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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 III

Three hours after leaving the cell, Doug walked into the regional director’s office.

"Doug, how’s it going?"

"Fine, Steve. How’s the business?"

Steve Cooper was short and sported a slight pouch around the middle of his five foot two frame. His fur was black, gray, and meticulously combed. His eyes were jet black, something that always made Doug feel uncomfortable.

"Not as good as it was before I read this report," he said, nodding to the folder Doug had sent up, "Is this for real, or are you and these men playing a dangerous hoax on me?"

"Oh, it’s for real, all right. Just go down yourself and have a look. Damndest thing I’ve ever seen. I had no idea I’d end up dealing with something like this when I took this job."

Steve snorted and twitched his ears. "They found your human, by the way. He was, I hear, about ten miles outside of town eating some guy’s garbage. I’ve been going through hell keeping a lid on this thing."

"I can imagine."

"So, do you have anything firm on how you’re going to go about this?"

"Yes. I see no need to beat around the bush, seeing how he’s coherent and affable. Tomorrow, we’re going to give him a complete physical and collect some samples. We’ll photograph him, too. After that, we’ll spend some time questioning him. The first thing I want to know is where he’s from and how he got here. After that we’ll be working late on the samples. Some will probably have to be sent away for analysis, though you’ve got a nice lab down there."

"Do you think that’s safe?"

"See for yourself," Doug answered, holding out the more interesting tapes. "This is so weird," he continued, "He speaks English with a mild Chicago accent. He’s obviously educated. The funny thing is, he talks like he’s never seen a wolf before. He even called us werewolves. That’s what’s really strange. As of now, I can’t even guess at where he may have come from. He says he’s from here, in Chicago. I’m afraid to think too much about that. My reports may start reading like science fiction stories."

"Why?"

"Because, what we have here is a wereman that speaks perfect English and wears designer clothes. He’s definitely at a loss as to what’s going on. He’s downright confused. What does that tell you?"

"Enlighten me."

Doug smiled. "What that tells you is that, like it or not, we’re going to have to consider the possibility that he came from some place with people like him. Remember the report? He was just as afraid of us when he woke up as we were when we caught him. He thought we were going to cut him apart. He’s from Chicago. What does that say to you? That somewhere, and God knows exactly where, there is a Chicago full of weremen. A United States full of weremen. An Earth full of weremen."

"Shit, Doug, you don’t want me to believe that, do you? Please say you don’t , because I hate to disappoint people I like."

"I’m not asking you to believe. I didn’t mean to imply that I believe it, either. It’s just a preliminary theory, that’s all."

"Okay, I’ll let that ride for now. What are you going to need?"

"All I need now are a couple of armed guards to be available for when we move him around and some more equipment for the lab."

"Silver bullets?" Steve asked with a grin.

"No," Doug said, returning the smile.

"What do you need to move him for?"

"Just to get him down to the infirmary and back, mostly. He seems reasonable enough for a monster, but I want to have guards there anyway. He’s going to need to use the shower facility, too. Desperately."

"Pretty ripe?"

"Whew," Doug began, wrinkling his nose, "I’d venture a guess that they can smell him on the third floor."

Steve smiled. "Why not just knock him out?"

"We can’t put him under every time we want to move him. He’s a thinking man, Steve. He’s already afraid of being abused. I’m sure you caught that in my report. Besides, knocking him out over and over could be dangerous."

"Okay, how many do you need?"

"Two to work during the day. Can you spare them?"

"Yeah, two is no problem. Since they’re already involved, I’ll send Eklund and Ford. How long do you think it will take to find out what you need to know?"

"There’s no telling until we find out more of what kind of things we need to know, if you follow. Like I’ve said, though, he’s being very cooperative. What do you think you’ll do with him when we know everything?"

"You mean when we know whether or not he’s some sort of genetic freak created by an unfriendly government to terrorize out peaceful citizens?" Steve quipped, only half joking, "I don’t have the slightest idea."

"You don’t really suspect that, do you?"

"Not yet, but it’s my job to be cynical."

"Well then, if you don’t need me for anything else..."

"Go on," Steve said, standing, "I know you have a long day ahead of you tomorrow. I know I do."

"Have a nice evening. I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, are you two still coming over Friday or should we call that off?"

"Hmm, maybe we’d better put that on hold until we find out how much time we’ll be spending with our friend down there."

"Okay. Say ‘hi’ to the better half for me."

"I will."

Mike woke early. His watch read five-thirty. A push of a button showed it to be Wednesday. He padded over to the sink, the cold floor chilling his feet. He filled the sink with cold water and splashed his face, the only part of him that was even remotely clean. He drained it and refilled it with warm water, splashing his face again, then brushed his teeth with a finger. His mouth still tasted like a crypt when he was done. He gave the camera a quick glance, then put his back to it and used the toilet. That done, he walked over to the door and looked out. A silver werewolf was walking away from the door to meet John and Doug, who were apparently just arriving. He used his hands to try and straighten his hair.

They talked for a minute or two, then came over to the door. Doug opened the window. "Good morning. I didn’t expect you to be up this early."

"Hi." John added from behind.

"Hi. I just woke up. I don’t sleep well in captivity."

