“How are you feeling?”
“Not bad. A bit sore, but it’s fading. Worn out, but not really. I mean, I don’t feel tired, but mentally I’m worn out. Oh, and I’m hungry.”
“Makes sense. You’re body’s been through a lot, and it’s been fed back in to your mind. Not to mention the eﬀect of trying to deal with a body only partially under your control. We’ll get you some food in a moment, but I want to make sure everything’s working properly, and to make sure you can use it.” He shifted position a bit, and peeled the spent n-pad oﬀ her shoulder. Underneath was what appeared to be a wolf’s-head tattoo. Romy shifted to try to look, and Talib brought up a mirror. “Not very big and scary, is it?”
“No, it isn’t. At least on it’s own.” She was used to the idea that n-pad mods took minutes or hours; one that had taken over a day, and had convulsed her body through most of it, had scared her.
“You’re ﬁne. And hopefully you’ll never need to use this. But we do need to check it out right now, ok?”
“Sure. What do I have to do?”
“We’ll start with the wolf-form; it’s the biggest change. Activating it is simple: You simply imagine a wolf and think ‘Activate Wolf’ at your implant.”
“That’s it. It’s not something you need to worry about activating by accident though: it’s something you have to think about consciously. The change will be fast, but that means a couple of minutes in this case. Oh, before you try it: You won’t be able to talk in wolf form. Use the comm net.”
“Right.” She rose to all fours, and took a deep breath. “Here goes.”
For a moment, nothing happened. Then ripples appeared under Romy’s skin, and her legs straightened, raising her to her toes. Her hair retracted, and fur started to sprout. Her face morphed and ﬂowed, faster than the eye believed it should, but slower than it appeared. Her ears melted in, as points started to form and push out of her head. Her hand-paws shifted, becoming more dog-like, and a tail started to grow. Within a minute it was apparent what she was becoming, though it took the full two before she ﬁnally relaxed, indicating that she could tell it was ﬁnished.
In front of Talib stood a wolf, that came up to his waist. Romy opened her mouth to catch her breath, and the teeth impressed themselves on his mind. “Impressive. You feel ok?” Romy nodded, not bothering with the comm net for the moment. “I’m going to run a couple of scans.” He held up a med-scanner, then started running it down her side.
“Ok, everything looks good. You can try running or moving as wolf if you want, though it shouldn’t be hard, and you don’t have a whole lot of reserves at the moment. If you run out of reserves, you’ll change back. Otherwise, just think ‘Deactivate Wolf’ into your implant. No shape-password.” He stood back.
Romy took a few steps, apparently just testing how easy it was, then started to morph back.
Talib waited until she was done, then started another pass with the med-scanner. “How was it?”
“Odd. I could smell… all kinds of things. And I could hear a lot more too. Walking felt easy, though I can see if I hadn’t trained as a dog it might feel a bit odd. I’m sure I could run if I needed to. What’s it say?”
Talib was looking at the med-scanner. “That you have a major nannite mod which throws everything oﬀ kilter, but other than that you look ﬁne.” He grinned. “The ear mod we picked out will actually give you most of the same hearing; they are based on the same design after all.”
“Why you recommended that one, I remember.”
“Yeah. They’ll be able to integrate well. How were your eyes?”
“Hard to tell in here. I think I could see a bit into the shadows that I couldn’t before…”
“Yeah. Mostly it keeps the human eyes; we’ve got better vision than wolves or dogs do, but it does pull in a bit of the dark-adaptations. Anyway, based on these readings, fully charged you should be able to hold that form for about seven hours, assuming you don’t do anything else to tap into your reserves at the same time. Running, hunting, anything a wolf normally does will not tap into your reserves, and if you eat a lot as a wolf you might even be able to extend that.”
“How long until I’m fully charged?”
Talib shrugged. “Depends on your activity levels and how much you eat. Could be a week, could be a month. If you think ‘Werewolf Status’ at your implant, it’ll tell you how your reserves are currently, and in a couple of days it’ll start being able to estimate how long until you are fully charged. Right now it doesn’t have enough data to guess.”
“Huh. ‘Reserves Low’ right now, is all it says.”
“Yeah. That’ll also take a bit before it can fully calibrate. I could put in better data based on my med-scanner, but it’s better in the long run to let it calibrate itself.”
“It doesn’t give a built-in med scanner?”
“It gives the lite version: It can tell you how badly you’re injured, and where, but just an overview. It’s got a lot of other things to worry about.”
“It does at that. Ok, what’s next?”
“Now the crossover form. You’ll be able to talk this time. Imagine a full moon, and think ‘Activate Werewolf’.”
