Aurora's Assessment: Part Two
As the tunnel started veering off to the right, I kept my right paw on the wall. The light faded quickly and soon it seemed like I was barely inching along. I had my left paw out in front of my face so that I wouldn't accidentally brain myself on a stalactite. I probably already had a concussion from the fall earlier, no need to make it worse. I opened my eyes as wide as possible but it was pitch dark. A wall could be two inches out of the reach of my claws and I wouldn't know it.
The tunnel started curving back to the left after I had gone what I guessed was a short distance. I felt like I had been shuffling along for hours. Not a sound reached my ears during that time except for my own laboured breathing. I wasn't afraid exactly, or rather - I wasn't afraid of what might be in the dark. I was more afraid that there would be nothing in the dark, no help to be found. I tried to think about how far I had come and how much the tunnel had curved, but my thoughts were scattered and I honestly had no idea which direction I was now facing. And even if I had a compass I couldn't look at the needle with no light. I plodded along stubbornly, refusing to give in to my more dire thoughts. I whispered bits of poetry under my breath to myself. My nerves were strained and I was barely keeping it together.
And then, like a miracle, without really noticing when it happened, I realized I could see some definition in the tunnel ahead. Light! I quickened my pace, practically tripping over my own feet in my hurry. I saw the tunnel opening up into a lighted room, and just at the entrance I tripped and tumbled head over heels.
I shook my head slowly, dazed, and got back to my feet. As I brushed myself off, I raised my eyes to see where I had ended up and my jaw dropped. I guess the moltite should have tipped me off - I was in Moltara!
Not only was I in Moltara, but I was surrounded by Moltarans. And they were all staring right at me. I looked down at myself and realized what they must see. A strange Bori arrives suddenly in a cloud of dust, falling all over herself and making a racket. She's a sickly green colour that can't be normal, covered in scrapes and bruises. Her clothes are sopping in some foul-odored goo, and she's got an odd bald spot on the back of her head. I cleared my throat awkwardly.
"Is there...is there a doctor around, please?" I asked weakly.
Silence and more staring.
"I'm from...Terror Mountain...." I didn't know what I could say to put them at their ease. And my voice sounded strange in my ears. "I was in a cave and the floor collapsed..?"
I was starting to think these Moltarans were all deaf or mute, when an elderly Ogrin approached me tentatively. She stopped a little way away from me, but looked directly at me. She looked like a friendly grandmother type. I held my breath while she decided whether or not to speak to me.
She tightened her lips a little and then motioned for me to follow her. "Come along, dear. I'll take you to the clinic. At the very least they can clean out your scrapes."
The breath I had been holding came out in a rush of relief, and I hurried after her.
She didn't say anything as she led me along. But soon she paused in front of a large building and gestured me inside. Startled, I looked at her.
"Aren't you going to come in with me?"
The Ogrin looked at me sharply.
Meekly, I climbed the steps alone and pushed open the door.
The clinic wasn't busy and the young receptionist looked up as soon as I opened the door. Her eyes widened at the sight of me and she quickly picked up the phone. I walked slowly up to the desk as she spoke into the phone and hung up again.
"The doctor can see you immediately."
The door behind her opened and a kindly Chomby came out rubbing his glasses.
"Hroomph. You seem to have gotten yourself into a peck of trouble." He looked me up and down. "You can fill out the paperwork as I give you a little check-up, hrmph?"
The receptionist handed me a clipboard and the doctor led me through the door and down a little hallway into an examination room. I settled myself on the bed as the doctor put on a pair of gloves. He nodded at the clipboard and I looked down at it. There was a pen tucked in the clip and I slid it out. As I grasped the pen I thought to myself that my claws looked larger than normal.
The doctor cleaned the scrapes on my arms and legs and swabbed them with disinfectant as I filled in my information and medical history on the form. When I was finished, I placed the clipboard on the bed beside me and the doctor started working on my face.
After a little while, I tried to break the silence.
"I'm not actually bald," I tried. "I think it was the goo. Or maybe the fall..?"
"Hroomph. What goo?"
"The green goo all over me!"
