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FLIPSIDE
AUTHOR'S NOTE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
EPILOGUE

CHAPTER II

"You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!"

They stood where it had finally dropped on the trail, sniffing the air around it. It had crawled the last few feet, one hand stretched out in front of it. The skin was bare and dirty except where the shorts covered it. One dart was still embedded in it’s back. The broad expanse was rippled with muscle. The fur on it’s head was a light shade of brown and probably reached below the nape of the neck when hanging normally.

"Look, Ford, the damned thing’s wearing sneakers. Now if that ain’t the damndest thing!"

"Nike sneakers, Adidas jogging pants - this is getting really, really weird."

"Well, we’re not going to find out anything staring at it. Let’s get it back up to the truck. We’ll figure out something on the way back. Eklund, you’re the strongest. Pick it up and let’s get moving."

"Pick it up? It’s a goddamned monster!" he protested, ears flattening.

"Look, it’s out cold, okay? We put two darts in the damned thing! If it so much as twitches, drop it and we’ll hit it again. Ford," Meuller continued, turning to him, "You keep your gun on that thing and don’t take it off, understand?"

"Sure."

"I thought they were supposed to change back in the morning." Worthy mused aloud, sniffing loudly.

"It was the second night of the full moon last night." Matt said. "Maybe it stays that way for all three days and nights. So much for legends."

Eklund knelt slowly down beside it, gulping loudly enough for the rest to hear. Keeping his eyes peeled, he reached out and cautiously plucked free the spent dart. He took deep breath, braced himself to jump, and gave it a poke. It didn’t move and someone snorted. He flashed the rest a glimpse of fang and reached under its arm to get a good grip. It was wet with sweat and he felt a small patch of fur.

Suppressing a shudder, he pulled it up against him and threw it over his shoulder, standing as he did so. It weighed less then he thought it would, and he had no problem moving it. As he settled it on his shoulder it’s hands flopped limply against his buttocks. He jolted and almost dropped it.

"Jesus, boss, this is creepy. If I pass out, you won’t hold it against me, will you?"

"No, but when you wake back up you’ll still have to carry it."

"Figures. I’m quitting the gym."

They went up the trail. Meuller and Worthy took the lead, glancing back frequently, almost sidestepping. Ford and Matt brought up the rear, Ford keeping his dart gun trained on the wereman’s back.

"By the way," Matt asked, "Anybody see if it’s male or female? From the smell, I’d assume it’s a guy."

"It is, trust me." Eklund said with a grunt. "He practically reeks of it. How about we drop that subject?"

"Just don’t bust your pants." Meuller said with a laugh. "It’s probably going to be a while before you see a shower."

"Laugh it up, fuzzball." Eklund quoted with a snort. "You don’t have to carry him. You do, however, have to smell him on me all the way to Chicago."

"Sheriff," Meuller started, "I need you to go on up ahead, get this Jerry Sillet dude, and have him show you his plumbing. I don’t want him to see this. We’ll put it in the truck and then come and get you. After than, you’ll both have to tell the real story about last night."

Worthy drew a breath and glanced at Matt before shrugging. "All right, see you up there."

Eklund was panting heavily by the time they reached the yard. He almost dropped it before they reached the truck. Ford opened the cage, looking and sniffing around for anyone, and Eklund dropped it in with a huge sigh of relief.

Shackles were built into the floor of the cage, and Meuller immediately locked the wrists and ankles down. He crawled out quickly and they all relaxed, staring at the prone form lying on it’s back. After a few seconds, Meuller waved for Matt to follow him inside.

After the truth of last night was revealed, they came out and Meuller walked up to the cab, opened the door, and reached behind the seat. He pulled out a small black box, opened it on the hood, and pulled out a syringe. He loaded it from a large vial.

"Do you think we need that, boss? Two darts aughta keep him out for at least another twelve hours. Hell, one would knock out that dumb ape for at least five."

"He’s not a dumb ape, he’s a smart ape. And that thing," he continued, pointing at the cage, "Is not an ape."

"Guess you’re right."

"Do you think he’s really a wereman? They say that legends like that have some basis in fact."