This went a lot faster. Her ﬁngers lengthened, forming talons, and her feet extended into a cross between paws and human feet. The ears came back, and the mouth grew slightly, while ﬁlling with long, sharp, teeth. Her shoulders broadened, and her legs and arms lengthened.
Romy rose to her feet. “Knees won’t bend to crawl.” It came out slurred, but understandable.
“They will, if you force them to, but they are ‘sprung’ to help you walk, run, and jump. Or you can go on all fours without bending them.” Talib pointed to her extra-long arms.
Romy leaned forward, putting all four on the ground, and found it comfortable. “Feel like I could move like this.”
“Yeah, well, be careful. You are damaging the ﬂoor.” He pointed to where she’d just clawed marks into the concrete.
“Didn’t even feel it…”
“You won’t. This form also hypes up your adrenaline — it’s for ﬁghting, and it’s set to make you aggressive and powerful.” He moved in with the scanner.
“I feel powerful.” She was looking at her altered hands.
“You are. You could make claw marks in most steel just as easily.” He pulled back, and looked over the scanner. “Ok, everything looks good. You use the same method to get back as you did from the wolf.”
“Can I go to the wolf from here?”
“Yes, though I’m not sure what would happen if you ran out of reserves halfway through.”
She took a deep breath, then morphed back. “That took a lot less time than the wolf transformation.”
“It’s supposed to be something you can pull up in the middle of a ﬁght, when you need it. The wolf form is for if you need to hunt.”
“Got it.” She was breathing deep, to stabilize herself. “That form… I wasn’t expecting that.”
“It’s built for combat. Nothing else. Hormone balance, senses, everything.”
“It scared me, a bit.”
“Good.” She looked around at him. “Hey, if you need that form, you need it. No questions. But it should scare you: If you don’t need it, it’s dangerous.” He gestured at the ﬂoor where her claw-marks showed. “As you saw. Use it to save your life, or Alicia’s, but don’t play with it. That form is why you are walking around with a warning tattoo and an alert in the system saying ‘Danger, Do Not Touch’. It’s why Slave isn’t down here helping; I didn’t want her to accidentally startle you in it. It’s designed so you can kill if you need to, and it’s designed to make sure you don’t freeze up either. You are a registered lethal weapon, and I’ll probably need to tell the police why you activated it here. Use it if — and only if — the situation scares you more than becoming that does.” He bent down. “Romy, if Alicia ever needs you to use that form, you’ll be glad to have it. But I hope with all my heart this is the last time you ever use it.”
“I… I think so too.” She settled. “But I can see it would be intoxicating, for some.”
“And that’s why you have to register, and you can only use it for a short time.” He held up the med-scanner. “An hour, if you are fully charged, by my readings. And basically anything you do while in that form will use your reserves: You are using nanites as much as you are using muscles. Fully active, you could run through your reserves in half that time. However, it will warn you before you run out of reserves, and it will not switch you back without your permission, not while you are conscious anyway. If you push to hard it can kill you, but it won’t switch you back while you might still need it.”
Romy sat and absorbed that. “Ok. Everything look good?”
“Everything looks ﬁne. One more thing to test though.” He pulled a knife out of his pocket, and ﬂipped it open. “The healing system. Ready?”
“Hold out your arm.”
She did, and he ran the blade down it. It didn’t take long before the wound closed and was clean again.
“That’s your normal healing, now. Think of a red cross, and ‘Activate Healing’, and we’ll do it again.”
She nodded, then held out her arm again.
This time there was no indication that the knife had broken the skin at all: It just smoothly sealed back up behind the edge of the knife.
“Yeah. Turn it back oﬀ with another red cross, and ‘Deactivate Healing’, or it’ll drain your reserves just sitting there.”
She nodded again, then spoke. “Ok, done.”
“Ok. You’ve seen what it can do, and you know the cost. Use it if you need it, but don’t worry about it too much. The werewolf form has that activated automatically, the wolf form doesn’t. If you keep your reserves in good shape — and there’s no reason for you not to — you don’t even really need to activate it: The advanced healing will activate automatically if you take an injury that would be life-threatening without it. We could do a major test, but…”
“The knife still hurt.”
“Exactly. We did enough to know the system is operating, and honestly it needs time to calibrate and learn your body as well. So, any questions?”
“Just what I should tell Alicia about all this.”
“The full specs on the mod are considered private unless you open them, so she’ll just be able to see the warning ﬂag. What you tell her, or her parents, beyond that is up to you.”
“Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“Good. Sorry I can’t be more help, but you are the one who’s going to have to live with it.”
“True. Anything else?”
“Just that I have the other mods ready for you, and then you can eat.”
“Great, I’m starving now.”
“That’s expected. And, once you eat, you’ll probably collapse into sleep. You just stressed that mod, and it will ask you to recharge after you use it. So, mods ﬁrst.” He held up a pair of ears and a tail. “I had the system generate these, based on your DNA and the mods. They’ll help keep the mods from taking too long to set.”
