Money was tight for Isabel. She had her wishes, her aspirations, but no means to fulfil them. To that end, she had taken a temporary job at a local warehouse, keeping her occupied in the weeks between one year at college and the next. Her employer was a pharmaceutical company, and her occupation saw her picking and packing, piling packaging onto pallets, ready to be dispatched to pharmacies and hospitals. It was hard work lifting all those boxes, and great care had to be taken given their contents, but Isabel quickly got into the swing of things. With enough time she got used to handling the heavy cases, and her parents would compliment her often on how toned she was getting. And they weren’t the only ones who were impressed by the effort she was putting in.
Isabel returned home from work one Thursday clutching a letter. At the end of her shift, she had found it taped to her locker; the only thing written on the envelope was her name, but she recognised the handwriting; that of her supervisor. She wondered why he’d want to tell her something. It had to be important. Was she being let go? No, can’t be, she had been doing so well! This had to be good news! Excited, she tore the envelope open, and pulled out the letter within, reading it eagerly.
Your performance has been nothing short of impressive. You’ve shown a great work ethic, and demonstrated strength, accuracy, pace and focus. You’re among the best employees I’ve seen over, and, as such, I’d like to invite you to come over and work the night shift. It’ll be very rewarding for you, I promise, and we would greatly appreciate your presence. If you’d like to come, drop me an e-mail, and I’ll see to it that you’ll work late!
Wow… the night shift! She’d heard a lot about that; it was hard work, especially having to do so during time she’d normally be sleeping, but… the wages were much higher! Perhaps this would be the thing that would unlock her aspirations! She spent the evening dining with her parents, pleading her case that she may work so late… They were conflicted. She was young for someone working the night shift, but… she was old enough to handle it, right? They were eventually swayed as Isabel made her wishes clear. And so, with the word that she could take the night shift as long as she didn’t waste the extra earnings, she sent the email to confirm her interest.
Friday was Isabel’s day off, one spent waiting for that important reply… one that didn’t take long to arrive! As soon as the e-mail came, as soon as she heard the notification, she sprung upon the message, taking in the confirmation.
Great to have you on board for the night shift. Take the weekend off and have a long lie-in on Monday. Then come to work at six and start off as usual; I’ll call you into my office at ten as the usual staff head off and get you set up for what lies ahead.
Wishing you luck,
“Isabel, could you come to my office, please?”
It was a little earlier than she was expecting, but at ten to ten, Scott’s voice echoed through the vast warehouse, hailing Isabel to her supervisor’s office. She’d been there before for her induction, but she hadn’t been back there since. She wondered if it was the under-performers who were usually summoned to the office as she made her way there. Luckily she was the exact opposite!
A knock at the door alerted Scott to Isabel’s presence. He left his desk to open up and let his employee in, smiling at her with pride.
“Evening, Scott!”, Isabel said to her superior, giving a smile back. “So… this is it, huh? My first night shift!”
“It’s great to see you’re so excited to take this on!”, Scott beamed, taking his seat again and inviting Isabel to sit down in front of him. In between the two seats, placed upon the table, was a paper plate, with two plain white pills resting on the surface. “But it’s going to be even harder work than before, believe me.”
“You know how hard I can work, Scott!”, Isabel attested. “That’s why you’ve put me on this shift!”
“You’ve never stayed up this late before, though. You’ll be working through the night, and to do so will be really strenuous on you, so… I’ve managed to grab a couple of these things.” Scott looked down at the plate with the pills. “They should give you the strength and energy you need to handle what lies ahead.”
“...strength pills?” Isabel cocked her head at the plate. “
“Remember who you work for, Isabel!”, Scott said, getting up to pour Isabel a glass of water. “I’m sure you can trust what’s on that plate. You’re never going to survive the night shift without them.” He put down the half-full glass and headed to the door. “Well, I’ve got some business to attend to out in the warehouse. I guess I’ll see you in a few minutes. Just take those pills, wait a couple of minutes for the effects to kick in, and I’ll see you around!” Scott took his leave, leaving Isabel alone, with only two pills and a glass of water for company.
Isabel looked down at the unknown pills. With their plain looks, they could be anything… they could do anything… could Scott be trusted?… Of course. This was Scott. And this was a pharmaceutical business. Isabel nodded… Scott knew what was best for her. She picked up the pair of pills in one hand and the water in her other, and swallowed them down. They tasted… plain. Nothing particularly disgusting, but she needed the water to wash them down anyway. As she put the water down, she thought back to what Scott had told her: to give them a couple of minutes for the effects to become evident. She looked to a clock on the wall, counting the seconds, waiting for something to be felt. Perhaps a lifting of tiredness? A spurt of strength within her?
Isabel didn’t know just how intense that spurt would be.
Isabel was floored by a spasm within her muscles, those cells convulsing and multiplying rapidly. As she pushed herself up off the floor, she noticed the ease with which she had done so; clearly those pills worked. Looking down over her body, she noticed her torso looking more toned, pressing against her blue work shirt, muscle definition becoming visible as she bulked up. Her arms and legs looked and felt mightier, her hands were broadening, fingers not looking so weak and slender anymore… anand her feet were feeling rather tight in their boots, toes pressing against the metal toecaps.
