Disclaimer: Again, most of the characters mentioned in this are not mine, they’re Klasky-Csupo’s property and I hope they don’t mind me using them because I can’t pay any fees at the moment (ah, the life of a starving college student…). Between concept is Anne McCaffrey’s. (no, I’m not very original, really. ;) Kiersten is mine, everybody else is their own. ;) TTFN! Tigger for Prez!
Chapter 5: Changing
Kiersten was listening to her music and dancing around when Ickis came bounding up. He stopped a few yards back to straighten himself up and catch his breath. She obviously hadn’t heard him, singing along to the music as she cleared a spot for the lean-to she intended to build against the old tree with a busted-up broom.
"I think a change, (a change would do you) would do you good (a change would do you good). I think a change, (a change would do you) would do you good (a change would do you good). I think a cha-EEYAHH!" Kiersten jumped back from singing into the broom handle when she saw the little monster in front of her. "Jesus, Ickis! Don’t sneak up on a girl like that!" She tossed the broom away and sat down, trying to keep her rapidly thumping heart to stay in her chest cavity. "How’s it goin’?"
"Great!" he started, completely ignoring the fact that she was still recovering. "I just found out about this human exchange program the Academy is doing! The Gromble just announced it today! And he said… to… well, I don’t remember what he said, but I know he wants us to report to him right away! So whaddya think?"
Kiersten looked blank for a minute. "Am I on Candid Camera or something?"
"Nevermind." She grinned. "Sounds like a blast, and anyhow, it’s better than sitting around here all day and scavenging for food." Her eyes met his eager yellow ones. "You DO have some descent food down there, don’t you?"
"Err… we’ll work something out for you, I’m sure."
"Great…" she moaned, rolling her eyes. "Lemme pack up my stuff and I’ll be ready to go."
"All RIGHT!" yelled Ickis, doing a victory dance.
"Ow! Dammit!" the girl complained, hitting her head on the low ceiling once again. "Tell me Ickis, do the tunnels get any more cramped down here? I don’t feel quite boxed in enough yet!" she snapped.
"It’s not my fault humans are so big!"
"Yeah, but you picked this route! Isn’t there an easier one?"
Ickis stopped and thought about that.
"Never mind…" Kiersten growled, pushing him on without waiting for an answer.
After a long, compacted trek through the underground tunnels, the pair arrived at the Gromble’s lair, at the center of the Academy. Kiersten admired the intricately carved doorframe, of towering height for a monster certainly, and impressive by even human standards. Ickis was about to knock when she stopped him. "Hold up…"
"What? What is it?"
She smirked. "What does the Gromble enjoy more than anything else?"
Ickis thought hard about that. "A good scare? Oh! I get it…" he shared in her smirk. "What do we do?"
"Hmmm… may as well try what I do to Lauren all the time… knock and hide."
Ickis nodded approvingly. "Not bad…"
"Repitition is KEY here! Ummm… you hide over there, around the corner, and when I jump out at the Gromble, you come down and introduce us."
"Where are you going to hide?" the little red monster queried. "It’s not like this place was designed to hide someone as big as you!"
"Thanks a lot!" she sneered. "Ah! Here! It’s almost a staircase up to the top of the archway! I’ll hide up there. Now go!"
Ickis snickered and tiptoed around the corner, giving her a thumbs-up once her got there and she made it over the archway. It was a tight fit, but hopefully this Gromble character wouldn’t notice. She experimentally tapped on the door and drew her hand back quickly. She heard footsteps from inside and the door swung wide, revealing a streak of golden light from within. "Yee-ees?" said the Gromble, who looked from side to side. No one in the school dared tease him like that, with the consequence of being sent to the Snorch for wasting his time! Thinking that perhaps he was imagining things, he went back inside and closed the door.
Kiersten looked over to Ickis, who was stalling a laugh behind both claws, and knocked again, louder this time. The Gromble re-emerged, glanced around, grumbled something, then shut the door again.
Before Kiersten finished knocking the third time, the door was flung open and she jerked her hand back, off-balancing herself with the sudden movement. The Gromble was raging mad now. He stomped and stormed around the hallway, threatening cruel deaths on whoever was disturbing him with such nonsense. About the time Kiersten felt she had regained her balance, the old headmaster ranted his way back in, slamming the door behind him as she was reaching down for another quick rap. Her knuckles never touched the wood before the carved door flew open again, making her lose balance completely and come crashing down in front of the astonished Gromble. Her "Oof!" upon impact echoed around the colony. "Meant to do that…" she groaned weakly from having the wind knocked out of her. She sat up and tried to shake it off as best as she could.
Ickis sneaked out from behind the corner and grinned sheepishly at his professor, who was still standing dumbfounded. "Umm… Gromble, Kiersten. Kiersten, Gromble."
"Er, ah, AHEM… well, yes. I think we can skip the preliminary testing THAT THE ACADEMY WAS SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF," he shouted at Ickis, "seeing as you two have already arranged for that. Quite a good technique actually. Ickis, you’re surprising me a lot lately."
