For Jason Kubelik, the dawning of a new day really didn't make him feel any better. Despite the warmth of the sun, it rays filling him with energy even as he lay there on the ground, still a Husky staying with the Barclay's, he could feel nothing but emptiness at the loss of Curtis, a boy who he did not know, nor had he any real feelings for. His sorrow was not because of the death, but because his friends were in sorrow over his death.
Jason knew though that he could not share in their suffering for much longer, as he had responsibilities of his own. He had to return to the scientists, no matter how much the thought repulsed him, and to do that he would have to become human again. Of course that would have to wait until both Greg and Mary were awake, for his clothes were still in their bathroom. It was amazing to him that he had remained a Husky this long, nearly two whole days had passed since last he walked on two feet, never before had he stayed this way for so long; the reason of course lied in the fact that he lacked the skills necessary to feed himself when a Husky, and he didn't know anybody that he could rely on to feed him when he transformed. He never had fed himself dog food, he could stomach the thought as a human, regardless of the time he'd spent being a dog, it was simply a whole different personality.
This dichotomy intrigued him more than anything else. Of course as a dog he had very little time to dwell on the philosophy and psychology of the situation, but in these early hours of the morning - he often slept the night as a dog - he spent the time mulling over what it meant to be a man-dog, or a dog-man. He had seen traces of the dog slip over into his humanity, and in general with positive results. Yet what qualities of his human existence remained in him when he was a Husky? His ability to think of course remained, though when he wasn't watching himself it was on a more rudimentary level. Yet his desires, his emotional swings, everything about him was like a dog, and he found nothing wrong with it. He still could remember words he had said a few years ago when first he changed, "A dog will be a dog."
However, he really had responsibilities he had to attend to. The scientists might have noticed he was gone, he figured they were probably too engrossed in their research though to notice. It was just as well, the less time he had to spend around them the better. It wasn't that he had something against them personally, but he didn't need them to know about his shedding problem. There was something he had been doing a lot of recently, and yet it looked like he still had a complete coat of fur, there was simply no end to the stuff. It was very nice to have though, he'd often in the winter gone out to romp in the snow. While Allison had still been living in his area, he would often invite her over, as she liked to play with big scruffy dogs, and when it snowed she would throw snow balls at them, and more often then not he found himself trying to catch them in his mouth, which proved quite silly. Jason felt much better now, thinking of the fun he'd had simply romping about in the snow, it felt so good to the touch.
The sound of footsteps coming up the basement stairs made him stir from his pleasant reverie's. Looking up he saw Greg ascending the staircase as a zombie might. Obviously Greg was not a morning person, and he paid scant attention to anything in his path, simply stepping over Jason as he made his way to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. Jason never had liked the taste of coffee, but the smell was quite delicious, and he trotted over next to Greg at the table, who was staring absent mindedly at the floral designs on the counter. Jason walked over, his nails clicking on the linoleum floor, and he nudged Greg's arm with his nose. Greg turned to face him, and seeing his soulful eyes staring up at him, pleading him to overcome his grief, and then smiled, and scratched his head, "Thanks, Jason."
Jason wagged his tail, happy that Greg was happy. Greg slipped off of his chair, kneeling before Jason, and continued to scratch him all over, smiling, feeling much better. Jason rolled over onto the floor pawing at Greg, as he began to rub his tummy. Jason turned and licked Greg's face several times, and Greg began to laugh a bit, which excited Jason, so he licked even more furiously. Greg fell back on his haunches, and hugged the big dog around the neck, kissing him on the forehead. The peculiarity of the situation never dawning on either of them.
Greg felt better from the nuzzling with his friend, and patting him on the head, he picked up his coffee, and poured it down the sink. He then set the cup on the counter, and then looked back at the expectant Jason. Greg reached up on the top of the refrigerator and pulled down a box of milk bones, and tossed a few to Jason, who greedily and happily chomped them up, his tail wagging so forcefully that it nearly knocked Greg over as he passed by.
