The Transformation Story Archive Strange Things and other Changes


by Bob Stein

Lee scowled at the open box, and then at the lone, unlabelled CD-ROM it had held. No instructions. They didn't even spell the name of the program right! Odds were the family tree software wouldn't even work. Or if it did, it would turn out to be some stupid game.

One way to find out. He went into the office and started his computer. After the system was up, he dropped the CD into the drawer and ran a virus check. Nothing. He was a little nervous about using an unmarked disc, but he was also reluctant to toss $50 bucks in the trash without at least trying it once.

At least it wasn't complicated to start. He double-clicked the only icon showing on the directory and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Cripes! How big was this program?

After more than five minutes, the screen turned blue, then green. Bright yellow letters appeared. GENIEOLOGY. God! He'd seen better graphics on 15 year-old DOS software! At least it used a mouse.

After another few seconds, the first screen was replaced by a plain white background and text boxes asking for his name and birth date. Fifty bucks for this crap? Still not ready to completely give up, he typed in the information and pressed Enter.

And waited even longer. After a while, he figured the computer had locked up. But no. The little hourglass icon was still turning at regular intervals. After ten minutes, he went into the kitchen and got a cold beer out of the fridge. When he got back, the screen was still blank.

"Oh, Hell!" He reached for the reset button, only to stop as the monitor flickered, and then began displaying photos in dizzying succession. Faces flashed past so quickly he couldn't even tell if they were male or female, young or old. And just as suddenly, the parade stopped. At his picture.

Lee stared at the screen. To have any photo of him appear was scary enough. This one was impossible. It showed him with the mustache he'd started for the first time two weeks ago. And the haircut he'd gotten two days ago. It had been more than a year since the last picture he'd been in, and even that wasn't the portrait-type showing on the computer.

A list of commands appeared along the bottom of the picture.

TRACE stop edit save EXIT

Only the first and last options were active. Still bewildered, he selected TRACE. His picture rose to the top and shrank as two other photos appeared under it. His parents. His mother's hair looked different than he remembered. Hadn't she mentioned something about trying a new style? Damn! This was freaky!

Four pictures appeared under theirs. His grandparents. At least the two he remembered looked about right. His father's parents had been killed years before Lee's parents had even met. Some sort of car crash. More pictures branching out, getting smaller as the screen displayed the growing pyramid. STOP had become active, and he selected it before his own picture got pushed out of view on the top.

This was incredible. At least 15 generations were represented. He tried to figure the time frame. Damn! Had they even had cameras that far back? Even at the bottom, where the people were at least 200 years dust, clear photographs looked back at him.

Choosing a picture at random, he double clicked on it. The image enlarged suddenly, filling the screen. A pretty woman, dressed in really strange clothes. Maybe not strange when she was alive. Maybe late 1800s. She looked a lot like his sister. Dark hair and eyes, strong chin.

EDIT was up now. How the Hell did you edit your family tree? He grinned, remembering some old jokes about horse thieves. Wouldnít be bad if you could remove the family members you werenít too happy about. Not that he knew much about his ancestors. Nothing really, at least further back than his grandparents.

Which meant that all of the photos older than that could be stock pictures. Sure. Like heíd know his great-to-the-tenth grandfather when he saw him? Especially when there were so many to choose from. That didnít explain the images he knew were correct, though. This was too weird.

Curious, he tried the new menu option. The original picture shrank again, only this time it was flanked by a screen full of new pictures. Lee blinked. All of the people shown were women. As best he could tell, they were all dressed in the same kind of clothes as the original girl. Who were they? He thought about the option. Edit. Alternative relatives? He stared at the screen. Maybe these were all women that could have been his Great-to-the-tenth Grandmother.

One of the pictures stood out. A fiery redhead with bright blue eyes. On a whim, he clicked on it. The picture filled the screen, and then shrank again. To take the place of the dark-haired girl on his family tree. The pictures above hers flickered slightly, and a few changed. A consistent pattern of dark hair suddenly altered, with red-haired men and women appearing sporadically up the line. He blinked and stared at the top photo.

It was still recognizable as him. Sorta. Except the curly brown hair heíd had all his life was now copper-red. And his skin was visibly paler, with prominent freckles and bigger ears.

He recoiled from the computer, mouth hanging open. The altered image looked absolutely real. Jumping up, he almost ran into the bathroom to check the mirror. And laughed. Nothing was different. How stupid could he be? Shaking his head, he went back to the desk and looked at the pictures again. This was fun.

Changing a distant grandfather gave him dark hair again. A different ancestor back at the furthest edge of the family tree didnít seem to have any effect at all. No, wait. His nose looked a little different. He looked at the top rows again. What if his grandparents had been different? Unlike the others, clicking his dead grandfatherís picture brought up only a few alternatives.

He and Grandmother Richards had died pretty young. Guess there hadnít been time to shop around. One of the choices was a rugged-looking man with sharp features and high cheekbones. Obviously part Indian. Surprisingly, such a drastic change had little effect on his own picture. No, that wasnít quite true. It was hard to tell in a portrait shot, but he did seem to have broader shoulders.

He got a bigger surprise when he realized that the picture of Grandmother Richards had changed on its own. It was the same woman, but a lot older. As if she hadnít died in the car crash. He tried her picture. There were lots of choices again. And a broader range of ages. The new Grandfather must have played the field. He chuckled at his own silliness. Making moral judgment on a fictional relative?

Might as well go for broke. He searched the alternatives. The most outrageous choice he could find was an Asian girl who looked like she was still in high school. Grinning, he clicked on her photo. This time, the effect was obvious. His fatherís picture darkened into that of a much younger man with obvious Asian features. And his brown-haired, English-stock mother was now an unfamiliar Chinese woman. More importantly, the top photo was now that of a teenage Oriental girl with thick black hair. Instant sex change! Not to mention race and age.

He checked all the alternatives for his mother. Only a few non-Asian women appeared, and none of them were his real mom. He tried a black woman with a wild-looking afro. And was an older male again, with a unique-looking face that combined black and Asian features with coarse, straight hair.

Remembering what had happened with his altered grandmother, Lee chose the youngest-looking picture, another Oriental. Sure enough, his own picture regressed to what looked like a grade-school picture. The scrawny little boy looked pure Chinese, with the startling exception of pale blue eyes. His red-haired ancestors coming out, perhaps.

Lee glanced at the clock. Almost ten! He hadnít realized that so much time had passed. Just a few minutes before "The Godfather" came on. He selected Exit, and automatically hit return when a prompt box appeared. Damn! The program had an automatic Save. He hoped that heíd be able to bring his original file back up later. The computer whirred for a few seconds, and the program shut down.

"Chai Lee Chong! What are you doing still up?" He cringed guiltily as his mom shouted up the stairs. "Your bedtime is nine p.m., young man. That means lights out and in bed, not sitting up playing with some computer game!"

Turning off the computer and then the tattletale overhead light, Lee scrambled into bed. "Sorry, momma!" He scrunched up his face, trying to remember what the unmarked disc had actually done. There was a flicker of memory, or maybe the trace of a daydream. Family tree stuff. Bo-ring! Maybe he could trade it for a game.

Genieology copyright 1997 by Bob Stein.

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