The Transformation Story Archive Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...

Beta Test

by Destrier

"Hello," smiled the man in the grey suit. "I'm Malcolm Dagby from Fractal Delights. We spoke a couple of hours ago?"

"Hi, come in," I said, shaking the proffered hand. I led the way to the lounge where my long-suffering PC sat humming on a desk in the corner.

"This is the beast is it?" Dagby asked, laying his briefcase on a convenient chair. "This is it," I said. "Pentium one-hundred running Win-ninety-five. A year ago this was cutting edge: now it just about scrapes entry-level."

"Well, that's the computer industry for you," he chuckled. "Don't worry. All our programs are configured for minimum spec machines. Yours will be fine. Now, you know what we want you to test for us?"

"Some new morphing package," I said.

"That's right. Our latest and greatest: Polymorph Pro. Ever done any morphing before?"

I nodded. "Nothing fantastic: magazine freebies mainly, and back in the good old days, when I had an Atari ST, I wrote my own in Basic."

He laughed. "In Basic?"

I grinned. "It wasn't brilliant, but it worked."

"Well great! I don't need to explain the concept to you then. What we'd like you to do is just give the program a good trial. Try out as many features as you can, with a good range of pictures. Write down your opinions, and be ultra-critical: we want this to be a smooth product."

He clicked open his briefcase and produced a CD in a gem case, and a stapled wad of photocopied notes. "We're way behind on packaging," he apologised. "But the program is virtually complete. Um, one feature won't work just yet: we've had some ah... difficulties with a new technique. We might have to rip it out entirely and add it to version two. Anyway, all the documentation you need is there."

We chatted for a while, while he watched as I installed the program and made sure things seemed to be working, then he wished me "happy morphing" and took his leave.

I had the whole weekend off, and nothing special to do, so I sat right down to it. I've always loved computer morphing ever since I first encountered it in George Lucas' fantasy film, Willow. I'd spent hours playing with crude morphing tools from magazine cover disks, and when Fractal Delights had advertised for people to beta-test their latest and greatest graphic tool, I jumped at the chance.

Not that I ever used such programs for any serious purpose. A personal fantasy is all. You see, I wanted to be a horse.

Yes, I know. It's not your everyday ambition. "I'd like to be in banking one day, how about you?" "Oh, I'd like to be a thoroughbred and run at Sandown Park." Not something you hear a lot. It's true though. It's not something I can explain. It's certainly not a sex thing: I wanted to be a horse at age three. It's just a feeling I get whenever I think of horses: that I should be with them; one of them. I get on alright with other humans, but somehow I don't feel the same connection.

Well, whatever. I soon accepted that chances of being a horse in this lifetime were slender at best, and turned to fantasy to assuage my longing. Role-playing. Books. Morphing...

I took a recent photograph of myself that I did not dislike too much, laid it on my flatbed scanner and soon had it up on the screen. I picked a horse from my huge collection, picking one that was as near in pose to my photo as possible: same angle: same features showing. Morphing programs can convert between any two pictures but for plausible shape-shifting illusions, the two pictures must have a lot of congruency.

Then I grabbed a coffee, and installed myself in front of the PC with the wad of instructions on my lap.

It was an impressive program. Hour after hour passed while I tried different pictures and different functions, altering settings, trying different effects. Polymorph Pro was set to retail for around eight hundred pounds--out of my price range--and it was a very professional piece of work. I probably wouldn't have such an opportunity again.

By evening I had tried most of the options and settled on some favourites. I created a short AVI animation of a couple of dozen frames or so: when run, the animation showed my utterly unremarkable human countenance slowly shift into those of a cream-coloured Lusitano with a dark mane: colouring not too dissimilar from my own pale skin and dark hair, and thus aiding the smooth morphing.

I sat and watched it for some time, then turned to the final chapter of the manual. Each page was crossed through though, and "Option disabled" written at the top. Curious, I read it anyway.

