as narrated by Alil “Songstress” Ross
Being sick is miserable. That’s obvious, but the ability to reflect on it is something I cherish. I don’t have memories from the time before I had words to understand what misery means, but I can imagine my life then.
From talking with my father, I know that animals do not experience time the same way sapient beings do. It’s not that I wouldn’t have had any memories. Even as the lowliest of serpents, I still would have retained sense impressions of the world around me. What I was missing then was the ability to call those memories back at will or put them into any sort of contextual order. When the sun rose it was day, when it set it was night, but from the night I couldn’t see that a new day would come again. When I was sick, my entire existence would have been defined by the misery of my illness.
Memories changed that. For as bad as I felt, I could still remember what it felt like to feel good and from that I could imagine feeling good again someday. I just wasn’t sure that would be worth the price it would take.
“You shouldn’t be out of bed Alil.” Amphi, my older sister, said.
“The air out here helps, and the stars are really pretty too.” I replied, wrapping my blanket tighter around my shoulders.
“Uh, it’s overcast. You can’t see the stars tonight.” Amphi said.
“I can when I close my eyes.” I said with a smile. Closing my eyes helped me block out a bit of the pain I was in too.
“Do you need another treatment?” Amphi asked.
“We all need another treatment, we’re dying sis.”
“Dying, not dead. We can still fight this.” she said.
“How are Teali and M’Kala doing?” I asked.
“I gave them a treatment an hour ago, their sleeping quietly now.” she said.
“Good. The more they sleep, the slower their metabolism, the more time we have.”
“Which brings us back to the subject of you. Why don’t you come back inside? If you’re feeling up to it you can help Guan with the next relic he’s working on.”
“I thought tonight was going to be the last relic?”I asked.
“We thought that last night too. Come on, get up.” Amphi said.
“I..I don’t think I can.” I admitted. “I can’t feel my tail.”
“Alil! Are you stupid! Why didn’t you tell me!” Amphi screamed.
“We don’t have that many more doses of the treatment left, and we’re using them faster that we can make them.” I said quietly.
“So you were going to just die out here to let the rest of us have your share.” Real anger was roiling in Amphi’s voice.
“No. I was just going to wait as long as I could.” I lied.
“You idiot! You can’t move yourself and you don’t think you’ve waited too long already?” Without waiting for my response, she spun around me, and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. “You’re getting a treatment now and I’m giving you a double dose for being a jerk!”
“I’m sorry.” I mumbled, feeling terrible about taking one of our remaining antitoxin treatments but also relieved. I wanted to see the happier days that I was imagining but I couldn’t ask for them at the expense of my siblings. I’d argue that point once we were inside and Amphi could see how much better I was doing than Teali and M’kala. That’s what I imagined anyways. What actually happened was that I fell asleep or passed out while Amphi was carrying me down the old mine shaft that led to the abandoned underground facility that we were calling home.
Dad has always insisted that we live away humans. I think he had a bad experience with them, though he’s never been willing to talk about it. I haven’t met any of them myself, but I’ve watched them enough that I dream of them.
In my dreams, as Amphi carried me home, I was walking on two legs like they do, rather than my numb and useless tail. In real life that would have felt bizarre – I can’t imagine how they don’t topple over all the time – but in the dream it felt wonderful, like I was flying. It wasn’t much of a dream, just walking along their streets and getting to see them up close, but it was happy one and right then that was what I needed.
I woke to find myself curled up on my bed, with Amphi stepping away from me, two empty syringes in her hands and a cruel smirk on her face.
“You didn’t!” I said, my breath catching in my throat.
“I told you I would. I’m not losing any of you!” she said, her expression daring me to object in front of everyone else. I bit back the words. I didn’t want anyone else to know what I’d been thinking. They didn’t need that on top of the poisoning-sickness.
I could feel the double dose of the treatment that Dad had worked out coursing through me, repairing some of the damage I’d suffered. It wasn’t enough to purge the toxin but the micro-transformation it induced was able to regenerate some of the damage that had been done. The cost of the regeneration was exhaustion, or at least it usually was. Laying curled up on my bed, I felt more hungry than weary. Like I was on the mend from a cold and my body was in need of food to help the recovery. That was impossible though, until the toxin was either completely purged from our bodies, or we were able to transformation on a grand enough level to be immune to it the way Dad was, we couldn’t get better.
I was testing my body, looking for the weakness that should have been there when the sound of a nearby explosion jolted me out of bed. A moment later the eastern wall to our bedroom area exploded inwards and I saw a pair of glowing red eyes shining through the hole that had appeared.
“And here they are at last!” a man’s voice said. A human man. Here. In our bedroom. Father had trained us all for this. We knew exactly how to defend ourselves.
“Ugh. No. Do you know how hard you creatures were to track down?” The red eyes entered through the hole and I saw it wasn’t a human but some kind of all black robot or something. A human, even a human invader, didn’t scare me despite what my father had taught me. I was just silly in the head for them I guess. A scary metal monster though, especially a talking one that had been looking for us? That was terrifying beyond my ability to put into words.