"How are you feeling today?" Doug asked, nodding slightly at the hint as John moved between them and bent down.

Mike smelled eggs and coffee. "Dirty," he answered, looking down toward the slot, "But if that’s my breakfast, I’ll be fine in a few minutes."

"I hope you like them scrambled," the doctor said, eyeing him carefully.

"I’ll take them any way I can get them, considering the circumstances. At least they’re cooked," he said as he stood with the tray and walked to the cot.

"I was hoping we could talk while you ate."

"Sure, there are a few things I wanted to ask. The first of which is how long we need to keep talking through that hole in the door." He ate a forkful of eggs and chased them with a bite of toast. They had given him silverware this time. He looked closely at the fork and held it up. "Thanks. Real silver, too. I feel privileged."

"No problem," Doug said, watching him eat. Mike set the fork down on the plate and held up his hands. "Look, no burns."

He heard John laugh, along with another, unfamiliar voice, and continued eating.

"As for your question, that’s up to you. Today we hope to accomplish a lot. It will go much easier if you continue to cooperate. I’m not implying that you don’t want to, but I want things to be clear. The sooner we can build a foundation of trust, the sooner we can get all of this done with and get on with our lives."

"So tell me," Mike began after a sip of coffee, "What life will I be getting on with?"

"No one’s thought that far ahead, yet. But if all goes well, and that depends solely on you, you won’t be here forever. It’s important that you put your fears aside and believe that."

"I believe you, and I’ll cooperate with just about anything that gets me out of this cell. Unless, that is, I know that it will hurt a lot. I don’t take kindly to severe pain. I hope you weren’t planning on a spinal tap or something. I assume you want to do a physical, but you’re not going that far." He gave Doug an unyielding stare.

"Well, it was on the list," Doug mused, "What the hell, I guess we can do without it. Oh, by the way, call me Doug."

"All right, Doug, here’s your tray. One thing, though. The FBI makes horrible coffee. Unless you made it yourself," he added quickly, smiling, "In that case it was great. Best cup I’ve ever had."

"I didn’t," Doug said, showing the tips of his fangs in a smile. John grabbed the tray from the slot as Doug continued. "Now, about today’s schedule, and our speaking arrangement. What I propose is that we have a small table and a couple of chairs brought in. There will be two armed guards present whenever anyone is in the room with you until we start to feel safe with one another."

"Sounds reasonable, I guess, but I’m not going to attack anyone who doesn’t attack me first."

"Good. Today, what we want to do first is take you to the infirmary for a physical. We’ll photograph, weigh, and measure you. We’ll have you do some simple dexterity exercises, and we’ll collect information on your metabolism." He glanced over Mike’s shoulder to the toilet. "Have you used the toilet?"

"I took a leak. Amazingly enough, that’s it. I thought I was going to shit myself yesterday."

"Do you think you can give us a bowel movement later?"

"That seems to be automatic when a doctor asks for it."

"Good. John and myself will probably be your only visitors at first. When you’re out of your cell, you’ll be guarded."

"Can I make a request before we begin all of this?"

"Go ahead."

"I’m filthy and I smell like a farm animal. My mouth tastes like a grave and my hair feels like wax. I’d get on my knees and beg for a shower and a tube of toothpaste. I could also use a comb."

"That’s probably a good idea. No offense, but your smell is extremely strong. Okay, we’ll start with the shower. The showers are right next to the infirmary, anyway. Since you’ll be out of the room for a while, I’ll have Mark get you a toothbrush and toothpaste when he gets the table."

"I’d appreciate it."

"Well, then, if you’re ready, we’ll get started."

"I’m ready when you are."

"Good, good. Stand back, please."

He backed to the far wall. He heard heavy bolts being shoved aside, making him wonder just what this room was normally used for, and the door opened a crack. Doug and John stepped back and their faces were replaced by an new one.

The door was opened the rest of the way by the barrel of an assault rifle. Mike couldn’t keep himself from smiling. It was staggering to think that they were afraid enough to point a gun at him. His smile grew wider when he saw the man behind it.

He was black from head to toe. Body armor, actual body armor, covered most of him. Another one, similarly outfitted, was a few paces behind him.

"Come out slowly," the guy said, sounding a little nervous.

Mike assumed that the sight of him smiling at an M-16 wasn’t helping things, but he couldn’t stop himself. He walked out slowly, seeing the monitoring table for the first time. The silver werewolf was watching from the bottom step of a staircase at the end of the hall. No one, not even the guards, was coming within six feet of him; and the rifles never left his chest.

"The showers are to your left, down the hall," John said, smiling apologetically.

"Okey dokey."

As he walked away, he noticed that everyone, save the guards, wore sandals instead of regular shoes. Short, thick fur covered the tops of their feet and short claws jutted from the toes. He moved slowly, growing slightly fearful of the two guns at his back. After thirty feet or so, he reached a door marked "latrine."

"Go on in," Doug said from behind a guard. Mike chuckled.

"What’s funny?" John asked from behind Doug.

"I’m sorry, it’s just that this is kind of funny, in a perverse way. I can’t help it. Haven’t you figured out that I’m just an ordinary guy?"

