"Still holding steady," Dad said.

Ashley and I were at his work with him, as he looked over a blood sample from us. It was my third or so time coming here now, as he tried to understand the viral activity going on in us. He had thus far only really discerned it was higher than average, but not the root cause.

After getting our blood drawn, they'd put special round bandages on our arms. They had sensors that could read some amount of bio signs. These Dad hoped, would help give some additional insight into the virus, being able to track the viral activity throughout the day - and perhaps see any trends in how it fluctuated.

The best theory he had right now was that it was due to me having the first generation of the virus, which I then passed on to Ashley. He wasn't sure what differences between the versions were causing this. He'd been using his "borrowed" data from Generation to examine documentation from that time, but had been unable to thus far parse anything out. Depending on his results from looking at our longer term data from the bio-monitors, he wanted to test Jackie and the few other first generation canis people.

Dad had been putting as much time as he could into this. He was being better about making time for our family, but it was obvious that he was trying to distract himself from being canis now. We were now nearing the end of March. They'd been canis for a month now, and I'd now been changed for about two.

As time wore on, I had stopped thinking a ton about it all. Seeing canis people around was no longer out of the ordinary, but more often than not me seeing new friends - and those I didn't know I made an effort to smile at. A lot of people at Applegate high school needed it. Some had changed in the riot, but no amount of taping off the drinking fountains slowed the spread. We were still definitely a minority - but there were now at least a few canis people out of the thirty or so people in each of my classes.

For me, it was comforting. For them I knew, it was torment. All I could do was smile at them, and talk to them like I would any normal person. Some of them refused to talk, but many did. As awful as the riot had been at the beginning of the month, the perpetrators were on suspension until further notice, as the school district tried to enact more serious consequences.

All that mattered to me was that Horace and the most prejudiced of the non-canis people weren't around. When they were taken away, the mostly normal of us were left. Because of that, a silver lining to the terrible incident came about - on the whole, people were nicer to us. We stopped getting stared at, at least in an openly repulsed way. I started seeing non-canis people smile at me. Whether they felt some sense of guilt after seeing the horrors of the riot, or whether they felt real genuine remorse - at least we were slowly finding our way.

It was... a liberating feeling. Sure, there were still crappy people - but they were the outlier. I felt like I could chat with people in my classes again, be active in answering questions without feeling embarrassed about drawing attention to myself. Further, I didn't really hide my canine behavior either. I licked my nose when I needed to. I wagged my tail and panted when I was in a good mood. It was just something I did now, and a good amount of other canis people did too.

At our club, people were having fun. I saw new canis people go from feeling great anxiety to making friends with fellow canis people, going on dates with them, and adapting to their new lives.

When I came home from these improving circumstances though, I saw that under the surface it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Mom, Dad, and Ashley still struggled with it. They were in a better mood overall - even Ashley - but it was ups and downs. I again had to be patient, and realize that many people would take time to adjust - and some would not embrace it in the same way I had. It was a struggle I'd had to accept as I lead the club - that sometimes the best thing to do was give people space.

But there were times that I'd have a brief moment where the normalcy would fall away. I'd be sitting at the table, listening to Mom talk about some drama going on with her sister's family - and I would look around, and think about just how weird this was, seeing three dog people eating at the table.

We were a house of golden retriever people playing dress up in human clothes. It was an image that would have seemed impossible to me at Christmas - when we'd taken our last pictures together as a normal family. I looked at those pictures sometimes, then back at reality. Those pictures felt like they were a whole world away...

I returned my attention to my dad and to Ashley. She had her tablet open to a laptop mode, running some data of her own. She had taken to going to Dad's work regularly, taking on the role of a de-facto intern. Whether it was because she found it interesting, or she hoped she could get a cure faster, I wasn't sure. The way I'd watched her talk with Dad though, it seemed to give her something to focus on.

I watched Dad's neural network run. It drew lines to connect random dots, as a counter marked "generations" climbed upward in value. It quickly raced past three hundred generations, and the hundreds of layers of connecting lines soon started to concentrate on one specific path. Then a new window popped up, drawing a more coherent, though very jagged line. Viral activity was marked on the y axis, with the x axis marking time.

A smile came to Dad's face. He slightly wagged his tail.

