The Transformation Story Archive The Circe Treatment

Escape Claws

by Bob Stein

Harold paced back and forth, occasionally wrinkling his muzzle in a silent snarl. The bastards had been keeping him in this 'briefing room' for hours now. He was the one who had brought Stein down, risked life and limb to stop the menace of the unicorn's magic. And they were treating him like some sort of criminal, himself.

Or maybe like a monster. For the hundredth time, he looked at the full-length mirror on the far wall. The humanoid tiger who looked back at him was almost familiar now. He didn't know what scared him the most. That he had been transformed by the unicorn's magic, or that he was discovering that he really liked what the transformation had done to him.

He flexed his hands, and scratched the thick fur on his chest with black claws. Despite the very paw-like structure, he was still able to grasp and pick up things pretty well. And his feline body had incredible strength and grace.

It was more than just a physical change. Harold felt rejuvenated, somehow. Bestial features made it impossible to tell, but he was sure he was younger. A lot younger. Little aches and pains had vanished, and he had tremendous energy.

The door opened, and a woman entered. He could smell her fear. It excited him. "Good news! We found a viable DNA code in the blood sample from your last physical. They're working up a treatment with it. You should be back to normal in less than an hour."

She backed to the door, eyes getting wide. Harold realized that his claws were still out, and that he had been staring at her. Withdrawing the sharp talons, he smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Doctor." The exposed fangs did little to reassure her, and she made a hasty retreat.

Back to normal. Back to being human. The thought was revolting. Back to that pale, defenseless shell? It occurred to him that such thoughts were exactly what scientists had called insanity when they had run into them in the unicorn's other victims. Yet he didn't feel crazed. If anything, he felt a sense of identity that he'd never had before. This wasn't a random alteration - the unicorn had looked into his heart and soul, and tried to give Harold his dream.

He didn't blame the humans for fearing what the unicorn represented, and he felt no guilt about his own actions. Words could not express the feelings he had now. Only those who had been touched by the magic could understand, and they were all considered crazy. After all, who would really want to be a minotaur, a half-man/half-bull freak? Or go bounding through the newly created forest as a common deer? He contemplated his paws. Or, perhaps, a Siberian Tiger, prowling the jungle in search of prey.

Stein wasn't crazy. And those animals and monsters roaming the newly-created woods were not victims. Harold growled audibly this time, and strode to the door. He had to see the unicorn.

Not surprisingly, the door was locked. He gripped the handle and jerked it down, hearing a satisfying snap as the mechanism broke. Opening the door, he stepped out into the hall and was met by a startled guard who swung a rifle in his direction.

An instinctive swipe of his paw caught the side of the weapon before it was even halfway up, gouging chunks of wood from the stock as it was ripped from the man's hands. Harold glared down at him, a tiny corner of his mind realizing that he was taller than he had been. "I didn't realize I was a prisoner."

The man paled, and scrambled away. Again, the scent of fear was like a shot of good whiskey, and he had to restrain himself from showing aggression. "I want to see Stein." There were a few people in the hallway, all of whom backed away in apprehension. Harold shook his head sadly. So much fear. If he could sense it in his current form, the unicorn must be drowning in it.

He didn't really need anyone to show him the way. Two cells had been specially built for the unicorns, equipped with electrical generators and magnetic fields, even lined with lead foil. He'd helped with the design and construction, being one of the few people in the world who could think through special needs like this.

He could feel the electricity as he approached, a tiny vibration which set his teeth on edge. The windows had been covered to prevent any visual contact, and no one was allowed in. But no one had planned for mental communication.

<Stein?> He closed his eyes, trying to open his mind to the unicorn. <Are you there?>

<yes.> The answer as weak, though he couldn't tell if it was interference, drugs, or the electrical interference which caused the problem. <So, hunter. You will go back to what you were? You know the truth now. The truth of your soul. I pity you, for no matter what, I have achieved my truth. You will live your life with the memory of having almost attained it.>

"Go back to your room, Harold." He spun at the voice, and saw two guards with weapons trained on him, standing on either side of Mr. Benson. The technician had a grim expression. "You have been affected by your change, perhaps even made mentally unstable. Those creatures have unimaginable power. That is why they must be destroyed."

"Destroyed?" Harold narrowed his eyes. "You said they were simply to be captured for study, and kept in a controlled environment."

Benson sighed. "You know better than that. Don't you realize what a threat they represent? Our entire civilization is at stake. Hell, there are mobs of people trying to get into this area so that they can join those freaks! We have a small army keeping them out.

"Most of them are trash collectors, clerks, and other blue collar workers that keep things running. They see an easy way out. Become an animal, or some weird monster, living naked and wild in some ridiculous fantasy world. If we don't stop this here and now, we might never be able to control the magic again."

Harold shook his head. "You would destroy them for giving people their dreams? Who are you to decide that?" He gestured towards the containment rooms. "They have brought something incredible back to the world. With magic, there would be no more hunger, no more illness. Instead of wasting your life trying to just stay alive, you could find the life that gives you the most happiness."

The technician's eyes hardened. "I will not waste any more time with you, Harold. Obviously, you've been affected as all the others were. With luck, you can be restored with your Treatment."

<Stein?> Harold sent a desperate thought out. <If the electrical field was out, even for a minute or two, could you get free?>

<I.. think so. If I was ready.> The reply was tinged with confusion. <Why? Is this some trick?>

<No, unicorn. Get ready. I need to make amends for a great wrong.> He turned, as if to go back to his cell. One paw lifted casually, and he hoped, unnoticed towards the main power cable which ran along the wall. Benson was too sharp.

"Another inch closer to the cable, and both of the guards will shoot to kill. I'm sorry, Harold. I won't allow my world to be destroyed so that you and those other fools can forget your responsibilities." The guns shifted slightly, and Harold could feel the tension.

His shoulders drooped, and he started to drop his paw. The guards relaxed a bit, and he took advantage of the slip to spin around with both hands and slice at the heavy wire with his claws. He was thrown back by the shock, only to be knocked sideways from the impact of bullets. Oddly, there was no pain. As he fell, the hallway lights flickered and went out. <Now!> Fading consciousness desperately sought some vindication for his sacrifice. Blackness closed in around him, but he caught the growing scent of a forest and smiled.

He woke. That was surprise enough. No injuries, no pain. Sitting up, he took in the world around him. Strange foliage, exciting scents and sounds. No simple forest this. He was in a thick jungle.

Rising to all fours, he padded silently to a tree and leaped up onto a branch. The action was fluid and natural, and he realized that he was a real tiger. No longer a humanoid cross-breed, but fully transformed to an animal. The knowledge pleased him. Human memories were still present, sharing space with the instincts and thoughts of his new form.

Why hadn't his human identity been removed? Most of the transformed animals examined in the forest had shown no signs of intelligence or memory. He didn't particularly want to keep his humanity. Even as he thought that, animal nature grew stronger.

Of course. The choice was his. Stein must have cured his wounds and given him the rest of his dream. And somehow, the unicorn had left enough magic within this new body to allow Harold to make the final choices himself. With a thought, he could restore himself to full humanity, become the tiger-man, or perhaps even change himself into something entirely different.

Yet he knew the real choice had been made, not by the unicorn, but by his soul. Benson, wherever and whatever he now was, had been wrong. Magic was not an escape from responsibility. It was the road to destiny. Harold looked around in satisfaction, and let go.

The tiger blinked, sniffing the air. Hunger was starting to gnaw at its belly, and there was prey close at hand. Leaping down gracefully, it began to follow the scent. The hunt was on.

The end.

Escape Claws copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.

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