"Not yet, I’m afraid," Doug answered honestly.

He grinned some more and walked in. Three sinks were on his left, with three stalls to his right. He walked past a row of lockers and came to the shower room. A towel hung on each of three racks outside of it. Inside, three shower heads poked from the far wall. Under each, a large bottle of shampoo and a long-handles brush sat on a small shelf.

"No soap?"

"That’s what the bottles are. Don’t you recognize them?" John asked.

"Sure. I recognize shampoo, but I was asking about soap. If I use that stuff all over I’ll smell like a french whore."

They all chuckled, even the guards. "It’s odorless, always has been," Doug said, "I assume yours isn’t? "

"Nope."

"Are you referring to hand soap?"

"Yeah, I guess that’s what you’d use it for. This stuff won’t suds up too well on me, although I’m sure it works a treat for you."

"You don’t want to use hand soap all over. That is scented and no one will be able to come near you without a gas mask."

"No one’s getting all that close now," Mike said, turning and looking at them all for a few seconds. No one moved.

"Do I get an audience?"

"Afraid so," Doug answered.

"For a shower? Oh, come on! I can understand a guard or two, but I’m not used to showering for a crowd. I don’t do it any differently that anyone else."

"We don’t know that yet. John and I have to observe everything you do. After this time we can leave you alone with a guard. Please bear with us."

John looked embarrassed.

"Oh hell, all right." He stripped, trying to hide himself as much as possible and not look their way. To some extent, it was a bit humiliating. He felt like a specimen.

Hell, he thought, I am a specimen.

He swallowed his pride and stepped into the stall. He chose the middle spout and turned it on, staying clear of the cold, dirty spray until the brownish water was replaced with clear. He really wasn’t in the mood for a cold blast. When it had warmed up he stepped into it, relaxing and enjoying the warm shower. It felt fantastic.

"Ah. Do you mind if I don’t rush?" he asked.

"Nah, go ahead." Doug answered.

He grabbed the shampoo and lathered himself as best he could. He quickly found that it was best to work up suds in his hair and move them down onto his body. The suds were odorless, as they had said. He glanced over to his hosts, planning to comment on it. His face flushed when he saw them.

They were all staring shamelessly. It wasn’t hard to figure out where most of their eyes were focused. John met his gaze for a second, immediately averting his eyes, and looked chagrined.

He turned his back to them and finished that way, forcing the blood from his face and taking some more time to enjoy the shower. Once he had rinsed off, he grabbed a towel and dried himself.

He dressed as quickly as he could, forgoing the jock. It was beyond decency to put the thing back on after wearing it for three days. He considered himself lucky for not having jock itch.

The door opened and Mark soon appeared, carrying a toothbrush and a new tube of toothpaste. He handed them to Doug, glanced around, and leaned against the wall by the door.

"Thanks," Mike said.

"Sure," Mark said back.

Mike took the towel and walked over to one of the sinks. Once the water was running clear he started brushing. The tube said that it was a familiar brand and it tasted as he expected it to. He looked up in the mirror and through it saw them all watching, ears eagerly forward. A thought occurred to him and he looked back at himself and started laughing. A few drops of foam strayed onto the mirror, making him laugh harder. Within a few seconds he was doubled over the sink, trying not to make a mess. His eyes watered and his stomach started to hurt. He finally contained himself enough to look up.

John was chuckling, shaking his furry head. Everyone else was smiling. Mike rinsed his mouth out so he could talk. "Did that look like I think it looked, me with foam all over my mouth?"

"Yes." John answered.

"Thought so. Let’s try this again." He continued where he had left off, making an effort not to look at himself. He would have laughed at the sight of them doing it. The image kept creeping in and he almost choked himself before he was finished. He combed his hair and was let next door to the infirmary, the procession moving as it had before. Mark mentioned that a table and chairs had just arrived at the cell as John leaned close and whispered in his ear.

"Man, did you ever miss a show!"

"What? Tell me!" Mark whispered back.

"The shower," John said, holding out his hands and moving them slowly apart.

Mark gaped at the implied dimensions. "You’re kidding!"

"Well, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea."

"Whew!" Mark replied as John disappeared into the infirmary.

"Okay," Doug began, picking up a camera from the counter, "Pictures first. Stand against that wall, beside the scale, and take your clothes off."

"Why?"

"Because you’re a medical curiosity. It’s nothing personal. Try to be clinically detached."

"Is this really necessary?"

"Yes," Doug insisted, "We need to study you. That includes establishing that you’re a normal flesh and blood being like ourselves. These pictures will establish scale and proportion."

"A little too much scale and proportion, if you know what I mean." Mike retorted.

Doug sighed. "Please? Don’t worry, these will not be made public. We have to have a photographic record of your basic anatomy."

Mike rolled his eyes and did as he was told, feeling like a specimen again. Doug took over two dozen pictures, moving from one angle to another. He had Mike hold his arms straight out at different angles. They repeated the process with him facing the wall. John watched for a few minutes then turned tactfully away. Mike felt foolish and embarrassed.

"That should do it," Doug said as the camera rewound itself. "Have a seat on the table."