Holistic Fractals (HF) are a wholly new field of physics/mathematics: so new, even we don't know exactly what they're capable of yet. But J. Jerry Arden, working with a brilliant team of some of the world's finest mathematicians, has come up with some startlingly useful applications of this new field. A holistic fractal is a function which, when properly calibrated, can yield an eerily realistic model of the world around us. While it would be naive to assume these fractal models are totally accurate to the original forms they emulate, preliminary research has found no discrepancies at a macroscopic level. These elusive functions have been nicknamed "the functions that map the universe" and some sources have speculated that if they really do perform this function, what might happen if you change them?

Polymorph Plus utilises these HF functions in an intelligent function, applying them to achieve an actual understanding of your source and destination images, thus eliminating the time-consuming process of manually selecting matching points. Not only that, but Polymorph Plus can actually interpolate "hidden areas", generating portions of the images that do not actually appear in the source images.

Wow, I thought, having translated this into English. That would save a considerable amount of time and effort if it worked. Just my luck it didn't work...

I moved the mouse cursor over the "HF" button anyway and clicked. I was immediately prompted to provide source and destination files, and fed it the same two as before. The cursor changed into an hourglass, and the screen showed the message, Reading source fields. Stand by for point-congruency matching. A percentage counter clicked slowly toward a hundred, and when I saw how long it was taking, I made myself another cup of coffee.

When I returned it was to see the process complete: my face and the horse's were enshrouded in an intricate grid of green lines. Varicoloured marks identified linked points: a purple label on the horse's left eye matched one on my left eye, and so on.

I was impressed. By hand, the process could take hours, and was seldom as detailed as this matrix appeared to be. I clicked on the "Proceed with morph" button. A grey window instantly informed me that the file Ethalnk.dll could not be found. I sighed. Pity. The results of such a close mesh would have been pretty convincing.

I wondered how important the missing file was. "dll" stood for Dynamically Linked Library, I knew, and some programs used dozens of the things. They were of varying importance. Maybe I could fool the program? I snorted. Some chance!

Nevertheless, I had a look in the folder containing some of my freebie morph programs. As expected, there was no file marked Ethalnk.dll. I looked in Polymorph Pro's own folders: sometimes there were similar but slighly different files designed to accomodate slightly different system configurations. Ah! There! A file called Ethlnk.dll. I copied it and renamed the copy Ethalnk. Then I ran the program again, and opted for the HF morph again.

When prompted for the source pictures this time, I paused and thought, "Well hang on. If the blurb is correct, I don't have to opt for a completely matching picture."

I fed it the same picture of me--just a head shot--but decided to put something special in for the destination image. Seizing on a book of Gabrielle Boiselle's exquisite equine photography, I thumbed through until I came across a gorgeous full page shot of a rearing Andalusian stallion, white as a unicorn and as beautiful. "If youre going to shapeshift," I thought, "best do it in style!" I scanned the page into the program.

Normally, the two pictures would not have worked: the subjects and their positions were just too dissimilar. There were too few matching points. But Polymorph Pro set to work with a will.

It took longer, and I fetched another drink: I can get through a lot of coffee when I'm working on something on the computer. This time when the matching process had finished, I stared in amazement. The horse was wrapped in a green grid, but my picture... well, the original photo of my head had shrunk, and the outline of a human body fitted to it. The lines wrapping it in a grid of green matched those on the horse, point for point.

Beneath the image was a prompt reading, Include clothing in morph? I tapped N and gave a snort of amusement as my outline was instantly filled in with a photographic image of a naked human-male body. This was one amazing piece of software!

And then I saw it. I have a rather distinctive birthmark to the left of my navel, vaguely 'C'-shaped. My image on the screen had it too.

I lowered my coffee cup shakily. This was too much! I was prepared to believe that a program could be clever enough to recognise a human head and invent a plausible body for it, but this was something no computer could know! Certainly no equation could generate it, could it?

I looked closer. A large mole near the left elbow. I looked at my own arm: there it was. I hadn't even taken note of the fact!

Almost frightened to touch this suddenly omniscient machine, I clicked on the "Proceed" button. The screen cleared and began prompting messages. Duration of transformation? I normally went for something nice and short to save memory and time so I entered '5', thinking it meant seconds.