“Gee… couldn't you have spared a change of clothes?”, Isabel said to herself under her breath. She'd have to bring it up with Scott later, but for now she had a night shift to attend to and the strength to attend to it with! She slowly made her way to the door, careful not to put even more strain on her feet, and opened it up to reveal…
Emptiness. The warehouse was empty, she alone standing within it, illuminated only by dim emergency lighting. Just enough for her to make her way through the aisles, but certainly not enough to work comfortably.
“Hello? Is any-” Isabel's call out to the warehouse tailed off; that voice… She didn't really sound herself. Caught between female and male… She nervously brought a hand up to her throat, massaging it, feeling a developing Adam's apple and shaking with fright. So that was Scott's idea to give her strength? Pills that turned her male? Isabel didn't know what to think of this; was it ingenious, or just sexist? At least she had gained more muscle and a few inches in height, at the expense of her uniform. She was still questioning why Scott didn't provide some larger clothes for her…
Scott! Where was he? And why was the warehouse suddenly abandoned? Isabel began to pace through the aisles, calling out in a voice that, as it deepened, was starting to sound a little more familiar to the changing worker, but she just couldn't put a finger on why…
Suddenly, Isabel stumbled, a painful sensation in her… or, more accurately now, his crotch wrong-footing him and sending him falling forward to the ground. He thrust his hands forward, breaking his fall with those resilient male hands he now had… Wait, what was that on his left hand? He pushed himself back up on two feet and looked at what was wrapped around it; a black fingerless glove, the black leather going a good way past his wrist. He definitely hadn't put his work gloves on between the start of the night shift and now, so what was he doing wearing this? Surely he should be wearing two? At least it looked pretty fashionable, and he could feel the quality in it as he rubbed it with his uncovered right hand. As that hand returned to his side, he glanced at the reflection in the glossy leather. It was slight, but there was no mistaking it; his face looked much more masculine, and his long blonde hair was sucking back into his scalp, darkening as it shortened. Clearly he was being made to be male inside and out! And that dull reflection made him curious, desirous to see a clear reflection. The new man continued to walk through the warehouse and call out for his supervisor, but was tracing a path to the toilets… the men's toilets.
Unnoticed by the transforming youth, his work clothes, straining against his expanded body, were changing, reforming into new, better fitting garments. His blue polo shirt became black and leathery, stretching below his waist as it openers up, morphing into a black jacket with pockets at the chest. Forming underneath, revealed by the opening jacket, was a dark t-shirt with a distinctive texture, gripping tightly over Isabel's broadening shoulders, his well built body. His grey work pants, on the other hand, compressed, the fabric darkening to complement the rest of his ensemble as the ankles rose, while the ankles of his boots pulled up over that now-bare skin, those too becoming black and leathery, until they reached to a level that left a sliver of flesh visible between the blackness of sturdy boots and long shorts.
At last, the bathroom. He could finally get a clear view at his reflection. Just what had Scott made of the once-female employee? The former Isabel entered a room he had never been in before, and made his way to a sink, looking up at the face he now had.
That face… that voice! He was staring straight into the visage of…
“Heh, you like the new look?”
A familiar voice called out from beyond the bathroom… Scott! So he was the one to thank! The youth beamed as he left the bathroom, satisfied with the outcome, and eager to thank Scott.
“Noctis Lucis Caelum”, Scott announced. “Although… maybe I'll just call you Noct.”
“How did you know?”, Noct replied, still in awe that he was what he now was. “I… I…”
“Lost for words, huh?”, Scott noted. “Maybe I should explain what's going on. Those pills were no ordinary strength pills. I suppose you could call them ‘cosplay pills’.” Noct opened his mouth in a delighted reaction.
“I… I've been wanting to cosplay as Noct for ages! I've been trying to save up for it, hey, that's why I got the job here in the first place. But how did you know?”
“Trust me, it's a complete coincidence”, Scott asserted. “Never expected those pills to wind up down the throat of such a fan.”
“Even then, this is… beyond cosplay! It feels like cheating a little…”, Noct worried.
“Yeah… and this is a complete secret. I gave all the usual night shift workers the night off so it's just us two in the warehouse. I can't get my invention out in public yet, not without getting the rights to characters. Wonder who'll approve of my idea…”
“Scott…” Noct realised. “If you invented this… you must be pretty knowledgeable about gaming and anime!”
“Well observed. Maybe you could advise me on a few characters I could try for. Although you'll find out what I've already tried soon enough. Now, as compensation for the inconvenience…”
“What inconvenience? Being Noct is awesome!” His voice, so pleased, echoed through the aisles.
“Heh. As awesome as it is, I can't make you summon weapons yet. You still seem pleased though. Anyway, you'll find a few weeks worth of pay in your account by the time you return to normal. And, as soon as I've got the go ahead, I'd like to buy you convention tickets so you can can try out the tablets for real. Hmm… maybe we could do it together? I think I'd make a good Prompto…”
“I'd be more than happy to. Good luck”, wished Noct.
