He went back to the bedroom, and did not find Meagan there - and since she wasn't there, he did what he told them he wouldn't do, and got back working on his code. After several minutes of this, and the frustration being too much, he called it for the night. Meagan was right. He wasn't going to be able to crack this problem so easily.
Lucas also felt like a lot of his drive to work on it had evaporated. His son wanted to be a dog. It was a surreal thought - one that he'd never have imagined two months ago, but here it was. Lucas loved his children, but it was honestly hard for him to see them the same way. His brain had built up pattern recognition with their faces. It had no connection to the dog people that now were in their place.
Lucas immediately felt guilt again. He wanted to find the cure so that he could see their normal faces again - because he could not figure out how to love how they looked now. He contemplated how Matt and Ashley must feel. Their parents, their extended family... they no longer wished to look at them.
It was a very painful feeling, and Lucas felt too much shame to push it aside. He opened up their family photos on his computer. He looked at a picture of their visit to Olympia National Park several years ago, and looked intently at Matt and Ashley's faces.
Then he opened up two new photos. They were taken purely for the purposes of research, and looked mugshot like, depicting a teenage dog boy and a teenage dog girl, both looking very tired, and very afraid. They looked like drastically different.
Now Lucas felt unwilling to deal with the feeling any longer. He closed the photos, and began aimlessly scrolling social media. Here he could not escape canis, as numerous news articles advertised celebrities who had contracted the virus, supposed "cures" that actually caused serious harm, and even a few posts that felt decidedly speciesist.
Was that who Lucas wanted to be? If Matt and other people were intent on living their lives this way, was his son going to drift away from him? Would any future grandchildren kept away because "grandpa is speciesist"?
Amid these thoughts, Lucas stumbled on a picture that Matt had posted. It was a bit of a visual assault on his brain - it was difficult to adjust to seeing his children as dog people, but here in this picture, he saw even more canis individuals. Matt and his friends somewhere in their school, hanging out, smiling for a picture.
Matt was very different in this picture from the mugshot-esque one. He was happy. Looking deeper into it, Lucas could still see his son's face. It was muddled by the fur and the muzzle, but it was there.
He had to remind himself that despite the awful changes that had happened to his children, they were still alive. One of them was happy, trying to live a meaningful life despite what had happened. He needed to talk to Ashley. She needed desperate help. He was concerned about Matt, but much more concerned about her.
Lucas wasn't comfortable with Matt being so cheerful about this - but Ashley looking so defeated, so ready to give up... it pierced him deeply. What did he want? Did he really want his children to just hang perfectly neutral, not feel any emotion? Shouldn't he be happy for his son, that he'd found a way to get through this?
Try as he might, Lucas could not. It was just so unthinkable to him that someone could enjoy this - especially with what Lucas had experienced himself.
Lucas was so lost in thought, it wasn't till Meagan sat down on the bed that he realized she was in the room.
"Yes?" he looked to her.
"Matt is angry at us, and feeling more and more distant. Ashley meanwhile is in a very dark place, where I'm concerned about her personal safety."
"What do you want to do about it?"
"I want you to express your love for our children."
"I do love them," he said with firmness. "It's just difficult adjusting to them... to them having different faces."
Lucas brought up the photos he'd been looking at. Meagan looked between them for a moment.
"Well we need to do something."
"I... I don't know what to do," Lucas admitted.
Meagan was silent.
"I've been working so hard on this... because I haven't had any other way that I could improve these awful circumstances."
"I'm sorry Lucas," Meagan said. "It's happened. There's nothing we can do to change that."
Lucas closed his eyes, bowing his head.
He opened them again as he heard the sound of clicking - and saw that Meagan had brought up the picture of Matt and his friends.
"I don't understand him," Meagan sighed, staring at the picture.
"We can't just hang them out to dry though Lucas. Whether or not they like or hate this, they need love and support as they go through such a difficult time."
"I know. I know..."
Meagan placed her hand on Lucas's back, and began rubbing up and down - a very natural, ordinary thing - but Lucas recoiled.
"What?" Meagan said in surprise.
"Nothing, just - "
Meagan reached for his back, and even though he turned his back from her, she was still able to feel it briefly.
