Lucas rubbed his eyes as he looked at the screen in front of him, and in the process, was immediately reminded of the fur growing on his hand. The stuff wasn't thick yet, but at least wisps of it were all over him.
His ears were growing larger and more droopy - and it was hard to talk to his coworkers with a straight face, knowing what they saw when they looked back at him. It had been very hard to maintain composure since the truth had come out.
Tessa had effectively said "I told you so." Clive just said to not let it bother Lucas, and to work like normal. But working normally was hard. He no longer had the drive to find a cure anymore, and that had drained most of the energy out of him.
He glanced beside him as Melina came in.
"Hey Lucas," she said, a slight smirk on her face.
"Hey," Lucas said, avoiding bringing attention to his changes.
Melina's eyes rested on Ashley, who was idly spinning around in a swivel chair to the right of Lucas.
"So you're fully changed huh?"
Ashley did not answer her.
"Your dad says you need some blood drawn?"
"Yeah," Ashley said very quietly.
"Hopefully this time," Melina smiled, "I'll be able to do a better job finding where I need to go than when I did your brother."
"What do you mean?" Ashley asked.
"Just a bit hard finding the veins I need to get to under all that fur," Melina said, "but don't worry, it'll be fine."
"I'm not scared," she pulled up her shirt sleeve. "Prick me."
Melina laughed as she readied her things. "You seem a lot more confident than your brother was. Though of course he hadn't been out around people since changing."
"I just have given up caring," Ashley spoke more boldly. "People are going to look at me with disgust, I'm going to feel terrible. Giving a reaction doesn't accomplish anything."
Melina used a wet wipe to clean Ashley's upper arm, then readied the syringe. Ashley looked firmly in the other direction away from the needle.
"Hm. I heard though that you made a bit of a reaction yesterday."
"That," Ashley said, "was justice."
"It was completely inappropriate is what is was," Lucas said as he typed at the computer.
"Oh I know it was," Ashley said. "But he deserved it. If anything gives me energy to go forward, it's knowing that a trembling golden retriever boy is going to walk into school one day, and I'll get to watch as he gets bullied, and knows how I felt."
"There," Melina said, emptying the syringe into a container. "You're done."
"Fantastic," Ashley said flatly as Melina wiped off her arm again.
"Personally," Melina said, "I think that's a little cruel, Ashley. You really want him to be bullied too?"
"He is the worst person I've ever met," she said. "I don't care what happens to him."
"Hm. These are awfully harsh words," Melina said, "especially coming from a cute little golden retriever girl."
Ashley tensed up. "I'm not cute. I'm a monster, and I won't entertain anyone's pity claiming otherwise."
Melina laughed. "I'm sorry, but just... even when you're acting all 'tough and serious,'" she said in a joking surly tone, "you still look like a really big puppy wearing clothes."
"That," Ashley glared at her, "is almost worse than what the kids at school say to me."
"Melina," Lucas said, "she isn't in the best place right now..."
Melina waved a hand dismissively. "I'm not making fun of you," Melina said to Ashley. "Just being honest. You could've turned into a chicken or something. At least its something nice and pleasant."
"How has it felt?" Melina asked.
"Worse than you could imagine," Ashley said. "Every moment of my life is a nightmare from which I can't wake up."
"So does it hurt really bad or something?"
"Only in my soul."
"You seem to think all your classmates are dumb," Melina said. "If you think they're so dumb, why do care about what they say to you?"
Ashley groaned. "It isn't just that. Everything feels so uncomfortable now. I'm shedding stupid hair everywhere, especially in the shower. I just... I can't stand looking in the mirror..."
"Sounds like you have a really hard life."
Ashley scowled. "You are such - "
"Ashley," Lucas said, "and you too Melina, just stop it."
"Stop what?" Melina smiled innocently.
"Leave her be," Lucas said. "She's going through a lot. And you," - he looked to Ashley - "need to calm down. You nearly got expelled from school because you wanted to play werewolf. Don't think you could pull that crap on Melina here and not get me fired."
Ashley's eyes went wide. "You thought... you thought I was going to just go animalistic on her? You know how speciesist that sounds?"
"Matt and his friends have shown very clearly," Lucas said coldly, "that being canis doesn't make you act that way."
Lucas let the statement hang. Ashley trembled in the silence, and Melina took the opportunity to walk away. He saw tears in his daughter's eyes. He felt a deep pang of guilt, but knew that he needed to let that pain sink in, at least for a bit. Ashley was getting out of control, and she had clearly been lacking in remorse up until now.