"No comment." Ford said.

"What did you tell him?" Eklund asked Worthy, gesturing toward the house.

"I told him to keep his mouth shut. Someone will be here by dinner time to debrief him."

When they met back at the station, Meuller stopped Matt and Worthy on their way in. "We’re going straight back to Chicago with this. Now’s the time for the typical government cover up bullshit. I think you know the drill. It ain’t all that different from what you see in the movies. You forgot to make a report of last night and today. When the real ape shows up, probably a lot closer to town, we’ll deal with that. You stick to your story. You’d be advised to quickly forget what you saw - like now. I’ve already got Childs to talk to. Let’s hope he doesn’t make this difficult. Anyway, do you two understand?"

"Gotcha."

"Hell, I’m all for forgetting this, no problems from me. What happens if the public finds out?"

"That’s another thing we’ll deal with when the time comes."

They arrived at the lab in Chicago two hours later. They had called ahead and made arrangements to bring the wereman to the basement complex located under the downtown branch office. It was about as secure a place as any other. It also contained a small infirmary where their new guest could be examined.

Naturally, no one had believed them. They all became believers, however, when Eklund lugged the thing down.

"Would you all stop staring and tell me where to put this thing? It’s heavy and frankly, it scares me."

Dr. Sullivan, the man assigned to meet them, collected his wits. "Uh, down the hall in D section, number three."

"Ah, the bare concrete, prison cell kinda room?"

"Yeah, and the steel door with the shatterproof glass. It’s also sound insulated. Not soundproof, but close. Damn, a real live wereman! What would you do?"

"Find out why he wears sneakers, for starters."

"Sneakers?" Sullivan asked, rubbing his temples, "Why did I get up this morning?"

"Why do any of us? Anyway, he’s all yours. I’ll have the paperwork for you this evening. I’ve still got a human to catch. God knows where he is by now. How did he get away from you?"

"I’ll never tell." Sullivan said to Meuller’s back as he left. Eklund and Ford came back a few seconds later. "If Meuller calls for me, tell him I’ll be by as soon as I’ve spent the rest of the day in the shower. God, I reek of the thing."

"Smells kinda...well, never mind."

"I’d rather not talk about it. He’s in the cell, sleeping like a baby. Well, a pretty mean looking baby, anyway. I’m outta here."

John came walking in as Eklund and Ford left, casting a quizzical glance over his shoulder as they passed. His nostrils still flared. "That’s some weird cologne Paul’s wearing." he said. "Can’t figure it. What’s up? Have they found Jud? We haven’t yet. Why are we downtown?"

"No, we haven’t found Jud," Sullivan said, putting an arm around John’s shoulder, "But about that cologne..."

"What is it?" John asked, staring intently into the cell.

"What does it look like? It’s a wereman. He turned up in some guy’s house down south last night."

John shot him a quick glance and flicked an ear before looking back in at the figure sleeping on the cot. "Seriously."

"I am serious. What does it look like?"

"Well, a wereman, I guess." John said, not quite sure if he was being had. "I need some sleep."

"It looks like we’re going to be busy here for a while. We’ve been assigned to it."

John grunted, his ears perking. "Cool! What about Jud?"

"He’s on hold, once he’s caught."

Consciousness came slowly. He sat up groggily, kneading his forehead. His skull was pounding and his mouth tasted like an old sock. Must be the darts, he thought to himself as he looked around.

He was in a cell, that much was obvious. Why? Was this the way to treat a victim? But, then again, somebody had shot at him. He remembered the werewolves and his heart jumped.

He was on a cot which stood only a few inches above the floor. The walls, ceiling, and floor were bare concrete. The door across from the cot looked like steel. A thick glass window was built in at about face height. The ceiling was a good ten feet up, a single bulb hanging down on a wire.

At the foot of the cot was a metal sink and toilet. A roll of toilet paper hung beside them. In the far corner, flush against the ceiling, a camera was mounted. A large microphone poked out from beneath it.

He got up, holding his forehead. He went to the sink and turned on the cold water. It ran brown for a few seconds before clearing up. He cupped his hands below the flow and splashed his face, then rinsed out his mouth and drank his fill.