"Here, put this on," John added, holding a hospital gown out to him.

He put on the gown and hopped onto the table, swinging his legs over the edge. Doug collected various medical torture devices from a drawer, the main ones being a tongue depressor and stethoscope.

"Okay, the basics first," John said, taking the stethoscope from Doug. He hooked it into his ears, keeping them pointed forward, and reached for Mike’s chest. Mike braced himself.

It was freezing, as he had expected. John listened for a few seconds while Doug put a pressure band on his arm. The guards kept the rifles trained on him, wary of any sudden moves.

"Take a couple of deep breaths. By the way, you smell a lot better now that you’re clean."

"Thanks," he said as he breathed.

"Your lungs sound good from here," John said, circling around behind him. Mike tried not to move when John put the disk on his back. "Again...good. I should have guessed from your physique. You have enormous lung capacity."

"I like to take care of myself."

"So I see," Doug said as he wrote his blood pressure on a medical form, "Here, John."

John looked at his blood pressure and pulse. "God man, what do you do to keep in shape?"

"I run five miles and lift weights five days a week. Weather permitting, I bike a lot. I also play a lot of basketball and racquetball."

"Any allergies?" Doug asked.

"Nope."

"Obvious scars?"

"I have one from an appendectomy, but just the usual beyond that."

"How long ago was that?" John asked as he recovered from hearing a wereman admit to an appendectomy.

"Nine years ago."

"How old are you now?"

"Twenty-five. I’ll be twenty-six September fourteenth."

"Really?" John asked, surprised, "I’ll be twenty-six on the twentieth."

"I’m older than you are, nyah-nyah nyah-nyah-nyah."

One of the guards chuckled.

"Place of birth?" Doug asked, pen poised above a form.

"Northwestern Memorial."

"Parents?"

"Deceased."

"I’m sorry," John said.

Mike shrugged as John walked over to the counter. He came back with a ball of cotton, three small test tubes, and a needle that looked big enough to crawl into.

"Don’t drain me dry, for crying out loud!"

"You’ll hardly miss it in your condition," Doug said, wiping the inside of his elbow with alcohol.

"Yeah, but you could fit my whole arm in that needle," Mike pouted as John wrapped a thick rubber band around his upper arm. "How is it you guys are so familiar with medical equipment. I thought you were zoologists."

"Relax that," Doug said, shaking his arm lightly. "It comes in handy. Both John and I have medical training. Oh, it looks like you have some fur after all."

"I noticed," John said, inserting the needle. As the tube filled, he looked up at Mike, "Will it grow?"

"No, I’m afraid that’s it." Mike answered, wincing as he watched John fill the tubes, "That has got to be the eeriest thing to watch."

"Hold that," John said, pressing a cotton wad against his elbow. He walked to the counter and returned with two beakers and a sealable plastic bag. "The bathroom’s right there," he said, pointing to a door in the corner. He took a deep breath and let it out. "We need a urine, bowel, and...semen sample."

"Semen? Whatever for?"

"Genetic and other information," Doug supplied, "It will tell us much about your physiology, and frankly it is of interest how a heterosexual intelligent being’s reproductive system may differ."

"You’ve got to be kidding."

Doug just shrugged.

Mike eyed him for a few seconds, then John. Neither seemed ready to back down. "Oh brother!" he said, sighing in exasperation, "You aren’t going to be timing this, are you?"

Everyone laughed, including the guards. "No."

"Any medical advice on which to do first?" he asked, walking to the door.

"Urine, bowel, semen," Doug answered.

"Well, at least you’re not watching."

"Hmmm, now that you mention it...." John said with a smirk.

Mike gave him a hard stare and went in. The first two were average enough but he surprised himself on the third; both in sensation and volume. He hadn’t even fantasized. He was trying very hard not to think of Deb. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to face the idea of never seeing her again.

He couldn’t hide his embarrassment when he emerged. Everyone was trying very hard to act nonchalant - he gave them credit for that much - but noses were quivering everywhere.

He handed the samples to Doug, who put the feces and urine into a small refrigerator. He paused and held up the semen for a second, studying it a little harder than the other two.

"Damn, this looks potent. Is this all, or did you lose some?"

Mike blushed furiously. "That’s all. Why? Is something wrong?"

"Well, the volume is low, to be honest. Maybe it’s all the stress you’ve been through lately. On the other hand, it does look extremely potent."

John stepped over for a closer look and he stopped sniffing in Mike’s direction. "You’re right. Maybe that’ll make up for the lack of volume. I wonder why that is? The analysis should prove interesting."

"Will you two stop discussing my sperm and get on with this? Jees, you are creeping me out."

John blushed, or at least it looked that way. Mike thought he saw the insides of his ears go bright before he moved them back a little.

"Sorry," Doug said, "Clinical detachment." He opened a strange looking freezer and put the sample into it, waving the mist away as he did.

"What’s that?"

"Liquid nitrogen," Doug answered, resealing it.

"You guys have some serious stuff down here."

"Most of it was brought in last night. Mark got it all set up for us before you awoke. Back on the table, please, and lie back."

Mike did so and Doug stood beside the table, feeling around Mike’s torso and probing along his ribs. Mike suppressed a giggle when it started to tickle.

