the old carpet, and he kicked me before I could bite him.
He got through the keycard door that connected to the rest of the facility, and I barely wriggled through after him. I kept running, running... chasing him... but I was so tired.
I wanted to attack this bad, mean man... but I wanted to rest. I wanted to just sleep. I was so tired, and had felt so stressed. But now... now these people were here. They were good people... people I liked.
I... I needed to stop the bad man. Stopping him would help them... somehow.
I could tell my mind was fogging up more and more. It... it wouldn't be too long now before the end.
I couldn't give up. I had to try... try one last time.
He had gotten a good distance away, and I started running again, running as fast as my four legs could take me. He rounded the corner, and I followed him as the floor transitioned back to smooth tile.
I jumped onto him, and knocked him down. He fought. I growled. I didn't want to attack him. I needed... needed... stuff. What stuff? I forgot. I kept fighting. Stuff... his stuff! He must have stuff.
I tore at his pants pocket. He knocked me off of him, but his pocket tore - and a black stuff fell on the ground. I planted my paw on it.
He tried to push me off of it, but then loud noises came. They hurt my ears! I wimpered as the other people made more of the loud noises. The bad man ran away.
I whimpered. I was tired. My head hurt. My thoughts were hard, very... very hard.
One of the people came up to me. I pulled up my paw.
"A flash drive? Oh my gosh... this must've had a bunch of Seth's data on it! Good job Matt!"
He was happy. It made me happy to see someone say I did something good. I wagged my tail.
Another one of them knelt down and looked closely at me. She... she is different. She looks like a dog but acts like a human. She... she's Jackie. She is nice. I like her. I feel happy... but as they watch, they get sad sad.
"Matt?" she said. "Please Matt... stick with me. You're a person. You are my boyfriend. I love you."
I continued to wag my tail, but my head hurt again. These thoughts... so hard. Why were thoughts hard? Why they want me to think weird thoughts? Me don't like hard thoughts.
I whimpered. Weird thoughts, thoughts too complex...
Jackie kissed my nose. She said something. Something... something about loving me... forever.
Me... me feel sad. Me lick her face.
Why me miss her? She here. No, me miss her because me different. Me do something bad. Me whimper, feel very sad.
Thoughts too weird, no more weird thoughts! No more weird thoughts!
Weird thinks go away.
Me feel happy now. Me wag tail. Weird dog girl, weird dog man and dog woman hug me, and hug girl dog. They sad. Me feel sad too. Why me sad? Me with good people. Good people nice, not like mean man.
Me feel happy.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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