“Now then… we can't have this getting out. So, we're escorting you to a secret location, your home for the next few days until you revert. Don't worry, your family has been informed. But, for now, I'm going to have to blindfold you. I'll escort you to your chauffeur. Lie back and get some sleep, and come next morning you'll be at your home away from home with all the other characters I've brought into this world. Come along!”
“Wonder who I'll meet?”, Noct asked, head buzzing with questions.
“You'll just have to wait and see…”, Scott teased, leading him to a delivery bay. A luxury vehicle was waiting for its passenger, ready to take him who-knows-where. “Although, you may be meeting someone you might recognise.” Scott chuckled, opening the door to reveal the glimpse of the man behind the wheel…
“Ignis!”, Noct exclaimed, seeing a familiar character from his form's world.
“Hey, Noct! Ready to roll out onto the road?”, asked the driver eagerly. “We've got a big adventure ahead of us!”
“Wait…”, Noct hesitated. “You're…”
“Nah… I was somebody else once too”, said Ignis, filling in as Noct faltered. I'd rather not go too much into it, obviously.
“Yeah, I see what you're getting at. All I'll say is… I was once a girl.” Noct blushed at this admission.
“Wow, Scott, you sure are something. Able to do that… Sure hope you can make it big with those pills!”
“I've already promised Noct free convention tickets and a meet up. Maybe the three of us can be there together?”
“You're going to need Gladi, if that's the case”, Noct observed. “Keep at it!”
“Oh, Gladi will be no problem. Heck, you should see who's living in the… Well, where isn't the matter, its who's in there that is. You should see Red XIII!”
“Wait… even from human to animal?” Scott nodded ask Noctis asked with awe.
“Everyone asks him if he was once human”, Ignis explained. “I think he's getting fed up of it so thanks for getting that out of the way.”
“Gee… I'm already thinking about what sort of creature I may become with those pills…”
“That's something to think about on the journey… or maybe you'd be better just sleeping.” Scott tied a blindfold around Noctis’ eyes and guided him into the car. “I'll see you guys around. Have a good time out there, Noct. You'll revert in a few days, but until then… farewell!” Noct heard the click of a seat belt and a slam of a door, the rev of the engine…
The promised adventure was about to begin.
Tuli gave it another turn, feeling the soft red fabric in his paws. It had a feel to it that reminded him of the cloth they wove in Brightvale. Rustic yet comfortable. Perhaps that was where the owner lived? Another spin, another feel… and a thought.
“Surely…”, Tuli said to himself quietly. “Surely whoever owns this hat wouldn't mind if I wore it. Not if they didn't know.” That red hat matched the colour of his jacket perfectly. Even if he couldn't bring himself to wear someone else's hat out in public, at least he could try it on in the privacy of his own home? He raised it to his head and put it on, carefully manoeuvring it to slot his ears through the cut holes, until it rested perfectly on his head. A perfect fit, and he didn't even need to adjust it one bit! And indeed it felt comfortable. Tuli smiled to himself, enjoying the feeling of the new hat as he rose to his feet and made his way to his bedroom, eager to look at his reflection and see just how he looked with that curious hat on.
As his hatted reflection came into view, Tuli’s smile grew even wider. He looked so fashionable with that hat on! And he looked a little taller too, the pointed top of the hat really helping out there. Although that smile suddenly turned to a wince as Tuli felt an itch upon his scalp. Maybe that hat wasn't fitting as perfectly as he thought. He raised a paw to the hat… and hesitated. He blinked as looked at the reflection of his paw. No, that didn't look right. But as he moved the paw down to look at the real thing…
It was clear in front of him. His paws were transforming; the claws were shortening, but fingers were lengthening to make up for that loss. And not just on one hand, but the other too, and both his feet. Tuli looked at those paws in panic; had the fabric of the hat been laced with morphing potion? What Neopet had hands like these? And then, in the midst of turning his head from one paw to another, he hesitated, catching a glimpse of something in the mirror. Silvery strands of hair were emerging from within the hat. With fear, Tuli slowly lifted the hat a little way off his head, viewing the beginning of a new hairdo. Already those hairs were growing at a rapid clip, some running down past the sides of his face. He tried to recall what Neopet might have such a hairdo, as he let the hat settle on the growing hair once more. Kougra? No, his fingers were too slender… was there even a species with such slender fingers?
And then he saw it. Confirmation that whatever was affecting him was no mere morphing potion. A glint upon the upper arm of his jacket, shining brightly on the mirror's surface. Tuli turned his head, looking over his shoulder at the sleeve, viewing the metal piece affixed to the red fabric. That wasn't there before, he thought, running a newly transformed paw over it. It felt could, tough, a constitution comparable to the armour wrought by Meridell blacksmiths. But looking down that arm, he could see his sleeves were becoming more spacious, the fabric stretching, widening the aperture… and looking up, his jacket’s collar was turning over, growing too. In fact, looking at the reflection, his whole jacket was stretching out along with him, extending below his waist. He knew Morphing potions could adjust a Neopet’s species and colour… but to adjust their clothing was impossible!