"Everything feels right," Doug said with satisfaction, then paused on Mike’s abdomen, "Flex your stomach."

"Okay."

"Hmmm," he continued, eyebrows furrowing as he ran his fingers over Mike’s abdominal muscles.

"What?" John and Mike asked in unison, the latter in a quick huff.

"Your upper abdominals are short and your lowers long," Doug said, causing John to look closer.

"They are. Wow."

Mike went limp and exhaled. "What’s wrong with that?"

"Flex again."

He did so and Doug felt around some more, probing to just below his pubic hairline and almost prompting a halt from Mike. "Yes, definitely."

"In comparison with our own, you’re upper and lower abdominals are more or less reversed," John said.

"Oh."

Doug finished, John taking notes from him, and then Mike was told to sit up. They examined his eyes and ears next. When he had finished peering into Mike’s ears, Doug grabbed a tongue depressor. "Open wide."

Mike saw the guards shift and he almost smiled. He opened his mouth and Doug peered in, using the tongue depressor to move his tongue around. John looked over Doug’s shoulder, making them resemble a single, two-headed monster.

"Major gag reflex," Doug comment when Mike almost puked. John made a note. "Three fillings. Did you get those as a child?"

"Uh-Huh."

"Strange as they seem, your teeth look healthy. Your throat looks like it should, although it’s not back as far."

They checked his reflexes, which seemed to impress them. They measured his body for fat content and found no surprises there; it was extremely low. Skin scrapings were taken next and placed in small sample bags. Those were followed by samples of his finger- and toenails, hair, and more hair from his armpit and below his navel. He was passing his eye test, with mediocre results by werewolf standards, until they dimmed out the lights to test his night vision.

"I’ll be damned," Doug exclaimed, mildly shocked, "I didn’t expect that."

"We humans aren’t known for our night vision."

"You’d think that with day vision that’s at least acceptable and outstanding depth perception you’re night vision would follow suit," Doug mused, snatching the eye exam lamp again and looking into one of Mike’s eyes. "The smaller iris doesn’t explain...ah-hah! Your light receptors don’t looks quite right. I didn’t notice that before. I bet the shape of your lens is off, too. Look at all those cones! We have to give you a color test. John, get the most comprehensive color test you can find. Is your vision typical?"

"Yeah, and the only time they check night vision is when you get your driver’s license."

"Do you have a car?" John asked.

"I had an Eagle Talon."

"Cool. Turbo?"

"And all-wheel-drive."

"Must be nice."

"It’s expensive. What do you have?"

"An eighty-eight Beretta GT."

"Well, that’s not bad at all."

"It doesn’t do one-forty, though."

"I wouldn’t know," Mike said with a grin.

"Yeah, right. Get over on the scale so we can weigh you."

Mike got on the scale and found that he had lost weight. "I need to eat more; I’m four pounds down."

"We’ll give you a big lunch," Doug said, pointing to the wall where he had been photographed, "Step over there so we can do some basic dexterity tests."

"Not in this thing," Mike said, tugging at his gown, "And I’m warning you, I’m probably pretty tight after all that’s happened."

Doug had Mark fetch his jock strap. Mike refused to use it at first, agreeing only after he was allowed to wash it out in the bathroom.

Mike was more flexible than most because of his athletic lifestyle. Even though he did feel stiff, he could still press his stomach to his thighs when he stretched his legs out. They were impressed with his overall dexterity, but were surprised when he couldn’t put his face between his legs.

"If I could do that, I would have never left the house on Sunday in the first place," Mike said, grinning, then remembered what he had just done a little earlier and waved off any smart replies that may have been coming, "Do you mean you can?"

"Yeah, but we still get out a lot," John answered, smiling back, "Hey Doug, I’m sure the stomach muscles have something to do with that."

"Mm-Hmm," Doug agreed, "And his spine, I’d guess. Time to find out."

Next he was led to an adjoining room full of x-ray equipment. They x-rayed him from head to foot, from different angles, and with him on his back and belly. Mike sat and swung his legs while they waited for the pictures to come through, trading fast car stories with John. In spite of the fact that he looked like a demon from hell, John seemed to be a likable kind of guy. His demeanor belied his wicked, predatory features. Doug came in with the x-rays and John joined him at the light rack. Mike watched from the table, not bothering to ask to get up with two guards still aiming guns at him. Doug and John started with his feet and worked their way up, reminding Mike of his painful trip to this place, their ears eagerly forward.

"Well, except for your backbone and skull, your skeleton looks very much like ours. Nothing but insignificant little details from what I can tell."

"What’s different about my spine?"

"Too many vertebrae and not enough cartilage. That would explain why you can’t bend over all the way."

"You must shrink a lot when you get old."

"We lose, on average, about three inches once the cartilage has mostly compressed."

"Lord."

Doug hung the skull shots up, and John pointed excitedly, his ears almost leaping off his head. "Look at that!"

"That’s the squarest looking jaw I’ve ever seen. Look at this, John." He turned to Mike. "Did you have teeth removed?"

"I had my wisdom teeth taken out last year."

"What are wisdom teeth?" John asked, snatching a form from the counter.