Jason was content with his snack, and retired back to the living room where he climbed up on one of the couches, circled, and laid down again until Mary woke from her slumber. Greg had gone back down stairs, and Jason had thought to follow him for a moment, then thought better of it. Despite the fact that he was a dog and had gotten quite affectionate with Greg back there, something that would have made his skin crawl had he done it while a human, he knew that he was a guest, and not a pet, so he figured his presence amongst the newlyweds would be most unwanted. Instead he lied on the couch, content that Greg was now happy.
It wasn't long before the whole house was wide awake, though they all looked glum. Jason tried to comfort them all, but with only limited success. Reluctantly, he didn't feel his work here was done, he returned to the bathroom, and looked at himself in the mirror. Letting his tongue loll out, he stared at himself for a second, admiring the features that he possessed. He was handsome by any standards, much more so than as a human, but he forced himself to end his narcissistic charade, and focus on returning to his human form. He found it was surprisingly difficult, and this at first shocked him. It must have been because he had spent so long as a dog, he didn't want to change back, there really was no other explanation he could think of.
Dropping down on all fours he concentrated, forced himself to think only of his human form. It was hard to concentrate on that thought, for every sound that came from outside the bathroom distracted him, made him look up. He could block out the light by closing his eyes, but he simply couldn't block out the sound. Even during his period of concentration, it felt like he was pushing against a wall, a wall of solid stone, and it was not giving way to him. He became quite frustrated, and then agitated as he furiously tried to make himself human again. Turning into a dog when he wanted to was nice, but being forever stuck as one would not be nice.
Then suddenly, as if he had found a door in the wall, and opened it to step through, the transformation back into his human form commenced, and it commenced with a vengeance, for he was furless, tail-less, muzzle-less, and paw-less within seconds. Standing back up on his feet, he felt quite dizzy, as if he was being sucked back through the door, as if his body didn't like being on two feet, as if it wanted to romp some more, run about on four feet, feel his tail swishing between his legs, take in the fresh aromas of the world about him. He resisted, and within moments the feeling passed. He stared at himself in the mirror, he looked awful, his body drenched with sweat, a haggard expression on his face. He was shivering too. He gingerly reached for his clothes that were still lying on the side of the sink, and slipped them back on.
When Jason finally stepped out of the bathroom, Greg was there to see it. He saw Jason's rather morbid expression and asked, "Is everything okay?"
"I just had a terrible time changing back, it was like my body simply didn't want to change," Jason said.
Greg scratched his forehead, "That's never happened to me before."
"I was thinking it might be that I spent two days as a dog, and so grew acclimatised to that form, though I don't see why."
"I guess it's possible, I've never stayed more than a few hours as a dog anyhow," Greg remarked off-handedly. "Maybe it's just all stemming from the death, it still has and it will for some time yet have pretty much everybody feeling down."
Jason shrugged. "I don't know. I just know that I'm not going to be changing anytime soon. I really out to be heading out, and finding the scientists. I am getting paid to help them, and not to be your pet."
Greg laughed a second, the humour breaching his melancholy as did the cuddling, "Joe, one of our sentries, came by yesterday and said that one of those guys was looking for you. He said they were down by the DDD."
"The what?", Jason asked.
"Oh, the Dry Dog Ditch. It's not really a Ditch, it actually quite flat, but it's also quite dry, but I am not familiar with its real origin," Greg tried to explain the entomology of the name.
"Well, that doesn't help much either. Could you show me where it is?" Jason asked.
"Sure, once Mary leaves for work." Greg smiled.
Jason sat down on the bed, thinking. Turning to Greg once again he asked, "What does Al do anyway?"
"Al? Oh, I call him Dad." Greg smiled sheepishly. Jason smiled back.
"Well, he's an electrician. He does on call work, so he sometimes does nothing at all except work on his other projects, like his redecorating." Greg gestured around him at their room, and Jason nodded.
Mary came down from upstairs just then saying, "Well, Greg, I better get off to work." She noticed Jason, smiled weakly and said, " Hi Jason."