Tuli’s white and green fur may have been shifting colour to a glossy grey, but that was the least of his worries. Looking between the mirror and himself he could watch his clothes undertake ever more drastic changes. His jeans were pulling apart as they stretched with his legs, breaking below the knees into separate articles of clothing. The denim around his feet grew tighter, toughening up into brown leather that pressed against his thinning legs, while what remained around his waist felt looser, thinning into an orange fabric. The fabric of his jacket was changing too; though it kept a familiar red hue, the fabric felt stiffer and tougher as it continued to stretch, what was once a jacket now looking much more a coat as the hem widened, surrounding his legs. Crimson ropes wove in and out through the stiff wrists of the sleeves, as gold lining decorated the edges of the starched, folded collar. The t-shirt within was warping into something else entirely; the fabric was fluctuating, trying to escape from the coat that surrounded it; he could feel the coat on his back as the shirt pulled away from his…
His armour! He couldn't feel his armour! Tuli jumped in fright, turning his head backwards and feeling down his back. Those tough plates were absent; it was just a soft, unprotected back now. Fearful, Tuli shook his thinning tail, slimmed to a twitching snake of a limb, with an orange ribbon tied around the tip. Whatever was going on here… he had to stay brave, despite this change being a leap into the unknown. Just watch that reflection, and understand what was happening to him…
Or, as was evident when Tuli looked back into the mirror, her. From the shape of her new tall figure, to the length of the hair and the look of her eyes, it was clear she had flipped genders. Tuli knew of cases that would change a Neopet’s gender but had never dreamed it would happen to her… although, she was now looking quite unlike any Neopet at all. Tuli’s muzzle had become a more pronounced, pointed snout, tipped with a sensitive pink nose that twitched in an echo of her panic. Her glasses really didn't fit anymore, not that they were needed now; whatever change she had undergone had improved her eyesight along with her sense of smell. Tuli cast her glasses aside and viewed her new clothes; the rebelling t-shirt now lay in front of her coat, now something absolutely different. An escutcheon of fabric, its topped corners clipped to the coat’s collar, tucked behind a strip of leather that ran across the opening of that wide garment. In his travels across Meridell, Darigan and Brightvale he had seen many heraldic shields but he couldn't recall seeing this particular design. Perhaps those regions of Neopia held the clue Tuli needed… if only she could pluck up the courage to leave the house in this alien new form…
“Hey, over here!”
Peter turned his head as a voice called out to him. He was heading through the bar, on his way from the furry convention’s opening ceremony back to his hotel room, when someone called him over. A loud, brash voice. Unfamiliar. Peter eyed the source; a young man like him, perhaps a few years older? The greasy-haired guy certainly looked and sounded it. He was wearing an ecru t-shirt adorned with a cute drawing of a cartoon fox jumping along on four legs, below which a witty motto was obscured by a conbadge of a fox on two legs, the vulpine smiling and looking perky. ‘Kev’, read the name below the image.
“Hey… Kev?”, Peter replied nervously. “You called at me, right?”
“Yeah”, ‘Kev’ replied. “You new here? Never seen you around here before.”
“Yeah, I’m a first timer”, Peter disclosed, as the older man beckoned him up towards the table he sat at. “21. Only been in this fandom for a few months.” He put a hand around his conbadge and slowly held it up to the men around the table, letting them eye the laminated drawing of a smiling red panda. “This here’s my fursona, Rojo. I suppose you could call me that.”
“Yeah, we usually go by our sonas’ names here in the fandom”, said a spiky haired man wearing a red tank top. His exposed arms were well built, but the white dragon on his con-badge was even more muscular, the legendary lizard pumping iron. “Call me Trey.”
“And I’m… well, he’s Jason”, said the remaining man at the table, keenly displaying his conbadge; his wolf fursona was clearly a ‘gamer’, heck, the baseball cap atop his short-cut hair displayed the legend ‘GAME WOLF’. “So, new to the whole furcon thing, huh? Well, we see a lot of you con newbies here year on year.”
“Well, there is a con first-timers meet coming up this evening. I guess I’ll learn the ropes there”, Peter mused out loud. “I admit, being new here, going to my first ever furcon, I had butterflies in my stomach in the run up to it.”
“Hey, don’t sweat it, Rojo!”, Trey exclaimed. “Everyone here was a first-timer once in their life as a furry. You’re gonna have a blast here, I can guarantee it.” Already Peter felt better thanks to that reassurance, although… they had only just met.
“What’s the matter?”, asked Kev, seeing Peter’s nerves showing.
“Well… so far I’ve only been to local furmeets. This is my first time seeing such a wide range of furries. You’re probably not from where I am, huh?”
“Look, I’m sure you’ll make a lot of new friends here. In fact… how about you come on over to our room tonight? We’re more than happy to host a room party for you; it should be a great chance for us to hang out and for you to make friends!” Kev pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling some details on it. “Here’s where we are. How does, say, half past nine sound?”