"Fantastic," he said. "Now let's see what happens when I add in the readings from my own bandage."

He clicked on a few things in the program's interface, and a new dashed line appeared lower than the higher one. He clicked on a filter, and it grayed out the bottom one. He zoomed outward on the graph.

"That is what I thought," Dad said. "I still have viral activity going on, and its been trending downward. You two however have higher levels of activity, as we've detected - the kind that's been observed when the virus is actively changing the body. The good news at least is that the viral activity is remaining stable. It fluctuates, but when you average it, it isn't trending upward or anything. "

"So what now?" Ashley asked.

"I want to collect more data," Dad said. "I'll get one of these to Jackie, get an idea of where she stands in this, if she has elevated levels or not. Then round up as many people as I can who have the first generation of the virus. I want to get a reasonably large sample size."

"Could this be used to change us back to human?" Ashley asked.

"Perhaps," Dad said. "Problem is, the data we have from Generation doesn't have the information archived about who has gen 1. That I didn't have enough time to grab, sadly. Beyond that... the thing I want to figure out is if there's a way to stimulate the virus, to take someone who is at a lower level back to a higher level - the engine needs to be running before it can move the car, so to speak."

"Makes sense," I said.

"Problem is," Dad said, "this is like if I, being left handed, tried to drive a stick shift - I have no idea how to get the car to move."

"Other people might," Ashley said.

"Yes," Dad sighed. "That... that's something I've been thinking long and hard about. I need to start building up to where I could write a paper on this - these findings could be very important in assisting the search for a cure. That however, would reveal my access to illegally obtained assets from Generation."

"And you'd be arrested," I said.

He breathed deeply, slumping back in his chair. "I don't know Matt. This is a massive tangle of circumstances. I... I may have potentially broken federal law. But it also was my own research - for the most part."

Ashley shrank inward, the anxiety and fear very evident on her face. I felt fur stand up all over my body.

"Or," Dad said, "whatever company is going to try to acquire Generation's remaining assets might avoid pressing charges at all. It would prevent information coming to light about their far less justifiable actions... I just don't know."

"So you can publish your findings," I said, "and potentially hasten the work for a cure..."

"Or remain silent," he said, "and stay safe."

We were quiet. We stared at each other as the ventilation hummed softly.

Dad rolled his chair over to where we sat, and hugged us briefly.

"I love you," he said. "I want to do all I can to protect you. To be there for you. But there are other parents out there - ones who can't save their children from this virus."

"It's the right thing to do," I said.

"Yes," Dad agreed - though with a strained look in his eyes.

Dad glanced over to Ashley, who seemed unwilling to agree. She stared down at the floor, but her stoicism was interrupted by an involuntary lick of her snout. She groaned in annoyance at it.

"I guess...," she said, "I guess that you can't let pandora's box creak open more... when you have a roll of duct tape."

"No," Dad smiled slightly, "I can't."

He rolled his chair back to his computer.

"It seems that I've got a job to start working on - taking a lot of hypotheses and start testing them into the ground. I am glad that both of you want me to do the right thing - even if its risky - but making a well constructed paper takes time... and after what happened the first time, I want to get this right."

"So several months?" I asked.

"Getting it done that quickly would be stupendous," he said. "But it could be as long as a year."

"Gathering the data," a voice said from across the room, "to do a whole well researched study... that sounds quite intensive."

We glanced over to where Melina stood on the other side of a counter. She was looking down at some notes.

"We're on our way," Dad said. "It's hardly a perfect double blind random test or anything like that... but even if we can't get something more formal accomplished, we've got to put something out."

"I wish we could help more," I said, "rather than just sitting around and occasionally getting you some data."

"It's very helpful data," Dad said, "more than you know. I'm only sorry this will take so long."

"If you want to help a bit Matt and Ashley," Melina said, standing up, "there's some equipment we need to unload from a truck out back, if you'd be willing."

That was the kind of thing I would normally try to weasel out of... but after sitting for so long, getting up and doing something would be a nice break from being bored. Anticipating some crouching while lifting things up, I took my tablet out of my pants pocket and set it on the counter, to keep it from getting in the way.