Meagan grew pale. "Lucas... no. Please... don't tell me that..."
"It isn't the virus," he quickly said, "or at least, the same variant. It's a modified version, that hopefully - "
"You intentionally took the virus? Lucas, what the hell is wrong with you!?"
"It's not progressing as fast," he said, "and as I've been administering small doses, it may have slowed down."
"Slowed down? May have? Lucas, messing up the cancer treatment all those years ago was completely understandable and forgivable. But this? You knew this was dangerous. You knew what could happen!"
She grabbed a fist full of Lucas's shirt, and pulled it off. Patches of light golden fur were scattered all over his torso.
Fear and dread spread over Meagan face, and she cupped her hands against her mouth.
"Meagan," he raised up a hand, "I know it looks bad, but it hasn't gotten past this, I promise!"
"You're lying," she said, "your nose is slightly upturned. Your ears look a bit higher on your head than normal. Gosh Lucas, you've let yourself get totally blinded, and now you've done this to yourself - and..."
She went pale.
"A week ago, my sense of smell started feeling stronger... and I thought nothing of it. Nothing happened for days. Then I started noticing blonde hair growing on my arms yesterday... Lucas... what have you done!"
"I tried," he said trembling, "I tried to stop you... but..."
"So what was your master plan?" Meagan said, anger rising in her voice, "have no physical contact with me for months on end while you hoped you could stop yourself from getting worse?"
"I am stopping myself from getting worse -"
"You are lying again," she pointed accusingly at him. "I saw yesterday when you left the laptop open. I saw that exponential graph describing that the rate of change in "the subject" was increasing, despite your efforts. I didn't know what it was then, but now... "
Lucas could not deny it. He'd been caught - and caught before he could reverse it.
"I'm so disappointed in you Lucas," she cried. "You didn't tell me because you knew I'd say no. You leapt into a dangerous experiment on yourself. And now you've transmitted it to me."
"I... I can fix it," Lucas said unsteadily.
"No you can't!" Meagan said. "You can't control this thing, you don't know what to do! You should've cut your losses, but you stayed at the table, doubling down."
Hot tears broke through his shut eyelids and ran down his cheeks. "And now... I've lost it... lost everything."
Meagan forcefully grabbed his shoulder and turned him to face her.
"You...," Meagan said, "make it sound like you lost your children. Like you're going to lose yourself, and lose me."
He stared into her eyes with blurry vision.
"Is that how you view Matt and Ashley, Lucas? Do you think our children are dead?"
"I... what? No, but - "
"I've watched you since this all happened. At first I just expected, like me, that you were going to take a while to adjust to this. I haven't fully adjusted myself. But you look at our children like they're intruders. Like they're unwanted stray dogs."
Lucas put his face in his hands. "I miss seeing their faces Meagan. I want them back. It does feel like there are unfamiliar creatures in our house. It does feel uncomfortable. When I look at them... all I see is my failure. That I was unable to save them."
He felt the mattress shift as Meagan stood up.
"Well Lucas, now you can see that failure when you look in the mirror. I'm going to go run some errands."
He continued sobbing uncontrollably as she closed the door behind her.
He had failed. He... had failed.
I'm not sure that Mom and Dad remembered how we had changed - our hearing in particular. In the middle of gathering my stuff to go to Jackie's house, the shouting had begun - and then I heard everything. I laid down on the floor, ears perked up the whole time it was going on.
My own father couldn't bear to look at me. I was no longer his son. I was an invasive creature.
And now both my parents had contracted canis. It gave me no respite knowing that it was not directly my fault this time. If anything, this made me feel worse. I doubted that my parents would react well to this, and would likely only become colder towards us and the world.
I was starting to realize that people who contracted canis from the original treatment tended to react to the changes a lot better - maybe because we had already been changed in very small ways our whole lives. To normal people however, it was much worse.
Ashley alternated between looking angry at everything, to being barely functioning, a complete zombie. Other canis people I'd seen at school seemed similar. But I wasn't sure. Wendy had contracted the virus from the cancer treatment, and wasn't taking it very well.
With my parents at least, I knew that it wouldn't get better. Everyone but me would be miserable, and they'd want to drag me down into the same state. They would resent me for being comfortable with who I was.