5 minutes said the screen. Oops. Doubtful it had the memory for that long an animation, but there was no immediate means to correct it. Match backgrounds, retain original, or adopt current?

Curious, I opted for "Adopt current". My jaw fell once again. A picture of my living room appeared. It wasn't part of either picture. In fact, I had no memory of ever having taken a picture in here...

Error said the screen. My spirits fell, then I read, Volume discrepancy. Clothing not part of morph. Clothing tears, fades, or vanishes at outset?

I laughed in awe, and chose the last option without really thinking.

Morph computed. Impose results?

That was a very odd way of putting it. Impose results? Why not "display" or "calculate"? Oh well. I hit Y.

The computer bleeped and my clothes, all of them, vanished. Into thin air. Just like that. I yelped and dropped my coffee mug. Jumping to my feet and backing away in panic, I saw no sign of my clothes: no ashes, nothing! "What the hell!?"

Large, calculator style figures appeared on the screen and it began counting time: 0:00... 0:01... 0:02...

I shivered suddenly, feeling very odd. I forgot my sudden nudity. A subtle, tingling sensation ran across my skin. It was as if rings of static were passing over my body, and I soon realised that each pulse of sensation was synchronised perfectly with the count on the screen:

0:12... 0:13... 0:14...

This couldn't be! This was ridiculous! I was hallucinating or something!

0:15... 0:16... 0:17...

I began to change. Each tingling wave of sensation left a little residue; a tingling spark in my feet, at the sides of my head. I raised my hands to my ears but felt nothing untoward. My feet were a different matter. I sat back heavily, eyes riveted on my toes. The middle digit of each foot was swelling, broadening, while the other digits slowly retracted. My feet grew longer, while the nail over those central toes began to darken and thicken.

0:35... 0:36... 0:37...

That odd sensation in my ears again, and I clamped my hands to them. They seemed higher-placed on my head. I yelped as they twitched beneath my fingers.

1:12... 1:13... 1:14...

There were more tingling areas now: my hands; my knees; my face. My middle fingers began to extend as my toes had, nail expanding, other digits diminishing.

1:45... 1:46... 1:47...

I shook my head in denial at what was obviously happening to me. "I'm turning into a horse," I said aloud, as if the sound of my voice would somehow alert the universe to the serious bug in one of its subroutines. My voice was higher, almost shrill, and there was a strong nasal quality to it: almost a squeal. This was unsurprising: my peripheral vision was showing a lot more nose than I was used to.

2:00... 2:01... 2.02...

A tingling at the base of my spine. I reached one deformed hand behind me. It was hard to tell--one finger was now shrouded by dark horn and relayed little tactile information. The other four digits were now grotesquely shrunk. I hardly needed a detailed analysis however: a tail was beginning to form behind me.

2:19... 2:20... 2:21...

I was slowly growing larger. My chair, a tubular steel affair, creaked in protest. My chest was swelling, and I was beginning to feel unbalanced; top heavy. As my tail grew, it became uncomfortable to sit so. Uncertain of myself, I carefully leaned forwards...


...And overbalanced to land on all fours. It didn't feel quite right--not yet--but it felt more natural than on any occasion previously when I had whimsically tried walking on hands and feet. Hands! All four limbs now ended in a single digit, and the hugely expanded nails were now very definitely hooves. All four limbs were now swiftly changing proportion, even as they lengthened and thickened.

3:05... 3:06... 3:07...

Patches of fine white hair appeared, looking disturbingly cancer-like at first, but spreading and joining, and soon covering the whole of my body, now easily twice the bulk it had been and still growing fast.

3:28... 3:29... 3:30...

My swelling belly rumbled and gurgled. I could actually feel my innards shifting and rearranging. Oddly, it wasn't painful: none of my transformation was, but it was a bizarre feeling, like nothing I had ever experienced before.

3:50... 3:51... 3:52...

My neck was lengthening now, it and my chest swelling with muscle. I could see I had a definite muzzle now, and I could consciously flex my ears. My eyes began to ache with the effort of looking at the screen, and suddenly I was seeing two distinct images. I could focus ahead, but there was a blind spot just beyween my eyes: the only way I could see the count on the screen, just inches away, was to turn my head to one side.

