Doctor Goldstein calmly put a small white cigarette to his lips as he peered over his rectangular spectacles at the man sitting across from him. "Before I take you on the tour of this clinic," he muttered, producing a pen and legal document from his immaculate white suit, "you'll have to sign this."
The man in the navy-blue suit looked over the document, tracing the words with his fingers. His lips moved soundlessly as he encountered words that he had no doubt never heard before. "This is a waiver," he realized. Looking at the thin, scarecrowish doctor, he asked, "Are the things you create here really so terrifying that I might, as your legal team put it, 'suffer or develop cardiac arrest or any other assortment of organ failure, or any matter of mental illness, upon exposure to certain creations of John Victor Goldstein?'"
"It depends," Goldstein shrugged.
"Your social outlook. Your level of tolerance. Your amount of exposure to Star Trek."
"Star Trek? That's a joke, right?"
"Not this time," Goldstein shrugged again. "I've noticed that, on average, people who have been exposed to Klingons, Vulcans, and other assorted alien creatures are far less violently reactive to my creations than someone who hasn't."
"I'm not quite sure I understand exactly what it is you're talking about." The man in the blue suit ran his fingers through his dark hair. "Perhaps an exhibition is in order."
"I agree," Goldstein responded, standing up. The tropical sun streamed through the windows, illuminating the mysterious doctor's wisps of snow-white hair and creating a halo of light around Goldstein's face. "Follow me. I will try my best to explain on the way."
The man in the blue suit followed Goldstein out of the lushly carpeted office into a small, yet very well-decorated elevator. The walls were trimmed with gold and the carpet underneath was a dark red. "Fancy," the man in the blue suit commented.
"We have a somewhat long ride," Goldstein explained, punching the lowest button on the elevator door. "This will give me time to tell you what is going on here, so that you can be ready when my accomplishments are shown to your eyes."
"A long elevator ride? Where are we going, the mother of all Cold War bunkers?"
"In a sense."
The elevator lurched and the man had the vague feeling that his stomach was moving slower than the rest of his body.
"Now," Goldstein began, "I hope you are familiar with my basic premise."
"Gene therapy, right?"
"Correct," the doctor answered. "Most of my clients want simple things: exotic eye colors, longer fingers, different skin hues-cosmetic things. I used to be a plastic surgeon, you know. I abandoned the field, though, because genetics proves to be far more elegant and sophisticated. No stitches, no surgery...no Frankenstein-like construction. No Igors. Just a shot in the arm (and sometimes more than just one) and a little while for the new genes to overwrite the original genes...I used to use gene therapy to fix genetic defects such as diabetes and sickle-cell anemia, but when I had accomplished that, my old ambitions of a plastic surgeon resurfaced. I thought to myself, How far can I push genetics technology? How much can I actually change?"
"Well, if you thought I'd be shocked by exotic skin colors and eye colors, then you'd be sadly mistaken."
"Oh, I have done much, much more than simple re-colorations," Goldstein replied ominously. "I have created entirely new species of sentient organisms."
The man in the blue suit's mouth gaped open. "Like what? Homo superior or something like that?"
"In a way. I took willing clients and, from the template of the human body, made changes to it based on the client's wishes. Eventually, once word got out, clients intrigued by my research began to flock to me. It was their strongest desire to be much more than human-to leave their old, boring human forms behind in lieu of much more exotic and diverse creatures. Many of my volunteers chose forms based on animals-foxes, wolves, jungle cats, and the like were all popular choices. They're truly a sight to see-and far easier to create than I thought: simply elongate the coccyx-"
"-the tailbone; change the skull shape; make some rather large adjustment to the peripherals such as ears, noses, fingers,and toes; and add a nice pelt of fur and voilà! A marvelous new creature! Sometimes, a client would want to be more like a reptile, and that would always be difficult because reptiles and mammals are so different and it was always such a bitch to figure out what gene switches to use to change the superficial body parts without affecting the brain and keeping the client warm-blooded (would you enjoy not having self-regulating body temperature and having to lie under a heat lamp all day? I sure wouldn't)..."
"So you're like Doctor Moreau," the man in the blue suit commented.
Goldstein laughed. "You've got it backwards-Moreau created pathetic facsimiles of humans out of animals. I'm more like Frankenstein, creating superior new creatures out of humans."
"If I recall Frankenstein, the monster wasn't what I call superior."
Goldstein looked angered. "Obviously," he snapped, "your mind has been tainted by the erroneous Hollywood image of Frankenstein's monster." He instantly calmed down and added, "I'm terribly sorry. The English language is my second greatest passion."
"I was never much of a reader," the man in the blue suit admitted. "Jesus Christ, how far down does this elevator go?"