We followed Melina out of the lab and down a hallway. The hallways, in contrast to Generation, were not some fancy large thoroughfare awash with natural light from large windows, but a utilitarian corridor. It wasn't old looking or dirty, but it did certainly care more about function.

We were silent as we followed Melina. As we turned a corner, I noticed that she had a somewhat strained expression on her face.

"Is something... wrong?" I asked.

She sighed. "I... I commend your father for his bravery, but... Generation - or at least, the people who had stakes in it, are powerful people. Biomedical applications were only one thread of their fortunes. They had modified trees throughout the US that regrew rapidly after logging. They had hands in cultured meat, in growing cotton for clothing... if it grew and could be genetically modified, they were involved."

"Your point?" Ashley asked as we walked into a sort of warehouse area.

"My point," Melina said, "is that they have an army of lawyers on their side. They have seemingly completely unrelated shell companies that can come to their aid and sue people without fear of indicting themselves... "

She saw Ashley's visible anxiety.

"I just... I just wish there was a way to fight them," Melina said. "Or... or maybe surrender to them. Maybe if your father offered a bargain to get them the data, he might - "

"Get the data released to the people who could do immense harm with it," Ashley said with firmness, "and then put our Dad in prison, preventing him from ever being able to work on a cure again."

Melina hung her head, and didn't reply. We went through a door out to a loading dock. It was a nice temperature - but nice to me. I could tell from Melina shivering a little that it was probably a bit more chilly. A truck was pulled up to the loading dock with its trailer door opened, showing some lab equipment inside that was anchored to the walls, and wrapped in protective plastic.

"Go back in there and undo the latches holding them in place," Melina said, "I need to look at something with the truck."

"Okay," I said, walking in with Ashley.

I went up to one of the little ratcheted buckle things that held the restraining bands taut. I went over it in my hands, trying to figure it out. I wondered if my finger pads were making it difficult.

"Hey Ashley," I asked, "you having any luck on yours -"

A sudden loud, rumbling sound hit my ears. By the time I darted my gaze over, the truck door was already closing, and a second later we were enshrouded in darkness.

"What?" I shouted, and Ashley cried out likewise.

I ran to the door, banging on it.

"Melina!" I yelled, "the door to the truck shut! Melina? Are you there?"

No response. It had just automatically closed somehow. Maybe she'd pressed a wrong button and hadn't realized it?

Then the truck lurched into motion. The jerk in movement caused me to fall backwards and land right on my tail. I let out a loud yelp, and then a slight whimper as I tried to get my bearings in the dark trailer.

I went back up to the trailer door, trying to find something, anything that would open it. There was nothing. I felt the floor rumble beneath me as the truck pulled onto a main road. The gravity of the situation finally became clear to me. This was no accident.

We were being kidnapped.


"Dammit Clive," Lucas shouted with balled fists, "I don't care why it's difficult! Aren't you even going to try to connect to their bandages?"

"Lucas," Clive steadied his breathing, "getting enraged is not going to get your kids back any easier. If we're going to figure this out, we need to remain calm."

"I'm done being calm," Lucas said. "I'm done being all rational and cautious. I'm out for blood. I'm going to find the people who took my children, and drag their faces on highway asphalt."

Clive planted his hands on the counter forcefully. "Even Melina? Are you going to go all destroying angel on her as well?"

She had betrayed them. She had been working with Seth. Lucas and Clive had failed to figure out in time, and had now paid the price. He had called her when he'd found an empty loading dock, and shouted at her voicemail message. Only then had he truly realized what had happened.

Lucas's face tightened up, hot tears practically bursting from his eyes. "I... I just... just don't know what to do."

"We're going to make a plan," Clive said, lowering his tone back down to being calm. "Starting with calling the police. If you really care about your kids, any prison sentence risked from all this being revealed will be preferable to you not getting them back."

"Well way to state the damn obvious," Lucas said.

"After that," Clive ignored him, "then we're going to work on the code of those bandages, and try to figure out if we can access the very faint, longer range signal from them. Scouring the city, or even the whole damn state or country, when the bandages only transmit as far as some bluetooth earbuds isn't going to help us find them."

Lucas stared down at his hands - his paw-like hands.

"I know what people like Seth think," he said. "They think canis people are real life monsters. Well if they think we're monsters, then I'm going to show them what happens when they unleash a beast."