There was only one normal exit from the room and the robot thing had blown it up, but with our physiology we didn’t need normal exits. Our bolt holes were literally holes, tunnels really, that we burrowed through the wall and floors to the outside and then sealed with pieces of wood or metal. Dad had taught us over and over that if humans ever came for us, we were to flee through the bolt holes and get as far away from home as we could. We had rendezvous points set up in each city that we visited and instructions on how to verify that they were safe to meet at. Even though we’d never needed those plans, Dad had drilled us on them in every new city that we moved to.
Unfortunately none of that drilling had included a scenario where half of us were too sick to move and the other half weren’t feeling much better.
“What do you want?” Amphi yelled, picking up a lamp pole and brandishing it as a weapon. Also known as, exactly what Dad had told us not to do.
I could see what she was doing though. She was buying time for Teali and M’kala to wake up and get moving under their own power. We’d made the tunnels narrow to keep them easily hidden but that meant that there was no way one of us could carry a sleeping sibling through them. We all had to flee for ourselves and none of us were willing to leave any of the rest behind.
“Why your lovely little bodies, you marvelous little freaks of science you!” the robot said as it sized up Amphi and her lamp pole.
“How do you know what we are?” Amphi asked not bothering to hide her anger.
“Why because I helped to create you!” the robot said and then laughed. “Ok, that’s not true at all, but it would have been perfectly dramatic wouldn’t it? No I’m afraid I came by my information on you the old fashion way. Ninjas! Or grad students, I have a hard time telling the two apart. Which one are the expendable minions that you can work to death without paying them?”
“You are insane?” Amphi’s asked, confusion warring with her anger. Her plot was working though. Guan had gotten Teali and M’kala awake and moving, while Gurah and Sandresh had cleared the exits for us. All five of them were hidden behind the pile of furniture that had been blown into the center of the room by the blast that destroyed the wall.
“Insane? No, just Wyrd. Anyways, my grad student Ninjas discovered your father’s notes. He was such a dutiful note taker, so sad that his partner killed him. On the bright side at least he died aiding the cause of science. Note to self: do not use Super Antivenom formula at ten million times the indicated dosage, results have been demonstrated to contain significant side effects including spontaneous death!”
“What do you want with us?” Amphi asked, still playing for time.
“Well first I want to see how you’ve been reacting to the animorph toxin I’ve been lacing the city’s water supply with then I’ll remove that from you.”
“You can save us from the toxin?” Amph asked, lowering the lamp pole just a bit.
“Of course! How could I dissect you if you’re tissues were damaged? I’ll make sure that you and the very interesting morphic agents in your cells are in top shape before we break out the scalpels. Just think, rather than living long and boring lives which serve no purpose whatsoever, you’ll get to live short and exciting lives that help unlock the secret of turning harmless animals in ferocious killing machines!”
“I’m not going to let you hurt any of my siblings!” Amphi shouted.
“Not going to let? Do you have any idea the effort I’ve put into this automated suit of power armor? I mean really, a lamp and you’re not going to let me? I’ve fought heroes with these armors! Ok, technically I haven’t won a fight with a hero yet, but still, these things have gone toe to toe with some big names.”
“Get out of our home!” Amphi growled.
“Oh I’ll be happy to leave.” the robot said. “Once I’ve caught you all!”
A soft thump of air signaled the discharge of a metal sphere at Amphi. I thought it was a bullet like Dad had talked about but some part of my brain realized that if I could see it, it had to be something else. The rest of my brain was very sensibly having me dive for cover.
Amphi tried to do the same thing but she wasn’t able to move fast enough. She was halfway through her leap when the sphere opened up and sucked her inside, shrinking her as it did. That’s what it took for me to find my voice and with my voice came a burning rush that I’d never felt before.
“NO!” I screamed and the sound came out as a solid cone of force. The cone hit the robot and smashed it back out of the room. I felt like I was on fire inside, but the burning didn’t feel bad. It was like I was being scoured clean and reforged into something new. In a flash I knew what it was.
The double dose. And my fear. And the toxin. Somehow they’d all been in just the right balance. Dad had told us that he didn’t know how to give us powers like he had but that we might develop them on our own someday. Today was apparently my day.
I screamed again, blasting another narrow cone of force into the hole where the robot had been slammed. This time it was ready for the attack though and when it re-emerged it was protected by a glimmering bubble that diverted my attack.
“Now that’s just wrong. There’s no way you should be able to do that.” the robot complained. “All the more reason to capture you though I guess!”
He launched another sphere through his protective bubble. I turned my scream on it before it could open and it exploded into pieces.
“Well isn’t this a problem. I guess we’ll have to skip straight to the dissection!” the robot said as blades as long as it’s arms sprouted from the palm of its hands.
The others were gone, even Teali and M’Kala, and the robot had already recalled the sphere that had swallowed Amphi so I couldn’t see anything I could do except run away too. Unlike the others I slithered into my escape hole backward and kept screaming, blasting the area behind me to keep the robot away. Since the hole I chose was one of the ones on the ground, the force of my scream hit the roof, which started collapsing on the robot.
That delayed pursuit but it fixed nothing. My brothers and sisters were on the run but I had no idea how long they could last on their own, especially the little ones. Amphi…I couldn’t even think about her…I had to save her, somehow.
I started to panic and almost charged back up the escape hole but my brain latched onto a better plan.
I needed my Dad!