The doctor looked into my eyes. "There's nothing on you. Hroomph. Do you remember if you hit your head pretty hard?"
"I was in a cave," I explained, "and the floor fell out from underneath me. I fell into a pool of green goo. My fur is actually very fine and an almost translucent turquoise colour."
The doctor took my arm and put it in front of me on my lap. He rubbed the fur between his fingers and held held his fingers up to me.
"Hrmph, see? Nothing. Your fur is green. Doesn't appear to be dyed either. Did you lose consciousness when you fell? Perhaps you dreamed your fur was turquoise and got confused. Hroomph."
"No! I'm an ice Bori!" I jabbed at the clipboard. "All my information is right here. I remember everything perfectly!"
The doctor considered me quietly, and then stepped over to the door and called a nurse over. He conferred with her for a minute, and then turned back to me.
"There's a shower area in the back. It's for the doctors, but you're obviously not from around here, and I think you need to clean up a bit. Hroomph. You'll feel better for it, I'm sure. The nurse will help you if you need it. We'll re-dress your cuts afterward, hrmph?"
I nodded quietly and followed the nurse away. ---
The nurse led me to the showers and turned the water on for me. She handed me a bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap and stood just on the other side of the tiled wall when I said I'd be able to handle it on my own.
I scrubbed at my fur but the color didn't come off. My claws gingerly found the bald spot on the back of my head. Sighing, I rinsed off the rest of the suds and turned off the water. I stepped out of the shower stall and the nurse handed me a towel.
"You're not the first one, you know."
Pausing in my drying off, I looked over at her. "What?"
"You're not the first one to have come to Moltara claiming to have been a certain colour and looking...." She eyed me with one raised eyebrow. "Looking not at all that colour," she finished diplomatically.
"But you believe me, don't you?" I cried desperately.
She took my paw reluctantly and led me over to a mirror. Nodding toward the image reflected there, she asked me, "Do you believe you?"
My jaw dropped as I stared in the mirror. Why was it that every time I looked in a mirror my appearance was a shock to me? I did not recognize the Bori staring back at me. It was a...a mutant.
"I don't believe it," I whispered.
"Actually, to tell you the truth," the nurse said, "I do believe you."
I turned to face her, curious.
"There are stories, you see," she continued. "The pools that you find near Moltara, they're filled with things you wouldn't find on the surface of the world. Who knows what's in them? Chemicals? Organic compounds? Possibly living things that can invade your body parasitically."
My eyes widened.
"Or live with you symbiotically," she added quickly.
That did not make me feel particularly better.
"There's a scientist in Moltara that specializes in studying the Moltaran pools."
"Do you think he can help me to...be me again?"
The nurse shrugged. "It's the only thing I can think of down here." She eyed me again. "That is, I assume you don't have millions of Neopoints to spare for a visit to the Rainbow Pool."
Looking sheepish, I admitted that I had lost everything when I fell.
Nodding smartly, the nurse told me where I could find the scientist. ---
It turned out that the scientist was a little bit...strange. But he agreed to provide room and board if I volunteered for a few experimental studies he was working on, and helped out with a few chores around the lab. I didn't really have any other options, so I agreed. Plus, I was hopeful that he would be able to find an answer to how I had come to look like this monstrosity.
Scientific experiments are a bit disconcerting when they're being performed on your own person. To be honest though, the experiments didn't hurt me at all physically. The principal investigator at the lab, the scientist the nurse had been referring to, was a quirky yellow Scorchio with an air of the quintessential “absent-minded professor.” He had a bit of a crazed look but he was quite sweet and everyone at the lab liked him. We referred to him simply as “Dr. Ray.” I actually never did learn his full or real name, but the nickname was due to his main experimental apparatus which was a giant ray gun attached to a series of computers and other equipment. It had a frighteningly complex-looking switchboard that Dr. Ray would not allow anyone other than himself to so much as breathe on. And I was one of the subjects of this so-called “lab ray experiment.”