"You don’t get wisdom teeth?"

"Tell us what they are. Maybe we have them and call them something else."

"Wisdom teeth are four extra molars that grow in the back. Most people don’t have room for them so they get pulled. Mine were impacted and had to be cut out."

"That is weird," John said, writing briskly.

"Do you think that they’re some kind of holdover from your race’s past?"

"Got me."

Doug turned back to the x-rays. "You’re nose is cartilage?"

"Yeah."

Doug shook his head. "We’ve got too much to do right now. We can look more closely at these later. I think we’ve got just about everything we need for today," he said with satisfaction, picking up the considerable stack of medical forms and notes they had collected.

"Thank God."

"Let’s get back to your room. We’ve got a lot to talk about before John and I get started on all this paperwork and those samples."

"When’s lunch?"

John looked at his watch. It was the exact same kind Mike was wearing, though he had left it in the cell. "Now, from the looks of it," he said, turning to Doug, "Why don’t we eat in his room?"

"Sure."

"Fine with me," Mike said, "But it’s still a cell to me."

They sat down to eat, the guards standing in the corners opposite them. Lunch was spaghetti. Mike and John had milk while Doug drank ice tea. Doug’s note pad sat beside his plate, an uncapped pen on top.

"Do you sleep with that thing?" Mike asked.

"I don’t want to miss any of your profound statements."

"To be a monster, or not to be; that is the question."

They all laughed and started eating. Mike caught himself returning their stares and looked quickly at his plate. Watching werewolves eat spaghetti ranked at the top of his list for the weirdest things he had ever seen. They both chewed with their mouths partially open, supposedly so their fangs didn’t shred their lips. Neither seemed aware of it, so Mike assumed they all did and tried to ignore the noise.

Over lunch, Mike explained, as best he could, what had happened Sunday morning. Doug made sure that he included all the details, keeping strictly to the event itself. The rest of Mike’s world, he said, would be covered later.

"You’ve never felt pain." Mike said in summary, eating the last bite from his second plateful.

"I broke my left arm when I was a kid." John offered with a smile.

"Can’t compare. Even my appendicitis didn’t hurt like that. I felt like I was on fire, and it just...crawled up me. It was like I was being dipped feet-first in acid."

John cringed. "Ouch."

Doug called Mark in to take the trays away.

"You’re going to piss him off, making him an errand boy like that." John said to Doug after he had left.

"He’ll get over it. Besides, once things settle down we won’t be so restricted. So! Onward."

He slid his pad in front of him and John pulled one out of a pocket. "This is all being taped, of course, but I want to have notes to look back on while we talk. Since we’re starting basically from scratch, this Q & A session is probably going to wander around a bit. Let’s start with the basics about yourself. First of all - full name."

"Michael Alexander Riggs."

"Occupation?"

"Computer programmer."

"Really?" John asked.

"Surprised?"

"I guess I shouldn’t be. Sorry."

"No problem."

"Education?"

"High school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Chicago. I’ve taken several related courses since."

"Employer?"

"Haffley Software Systems, in Decator. I’m the Head Programmer."

"No wonder you can afford that Talon."

"Address?"

"Does any of this really matter? If I’m from some other Earth, than if these things exist at all, someone else will be there."

"Yes, but what if the names matched? Wouldn’t that be something?"

"I guess so. Twenty-two seventy-eight rolling Valley Drive, apartment B."

"Age? Oh, twenty-five and September...fifteenth?"

"Fourteenth."

"I’m getting hot." Doug said. "Anyone mind if I take this lab coat off?"

"Not me. I wouldn’t want a reputation for being a poor host."

Doug took his smock off, John following his lead. Underneath they both wore light blue shirts with the same cut as the ones he had seen being worn in the woods. Each had a long slit on each side for ventilation. Other than the profusion of openings, they resembled typical dress shirts. Each wore a clip-on tie that hung from the top of the shirt. The sleeves were short and the tails were tucked into knee-length shorts.

From what Mike could see through the openings in his shirt, John was obviously well built. Muscles bulged beneath his fur wherever it was exposed, and he filled out the shirt completely. The fur on his belly was more sparse than the rest. Except for his palms and fingers, it was the only place where skin was visible on him. Mike wasn’t intimidated, though; especially after learning that he was two inches taller than the average werewolf. John, at about five-ten, was considered tall. Now, why would that be? Mike thought. God, this is weird.

On Doug’s right arm, just above the elbow, a two-inch wide band was fastened. It had an intricate black design sewn onto a white background. A small diamond, held in a gold setting, was attached in the center.

"Can I ask what that is?"

"You don’t know?" John asked, surprised.

"Nope."

"It’s a wedding band." Doug said, equally amazed.

"Oh. Well, that’s different. I’ve got an engagement band, but it’s on my finger." He showed it to them. "Guys don’t usually were them, but my fiancé’ talked me into it."

"So, you’re engaged?" Doug asked cheerfully.

"Yeah, but I don’t want to talk about that. I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m never going to see her again."

"Her!" John gasped, looking shocked.

"Yeah." Mike said slowly.

Doug’s expression mirrored John’s. "You’re engaged to a female?" he asked, having trouble sitting still.