He advanced on her, and she let him apply the ears to her head, and the tail to the base of her spine. “That feels like they stuck.”
“They did: The n-pads are basically built in to them. The ears might shift a bit, if I didn’t place them precisely in the right place, but the tail is obvious. It’s just integrating into your nervous system and muscles.”
“Oh. I guess I was expecting those to be separate.”
“Works better this way. We do have two n-pads for you though: The Barbie doll mod, and the sex drive shutdown.” He walked over and picked them up.
Romy took a deep breath. “Ok, let’s do this.”
“You seem more nervous about those than anything else.” He kidded, lightly.
“The werewolf mod — I didn’t know what to expect. The ears and tail are just more puppy-play. Those… Just thinking about what I’m doing.” She grinned up at him. “And I do like sex. I just agree that it’s not something I want to be setting an example for a child in, at least, not right away.”
“Ok.” One pad went center of her torso, the other went much lower down. “They’ll all be ﬁnished in the morning, and I’ve got them all set to integrate with the werewolf mod. We’ll want to run a quick test of that, but wolf-form will be plenty. In the meantime,” The door to the dungeon opened, and Slave appeared at the top of the stairs. “Slave’s bringing dinner for you. Tell her if you want seconds, and then get some sleep. She’ll stay in case you need anything.”
“No problem. And Talib?” She waited for him to turn back. “Thanks. For everything.”
Romy adjusted the camera a moment, and sat on her hunches. Talib and Slave had left the room, she had the space to herself.
She didn’t quite know what to say.
“Hi Alicia. It’s Romy, but you can see that, I guess. I expect you recognize me. For that matter, I’m probably sitting right next to you as you watch this…”
“Sorry, I’m still trying to think, and I’ve got a big step coming up, something which I haven’t told you, or your parents about.” She looked down at herself, and raised a paw. “I’ve got all the main puppy-girl mods that I’m using for you now. Paws, tail, ears, even wiped my nipples oﬀ.” She held up a breast to show. “Still getting used to that idea, even though it was mine: An eight-year-old girl doesn’t need to know why men ﬁnd a naked woman exciting. You’re old enough now to understand, but I didn’t need to be a walking sex object by your side. I don’t even a have a sex drive anymore, and I’d gotten into this in the beginning because I kinda liked the idea of being a sex toy. So if you want to give me those back, now that you are old enough to know why, I wouldn’t mind. Though… I guess there’s probably a complication there as well.”
“I’m recording this so you’ll have answers, so I guess I should start at the beginning. The beginning is a nice but naive guy thought he’d like to show oﬀ how much money he had by hiring a puppy girl. And me, a naive girl just out of college trying to ﬁgure out how to make some money, thought that being his puppy girl would be fun for a few months, and then she could get back to her life.”
“It wasn’t that bad a plan. Neither of them knew what they were doing, so they hired a professional to help train me, but that doesn’t really matter. And, once they set up, we quickly realized that it wasn’t what either of us wanted or expected. I was bored stiﬀ, most of the time, alone in an empty house for days on end. He found a puppy girl wasn’t as impressive as he thought to his friends, and that I tended to demand attention when he wanted to be alone.”
“That probably would have been the end of it, but I’d met this adorable little girl, who just wanted someone to play with. And I remembered exactly how lonely I was growing up.”
“Most adults don’t realize it anymore, I think. A lot of them grew up with other children around, for that matter. But these days… There just aren’t any other children, are there? Your parents are young, for adults, but they are still around a hundred years old. They can’t remember what it was like to someone who hadn’t seen even ten years yet.”
“But I still remember, some of it. I’m less than two decades older than you are, Alicia, and I was a child not so long ago. I’m still a child, in some ways, so I’m making an impulsive, childish, choice: I’m giving you a friend, and a playmate, who you can trust with your deepest secrets, or your life itself, and who will never, ever, betray you. Someone who’s not an adult, ordering you around, but your pet, who you can order around instead.”
“Nice words, and I mean them. I know that, as I am right now, I could promise you that and I would mean that promise. But, I’m still an adult. I mean it now, but would I still mean it in ﬁve years? Ten? You’ll still be a child, though just barely, in ten. And you’ll still want to know your secrets are safe, while who knows what I will want.”
“So I asked Talib, my trainer, what he could do. He’s good, and he came up with what I’d consider a miracle, for any eight-year-old child on the planet. I’m getting two mods that I haven’t discussed with your parents. The ﬁrst,” She turned, to show the tattoo on her right shoulder, “is so I can protect you. If you don’t know what it is by now, ask me to tell you. I will. It scares me a bit, actually, but I’ll agree that it’s the best protection I’d be able to oﬀer. I’ll probably tell your parents some of what it can do, if not all of it, and if you’ve needed it by now… Well, then you’ve seen what it can do.”