“Sure, I can make that”, Peter said, nodding as little as he calmed down. “What kinda stuff will you be getting up to?”
“Oh, the usual”, said Trey nonchalantly. “Drinks, snacks, music, introducing ourselves and our sonas to each other. Perhaps some games if someone promises not to own us each and every time.”
“Hey!”, said Jason, a bit of joking scorn in his voice as Trey glared at him. “Oh alright, alright, just so that you won’t beat me up.”
“Only virtually!”, Trey shouted. “Alright, nine thirty it is! You know where, and you know when, so we’ll be expecting you!”
Peter checked the time on his phone as he walked through the corridor, approaching the room. He was a couple of minutes early, but surely there wasn’t any harm in knocking on the door a little bit earlier than expected? He approached the door; from within, muffled EDM could be heard. Knock knock knock; he hoped he had knocked loud enough, but just a few seconds passed before it swung open, and there was Kev, happy to greet him and welcome him inside.
“Glad you could make it, Rojo!”, Kev grinned, as he showed Peter to the sizeable room. The three-bed room was looking kind of untidy, with clothes still in their bags, and the tables loaded with all sorts of stuff. Trey picked up a bottle from one of the tables and threw it over to Kev, who snatched it up in a clean, well-rehearsed grab.
“Hey, drinks are on us here!”, Trey announced in his deep, tough guy voice, as Kev handed the bottle to Peter. He spun the bottle in his hands; it was unlabelled, not even anything on the orange cap to signify what the garish green liquid inside the bottle was.
“Heh, that’s very kind of you, but I don’t drink”, Peter said, not really wanting to risk drinking the unknown liquid.
“Nah, nothing alcoholic”, Kev explained. “It’s… sports drink! Gotta energise yourself for a big night with us guys, right?”
“Heh, I guess. As long as I won’t get drunk off it.”
“Come on! I’m itchin’ to get to know you better!”, Jason called, turning his head to Peter as he twisted off the cap. “Drink up and join the fun!”
“Well, here goes nothing.” Peter leaned back and raised the bottle to his mouth, slurping up the drink and letting it slosh a little in his mouth before swallowing it. Huh… this stuff wasn’t bad! It was definitely flavourful, even if he couldn’t exactly pinpoint what the flavour was. These sports drinks were usually heavily artificially flavoured anyway. But even despite that, it tasted pretty good! He took another swig for good measure before heading over to Jason and Trey.
“That’s the spirit, dude!”, Kev laughed, following Peter to his mates. Trey and Jason had settled down, sitting on the bed, but not staying still; Jason certainly wasn’t lying.
“So, you wanna introduce ourselves to each other right?”, asked Peter, sitting next to Trey. “Sure, I’m up for that… just as long as you turn that music down. It’s kind of obnoxious...”
“Heh, thought you’d be more into this sort of stuff, Rojo!”, Kev opined, turning the volume down a touch.
“I’m still kinda trying to find my place in this fandom. What things do I like? Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Heck, my fursona is kind of a blank slate right now. He’s pretty generic.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that!”, Kev commented. “I’d say my sona’s pretty vanilla. But your sona’s what you make of it. Who knows where you’ll end up after a few years in the fandom?”
“You got anything more you wanted to say about Kev?”, Peter asked, taking another gulp of sports drink. This stuff… actually wasn’t bad at all! It felt like it was tasting better the more he drank.
“Not really. He’s the type of guy who’d just go with the flow and do whatever his friends are doing. Gaming, raving, you name it.”
‘Raving’, thought Peter. ‘So that explains the EDM...’ He kept an ear on it, despite it being quieter. In fact, maybe because of its reduced volume, it didn’t sound so obnoxious after all.
“He’s pretty persistent when it comes to gaming...”, Jason interjected. “Keeps thinking he can beat my sona. But that’s just an echo of real life, right?” Kev just replied with a “pfft”.
“And he goes out with Trey to the gym, right?”, asked Peter, polishing off his drink and getting off the bed to pick up another bottle.
“More like he gets dragged to the gym”, corrected Kev, observing Peter on his way to the table. Peter didn’t see them grinning as they watched him walk, seeing him grow a bit taller. He didn’t notice any gain in height, any discomfort in his clothes as the fabric of his t-shirt and denim of his jeans darkened, all he cared about was having some more sports drink. He plucked a bottle of vibrant violet beverage from the table and strode back to the bed, giving the guys a good view of his conbadge. The fur of the red panda was looking a little different, desaturated, and his tail was looking shorter, curling up a bit…
“Yeah, and he doesn’t put much effort into it”, Trey added. “Have you seen his conbadge? Where’s the muscle on him?”
“Maybe if I actually had an interest in working out...”, Kev vocalised.
“Hang on… you mentioned raving, right?”, Peter chimed in, between gulps of the supposed sports drink. His voice sounded a little deeper since he entered the room, but the fact went over his head; a head atop which brown hair was darkening and shortening.
“Sure he likes his EDM and his rave”, Kev replied. “He’s just not the kinda guy who stands out in the club. You know those sorts. Glowsticks, kandi, trap pants...”