"I hate you."
Lucas looked away from his computer. Ashley was doubled over in her chair. She was sobbing slightly.
"I love you," Lucas said. "And because I love you, I can't let you hurt others and yourself."
"I hate everyone," Ashley said. "I hate our family. I hate humans. I hate canis people. I hate myself."
"I can't force you to be happy," Lucas said, growing more tense. "Or to get along with everyone. But I'll just remind you Ashley, that your pain is temporary, even if it doesn't feel like it. And we have been so frustrated, so concerned, because we love you. I've worked so hard because I love you. I couldn't save you from this, but I love you still, because I know that who you are is still there."
"No Dad," she said firmly, with no tears. "The old Ashley is gone. Something else is in her place."
"Then I hope that the new Ashley can adjust to this. If she's anything like the old Ashley, I know that she can do it."
Ashley was silent after that. She turned away from him, and started working on some homework, using her tablet locked down with parental controls.
Lucas's heart was heavy as he tried his best to get back to work. He just... didn't know what to do. He was very afraid of pushing Ashley too much. She was in a very fragile state, and he didn't know what was going on in her mind. He felt however, that taking a light touch just wasn't going to change her behavior. The push to ground her, to restrict her tablet use, had seemed like all they could do to get her to stop being so self destructive.
But it had really hurt her. He was afraid he'd gone too far. He thought of what Matt had said, that Ashley's friends were all online - and Lucas had separated her from that.
It was probably time to start looking for some therapy options. He knew that Ashley definitely wouldn't like that, but she obviously needed someone other than her family to talk this out with. Even then, she would probably be pretty hesitant to open up - at least in a genuine way, not covered in a layer of anger.
Lucas got a notification on his computer - Melina had processed the blood sample, and was sending him the data. When it came up on his screen, he gasped. It was... not what he had expected. He'd known that for Matt to have infected Ashley, and for Ashley to have infected the boy at her school, the virus must have hung around in some capacity more than was normal - but not like this.
None of the virus had left. It was still fluctuating at a fully active level. The immune system seemed to not be fighting it at all. The virus had been engineered all those years ago to be pacified, to spread through the body and modify cells without harming them, but this... the virus normally had little tricks to prevent the immune system from attacking it, but it wasn't doing this anymore. The immune system didn't seem active at all.
Somehow, the body has just accepted the virus. He knew immediately that he would need to get Matt in here. Lucas also wanted to test his own blood, and Meagan's. Lucas marked the tab with the data as important, and then sent a message to Clive and Tessa about what he'd found.
Lucas returned to the jagged graphs, tracking the viral activity in the blood. As he did so, he saw something... peculiar. The icon indicating his user profile was viewing the page flashed for a brief moment - with two icons. He tried to click the other icon, but wasn't fast enough. He minimized the window, and and opened up the company logs as fast as possible - and yes, it was him.
Lying in wait, Seth was there. An entry into the system with the same computer address that Lucas had found before. Somehow, he'd gained access, and for some reason, he wanted this data. Reason told Lucas that he should probably inform company management. The people here had taken a big risk in taking him and the others under their wing, and they'd treated him mostly alright.
But even though it was breaching company security, he couldn't alert the company, and prompt Seth to turn tail and run. He wanted to catch him. Find out more information. Seth obviously had gotten access some way. Seth knew that Lucas was here. Perhaps Seth had simply hacked his way in, but what Lucas had seen so far showed no signs of that. No, someone from the inside had granted the man access.
Lucas felt strongly that he needed to tell one of the other ex-Generation employees about this. Clive was the coder who could help him lay a trap to grab more data the next time Seth snuck in, but there was risk in that. Clive had known Seth, same as Lucas. Considering the fact that Clive had great disdain for Seth, it was unlikely Clive was helping him - but Lucas didn't know for certain.
He'd have to approach it with the knowledge that he could be revealing himself to Seth - and operate very carefully, acting as if he did not know what was going on.
From the moment all those years ago that Seth had left Generation, Lucas knew that Seth was going into legally dubious territory. He'd been frustrated with the way the company had operated, and not in a "the suits don't understand anything about genetics" kind of way like everyone else - more in a "I hate all these regulations we have to follow" kind of way.
Whatever Seth was up to, Lucas did know for certain - it would not be good.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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