I’m obviously in some deep shit, he thought as his mind began to clear. He began a closer inspection of his surroundings. The walls were seamless, as if the whole room had been poured in one big mold. He walked over to the door. It was hinged from the outside, as was the glass. He rapped lightly against it with a knuckle. It felt and sounded very thick.

A face appeared, making him jump. It was another werewolf, this one wearing bifocals. The lenses were set wide apart, a long arch spanning the short snout between them.

Bifocals? This is insane. I’m insane.

Something clanked against the door and he backed away, running into the cot.

God, they’re not going to eat me, are they? His stomach twisted.

The glass opened. Something red flew in about halfway and landed with a wet slap, making him jump again. The glass slammed shut and green eyes stared intently.

He walked to it and squatted over the object. It was a t-bone steak, and it was raw. His stomach growled loudly at the idea of food. He glanced up at the window, then back down to the meat. Sudden anger flared. What do they think I am, an animal?

"What in the hell is this?" he yelled, straightening. The face in the window started, it’s eyes going wide behind the glasses and the ears waving above.

"You can cage me like a damned animal, but I will not eat like one! If you’re going to give me a steak, I like mine medium rare! And a plate and silverware would be nice! What do you take me for? I haven’t eaten in at least two days and you throw me raw meat?" He bent down, picked it up, and threw it at the window. It hit with a splat and plopped to the floor. "Well, fuck you! You eat it!"

He glared hotly at the face, not caring how unusual the whole situation was. Whomever or whatever it was talked excitedly with someone out of sight. After a few seconds it looked back in, still talking. Mike couldn’t hear it’s voice nor could he read the thin lips. A few seconds later it left.

"Great," he said with a sigh. he eyed the steak hungrily. It was leaning against a small slot at the base of the door. His stomach growled again when he pushed the steak away to examine the trapdoor. "No way."

"I can’t believe this! He talks! He doesn’t change back into a man!"

"Talks?" John asked, turning an ear to Sullivan, "I could feel my chest shake all the way out in the hall. If I hadn’t been so surprised I would have run for my life! By the way, what are we gonna do now?"

"Why, cook him a steak, of course. And...french fries. Yeah, why not? There’s something I might as well try while we’re at it, just to be sure."

"Oh, by the way, Mark said he’d have the camera and microphone working in about twenty minutes. He’s replacing a fuse in the console and had to run to the shop to sign out a new one."

"Good, I’d like to have them working by the time his food is ready. God, I still can’t believe this! I guess we won’t be working with Jud for a while."

"I wonder where he is," John mused, "Probably in someone’s garden."

About half an hour later Mike was sitting on the cot when he saw the camera come on. It panned slowly back and forth, stopping after a few passes to point at him. He had just finished what was probably his most desperate prayer, and had been unsure of whether he should let it show to the faces coming and going from the window. He had ended up just bowing his head.

He couldn’t help but think of Deb. Was she all right? Was this happening to her? Where were all these werewolves coming from and how were they moving around in broad daylight? Is this all some weird kind of dream? Was he still passed out on the trail? What were those lights, anyway? Was he dead?

The slot at the bottom of the door slid up with a snap, startling him. A furry face, obviously younger than the first, watched him through the window. A few short whiskers stuck out from the end of it’s snout.

A furry forearm reached in and the raw meat was grabbed. It was replaced with a tray, the are then withdrawing quickly. The slot closed immediately.

On the tray was another steak, cooked this time. The rest of the plate was covered with french fries.

"Dietitians, you’re not," he said as he went to the door. He nodded thankfully to the new face, picking the tray up and carrying it to the cot. He sat Indian-style, the tray in his lap. There was no silverware, but a small piece of paper was sticking out from under the fries. He pulled it out and unfolded it.

"No silverware," he read aloud. He chuckled and looked back at the door. Two faces peered back. "You know, it’s not going to kill you to talk to me, or give me a knife and fork for that matter. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess."

The smell was making his mouth water, so he ignored them and turned his attention to the steak. It was, as he had said, medium-rare. He ate quickly, picking it apart with his fingers and gnawing all the meat from the bone.