"Two miles." Goldstein laughed. "It beats the hell out of every Cold War bunker ever built."
The gilded elevator came to a jolting halt after a while. The man in the blue suit waited for a few seconds for his stomach to catch up with the rest of his body. "Shall we go on?" Goldstein inquired, beckoning toward the sliding elevator doors.
"I can't see why not."
The gilded doors slid open with as little as a whisper of noise.
"I consider," Goldstein continued as they walked down a red-carpeted hallway, "my creations to be humans in a kind of 'shell.' The only thing that separates them from their former species is their appearance. On the inside-on the mental level-they are exactly the same as your or I. With, perhaps, a few exceptions."
"Enlightenment." Goldstein smiled. "I don't mean to brag, but I consider myself and my clients to be intellectually and philosophically superior to humans. We've realized that the body, the physical form-skin color, shape, size, et cetera-is completely and utterly meaningless. The only thing that has any relevance-any purpose-is the brain and its incomprehensible complexity. Millions of years ago, we needed our bodies to be fit and agile. We needed physical strength and fortitude to ward off predators and stay alive. Shape and size mattered. Before primates had even evolved, animals had fangs and claws to hunt or defend themselves. In this age of technology, though, the body need not even exist. Machines do everything. They harvest our crops. They manufacture our machines. They allow us to travel to the moon and back and more. We could remove our brains and implant them in cyborg bodies, if we really wanted to and we made significant leaps in technology. But outdated human nature holds us to our bodies. We know that the brain is all that matters. And since we know that the body has no point other than to act as a carrier, a vessel, for our brain, we know that the body doesn't even matter today. Since that is held to be true, why not have some fun and create exotic new bodies to house our brains? For the most part, other people don't think this way. They think that the body is still important. I'll agree that keeping in shape and eating the right foods is important. We have to keep our brain-vessels healthy. But beyond health, the body isn't important. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, beige, or green. It doesn't matter if you're deformed and have a few extra limbs, or not enough limbs."
"So people come here to be 'enlightened?'" the man in the blue suit inquired.
No," Goldstein responded, "They're already enlightened by the time they come here, because they would not come here until they were enlightened. Would you undergo my procedure if you didn't already believe that appearances didn't matter at all?"
"No," the man in the blue suit replied.
"There you have it. This gilded bunker is a haven for people who have already seen the light of truth."
"Pretty arrogant of you," the man in the blue suit commented, "to think that your newfound philosophy is 'truth.'"
"One could argue," Goldstein supposed, "that there is no spiritual or philosophical truth because truth is something that can be empirically verified. I find 'truth,' though, to be a very effective buzzword to use in speeches. You can't argue with truth, can you? people think." He laughed. "After all, truth is truth. You know that something is true when it's truth. That's how people would think in an ideal world. My ideal world, anyway. The trouble is that there are plenty of people who disagree with the truth because it robs them of personal comfort, or their beliefs of their validity, or something like that. There are people who will kill just because they see truth and don't like what they see."
"Does that explain this 'gilded bunker?'"
"Yes, and quite well. Enlightened as we are, we are fragile. Easily broken, easily destroyed. This bunker can house one hundred souls, its location so obfuscated that outsiders cannot easily find it, and deep enough under the Earth's surface to shrug off the effects of a hydrogen bomb. The primitive cavemen (no offense to you, sir, I'm sure you are a modern and understanding man) inhabiting the rest of the world could detonate the mother of all bombs on top of us and we wouldn't even feel it. We wouldn't even lose power!"
"Impressive," the man in the blue suit commented. "Now, is this paranoia, or is there really somebody out to get you?"
"Remember how you were thoroughly searched before being allowed in my office? That should give you an idea. There have been, oh, twelve or so attempts on my life by savages (you know what I mean by 'savages'). I'm very, very careful because I know that I have to stay alive and in charge here until the rest of the world catches up with us."
"That could be a while."
They stopped in front of a nondescript white door. "If I recall the layout-and my memory is, of course, perfect-then this is the residence of my very first enlightened client." Goldstein knocked on the door. "Her name is Marie. Try not to show your surprise."
"I'm sure," the man in the blue suit replied, "that I won't be too surprised. Your descriptions have given me a sufficient-sounding mental image."
"There are some things for which he brain cannot prepare itself for." Goldstein knocked again.
"Could she be sleeping?"
Goldstein knocked again. "It's a possibility. We'll just wait for her."
"We can't just visit another one of your clients?"
"No," Goldstein replied flatly.
The man in the blue suit pondered Goldstein's reaction and wondered if this whole operation was an elaborate ruse. It certainly seemed too good to be true.
Goldstein knocked on the door again. "Marie!" he called out. "You have a visitor!"