Greg approached her, and held her close. Jason turned his back to the scene, it was their time alone. He could pick up a few words of comfort Greg was whispering to her, but for the most part he kept himself out of the conversation. A few minutes later, Mary was out the door, and Greg was getting ready to show Jason where the Dry Dog Ditch was.
It took no more than fifteen minutes walking for them to find reach the scene; Greg still didn't have a car, didn't have enough money for one, and besides, walking was good exercise. Jason thought it quite desolate, much like most deserts he'd ever seen, but he noticed that the ground in patches looked a little funny, there was something about it that simply looked different. He wasn't sure if it was the particular hue of the sand and dirt, but there was definitely something off about it. he reminded himself that this was the reason they had come here, to perform experiments on the soil, so the experiments almost certainly accounted for the odd coloring of the ground.
When the mobile laboratory came into view, Greg left Jason to fend for himself, returning to his home. Jason made his way over the ground, it not feeling any different under his feet, but it certainly looked odd. When he reached the trailer, he found it unlocked, he stepped inside only to find himself the only person there. Disappointed he looked about to see if there was anything he could do. He found the bill folder, and found that the petty cash supply had diminished. He counted over it, and read the one receipt. He found it quite odd that the numbers simply didn't add up. Turning to look at his watch, he saw that it was nearly ten, but Rehberger wouldn't be available for phone calls for another hour at least, him being in a different time zone and all.
As he sat there double checking the bills, he heard the door open. Looking up, he saw that Dr. Olympia Sparks had just come in from outside, and boy was she sweating. She was carrying a case of test tubes, in which she had several samples. She smiled when she saw him, "Oh hey, Jason! Where have you been?"
"I was with some friends, I kind of stayed longer than I expected to. You know how those things are."
She nodded. "Yeah, I've experienced that before, at least until they kick me out."
Jason laughed mildly, then his face grew curious, "What's in that?"
"This?" She raised her carrying case to the examining table. "It's my results for this morning. Would you like to help me sort it out?"
Jason seeing an opportunity to do something, jumped at the chance. Olympia, as she liked to be called, was quite friendly, and explained what she was doing so that Jason could understand it. Apparently, they were trying to create water from sand, and at first the idea struck Jason as ludicrous, but as she explained it, it slowly began to make more sense to him.
"So you see, sand is a crystal, and there are tiny organisms that perpetually live in the dirt, no matter what the clime, so organisms have adapted to survive in it. Now do you know what four elements are the backbones of all life?"
"Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen?" Jason tried his best to remember his High School biology class.
"That's right, and our solution is aimed at making those microscopic organisms essentially to break apart, and at the same time creating water, which we all know is two parts Hydrogen, and one part Oxygen."
"Wouldn't it just dry up in the heat? That's what all the water does here anyway?"
"Well what our formula is supposed to do is to saturate the ground, because you won't believe how much water we can get from a small selection of microscopic cells. We don't expect to immediately eradicate the desert, and make it into a land of milk and honey, but we are hoping to do so in stages. It may take years for a desert to become a pastureland, but every step towards that goal is a mighty step indeed."
"Indeed." Jason nodded, his eyes quite wide.
Olympia continued her work, and Jason did as she instructed him to. Jason was amazed, as was Olympia though that after one day, she was already getting back positive results, certainly incremental, but nonetheless convincing results that her formula was having an effect. Jason saw that within a day the moisture content of the soil had tripled, but she told him that rate should diminish over time. What was more amazing to Jason and to Olympia was that population of certain microscopic organisms were more affected than others. There was one in particular that seemed to have been nearly wiped out within a day, some long name that Jason couldn't pronounce.
Jason's amazement came to an end when Sparks said she had to go back out and seed the ground some more, and collect more samples. Jason sighed, and then looked at his watch. It was high time to call Rehberger and fill him in on the events so far.
Dennis picked up the phone on the first ring. "Yes?"
"Hey, Dennis, it's me Jason, down here in Barken!"
"Ah yes, Jason, how are things going down there?"
"They are going well; the experiments are on their way, and it looks like results are already coming in. I'll let Swett fill you in on those."