"Scary sight, isn’t it?" John remarked from outside the door.

"Sure is," Doug agreed.

The steak finished, he started in on the fries. By the time he was done he felt a lot better. He washed his hands in the sink, drying them on the bed sheet. Carrying the tray, he walked back to the door and set it down in front of the slot. "Did I pass? I suppose a glass of milk is out of the question?"

They both walked away, returning a few minutes later. The old one with the glasses motioned for him to stand back. The slot was again opened and the tray pulled out. In its place went a one-pint carton of milk.

Mike too the carton, opened it, and drank the milk down. He set the carton back at the slot, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Thanks," he said, watching them closely and rubbing his forehead. "Lord, I don’t know where I am, why I’m here, or why I’ve been captured by talking werewolves; but don’t you think it’s about time we started talking? It’s obvious that we have little understanding of each other. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be locked in a cell, scared to death, while you slide food to me under the door. I’m pretty good at coping with things, as far as that goes, but to tell you the truth; I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m confused, and my nerves are shot. So, what do you say?"

The werewolf seemed unsure of what to do.

"Let’s start with names, okay? I’m Mike, Michael Riggs. You are...?"

The werewolf again motioned for him to stand back. He did so and the glass swung open.

"You’re going to have to forgive me, uh, Mike," Sullivan began in a deep voice, "This is a little, well, unusual. My name is Dr. Sullivan and this," he motioned over his shoulder, "Is John Carter."

"No relation," John said with a nervous smile.

"A sense of humor, too. What next, werewolf stand-up?"

"You keep calling us werewolves. Why?"

"Well, isn’t that what you are? It’s sure as hell what you look like. What are you? While we’re at it, what do you think I am?"

"To answer your first question, I’m just a man."

"So am I."

"You’re a wereman."

"You’re a werewolf."

"This isn’t getting us very far," John said.

"If you want to talk race, I’m a wolf. Just wolf."

"You said you were a man. Wouldn’t that mean that you were trying to say that you’re human?"

"Human? ‘Man" isn’t derived from ‘human.’ Do you call yourself ‘human.’"

"Oh yeah, that’s right. Yes, I call myself human, but you called me a wereman. That makes me half man and half what?"

"Wolf. Half human and half wolf."

"You look like a werewolf to me. That’s half human and half wolf. Wait, that doesn’t work, we can’t both be the same thing. I’m getting confused." This is getting deep! "You said, race-wise, that you’re a wolf. What’s the scientific name for you? You know, the Latin."

"Canis Sapiens."

"Bullshit!" Mike said, shaking his head and chuckling.

"I’m quite serious. What is yours?"

"Homo Sapiens."

"’Homo’ stands for ‘same.’"

"It also stands for ‘man.’ Canis is for ‘canine,’ right?"

"Yes."

"Canine as in dogs and coyotes and well, wolves, right?"

"No. We’re similar in appearance, but not in the same evolutionary chain."

"Then why the same species name...wait a minute!" he said with sudden dread, "You’re starting to sound like, like..."

"What?" John asked.

"Just how many of you are there?"

"How many? Well, at last count I think it was about four billion."

"What? Four billion! Okay, wait, we’ll deal with that one later." He put his hands on his hips, sighing heavily. "You used the word ‘human.’ If I’m only half human to you, then what is a normal human?"

"A primitive, semi-intelligent primate found mostly in the jungles of Africa or you local zoo."

"No way! Describe one."

"Well, they’re mostly furless. they have sort of broad, lantern jaws, rough features, huge bone ridges on their brows, short legs, long arms, and powerful, stocky builds. As the name wereman implies, you are about half-way in between. You have a human’s features, but softened and refined. You have the body of a wolf, but no fur, fangs, or claws. Textbook wereman."

Hairless apes? Mike almost laughed. "Do you consider yourselves to be descended from them?"

"No, although it’s not unlikely that we’re distant cousins. Do you?"

"No. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you what a wolf is where I come from."

"Where do you come from?"

"Chicago, originally."

The "wolves" traded glances, surprise on their faces. "You’re in Chicago right now," John said.