“I certainly know the sorts”, Peter said with a nod as he pulled out his conbadge towards the crowd. “Cotta here sure likes his rave, but… he’s certainly not the centre of attention.” He was oblivious to everything. To the fact he was contradicting his past statements. To the fact that the art on his conbadge was changing, even the name printed on it. The red panda/husky hybrid, as it was now, was still in pretty regular clothes, but with just a few luminous adornments. “In fact, it’s a rather recent interest of mine. I’ve been doing a lot of self-discovery in the last year or two… hang on, is that… would you mind turning that music up?”
“My pleasure, Cotta”, beamed Kev, sliding off the bed and towards the speakers.
“I hope you don’t just listen to this stuff begrudgingly”, asked Peter, turning his head to Trey and Jason.
“Aw, come on, Cotta, who could hate this stuff?”, guffawed Jason. “Unlike Trey’s gym sessions, this is something all four of us can agree on!” Peter smiled back as the volume rose, tapping his growing feet to the rhythm as he polished off his second bottle of sports drink. Now that was more like it. A familiar favourite in EDM. Hearing it just made him want to hit the dance floor and strut his stuff. Tap, tap, tap… as his feet grew, they pressed against the insides of his canvas high-top shoes, rapidly morphing into more accommodating footwear for someone a foot size larger, and sturdy and fashionable enough for the nightclub. The white soles of the sneakers darkened as the grey canvas thickened up. Man, they felt comfy.
“Thanks, Kev”, said Peter, giving him a friendly fist-bump. “Hearing this makes me want to just… party, you know? And I don’t just mean this room party.” He leaped off the bed and strutted past the table, giving the others a full view of the progressing changes. His shoes continued to firm up, each tongue and cuff rising up past his ankles as the grey shoes darkened to black. The black leather of his belt had inverted to white, contrasting heavily against the dark navy denim of his tight, slim jeans. Conversely, what was once a pale t-shirt was now pitch black, hanging loose round Peter’s tall body, the sleeves of the garment slowly unravelling into nothing. And he may not have been wearing a baseball cap when he entered the room, but there was certainly one atop his head now.
“Aha! I thought I remembered seeing this. Looks like it’s nothing but EDM in the nightclub after 11pm. What do you say, guys? We play a few games, then hit the club come eleven!”
“Heck yeah!”, exclaimed the other guys, whooping yet all the while eyeing Peter’s continuing transition into one of them; a furry with years of convention experience under his belt, part of the clique. The purple soles of his shoes trod the floor rhythmically as he flaunted his footwear, with their glossy black tongues and the purple nebulae adorning the shoes all over. A flashy print in cyan and magenta was forming on Peter’s sleeveless tank top, veiled by his conbadge bobbing up and down. Printed on that laminated card, what was once an average red panda had almost finished his own transformation into a grey-furred husky, his t-shirt now greatly adorned with florescent stripes, with a pair of baggy silver rave pants cladding his legs. And atop Peter’s head, the legend printed on the blue-brimmed baseball cap was revealed. One word, four white letters and a full stop… ‘AWOO.’
“Like the way you think, Silver”, Trey nodded, going by the name that now lay upon Peter’s changed conbadge. “Come on, maybe this time you’ll be able to beat Kev.”
“When was the last time Silver beat me? Oh yeah, like months ago”, Kev taunted, referring to a new history that lay within Peter’s mind, one of great friendship with the clique he had become part of. “Come on, Silver! Bring it!”
Well, he certainly tried, but time and time again Kev came out on top. But no matter. The camaraderie between the four was what mattered, and this was a strong friendship. In his new mindset Peter had known these guys for at least a couple of years. It was great to meet these like-minded people at his first convention, and such a friendship bloomed since then. To spend times like this with them, Peter relished it. From the moment he saw them in the bar, right through to the rave… it had to be said, Peter really showed his talents on the dance floor, although Silver clearly set the standard he aspired to achieve. But still, his friends were once again impressed.
“Man, you never cease to amaze me with your skills”, Kev complimented, as the foursome left the nightclub.
“Hey, I can say the same to you when it comes to gaming”, Peter said, returning the compliment.
“But really… wow. We need to get ourselves a commission of our sonas busting some moves out there!”
“Hey, just as long as we all pay our fare share, OK?”
They knew they could trust each other to do that. They were friends, equally friendly between themselves. A bond that would last long past this Friday night, into many future conventions. They all knew they had to do their best to keep it rolling!
Your eyes jolt open suddenly, vision darting left and right. All around you is a void of pure black, punctuated only by a window suspended in the shadow. It's a familiar view; you were here just a minute ago. A friend's study; she had asked you around to help fix her laptop. As you sat at the keyboard, trying to figure things out, you felt a sharp jab at your neck, everything went black… and now you were here, looking out upon where you were. Except, everything looked a little larger. Where was this place?