"Actually, sir, Kiersten deserves all the credit for that. It was her idea…"
"Ickis, you flatter me!" she replied, trying not to blush.
"Well, nonetheless, you DO deserve those fifty extra-credit points, or would you rather assign those to the human as well?"
"Well, no, I…"
"Wait! Wait a minute here!" Kiersten interrupted. "You mean you brought me down here to get extra CREDIT??? Ickis! You little rat!" Ickis smiled innocently at her. She waved a fist at him.
"ANYhow…" the Gromble yelled impatiently. "Yes. This way, Miss… Kursten, was it?" asked the Gromble, leading them down a few hallways.
"Yes. The Human Research Program has set up a machine that converts human genes to monster ones and vice-versa, but it requires pictures or descriptions to work from."
"How’s it do that?"
"I DON’T… Here you are," he huffed, shoving her a pad of beaten-up paper and a stub of a pencil. "I’ll be in the next room warming up the machine. Come in when you finish. And HURRY IT UP!"
"You got it, yer Grombleness!" she drawled affirmatively, and began sketching out a sleek creature with wings and a tail, looking much like a mythical dragon. Ickis peered over her shoulder in awe. She looked at him for approval, then back at the drawing, squinting her eyes at it. "I dunno… BUT, when in doubt, accessorize! Fire-breathing would be good for a dragon… oo! and retractable claws!"
"Fangs too!" Ickis volunteered. "Helps a lot in scaring, ya know."
"What else?" She tapped her chin with the pencil. "Prehensile tail would be nice, very nice. Yeah, That’s good for now. Neat. Who’da thunk I’d wind up as a dragon? See ya when I get out, Ickis! And thanks!"
"You’re welcome!" he shouted after her, waving as she disappeared into the other room. He sighed happily and headed back to his dorm, where Krumm and Oblina would probably be waiting for him.
The conversion process, the Gromble had told her, would take a full day to complete, as converting human genes to monster ones was a delicate process. And Kiersten was quickly finding out that a day alone in a small, windowless room was not a pleasant experience. She was bored out of her mind! She had her boom box out and was listening to the Blaze, but there wasn’t really anything good on. Old songs, dull songs, only two she really liked in the past hour, and some new ones she thought she might like better if she heard them a few more times. She turned the radio off and popped in one of her tapes instead. This was one she had dubbed herself; her collections of songs, themes, things like that. She liked collecting soundtracks, especially. She had fourteen now, including her first and favorite, Jurassic Park.
She examined her arm, which was becoming increasingly scaled and greening up nicely. This was so incredibly weird, she thought as she tapped her clawed toes to a piece from "Mr. Holland’s Opus." Her thoughts wandered. She worried about Lauren and Erica and the rest of the colony. No… she couldn’t dwell on them; she wasn’t one of them anymore. There was no going back, sad as that was. This was her new life, for as long as it would last, as a monster. One with claws, and scales, and sharp fangs… well, her fangs hadn’t grown in yet, but they would, soon enough. Besides, they wouldn’t recognize her if she went back now.
She took out her notebook, which served as a diary in several senses. She would draw or write in it, though never on any regular basis. Opening it, she flipped through the pages, where she’d sketched out various dinosaurs, one-line drawings, some single-block cartoons, and sketches of her parents and the colonists. She paused, thinking about what all she’d gone through, sighed, and turned the book to a clean page. Her so-called friends, she could do without. Her parents, though… She would HAVE to live without them; there was no way to bring them back, and she had been bracing herself for her mother’s death for a long time, knowing that it would come sooner or later, but hoping it would be later. She also knew that she was a carrier of the disease, and even with the gene-altering process, it would probably still be around. It was only a matter of years before she started getting the same telltale symptoms she’d watched her mom go through….
Before she even realized it, she’d filled the page with a full-detail sketch of her mother and father, smiling out at her with such life-like features that she had to turn the page to get them to stop. Boy, wouldn’t they both be thrilled about this? Their daughter running away and getting herself genetically altered… getting a tattoo would be more understandable! She dabbed at her eyes with the remains of her t-shirt (because her clothes, strangely enough, were being absorbed into her new scaly skin) and picked up her pencil again, this time sketching out Ickis in a few different postures. She couldn’t wait to see him again… he was such a great guy, even if they had scared the wits out of each other the first time they met. Under that monster exterior and all the bravado he put on, he really was a sweetheart. She wondered if he had a girlfriend…?
Turning her thoughts again, she sketched out the Gromble, staring down at a victim the way he had at Ickis and looking furious. He didn’t seem like the drill sergeant that Ickis had made him out to be. Everyone had their soft spots, after all. The old monster apparently liked accomplishment above all else, and his students needed to be dealt with strictly or they would never accomplish anything on their own. Kiersten knew that much from taking piano lessons for years and years. Sometimes her teacher was just too sweet and understanding about Kiersten’s lack of practice-time and, well, her pieces didn’t turn out as good as she could have made them in her recitals.