"I wasn’t aware that they were hiring werewolves in prison."

"We’re not werewolves, and you’re not in prison. You’re at the Chicago branch office of the FBI."

"Really? Why?"

"Because we don’t know anything about you. You mentioned the wolves where you come from."

"Bad segue," Mike said, waving him off, "Are you about to tell me that you’re afraid of me?"

"We’ll get to that. Tell me about wolves."

"Basically they’re just real big huskies with a few more teeth and a higher level of intelligence."

"Sounds like lupes to me."

"Lupes? Like Canis Loupes? Okay, let’s call a wolf a lupe, then. From my point of view, can’t you see why I want to call you a werewolf? If I’m a man, and a lupe is a wolf, then half of me and half of a lupe makes you a werewolf. Get it?"

They muddled that over for a few seconds. John tilted his head to one side and Mike almost laughed in his furry face.

"Yes, I can see that," Sullivan said, "Can you see our point of view?"

"Yeah, at least until I wake up or go to heaven, whichever comes first."

John snorted.

"Seriously." Sullivan prodded.

"Yes, I can see. I’m not a monster and you’re not a monster. Now that we’ve established a mutual intelligence, why don’t you let me out of here?"

"I can’t," Sullivan answered, "That’s not my decision. We have a lot to talk about, anyway. Unfortunately, I have to go for now."

"We’ll be back tomorrow to talk some more."

"Just as long as it goes both ways. Oh, by the way, in case you didn’t hear earlier I’m cold. Is there any chance I can have something a little warmer to wear?"

"I’ll see what I can do," John said as they left.

This is going to take some serious thought, Mike said to himself. He turned back to his cell with a sigh. His eyes came to rest on the camera. He walked to the middle of the room. Let’s see what they think of this.

"Peek-a-boo!" he yelled, putting his thumbs in his ears and waving. He flopped onto the cot and started sorting through what he had just learned.

Out in the hall John chuckled as Mike fell onto the cot. "Well, I’ll say two things for him - he’s got a sense of humor and a nice ass."

"Pervert," Mark quipped, eyeing the aforementioned piece of anatomy, "But then again, you may have a point. Do you think we’re being hypnotized?"

"I don’t think so, not that we would notice. To tell you the truth, I think he’s just a little too normal to be a monster. It makes you wonder how the legend got started in the first place. I wonder if more like him are running around out there. Hell, Maybe he’s from some, I don’t know, parallel universe or something. He said he was from Chicago."

"Parallel universe? Would you kindly say ‘pop,’ because your head is buried straight up your..."

"Mark! Look in the damned door! That isn’t some movie prop you’re watching on that screen. If we’re ready to believe that he’s a wereman, why can’t we be ready to believe that he’s something else? Maybe there’s another Earth somewhere where he’s the norm? He called us monster, remember? How do we know that our people haven’t been popping up on his world? Which one, in a scientific frame of mind, would you consider first; monster or misplaced man? It’s obvious he’s disoriented."

"Maybe he just got in from Hell and isn’t sure of what to do yet."

"Does he sound like some Hell-sent monster to you? He talks like he’s been to college or at least high school. He insisted on cooked meat and asked for silverware. Would a wereman ask for silverware? Mark, pal," he continued brightly as he clapped Mark on the shoulder and shook him slightly, "We’ve just scratched the surface with this guy. What if we find out that he has a job, a family, a car, and lives in a middle class house in a middle class neighborhood. Too bad that Doug has to leave for the evening. I could stay up all night talking to him. I’m going crazy to find out everything. How will I sleep tonight?"

"You like him, don’t you? He’s got you hypnotized."

"Well, yeah, I guess I do so far," John answered, turning around, "I like his attitude. He doesn’t like to take any crap and I have to admire that. And you have to admit, he can be kind of sexy in a sinister sort of way."

"Better watch yourself, Mr. Presently-Unattached-And-Desperate-For-Anyone. You may find yourself ending up as a large red smear if you fall for this...guy."

John snorted and flick his ears. "Give me a break, I just said that he was mildly sexy."

"Wait, what am I saying? John," Mark said loudly as John walked down the hall, "You hardly know him, and he’s not even wolven!"