There was a deafening silence.
After a moment, Goldstein knocked on the door once more. "Marie!"
There was a dull thud from the room and the man in the blue suit thought that he could hear a faint and muffled exclamation of profanity. "I'm on my way," a voice from the room called out.
"That's her," Goldstein confirmed. The man in the blue suit took a deep breath.
The white door opened outward and the man in the blue suit finally got a good look at Goldstein's creation.
Marie was a chimera. She had a distinct humanoid form and human proportions, but her skin was covered in the striped orange and black fur of a tiger. From the tips of her fingers and toes short black claws protruded. A bushy, vulpine brush tail protruded behind her, striped orange and black with a white tip. The fur covering her abdomen and chest was white and bushy. The head had the long, thin, tapering muzzle of a fox that terminated in a black nose. Protruding from a thick curtain of lustrous black hair-hair like that of a humans, not an animal's fur, and sprouting from the scalp down to the shoulders-were two long, pointed ears tipped with black fur. Ringing her eyes, which were a peculiar green flecked with gold, were dark raccoon-like rings that resembled the iconic mask of the Lone Ranger. She was wearing a very loose-fitting silk robe colored a light powder-blue. It was open wide enough to show off a very humanoid bosom.
"Who's the new guy?" she inquired, crossing her arms. The man in the blue suit noticed that her teeth were sharp and white as pearls.
"I have no idea," Goldstein smiled. "He just showed up and asked for a tour."
The man in the blue suit realized that he had forgotten to breathe, exhaled, and then reached out his hand as a sign of good faith. "My name is Jonathan Freeman."
Marie took the hand and vigorously shook it. Freeman felt as though several of his metatarsal bones had cracked. "Marie Goldstein."
"You two are related?" Freeman nursed his aching hand.
"No," Marie replied.
"No," Goldstein confirmed. "Some of my clients abandon their former surnames and adopt my own upon beginning their new life. It's symbolic, I suppose. Something about solidarity and how we're all one big happy family." Freeman noted a derisive tone in the genetic savant's voice, as if he disapproved of the practice. Freeman himself supposed that the name changing seemed to be indicative of some kind of Jonestown- or Heaven's Gate-style cult mentality.
"Well, now that I've shown you around, you you mind telling us why you came here?" Goldstein inquired.
"I was curious," Freeman replied."I heard about this clinic and heard the rumors."
"There's a rumor saying that the government is creating a race of super-soldiers here."
Goldstein and Marie nearly choked on their laughter. "Super soldiers!" Goldstein cried out amid his laughs. "What an absurdity! I would never allow my research and technology to fall into the hands of the government!"
Freeman joined in on the laughter. He knew it sounded ridiculous but, deep in his heart, he had secretly wanted the rumor to be true. He had craved the excitement that would ensue had he stumbled upon a top-secret government conspiracy, running from CIA agents and having gunfights with FBI agents in parking garages. What he had discovered, though, was better than the cynical part of his brain had predicted.
"I'm sorry to say," Goldstein finally told Freeman as he wiped tears of laughter from his eyes, "that you'll find no super soldiers here."
"At least," Freeman replied, looking at Marie, who was still doubled over with laughter, "the truth really is stranger than fiction."
The coffee provided in the luxurious café was the best coffee Richard Freeman had ever tasted. Evidently, Goldstein was loaded with enough income to build and buy anything he wanted or needed on a whim. Freeman wondered where the genetic artist had gotten such inexhaustible funds. Maybe he was just like a James Bond villain, for whom even the most ludicrous and ridiculous secret bases and doomsday weapons could be made, and money was absolutely inconsequential. Perhaps Goldstein was like a more benign Dr. No.
Marie was sitting across from him, sipping some flavored, pink-colored drink that promised to be filled with necessary vitamins and minerals. Knowing John Victor Goldstein's eye for quality, it probably was.
Freeman had passed a few other of Goldstein's chimerical improvements on mankind on the way to the café, but they had shown no interest in him. In the hallways, he had gone past several clusters of them. Several individuals had made brief eye contact with him, but were immediately absorbed back into in their peers' conversations.
"So, what do you think?" Marie asked him.
"The coffee's great."
She laughed. "No, about everything. I know the coffee's great. Dr. Goldstein only buys the best. What do you think of this place? The inhabitants?"
"Both amazing," Freeman replied. "I never imagined that a place like this could be built underground in complete secrecy. How did Goldstein do it?"
"If you ask me," Marie responded, leaning over to him across the table and whispering in his ear, "aliens did it."
"And yet you found the 'government super soldier' rumor absolutely ridiculous," Freeman laughed.
"It is," Marie answered, "because it isn't true. But, as you said-truth is stranger than fiction."