"Of course." Mike answered defensively. "What’s the problem? You look shocked.

"That’s normal?"

"Yes, of course. Wait a second, you mean that you’re married to a man?"

"Like you said, of course."

It was Mike’s turn to looked shocked. He glanced at John, who seemed to be in agreement with Doug. Doug shook his head and let out a long sigh.

"I think we just hit a brick wall. Are you saying that you, and those like you, are heterosexual? Like an animal?"

"Yeah." Mike said slowly. "Are you about to say that you’re all homosexual? I’ll ignore that comment about animals."

"Sorry, it’s just that that kind of behavior is usually associated with the animal kingdom. Well, except for mating, of course."

"Whoa! Slow down!" Mike said quickly, catching his wits. "I think we better have a mutual biology lesson. I’ll go first."

He spent the next hour explaining human biology. He covered everything from dating to death. Both men had stopped him frequently for more details. By the time he had finished, his mouth was dry.

"Your females live longer than the males?"

"Well, not always, but statistically speaking, yes. I think it has something to do with them handling stress better than men, or men historically having to deal with more."

"Wow." John said through a sigh.

"Amazing!" Doug exclaimed. "A whole heterosexual society! It’s kind of sick, but amazing."

"I think it’s your turn." Mike added quickly.

"Let me think." Doug said, waving him off.

They sat for a few minutes, Doug rubbing his snout. John tapped his fangs with a claw, also lost in thought. Mike chewed a nail and tried to figure out how people could evolve to be gay.

"Of course!" Doug finally said, snapping his fingers. "It’s blatantly obvious. That would explain everything. John, don’t you get it? The females live! Just like animals!" he finished, waving Mike down again.

"So," John began slowly, "If the females live, why not stay with them? Wow! What a concept! But it does make sense when you think about it."

"Someone want to clue me in before I get mad?"

Doug faced him. "Please forgive the constant references to the animal kingdom, Mike, but it’s the only basis of comparison I can come up with. You say that your females live as long or longer than the males. Ours don’t."

"I’ll start at the beginning." he said, rushing on excitedly. "We males mature at about the same time yours do. So do our females - usually between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Sometimes it takes as long as fifteen. But our females almost never live more than a year past puberty."

"They die? Why?"

"Let me talk. When a female wolf reaches puberty, she must mate within about two months, on the outside. Statistically, there are no exceptions. If she doesn’t mate within that time, she hemorrhages to death. It’s similar to what you described as a period. In our case, once it starts, it doesn’t stop."

"But," Mike began, confused, "A period is just a flushing out of the egg and what blood collected to prepare for pregnancy. It’s not really bleeding, in that sense."

"It is for our females. The prenatal blood and egg goes, and then the vessels open up. If she chooses a man and mates, she’s pregnant for about nine months, just like yours. But even pregnancy doesn’t save her. Immediately after birth those same vessels open up and, to put it simply, she bleeds to death. Most die within three hours."

"That’s cruel." Mike said. "That is, if I choose to believe such a completely ludicrous suggestion."

"That’s nature. No one’s been able to do anything about it. Of course, no one really wants to. In a way that sounds heartless, but to change nature’s way of doing things would turn the entire planet upside-down. Think of the population explosion alone..."

Mike rubbed his eyes.

"Just over ninety percent of all births are multiple births. Seventy-five percent of those are fraternal twins, one boy and one girl. The rest are various combinations of boys and girls, with a few single-child births thrown in for good measure."

He took a deep breath before continuing. "You must understand that the death rate for unmated females is only about two percent. It’s considered a travesty for a female to not be able to mate. It makes her death meaningless. You didn’t mention how females are treated in your society. Here, they are given everything their family can afford. The boys are hardly neglected, but it’s the females who get the most attention. The boys grow up understanding that. After all, the girl is going to be gone before she’s sixteen, at the latest. They make the ultimate sacrifice for our people."

"As for family structure, whoever mates with her becomes the children’s’ father. His husband becomes the stepfather. I seem to remember that stepfather means something completely different to you."

"Yeah." Mike mumbled in a daze.

"The term ‘mother’ is only used posthumously to refer to the female who bore the children. If a couple divorces and the father remarries, the new spouse becomes the halffather."

"It’s easy enough to understand why you’re heterosexual. All we have to do is look at the animal world to see that. Do you understand why we aren’t?"

They both looked at him intently. Mike sat there thinking, tapping the fingers of one hand against the table top. He looked back and forth between the two werewolves, trying to take it all in. He would have never guessed that John was gay. He decided to go out on a limb. "Okay, let me take this slow. You evolved with your females dying young. Like anyone else, you all need love and companionship. With no females to spend your life with, the men were left only with each other. So, naturally, you all developed a homosexual society out of simple need. You had no choice but to turn to each other. It came as naturally to you as turning to an adult female comes to me."

"Exactly!"

"Whatever drugs you must have given me are wearing off, because I’m not buying any of this."

"Why not?"

"Oh, come on! Do you expect me to swallow a load of crap like that? What precedent could there possibly be for having your females die like that? At least I have the animal kingdom to back me up. What do you have?"