"Okay, theory number one: I’m still passed out in the woods and this is all a dream," Mike mumbled to himself, counting on his fingers, "Theory number two: I’ve gone insane and this is all a product of my deranged mind. Theory number three: This is all real and I’m in a load of trouble. One is a distinct possibility, two doesn’t sound likely as I was fine before this all started."

"Fine, let’s work with three, then. Those weird lights I ran into could have been some sort of doorway. Now I’m on an Earth much like my own populated by werewolves. Somewhere along the way their evolution too a drastic turn from ours. That explains the legend. This could have happened before, working from this end instead of mine. Oh, I forgot theory number four: Werewolves are taking over and I’m being fattened for tomorrow’s dinner. I’ll forget that one for now. So, if it’s three, then I’ll probably spend the rest of what will most likely be a very short life being studies and poked and prodded and maybe vivisected and..."

His mind slammed to a halt. "Oh no! They’ll have to kill me first. If they want me to pee in a bottle that’s fine. And they’re not knocking me out again either. God knows what they could do to me if I was unconscious and strapped to a table. I’ll fight."

Remembering how cold he was, he crawled under the white sheet covering the cot and curled up. "I with they would hurry with those clothes."

Mark checked the VCR. There was still a little tape left. The wereman, or whatever he was, had stopped mumbling and crawled under the sheet. He was still awake, his head propped up on one arm. Mark found it almost too easy to do his job, which was to watch Mike. It was hard not to. It was eye-catching the way his muscles stood out with no fur to cover them. He had been genuinely disappointed when their guest had climbed under the sheet.

He was facing into the room, so his face and arm were still visible. Mark zoomed the camera in, not wanting to leave for the window with the tape so close to running out, and studied the details.

The VCR clicked loudly and he jumped. The cassette had run out and was now rewinding. He switched over to the other VCR and started it. Doug didn’t want any gaps in coverage. He checked his watch and filled out a label for the first tape.

The sound of footsteps brought his gaze away from the screen. John was returning and when he came into view he was carrying a bundle of clothes under his arm.

"Security’s gotten tight. How’s our monster doing?" John asked as he walked up.

"You know, it’s funny but I’m beginning to think you were right. He’s been talking to himself ever since you left. I’ve got a tape right here. Mostly he’s been trying to figure out what’s happened to him. He’s afraid we’re going to vivisect him. That’s not a usual concern of indestructible monsters."

"Vivisection? No," John said with a grin, "That’s one we definitely won’t do. He’s a thinking being, for crying out loud."

John walked to the door and opened the window. Mike slid from the cot and walked over, yawning mightily. He handed the clothes through, still careful not to touch the furless hand.

"Thanks, John," Mike said gratefully, "I’m freezing my buns off in here." He put the sweater on first. It was open down the front.

"The jeans should fit, although they might be a little tight around the waist. I’m a little slimmer there than you seem to be."

"These are yours?" Mike asked as he picked them up, "You didn’t have to do that."

"Well, I won’t need them until the dead of winter and I live close by. It’s no problem."

"Thanks again," Mike said, walking over to the cot. He sat down and took of his sneakers, wishing the cushion wasn’t so close to the floor. Standing back up, he gave the jeans a few shakes to straighten them out. "Jordache? Didn’t these go out in the eighties?" he asked with a smile.

John’s head was sticking through the window, making him look like a hunting trophy. Mike’s smile widened.

"Give me a break. They’re almost six years old. They don’t get used much."

"No excuses. Go buy some Levis before you get lynched."

John chuckled, the grumbling sound coming from deep in his chest.

Mike pulled the shorts off and dropped them at the foot of the cot. He was about to put the jeans on when he realized that the legs had come apart. "Hey, these legs..." He stopped and looked closer. "Zippers? I’ve never seen jeans that zipped down the legs like this before. Cool."

"Really?" John asked, surprised. He looked at the bare, muscular legs and made the correct assumption. "No, I guess you haven’t. We unzip the legs when we put them on so we can smooth down our fur. You probably have no idea what it’s like to walk around with your fur shoved up the wrong way. It’s bad enough having to wear the things at all. It does become necessary in this town, though." His eyes returned to the jock strap Mike was wearing.