“H-hey! Help!”, you call, hearing the muffled sound of footsteps through the window. You breathe a sigh of relief as your friend enters the frame. “Oh, phew! Hey, Sonia, do you have any-”
“Oh, I definitely know what's going on”, Sonia replies, not at all sounding like the friend you know. The voice is sly, a little more attitude. “And I know exactly what's wrong with my laptop: nothing.”
Suddenly the figure of your friend glows, flickering and warping, the human image shattering to reveal that of an anthro fennec. Her fashion is highly distinctive: a puffy red sleeveless jacket atop a white tank top contracts against her ebony fur, and her slim jeans cling to her legs. She rubs her short-cut hair with a paw wrapped in a red fingerless glove and sighs.
“Phew… feels good to drop that hologram”, Sonia breathes, looking down upon you as you gape.
“Holo… gram?”, you ask, stuttering a little in shock.
“Yeah, like… don't think people would take kindly to me if they saw my true form… Anyway. Yes, I tricked you. While you were at the keyboard, you may have felt a little shock in the back of your neck.” Sonia puts a finger to her lips, before you can flare up in anger. “Yes, that was me, don't get worked up about it. I just hooked you up to a USB cable and took through you for a ride into my real laptop. Yes. It's true.”
You blink, looking around. Was it true? Were you inside a computer?
“This… is unreal. Holographic disguises? A walking talking vixen? People getting transferred into computers? Have I… woken up inside a sci-fi novel?”
“You haven't gone deep into the dark web, I take it”, Sonia smirks. “No, I'm afraid it's all quite real.” She shakes her tail as she moves towards her desk; you can hear the sound of her boots clopming on the floor as she approaches. “How do you like your window?”
“It's… spacious”, you utter, too afraid to criticise her. “So… you're… let me guess, a hacker?”
“Hacktivist”, Sonia sternly corrects you, taking a seat at her desk. “Unlike some, I don't hack for fun or malice. I hack with purpose. Taking down oppressive regimes and the like.”
“Like megacorps? I've definitely entered a cyberpunk story, haven't I?”
“The events of the real world can be just as true as fiction”, Sonia cryptically replies. “And have you read the news recently? Geez…”
“You sound pretty upset about something, Sonia”, you say to a friend you thought you knew.
“Well, you're going to help me sort it out. See, I've been making big plans. A self-replicating virus that will spread through the web and hassle targets. But it's not any just virus, but one with personality. A face that my colleagues will know and recognise.”
“Viruses have faces? I thought they were just pieces of code”, you ask quizzically.
“I'm moving beyond that”, Sonia says with a smile. “Code is not enough for this project. I needed… something I could operate on…” As Sonia winks at you, you develop an awful feeling of worry in your gut.
“...me? You're… you digitised me, and now you're going to edit me into a virus?”
“I've got all the code I need right here”, Sonia explained, “and I've finally got someone to run it on. I've been waiting a long time for this!”
“You sound a lot happier about this than I am!” You shake, an unwilling volunteer in Sonia’s experiment.
“Aw come on, what are you worried about? You're gonna make the world a better place! And it's not gonna hurt you, you're gonna enjoy this!”
“You already hurt me!”, you complain, gesticulating towards the back of your neck.
“No pain, no gain.”
“Who's gaining?”, you reply, sounding hurt.
“I don't know, let's see, shall we?” With that riposte, Sonia clicks on her mouse, clicking on something… whatever it was, it fills the space you're in with some sort of energy, a faint crackle in the air that can't be seen but can definitely be felt, making your hair stand up on end.
“Whoa… easy!”, you protest, overtaken by the sudden static sensation.
“Hey, it's not hurting, right? I'm a fennec of my word.”
“Are hackers generally trustworthy?”, you question, still feeling unsure about what's happening.
“Trust me when I say, we haven't even got to the fun part yet.” Sonia flicks her ears as the tingling sensation in your skin strengthens. Your hair was already standing on end, but now it seems to be growing even further, more and more strands emerging from your skin too, coating you with a growing pelt of bubblegum pink fur.
“F… fur? Look, I agree, it doesn't hurt, but… this is just weird, OK?”
“I'm making you into the mascot of the resistance, as it were. Have you ever seen a decent human mascot?”
“You've got a… hey!” Your speech is interrupted as your ears are gently tugged upwards, a force stretching them out into long rabbit ears.
“Mind turning around for a second?”, Sonia asks. “Just need to… there we are!” Sonia smiles at the sight of the cottony tail slipping out under your t-shirt.
“So I'm pink… fuzzy…” You look at your paws, and use one to feel the shape of your tail. “This is freaky. Feeling fuzzy all over from head to toe”, you confess, as your face grows a small muzzle, looking more lapine.
“Well, you look the part,” Sonia muses. “But, you're not dressed for the job. At least, not yet.”
“What do you even mean?”, you ask, feeling the short muzzle. “Like, a uniform for viruses? I'm… a bit afraid of getting changed right in front of your face, Sonia.”
“Don't worry, I'm not expecting you to strip”, Sonia chuckles. “But…”
“But what?”, you ask, seeing Sonia crack a smile as she looks upon you. “What's so…” You tail off before you can finish the sentence, something bothering you. Something feels off about your clothes. They feel heavier on you. You look down upon them, and are greeted with a very odd sight; your shirt is morphing, the sleeves stretching out and the fabric thickening up. You rub the material as it turns brown; it feels like suede.