"It's good to hear things are doing good for them. Anything else?"
"Well, I found it kind of strange, but some of the money is missing."
"How much, who do you think stole it?" Dennis asked, immediately very businesslike in tone.
"Not much really, looks like whoever stole it paid for gas and a movie or something. They could have lost a receipt, but all I have here is a receipt for a few sets of test tubes."
"What was wrong with the test tubes I sent down with them?" Dennis asked.
"I don't know, but apparently they felt a need to buy more test tubes."
Dennis groaned for a moment, thinking to himself. "Find out what's going on, and get back in touch with me. Remember, you are supposed to authorize any spending on the part of the scientists. This was a breach of protocol, make sure it doesn't happen again. I know scientists are an unruly lot, but I'm counting on you to pursue LeMark's interests with all of your abilities."
Jason hoped what he heard wasn't a veiled threat, as he didn't want to lose his job over this. "I wasn't there when they spent this money, I was with some friends."
"This is not a personal vacation Jason, I sent you on business," Dennis reminded him. "I'll forgive you though, an innocent error I understand, but just please make sure that things stay organized down there. Okay?"
"I will, Dennis."
"Thank you." Dennis hung up the line, and Jason was left by himself feeling as if he had just dodged a bullet.
Greg returned home, and looked immediate to see if his 'Dad' was anywhere around. Looking out the back window, he saw his 'Mom' watering the plant they had placed over top of Curtis's grave. Yet he couldn't find any sign of Al, anywhere. He knew that he didn't have work today, he'd cancelled his appointments so that he could recover from his loss. Greg knew that the pain would never go away, but they had to live on, they couldn't let themselves be destroyed over this incident. Curtis would have wanted them to live on in his memory, not in the terror and shock of his death.
Greg walked out back and approached Susan. She was watering the plants, a cleaning the dust off the leaves rather meticulously. She kept whispering over and over again, "You're looking beautiful this morning, Curtis" or "I see you like the water, it's good for you Curtis, helps you grow."
Greg felt pangs in his heart as he heard the words. She was losing it, she simply couldn't accept the death of her son. Greg had to stop this anyway he could. He approached her quite forcefully, and said in a commanding voice, "Do you know where Dad is? I've been looking for him and I can't find him."
Susan turned to look at him, her face empty except for an almost whimsical expression of ignorance. She didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong by this, and simply responded, "He left a while back. He had to take care of some business. Now doesn't Curtis look nice in his new green outfit?" she asked him, pointing to the plant.
Greg about lost it, but he regained his composure, refusing to answer, he turned from her, and stormed back into the house. He pulled out his Bible, and began reading from it, he didn't care where, as long as it was something to remind him of his God, and the comfort he could always find in his warm embrace.
Dr. Nelson looked through his binoculars out across the hills. It was a rather desolate land, but here he was, sitting in a truck, by himself, with nobody to share it with, and nobody anywhere near him. The trailer was out of sight, behind some hills at the edge of their claim, and here he was scanning to make sure nobody came across the border. For him it was more a time of reflection than anything else. He enjoyed the time to sit back and smell the roses so to speak. He was so engrossed in his philosophical thoughts he almost didn't see the man climb over the hill in front of him.
When he did so, he noticed immediately what he was carrying, and what he was doing. The man seemed of rather modest build, certainly no match for Dr. Nelson in hand to hand, but with that rifle he was carrying, and aiming at him, he would most definitely beat him. It took him only second to act, leaping clear from the car, dropping to the ground, and quickly darting around the hills edge, as the shots sailed through the windshield, slashing the front seat to ribbons.
Dr. Nelson looked back over his shoulder, the man was running down the hillside, and aiming the rifle at him again. He ducked further behind the hill, his mind racing over the possibilities. Somebody was trying to kill him, for what reason he did not know, and to what purpose he could not fathom. Yet here he was breathing heavily, standing in the middle of a desert, escaped from his only means of survival, his truck, and now was being chased, almost hunted by this man carrying a rifle. What could he do....