4:34... 4:35... 4:36...

I couldn't believe how I kept growing. I was huge. Every few seconds I was shoving my chair further and further back to accomodate my swelling form. Standing on all fours felt comfortable now: correct and natural. Bending my long neck to look down, I saw the astonishing view of two clean, white equine forelegs. I lifted one, flexing it, seeing the relationship of what had been to what now was: knuckle become fetlock; wrist become knee. My elbows were now right up close to my torso; what had been my upper arm now almost hidden within. My legs--my hind legs--were similarly altered: I almost had the feeling I was standing on tip-toe: my heels so much higher now, and become hocks.

4:57... 4:58... 4:59... beep!

The sensations of change faded. There was only a mighty hammering in my chest, the river of wind through my flaring nostrils, down into my panting lungs.

A grey window opened on the screen. Sequence imposed. Undo/Okay?

I was in shock. I couldn't accept this! I didn't want to deny it, but this was beyond belief!

I was a horse!

True to the image I had fed my scanner, I was my own ideal: sixteen hands of immaculate white stallion. All at once, my whirling emotions centred and in a rush of exaltation, I threw back my glorious head and neighed! I wanted to do more: to rear, to buck: to explode into a wild gallop of victory, but the tight confines of my lounge prevented this. Instead, with great restraint, I stood still, quietly forcing myself to take slow breaths, softly exploring the utterly new sensations this incredible body was bringing me.

"I'm still thinking," I thought. "I'm still me." But as I thought about it, I realised something had changed. I looked at a nearby bookshelf, reading the spines of the books there. I could read them, but there was something different. I could recognise the words, but stringing them together was difficult. I tried to talk, and, in a barely recognisable fashion, forced my new vocal chords and lips to utter my name, but when I tried to construct a sentence, the way escaped me. The words were there, but the meanings slipped aside elusively.

I was seeing in colour. That surprised me. In all the transformation stories I'd ever read (and I had a lot!) the protagonist always noticed the loss of colour. Not here. There was a change of focus, and unless I concentrated ahead, a lack of binocular vision. My sense of smell had increased: the scent of my coffee was pungent on the air. I raised my muzzle and inhaled, instinctively wrinkling my upper lip to trap the air in my nostrils; Flehmen, I recalled. The word seemed such an abstract thing now.

I must have stood there for a long time. Eventually though I thought, "What now?"

It was obvious. The screen still offered me the Undo option. I could see the word, recognise its shape, and though it had less meaning, knew it meant to be human again. I was sure that even with no hands, I could guide the mouse well enough to select that option.

I looked down at myself. All I had ever dreamed of was being what I now was. Throw it away?

But you could do it again under more controlled circumstances, whenever you like, a small inner voice said. I swished my tail irritably and stamped. Both movements lost me afresh in the wonder of this new body.

What would I do if I didn't change back? How could I live like this? I thought about it. It was a horsey area: I knew of five or six stables within a couple of miles of my house. Wait until night, make my way to one of them; simply let things take their course when someone discovered me. I knew what I looked like: I could not believe any one of them would turn such an obviously quality animal--no false modesty here--away. They might report me to the police as a runaway, but no one would come forth to claim me. Maybe I would try to communicate: maybe I would just be an ordinary horse, but I was sure I could get along. Was there anything to be gained by changing back into a human?

A steady job, a comfortable lifestyle, my own house...

I suddenly realised how little these mattered to me.

Carefully, I turned myself about. Craning my head around, I took careful aim, then kicked out as hard as I could with both hind legs. My hooves made solid contact with the desk and both it and the computer flew back against the wall. The screen burst open in a spray of sharp fragments, and the system unit hit the floor with a satisfyingly fragile crash. Silence fell.

I regarded the faintly smoking ruins for a moment, then nuzzled the French windows open and ambled into the garden. Contentedly, I began to graze the lawn while I waited for nightfall... --

Beta Test copyright 1997 by Destrier.

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