“No way!”, you exclaim, observing your pants thickening up too, into a hard-wearing deep brown fabric. “You can transform my clothes too?”
“Clothes, and the being that wears them… it's all data now. I can edit those clothes any way I want. How do they feel?”, Sonia asks, watching the changes progress.
“Mmm… getting cosier”, you respond with a nod, as a white undershirt materialises under your jacket, and a warm fleece layer emerges from the inner of your outer garment. “Very well fitting!” You feel rather inclined to enjoy these sensations, as your shoes firm up, bulking out into a sturdy pair of boots, the olive leather surface gleaming.
“You look ready for anything… well, almost… no, there we are!” The sartorial shift finishes as a pair of thick gloves materialse over your paws, made of that familiar brown suede, while a feeling of wearing something builds up atop your head.
“Wait… a hat?” You grip it with your bulky gloves and pull it off to have a look. A pilot’s hat with a pair of flight goggles around it, modified with gaps at the top to allow your rabbit ears to pass through. “You're dressing me up as a pilot?” you ask, Sonia nodding in response. “Cute. I guess I'm going to be flying around the Internet, huh?”
“You don't know how right you are, my little pilot.”
You blush a little, wanting to say something to Sonia, but you are bothered by a warm feeling upon your left arm, as if something is pressing against it. You look at the sleeve of your jacket, and notice a patch upon it, depicting the very rabbit you've become.
“That wasn't there before… Heh, don't I look awesome… if a bit vain.”
“Well, you said you look awesome”, chuckled Sonia.
“I seem to have another one on this sleeve”, you notice, turning your head to it. “Is vanity intended? And…” You feel the feeling now rest on your chest; another rabbit in another pose, and a rectangle embroidered above, a name imprinted upon it. “‘PYLOT’, huh?”, you ask, grasping it and analysing it.
“Pretty catchy, huh? A name to look out for, on both sides of this fight!”
“It's not very insp… Uff…” You let go in shock; the left patch is suddenly feeling oddly heavy. You turn your head back to it and gasp in shock; the image of the patch is stirring! The embroidered rabbit squirms, the image growing larger, looking like it's trying to escape from your sleeve. The fuzzy 2D image bubbles out, a 3D rabbit emerging and growing, until it pops out, leaping from your sleeve, pushing its way out and sending you tumbling in the other direction. You watch it expand into a full size copy of yourself, identical except for its name patch, upon which ‘0x64C65BF4’ is printed.
“What the heck was that about?”, you ask, as your duplicate picks themselves up.
“Did you forget already?”, Sonia asks back. “You're a self-replicating virus. You'll keep sprouting copies of yourself up to a limit. And if any of you get eliminated, you can always create more of yourselves.”
“You'd better not put me at risk”, you insist.
0x64C65BF4 waves at you, patches starting to appear on their jacket. You barely have time to wave back as another copy grows out from your own.
“Don't worry, you'll get used to it. And for now I'm limiting the population. Maybe for a full scale operation there'll be millions of you!”
“Oh, I get it”, you say wryly, as more copies grow out from your jacket, and those of your doppelgangers. “Your virus is multiplying like Fibonacci’s rabbits, isn't it?” More and more rabbits grow out, patches reappearing after each one leaves. As each one hops out, a little bit of headache grows, a feeling that something is being torn from your mind… but what?
“Oof, head feels as fuzzy as my fur. And it's getting a bit crowded in here…” You can't count the crowd any more; surely the limit is being approached?
“You'll be roaming free through the net soon enough. As for your head… well, PYLOT is going to operate as a hive mind.”
“A hive mind?”, you echo. “No wonder I'm feeling so… spread out. Woah… not a good feeling.”
“You'll get used to it. It'll all feel natural soon enough. One mind controlling thousands of PYLOT bodies…” Sonia keeps one eye on the incubator window and another on a counter that ticks upwards with every copy generated. All the while that feeling of being in multiple places at once grows, vision blurring between different viewpoints. Nauseous cries echoed in the incubator as the rabbits within copy your moans. But, as the counter reaches 10,000, and the rate of duplication slows, you realise something, the mental headache parting to reveal a moment of clarity. Having many eyes and bodies in many places isn't such a bad thing, right? The Internet is a huge place, after all. Maybe you'll be needed all over, maybe concentrated on a single website. Your mind still had free will, but also a state of obedience. PYLOT, your creator, your friend, your guiding light through the vast Internet that was waiting to be explored.
“And about time too!” Sonia smiles as the mass of rabbits come to. “Time to engage.” With a press of the button, the pitch black void parts to reveal another: cyberspace. You, all 12,037 of you, get into position, taking your seat as futuristic-looking biplanes rez about you. Your craft to fly through the Internet with. A voice in your mind sparks up, calling out to you, feeding you a list of targets to swarm. A long list, but enough for thousands of viruses to handle.
It's time to take off, PYLOT.