"I guess that makes sense," Mike mused, catching the line of John’s gaze. "I was jogging when this whole mess started."

"Huh? Oh, sorry. I must be getting tired. It’ll be interesting to hear your story tomorrow."

Mike pulled the jeans on and zipped the legs down. "Much better. At least now I won’t freeze to death. Then again, maybe that’s preferable."

"To what?"

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Mike walked slowly to the door. "John, can I ask you something?"

John watched him approach, seeing a strangely vulnerable look creep into the blue eyes. God, they were the brightest, most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. "Sure."

"What’s going to happen to me?"

It was impossible not to feel sorry for the poor beast. Maybe he was being hypnotized. Either way, he wasn’t going to start lying now. "Ultimately, I have no idea. I’m sure that we’ll do some physical tests tomorrow and a lot of questioning, too. People like you don’t just turn up every day."

"Will I be killed? When, maybe, you’ve learned what you want to learn?"

"No, I can’t see that happening. Mark said that you were worried about vivisection. I can pretty much guarantee that won’t happen. I’m sure that as long as you don’t cause any trouble no one will hurt you."

"Oh, I see. Be a good pet, stay in your cage, and don’t rattle the bars."

John sighed. "Look, Mike, put yourself in our position. If I had suddenly showed up where you come from, wouldn’t you want to study me?"

"Yeah, but isn’t it obvious that I’m not the monster you were expecting? I’m standing here talking to you, aren’t I?"

"Yeah, but..."

"I need you to promise me something," Mike interrupted.

That vulnerable look is back, John thought. God! Those eyes!

"Promise you won’t murder me." His head dropped and he stared at the floor for a few seconds. "I don’t want to die here."

"I promise," John said, sure that he would promise those eyes anything. "No one has any intention of killing you."

Mike met his eyes for a few seconds, measuring him. He relaxed slightly. "I believe you. That helps, I guess. As a matter of fact, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day. But what about everyone else? What about the Powers That Be?" He paused and grinned a little. "At first I thought you were going to eat me."

"Eat you!?"

"Don’t forget, I thought you were monsters, too."

"Do you have any idea what it’s like to be around you? I almost ran for my life when you lost your temper earlier, and you were locked in here!"

They both chuckled uncomfortably. Mike was overcome by another huge yawn. "I think I’m going to hit the sack. Dr. What’s-His-Face, oh yeah, Sullivan, will probably get me up early; and those darts are still numbing my brain."

"I’ll be here with him."

"Well, pleasant dreams. Mine won’t be."

"You too," John said as Mike walked to his cot. He heard Mike mumble a "not likely" as he closed the window. He went to the table where the equipment was set up. They watched the monitor as Mike lay down, covering his face in the crook of an elbow.

"Did you get all of that?" John asked.

"Sure did. So much for the monster theory, eh?" Mark replied, plucking fur from his stomach. He was building a small pile of it on the table. "I wish I didn’t shed through April."

"This happens every year and you bitch every year. If your fur wasn’t so long to begin with..."

"The longest is three and a half inches, thank you!" Mark interrupted indignantly, "See how it tapers nicely onto my tummy?"

"I know how it tapers well. Mine does just fine too, I just have to have it trimmed more often."

"You’re still jealous. You’re a plain, common brown and black while I’m a natural blonde," Mark said, plucking more silver fur from his belly.

"Do you know why blondes have more fun?"

"Don’t start."

"Because their lovers don’t have any!" John exclaimed, laughing.

Mark got up and took a playful swipe at him. John scrambled away, holding his hands out in front of him. "I couldn’t help it! I know how much you hate blonde jokes!"

"I’ll have you know that my performance has been judged more than satisfactory on plenty of occasions."

"Must have been with other blondes."

"I’ll get you back. It may be next week, it may be next year, but I swear I will." He laughed and went back to the table, leaning back in the chair and resuming his grooming. "Now go away so you won’t distract me from my work. Not that I have to do much more than change tapes that will just get reused in the morning because he’s just going to sleep all night."