“The other… You’re parents don’t know about, and it won’t show anywhere. It scares me more than that one. That one made a lot of changes in my body, but this one is only in my mind. And it’s going to be subtle, so subtle I’ll never notice, Talib says. What it will do is simple: It will reinforce any thoughts I have of loyalty to you, and discourage any thoughts of disloyalty.”
“Any time I think about it, or have a thought related to it, it will kick in, subtly, encouraging me to enjoy, to want to be loyal to you. At any cost, and regardless of anything else. Talib has said it will be the strongest motivation I have.”
“I don’t have it yet; He’s right, I need to explain this before I have that messing with my head. I could give lots of reasons, from how lonely I can see you being, to how my parents split up and how I’m coming to wish I had a friend then. What it comes down to is that an adorable little girl stole my heart, and I want to see that she’s happy, and this is the best way I can think of to help that happen.”
“Talib has made sure I understand what I’m doing. This mod — it’s not really a mod, but something he’s going to do in my implant — will change how I think. Not directly, but indirectly, and continually. Right now, I want to be your pet. In a year, I won’t be able to think about leaving you. In ten… Who knows? But you will be the absolutely most important thing in my world. I will be loyal to you. Period, without question. I might make a mistake, but only by accident. And the wost punishment you could do to me is to tell me that I made the mistake.”
“And the other part: I can ask for this, now, and he can do it because I’ve asked. Once it’s done, I can ask for it to be removed, but it can’t be removed without my permission. And the only reason I’d want it removed is so that I could be disloyal to you. Which, because of this mod, I will never want to do.”
“So, yes, eﬀectively it’s permanent. Being a puppy-girl isn’t. I can even imagine you telling me to go live a life away from you so that you could grow without me, and I’d probably do it. Because doing so would be being loyal to you. By the time you watch this, Talib says he’s not sure even removing it will make much diﬀerence. I’ll have trained my mind to consider being loyal to you my reason for existence.”
“I hope you don’t consider me a burden. That you’ll take what I’m oﬀering and make something good of it. But I realize I’m giving you my life, and you won’t even realize it. If you ask the woman sitting by your side what she wants, her answer will be ‘to make you happy’. It’s all she can think about. If you ask her what her plans for her life are, she won’t understand: You are her plans for her life.”
“Yes, I had plans for mine, and no, being a girl’s puppy-dog weren’t part of them. I’d thought of opening a store, selling art and handicrafts, or whatever else I could think of. It really isn’t that well deﬁned. Here and now, today, I’m deciding that making you happy is a better plan. Of my own free will, with nothing inﬂuencing me, except for the memory of my own lonely nights, and of the laughter in your eyes. I’ll remember who I was, and nothing will change that. I’ll even admit that if there was a way so that I could grow out of this as you grew out of needing me, I’d take it. But there isn’t, and I’d rather be this, no matter the cost.” She laughed at herself. “Even if it means being a barbie-doll neuter for the rest of my life.”
“So, yeah. This wasn’t your parents idea — they don’t even know about it, and I was the one who suggested me becoming your puppy-girl to them. I know what I’m doing. I’ve had time to think about it. More than I wanted, really, Talib insisted that I do this absolutely the last thing, which has given me several days to think it over. I have. I know the costs, what I am giving up, and what I’m getting. All I’m expecting to get out of this is to see your smile, every day, until you get tired of me. That will be enough, I promise. I don’t need anything else.”
Romy bit her lip, and held it in thought. “I hope I’ve made you happy in the years we’ve been together, Alicia. I know you’ll have made me happy. You’ve made me happy every time we’ve been together so far, and I’m sure that won’t end. I hope you’ve grown up to be a strong, independent, bright woman who is willing to take life by the hair and make it give her what she wants. I can’t imagine anything else from the Alicia I know. I hope you haven’t lost your sheer joy in living you show me ever time we meet. That’s what I’m hoping I can give you, or keep for you. And yes, to me, that is worth what I’m giving you. I don’t know why, besides the fact that I can’t bear to see you any other way, if there is anything I can do to help it.”
“So. I’m going to turn this oﬀ in a moment, and then I’m going to go upstairs, and have Talib put in the ﬁnal mod. And then we are going to go meet an eight-year-old girl, and ask her if she wants to have a puppy-girl. I hope she says yes, because I really want to be her puppy-girl, for as long as she’ll have me. I can’t think of a better life.”
“If you are watching this, she has, and I can say thank you. Thank you for making me a very happy woman, and for letting me give you what support I could. I hope your life is long and happy.”
Romy reached out, and turned oﬀ the camera.