"Well then," Clive said, "if you're filled with bloodlust, your desire for revenge better motivate you to help me dig through this software."

"I'll do it," Lucas said, "If you promise it won't be a waste of time."

"I can't promise that," Clive said. "But tracking them through the faint long range signal on the bio readers is our best option."


"And Lucas."


"If you get a ransom call," Clive leaned in close, "don't you dare let them make you decide right then and there. I know you hate bargaining and would just prefer to get to the point, but get them to agree to let you contemplate their demands."

"Okay," Lucas said. He rose, his muscles shaking with adrenaline. "Let's get to work."



I had been through a number of scary experiences in my life. On a recent summer visit to Olympia National Park, my family had gone on an extremely vertigo-inducing hike, high up over the green landscape. It was beautiful, but with the cliffs surrounding us on all sides, and that feeling like you were just going to spontaneously be pulled off the edge by an invisible force, it was hard for me to enjoy the view.

Once I had fallen out of our treehouse when I was little, and broken my arm. I'd somehow gotten it in my head that they'd need to amputate it. Going to the doctor had been a nightmare made real.

Another time, at an amusement park, our coaster train had stopped while climbing up the hill, due to some safety concerns. We'd had to walk down the catwalk of the hill, and once again, I'd felt like I was going to spontaneously fall.

But in all these situations, I had my parents close. They had teased me for my squeamishness during our hike, but had still urged me to keep climbing to the top. They had held me tight when I got my arm x-rayed at the doctors. While slowly stepping down the roller coaster hill, they'd laughed, saying that at least we weren't the people whose train had gotten stopped on the brakes in the middle of the coaster, who had to go down an intimidating spiral staircase.

I'd had my family. My parents. Adults who knew what to do. But as I sobbed in the back of that truck, occasionally holding on to something when it went around a corner, I felt completely alone.

I tried to hold Ashley tight, doing my best to reassure her - but I had no idea what to do. I didn't have my tablet - I'd left it on the counter of the lab. Ashley had likewise left her tablet next to Dad's workstation. No calling for help. I could try to fight the second they opened the truck - but I had no idea who was doing this, and why. They could be dangerous, and have guns.

Gosh. My body was wracked with a sickening amount of stress. No one had ever aimed a weapon at me. What if they tried to harm Ashley? Would I take a bullet for my sister? Would I be willing to make that ultimate sacrifice? I'd tried to be brave during the riot, but those were fists. How brave would I be when I could actually be killed?

I hugged my sister closely, but felt immense guilt. I... I was so... so afraid. Afraid of the pain of what lay ahead. I was afraid of death.

There was so much that I wanted to accomplish in life. So much that I wanted to experience. I wanted to have a family. Would I be willing to sacrifice that to let Ashley have that future? What if they tried to wring information out of me about what Dad was doing, or tried to use us as ransom? Would I be willing to sacrifice myself if it would save hundreds of thousands of people from contracting the virus, or prevent even worse horrors from the technology?

Every time I tried to pin my decision down, that I would do the right things, and not cave to the pressure of evil people... my resolve faded. I didn't know what they wanted with me. If they just wanted money or Dad's data. They could let us go without harm - or threaten to torture us to get information out.

Locked in paralysis, from fear and shock, my mind went into a deadened state. Thinking brought pain. So I chose not to think. I chose to merely exist, and sit there as I felt the road move beneath us.

The truck finally stopped. I braced for sunlight to break in through an opened door. I prepared to protect my sister. But nothing happened. The truck stood still. Completely, absolutely still.

I heard cars passing by through the walls of the truck. As time went on, I heard them pass more frequently for a while. Then less passed. Until few passed. Then it got colder. The cold crept in, and I had no jacket.

For the first time in a while, I felt uncomfortably cold again, despite my fur. It was an awful added pain to what we were experiencing. I remained close to Ashley. We were still very cold, even while trying to share our body heat.

Although I did not know if I could save my sister from whatever awaited us, I could at least comfort her. I sat in a more uncomfortable position, so that she could sleep against me, using me as a pillow.

She sobbed herself to sleep. I however was dead inside. No more tears came. No thoughts were in my head. Finally, I passed out just from sheer exhaustion.


A note from RockyTheDogBoy

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Bio: A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer

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