I felt cold and alone. I curled up on the floor like a dog would, and quietly whimpered. The canine behavior contrasted with my human tears flowing down my fur covered face. As I cried, I heard the distressing sound of my own father crying downstairs. After a while, hearing him became too taxing on my own emotions, and I stood up.
I looked in the mirror on my dresser, seeing dog boy stare back at me. I breathed in deep through my nose. It felt all runny from crying. I licked it clean. In the past I might've thought that was gross, but it felt perfectly natural to me now. Besides, there wasn't much I could do to make others look down on my appearance less.
I finally forced myself to pick up my backpack and leave my room. Before I got downstairs, Ashley opened her door, and just looked blankly at me. Her own eyes were red. She stood there quietly sniffling, her tail curled between her legs.
I had nothing I could really say to her. I went downstairs and out the door. The night wind bit hard at me, cutting through my fur, and I cursed myself for not grabbing a jacket.
Fighting through the cold, and through the emotions that threatened to make me burst into tears again, I finally got to Jackie's house.
I said nothing as she opened the door. I just embraced her. I just needed a moment of genuine love.
It was many minutes before Lucas was able to console himself. He got up, and went into the bathroom to try to make himself look presentable. Looking in the mirror, he already saw failure. It hurt even worse knowing that what he'd been so afraid of, what he had fought so hard against, was now going to claim him too.
Meagan's stinging words tore through his mind. Now he would see failure every time he looked in the mirror.
All his life he had imagined that when he was married, had children, and had a career, then he would feel confident. He would feel like he was a functioning adult. He had fooled himself for many years - but now the veil was cast away.
In that moment he didn't feel like a child, like he had as a struggling college student. No. In that moment he felt something far worse - that he was a terrible husband and father.
Meagan, Matt, and Ashley all counted on him to be a leader. They trusted him to provide for them, to protect them, to guide them. To be an example of an upstanding person. He had failed in that.
Lucas went back into the bedroom, and sat on the bed, feeling hollow inside. He'd always felt somewhat distant from the idea of a higher power, but in that moment, he felt he believed stronger in one than he ever had. God was disappointed in him, he was sure of it. God had seen what Lucas had been putting his family through, and now Lucas had been humbled.
If that was the situation, so be it. It was not a punishment, but a necessity. Only when he endured it himself was he going to understand what Matt and Ashley felt.
He felt a voice in him cry that it was hopeless. He was never going to find a cure, and his family was going to be cursed with this for the rest of their lives. Beyond that, he had proven a poor husband and father, and would only make things worse. He should just give up.
A different voice in him said otherwise. He needed to fix things. He couldn't run away from his problems. Feeling sorry for himself would not help his family. He could not give up. Giving up would not solve anything. It would just excuse him from having to try.
So Lucas decided he was going to try. He was going to actually try. He wasn't going to let himself be distracted by illusions that he could cure this virus all on his own. No. He was going to love his wife and children, and support them.
He was going to apologize to them all, especially Meagan. He was going to love Matt even if he did want to stay this way. And for Meagan and Ashley, he would work on the cure when he could, and allow them to choose what they wanted when the time came.
Lucas took a deep breath. He put his hand under his shirt, feeling the fur growing there. Meagan had not been wrong in the slightest about that graph. The changes were going to get faster, until they reached the typical changing speed. He was going to look like a dog. He could not force himself to like the idea, but that would be a problem a week or two in the future.
In the meantime, Lucas distracted himself from his thoughts with checking some things on his laptop - not trying to crack the virus, just more relaxed browsing.
That relaxation came to a halt however. In his email inbox he found an email from Ironclad Web Security. Normally he would discard such a message as spam, even with the preview text that said "ALERT!" on it, if he hadn't remembered it was the service that his work used to protect their servers.
Clicking on the email, he found a succinct message: "unauthorized access on Thursday February 7th." Perplexed, Lucas logged into his company account, and was able to find more detailed logs. Sure enough, earlier that day someone had logged in - it had been with authorized login details, but from an unauthorized location.
As he scanned the logs, he found distressing results. Records had been copied, especially from Lucas's unit.
Wanting to wait no longer, Lucas looked up the IP address. He had little doubt who it was, and he was right.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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