Dr. Ariel Jones blinked at the bright lights overhead as she woke. Finding herself naked and strapped to some sort of gurney, she turned her head and saw two women similarly strapped to gurneys beside her. One was weeping steadily. The other was glaring at a fixed spot on the ceiling.
Her scientist brain got busy immediately, trying to figure out what had happened since she’d come to work that morning. Her typical day at Feldspar Research always started at five in the morning to accommodate the light limitations of living and working just outside Anchorage, Alaska.
She had processed the new set of blood samples waiting for her in the lab and instantly reported the unusually rapid cell mutation she had seen happening under the lens of her microscope. Then at about ten o’clock, she’d gone for a direct meeting with Dr. Crane, who had asked to speak with her in person about what she’d found.
One minute she had been drinking coffee and talking with a colleague. The next she was waking up naked in… where was she anyway? Looking around more, she finally recognized the place. It was where they had brought the giant wolf.
Sniffing the air, she could indeed smell the pungency of the trapped animal. It was what had bothered her most. From what she knew, he’d been here longer than she had worked for Crane. The one and only time she’d seen the wolf in person had been more than enough. He was the biggest animal she’d ever seen and bigger than any she could have ever imagined.
Now she was here—in the same room where they had kept him. The discovery brought her back to her own pressing problem of waking up naked and restrained without knowing why. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind, none of them pleasant.
“So good of you to join us at last, Dr. Jones. I’ve been delaying things and waiting for you to wake up. I didn’t want to start the injections while you were still under the effects of the mild sedative we gave you earlier.”
“You put drugs in my coffee this morning,” Ariel stated, somehow sure of it even before her bastard employer nodded and smiled.
“The sedative was the fastest way to obtain your physical cooperation. Time is critical. We don’t know how long the window of opportunity from your findings will remain open. You told me several weeks ago you had come to Alaska because you craved more out of life than sitting in a lab doing research. Well, I’m about to make your dreams come true in a way you have never imagined.”
Ignoring her accelerating heartbeat, Ariel decided she wasn’t going to get emotionally alarmed until there was a greater reason to do so than simply being naked and unable to free herself. She was used to thinking her way out of bad situations. She just needed to remain calm, ask questions, and figure out what was really going on.
“I would like to know the purpose of your actions. Are you planning to take physical advantage of my helpless condition? Who are the two women next to me? What role do they play?”
Dr. Crane smiled. “So many questions. Of course, I expected someone like you would have them. You’re going on a scientific adventure or at least your body is. The three of you are about to become the next step in the evolution of our species. But I guess it’s rather bold of me to theorize such a result without any proof yet. Part of the excitement is considering all the possibilities. Now I know your circumstances are a bit alarming at the moment, but if this experiment works, you’ll become an extremely valuable asset to our military. Even the most highly trained K-9 units won’t be able to compete with your animal skills. Alaskan wolves are quite superior to canines in nearly all areas. Everyone studies their predatory actions for just this reason.”
“I still don’t understand, Dr. Crane. I thought Feldspar was testing wolf fortitude to glean survival information for living in extremely harsh environments,” Ariel said, discreetly testing the restraints around her wrists again.
“Oh come now, Dr. Jones. That sort of work is barely fit for a second year university student. You are here because you personally possess several strands of DNA in common with our latest Feldspar wolf acquisition. He’s been rather solemn since we informed him of your findings. He’s glaring at us steadily which I take as the highest compliment about your discovery. It’s as if he senses what we are about to do to the three of you.”
“Dr. Crane, are you saying you’re communicating with a wolf? Don’t you think that assumption is a bit odd?” Ariel asked.
“Not at all. I sincerely wish we could be communicating with his human side, but we’ve purposely kept him from shifting back to his human form by the silver collar around his neck. I think it helped greatly to leave the six silver bullets someone put into him too. He was initially impossible to capture in his wolf form. If his pack had been nearby, I doubt we would have. In fact, I don’t know who exactly did capture him. I found him both shot and tranquilized with a note pinned to his collar when someone activated the alarm on the back door of the lab.”
“I’m sorry Dr. Crane, but you sound like some crazy mad scientist out of a movie. What are you going to do to us? Seriously? You don’t have to make up such wild stories. I assure you I won’t be reduced to hysterics by hearing the truth,” Ariel demanded.
“Still the skeptical scientist, I see. In just a moment, I’ll happily explain the rest to you. Since what’s going to happen to you is beyond your control, I don’t see any benefit from not telling you the whole story.” Dr. Crane waved at the man assisting him. “Proceed with injecting the weeping one on the end. I cannot tolerate a weeping female. She is highly distracting. I can’t talk to Dr. Jones over her constant whining.”