As I said before, the ray did not hurt at all. You simply stood on a platform with the ray gun pointing straight down at your head. You didn't need to be strapped down or anything uncomfortable like that. Dr. Ray would instruct you to try to remain calm and take deep breaths. He would ask you if you were ready, and when you gave the affirmative he would start what we called the “zapping” process. Each zap took just a few seconds to complete. First you would hear a faint buzzing sound coming from the machines, which would get louder and louder. Then all of a sudden there would be a sharp *POP* and a flash of very bright light. The light varied in colour on different experiment days. I personally have been zapped when the light was red, yellow, blue, and white. However, I have no idea how the colours of the ray corresponded to the experimental conditions of any given day. When I was under the ray I was only the experimental subject, not a member of the lab's scientific team.
After you were zapped, you were taken to another room to be debriefed and to fill out several forms. There was also a series of physical tests that they asked you to undergo to determine if any changes had occurred from zapping that were not immediately apparent in your outward appearance. The results of these tests would be explained to you in layman's terms, and then used as the baseline statistics for your next zapping, if nothing else had changed.
Most of the time, the zapping experiments seemed to be failures. Nothing would seem to be different on the outside, and after they tested you nothing would turn out to be different on the inside either. At least, nothing physical. From the experimental subject's point of view, I have to say that I was always emotionally drained after a course of zapping. Even if nothing changed, I still felt tense and a bit tired. I think this was a common side effect, and during the initial studies back in that day, Dr. Ray would never allow the same subject to be zapped more than once a day.
I've heard that recently some other scientists have set out to expand on Dr. Ray's experiments and are now zapping their subjects up to three times a day! I can't imagine how those subjects feel. I wouldn't be surprised if their personalities changed permanently after so many mental and emotional trials, even if their outer appearance never altered a hair.
Failed experiments were a mixed blessing. On the one hand you felt relief that nothing untoward had happened. On the other hand, after a few rounds of zapping you started to catch on to the excitement of the lab at the possible results that could occur, and you started to share a bit of their anticipation and curiosity, so it was also a bit of a let down when nothing happened.
All of the experimental subjects were volunteers of one sort or another. The lab ray experiments had the possibility of changing you drastically in mysterious ways. The apparatus was constructed by Dr. Ray after decades of theoretical research, some of it related to the research he did on the Moltaran pools. While the theory had been very well developed before Dr. Ray ever attempted to build the apparatus, when the theory was translated into reality, it didn't perform quite as predicted. These first experimental trials were very rudimentary, mostly data collection. Pages and pages of data were collected on each subject, and on each experiment, and Dr. Ray's team performed analysis on all of it trying to find out why experimental results did not always match theoretical predictions.
It's been a long time since I've looked at the scientific literature of this field, but the last I heard, they were still in the data collection stage, with really no signs of converging on a workable theory to explain the experimental anomalies.
After failed test runs, the next most common results were those that would only be detected by the physical tests that we took after each experiment. I'm sure that each subject had different tendencies toward certain attributes being enhanced. I found that more often than not my endurance or strength would have increased slightly after I had been zapped. But my defence never seemed to improve. Perhaps it had something to do with my thick, mutated, back-plates. I wouldn't be surprised if my body thought my defence had already been altered enough during recent events.
Disorienting gender changes were also possible with the lab ray. In general these did not alter our physical appearance, nor did it affect our personality too much. In many cases, experimental subjects who had their gender changed during one zapping would have the result reversed in the next zapping and be back to their original genders. Therefore, most of us didn't even try to alter ourselves to fit societal gender expectations. We simply went about our lives, and nodded our heads at fellow experimental subjects when we bumped into each other outside of the lab. There were a sufficient number of us in Moltara that even the ordinary citizens didn't seem too startled to see a male wearing traditionally female clothing, or vice versa.
But the results we were all waiting for were the more drastic changes. After all, we had all volunteered to be experimented on in the hopes that Dr. Ray and his team would be able to help us make our outer appearance match our inner vision of ourselves. I was supposed to be an ice Bori. M y mother had granted me this gift. I didn't want to go home as a giant mutant that nobody would recognize and few would be eager to approach. Whether it was species or colour, all of us yearned for a big change. And little did I know it, but I was about to get my wish.
To Be Continued...