"We are a product of our evolution. When you get out of here, you’ll see that we’re not drugging you and we’re not lying."

"I’m not an evolutionist," Mike said disdainfully, "But I think that the Bible and evolution have some common ground. Okay, let’s assume that you’re not lying and I’m not dreaming this. If you are raised from childhood as homosexuals, what would possibly make you want to have sex with a female? I assume that your friends and family would impress their lifestyle upon you as you grow up. Wouldn’t the thought of sex with a female disgust you?"

"Actually, it does. I have three children, two daughters and one son. They’re all twelve. The boy’s fraternal. I expect to lose my girls within three years. However, if you suggested right now that I go have sex with a female, I would be disgusted. Offended, as a matter of fact. Except for a few heterosexuals, who hopefully all end up in therapy, no man would ever want to have sex with a female."

"Then why don’t you all just die out?"

"Mainly, it’s the smell. It’s well..."

"Oh, give me a break! Look, I don’t want to seem belligerent, but you’re starting to push the limits of reason, here. How can you compare me to an animal when you’re talking about being irresistibly drawn to a rutting female?"

Doug looked offended. "Well, you don’t have to be rude about it."

"Don’t play hurt and offended with me, Doctor. You have to convince me."

"What do you want me to say? Hear me out before you start judging us. As I was saying, it’s pretty much irresistible. If you would have waited, I would have told you that the smell isn’t the only factor involved. There’s also the social-personal responsibility we give ourselves. I guess you could say that the two are nature’s way of making sure we don’t disappear. The responsibility makes us accept that we will probably end up mating. The smell is simply a physical lure to close the deal. It’s not a particularly pleasant smell, I can assure you; but it trigger our mating instinct. We don’t enjoy the mating process. We understand that our mating habits, the scent and all, are similar to some animals. Wolves are, after all, mammals. I know this all must sound bizarre to you, but it’s what we are."

"Mammals nurse their young."

"We don’t. In that regard we’re kind of like the platypus - breaking one of the mammal rules."

"It’s about the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard; all of it. Then again; if you’re being straight with me, the thought of spending your whole life enjoying sex with a woman must seem pretty bizarre to you."

"Yes, it does. But in all honesty, I can’t bring myself to judge in this case. I can’t say you’re unnatural, because we wolves are the only creatures we know of with our sexuality and way of life."

"I have to agree." John said.

"I suppose that, in light of your explanation, I have to feel the same way about you. It’s a lot to take, though." Mike said, losing some of his anger. A race of faggot werewolves? God, this is weird!

"Mike, do you realize what this means for you?" John began. "Sexual relations with a female who is not ready to mate, and hasn’t chosen you, is a federal crime. It’s considered rape. The penalties for that are harsh, straight up to the death penalty. Like Doug said earlier, females are cherished; as is their purity. The law is merciless when it comes to that." They both again stared at him intently, an unnerving thing. They always looked hungry when they did it.

He hadn’t thought of John’s revelation. He didn’t see it as a big problem, though. The thought of making love to a furry, dog-like teenager didn’t appeal to him.

"If it’s any consolation, I doubt you’ll have any trouble." John added. "That is, once we’re finished and you can get out of here."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it’s kind of hard to explain. Uhm, what I’m trying to say is that although you look like an evil creature of legend, you are attractive in your own way. Your lack of fur tends to make your exceptional build more obvious. Your face could be considered attractive, in a sinister sort of way."

"Hold it right there, Tonto! Don’t just assume that I’m going to jump right into your way of life just because you think it’s right. I don’t think I can. To me, it’s just not right. Can’t you see that?"

"Look," he continued with a sigh, "Can we call this off for today? I’ve got to have some time to digest this properly before you hit me with something else, like that you all sprout leaves in Spring or something."

Doug snorted. "Sure, Mike, I understand." he said, standing and grabbing his smock. "I’ll have Mark bring you some dinner before he leaves for the day. This will give us time to get to work on those samples, too."

John picked up his smock and followed Doug out.

"Oh, one more thing. I need a favor, if you can do it for me."

"What’cha need?" John asked, leaning back in the door.

"A few things, actually. I’d like a bible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a King James or Living Bible. At least two werewo...wereman novels would be nice, a dictionary, biology text, and an illustrated book of animals."

"Sure, I’ll have them for you tomorrow." Doug said from the hallway. "Good night."

"Good night." Mike replied, watching them go. He trudged over to the cot and flopped onto his back. Staring at the featureless ceiling, he tried to accept what he had just learned.

What in the world have I been dropped into? Is this some kind of test of my faith? All of that pain in the forest sure didn’t feel like the divine, loving hand of God.

He folded his hands on his chest and prayed for a long, long time. He finished by asking for guidance and strength. Actually, he begged. He imagined himself prostrate before the light of God. He begged until tears rolled down his cheeks and wet his hair.

Those few tears broke the dam that had been built up by the events of the last few days. He turned away from the camera and cried like he hadn’t since his parents had been killed. He cried with the certainty that Deb was forever lost to him. Eventually, he fell asleep.

Mark woke him for supper, staying in the room and talking with him while he ate. After dinner, he want to bed early.