Ariel’s head whipped over, straining to see the gurney at the end. She saw the woman’s body arch when a plunger was placed at her neck directly on the carotid artery. Whatever was in the injection, they wanted it to hit all parts of her body quickly. To her surprise, the man rolled the woman’s head, and shot a second plunger directly into the woman’s brain stem. The woman seized, strained at her straps, and then fell silent. If the second injection didn’t paralyze her spine, its content would be in every brain cell in less than ten minutes.
“Now administer the sedative and move Heidi to the last cage. Come straight back and process Brandi next. I’ll take care of Dr. Jones personally.”
Ariel looked back at the man speaking so calmly. He looked at her and offered a shrug.
“The sedative is to help keep you calm during the worst of your genetic transmutation. We’re not completely without conscience. I see no need for any of you to suffer more than necessary. Since you’re the first of your kind, we don’t exactly know how much the transpecies mutation process hurts. Our captive wolf shifter has been quite unwilling to share any information, assuming he can still speak in his wolf form. We haven’t been able to ascertain it one way or the other.”
The woman directly beside her was still as quiet as ever. So far, she had not made a sound. Ariel listened to the gurney with the now unconscious Heidi being pushed to the far end of the room. She listened to a cage door being opened and straps being undone.
“Please continue your explanation, Dr. Crane. Did I find something important this morning?”
“Yes, you did. I applaud you for being as smart as your resume indicated. People usually lie on those you know. Somehow I knew right away when we met that you were being honest. It was quite the stroke of luck your blood also showed excellent—most excellent—counts of nearly everything required for the experiment. When I personally saw the metamorphosis strand in your DNA, I was literally as giddy as a schoolboy. The strand is missing from your fellow subjects.”
“I did my doctoral thesis on the metamorphosis strand. Most in the scientific community don’t even think its real. But I’ve seen it. People who have it tend to die fairly young. It’s one of the reasons I left New England and came here. I wanted to explore the world a little before I came down with some disease I couldn’t survive.”
“Yes. Human subjects with the strand do tend to die young. But extending your doctoral hypothesis, I also believe the strand has a higher purpose in those who possess it. So when I saw from the extensive health exams Feldspar required that you personally had the strand, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Roger, I said to myself, what would happen if someone extremely intelligent suddenly became a wild animal? Would the person be able to control their carnal nature enough to use their intelligence in their animal form? The chance to discover the truth was just too much to pass up. Now you get to benefit from the very discovery you made this morning, Dr. Jones. It’s too bad the global medical community will never know anything more about you except for the unfortunate accident which burnt your body to ashes today when you went into Anchorage for lunch. Alaskan winters can be terribly challenging on vehicles, as I’m sure your gurney mates can also attest to since they suffered the same fate.”
Ariel flinched when she heard the woman beside her hiss and swear at the depression of the plunger at her neck. When her brain stem was shot, the woman shrieked loudly and nearly broke the straps with her arching. The sedative calmed the woman instantly, but it had the opposite effect on Ariel. Starting to panic at last, because she knew the same fate would be hers, Ariel renewed her efforts to escape and twisted against her restraints. Unfortunately, she lacked the strength to break them.
She listened to the second gurney being wheeled down the hall. Again a cage door opened. Moments later, she heard it close and a key turning in a lock.
“Who gave you the right to do this to us, Dr. Crane? I came to Feldspar to do research for you, not to be your research. What you are doing is illegal and immoral.”
“I know. I do feel a little bad about hiring you under false pretenses, but your discovery this morning stacked the odds in favor of your participation. My benefactor is most anxious to see some evidence that the transpecies mutation process can work. If even one of you survives the change, he will fund me for at least another two years.”
“You’re the sickest, sorriest excuse for a scientist I’ve ever met,” Ariel declared.
Dr. Crane nodded as he lifted the first injection into the air above her. “Not anymore. Now I’m the scientist who has figured out how to make werewolves. As far as I know, I’m the only one like me on Earth. My services will be highly sought after when I show them a brilliant scientist in her wolf form.”
Ariel called out and felt fire crawl under her skin as sizzling hot liquid entered her bloodstream. “Nanos? You injected me with nanos? It feels like a billion ants crawling on the inside of my skin.” She saw Crane lift an eyebrow at her knowledge, but then so did she. She wasn’t even sure how she knew what they were giving her.
“You’re very sharp, Dr. Jones, much too sharp to spend your life doing research. I picked women as initial test subjects because they could be physically restrained the easiest. I did not plan on using a woman who would be able to figure out what was going on. But that’s what makes life interesting. Now the next injection has to go directly into the brain steam for best results. I’m sorry for the extreme pain it causes. Judging from your fellow test subjects, the pain won’t last more than a few moments.”
Ariel fought as the assistant turned her head and held it still while Dr. Crane positioned the plunger. The depression happened quickly. Pain more intense than anything she’d ever known shot through her head and had her calling out. Before her consciousness faded, her last thought was that Dr. Crane had lied to her. She had been spared nothing. Her head exploding from the inside was what dropped the eventual black veil over her thoughts.
She never felt the sedative working at all.