She glanced down at her hand, realizing just how much her claws had grown out. *Funny,* she thought, *I thought it would be harder to adjust to having only four fingers…*
The day was over before Kiersten knew it. Then again, she’d slept through more of it than she’d intended. She’d been trying to count her scales as they slowly covered her arm, and, well, it proved a little too relaxing. She lifted her head up as the door creaked and swung open. "Ah, splendid!" said the Gromble, peering in at her. "Everything seems to have worked just fine."
Kiersten yawned sleepily and stretched her new body out in a cat-like fashion, surprising herself at how far she could open her jaws. "Sorry… must’ve drifted off. Am I done? Can I go see Ickis now?"
"Ickis can wait," the headmaster rumbled back. "Now you need to be briefed on all the basics. Follow me."
"Can’t I at least say hello? It’s lonely in there!"
"I said FOLLOW ME not CONTRADICT ME!!"
The next three days meant intensive immersion in monster culture for Kiersten. Not all of it came naturally to her… monster etiquette posed a few problems for her, being the exact opposite of that of humans’. She was taught the basics in scaring techniques, the rules of the Academy (which, the Gromble said, would rule her life for as long as she stayed), and alternate terminology used for human things. Dogs, for example, were occasionally known as "bark-and-bites."
On the fourth day, she learned about her powers and skills. The Gromble and his associates, a large monster named the Snorch and a smaller bee-ish one called Zimbo, spent grueling hours trying to teach her to fly.
"No, no, no, NO! Watch Zimbo again. See, his wings go up, then down. Up, then down. Now you try."
"I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, Gromble, but my wings have been moving up and down for nearly an hour now and I’m NOT GOING ANYWHERE!!" She puffed angrily.
"Yes, well," the Gromble stated, regarding her coolly. "We’ll need to discuss and see if we can decide what would be best for you in this case." He motioned the Snorch and Zimbo over to him. The Snorch shrugged, and Zimbo hopped around nervously on his one foot. Neither of them had any helpful suggestions.
Kiersten was fed up with the by-the-book crap. "Okay, you guys discuss. And while you’re doing, that, I’m gonna go learn to fly, ‘kay?" Without waiting for a response, the little green dragon took off on all fours toward a towering pile of trash, launching herself from the top with considerable speed. "Huunph!" She hovered mid-air for a couple seconds, then let out a startled "Aaackk!" as she plummeted out of view. The three monsters rushed to the top of the hill, expecting to hear a loud crash at any second, but were instead rewarded with Kiersten’s triumphant "Woo-hoo!! Check me out! I’m flyin’!"
Zimbo began shouting at her. "Choo come down haere this instant! Choo haeve no raight to fly after all we have done for… AAAAIII!!"
At that instant, the dragon decided she might see just how fast she could dive… it just happened to be in Zimbo’s direction, and just happened to knock him off of his perch, the Snorch. "Sooooorrryyy!" she sang back sarcastically.
After this, the Gromble figured he would spend the rest of the day helping her master this essential, mostly by having her fetch and carry. This consisted of picking an object at some point on a hill, having Kiersten fly over, pick it up, and bring it back. This was fine and well, even for engine blocks and refrigerator doors or other heavy, awkward things… until Kiersten realized that it was just one big snack break for the other three. Then it just became tiresome.
"Now, try for that old bucket about halfway down. See it?"
She sighed. "Yes…"
"Good! Go get it."
Having been in the air for most of the afternoon, her wings and back were tiring out. Dragons were most certainly not meant for this petty sort of task! She hovered in place, imagining herself over at the bucket just so she wouldn’t have to fly there on her own power. She was so tired that she didn’t even remember flying over. She grabbed its rusty old handle in one claw and wished she trip back would be as painless, which it was. She didn’t exactly remember that, either. She blinked for a long moment and was there, but was cold. *Must’ve hit a cold air pocket,* she thought. "Here, chow down," she snarled, landing with a graceless flop and slinging the bucket at the Snorch, who caught it, but just stared at her, astonished. The other two looked at her in the same manner.
"Miss Kiersten, how did you do that?" the Gromble intoned softly.
"Do what?" she snapped tiredly. "I went over, I got the stupid bucket, and I came back. Can we quit now? I’m exhausted!" She sat down on her rump, human style (which didn’t go too well with her reversed hind legs,) and picked up a piece of rusted metal which she sunk her fangs into and munched annoyedly. The salt of it tasted good on her tongue.
"So it’s true…" the old monster murmured. "Dragons do teleport."
"Say whuh?" She dipped her head to look at him oddly.
"On your trip to retrieve the bucket, you disappeared, and reappeared again near it, picked it up, and disappeared again, reappearing right before us! You’ve learned how to go in-between space!"
"Eh," she yawned. "Can we go get something for dinner, already? I am just completely drained here."
"Oh, yes, of course. You see, space is much like a sheet of paper," the Gromble explained as they walked. "You knew point A and point B, and simply folded the paper to get from point to point. Tell me, was the trip cold? Yes, that’s to be expected…"