"Maybe," Freeman joked, "All the rest of the clients here have been replaced by pod people, and you're next."
"Maybe they already got me," Marie replied, going along with the joke. "Maybe you're next."
Freeman laughed audibly. "How do you really think Goldstein did all this?"
"Aliens," Marie repeated flatly. "How else? Believe me, I know a thing or two about genetics and biotechnology, and this kind of stuff is a long way off-I'd estimate a couple hundred years. One man, no matter how genius he is, couldn't come up with all this stuff. The truth is out there." She began to hum the theme to The X-Files.
Freeman debated with himself where her jokes ended and her seriousness began. He wondered if he should ask "How do you really think Goldstein did all this?" a second time, but although he was beginning to feel more comfortable around the chimera, Marie's sharp fangs and claws made her a frightening and intimidating figure that discouraged any attempt at saying something that could be remotely offensive. Freeman felt as though he was walking on eggshells.
Before he could stop himself, Freeman asked yet again, "How do you really think Goldstein did all this?"
Marie laughed and Freeman realized that her good nature seemed to be utterly indomitable. He probably could have insulted her mother and she would have just laughed it off.
"Occam's razor states that when several ideas have equal amounts of proof, the one with the least amount of assumptions is usually correct. We know that Goldstein built this place. We know that it takes a lot of money for the construction alone. Therefore, we can assume that he had outside help."
"I think 'aliens did it' is a pretty big assumption."
"Who do you think is helping Dr. Goldstein, then? It's got to be space aliens."
"What about people?"
"Our civilization," Marie said, "does not have the level of understanding of genetics to create this." She planted a finger on her chest.
"It could have been developed in secret."
"Are you saying that a secret cabal of scientists could make breakthroughs that logically can't happen for another century? Occam's razor. Your belief assumes that there is secret research being done, that there is a century-wide gap between public knowledge and this 'secret research,' and that this secret scientist syndicate is aiding Dr. Goldstein. My belief assumes that aliens have visited this planet and are aiding Dr. Goldstein. Three to two: I win." She wore a smug smile and spoke the last sentence with a heavy air of personal satisfaction.
Freeman groaned. "I give up," he said with exasperation. "You win. Aliens did it."
"Now, don't be a poor sport. You'll win our next intellectual duel." Marie finished the rest of her drink and walked away from the table to drop the plastic bottle into a blue trash container marked with a large white recycling symbol. Freeman found himself staring at the way her brush tail twitched back and forth as she walked.
"What's it like," he asked her as she returned, "to have a tail?"
"It takes some getting used to," she responded. "But once one adjusts, it's actually pretty nice. It makes it rather difficult to wear pants, though. That's why most of us wear these kinds of looser-fitting clothing. Besides the whole fur thing. Having a pelt really makes most forms of clothing uncomfortable. It's like one is suffocating." She moved to Freeman's side and sat next to him. "Why? Are you considering some 'body work' of your own?"
"No," Freeman responded. "I was just interested."
"Well, why else would you have come here?"
There was a moment of silence before a bolt of intellectual lightning sparked through Freeman's brain. "Goldstein has magical powers."
Marie gave him a funny look. "What?"
"Occam's razor. My idea make only one assumption: that Goldstein has limitless magical powers. Ergo, it must be the correct one."
Marie pouted. "I don't think that's the correct application of Occam's razor."
"You're just a sore loser."
Marie groaned. "No, you aren't applying Occam's razor correctly. Your idea makes the assumption that magic exists, Goldstein has magical powers, that these powers are limitless, and that these powers can do anything. Four assumptions."
"Well, your idea," he retorted, "makes the assumption that alien life exists, it has reached a level of sophistication more than ours, it has the ability to efficiently travel through vast distances in space, that these aliens have visited Earth and continue to do so, that they are in league with Goldstein, that they give him their technology, that they speak English, and that their sophisticated technology can actually be comprehended. How many assumptions is that? Seven?"
"So I cheated."
"You were counting on me being too stupid to notice how you were counting your assumptions."
"So I had low expectations."
"Both of my ideas make less assumptions than yours."
"I'll be honest with you," Marie said with a sigh, staring into his face. Her eyes seemed to have an almost hypnotic exotic beauty to them, but the face that housed them was alien to an almost repulsive extreme But not totally, Freeman noted. There was a kind of exotic, inhuman beauty in its own to the chimerical visage. "I like to think that this whole thing has something to do with aliens because I've always thought extraterrestrial life was fascinating, even if it didn't exist. I've always been trying to ignore or pretend to logically disprove any theory that runs contrary to my idea."
Freeman couldn't comprehend how she had done it, but all of the anger he had felt toward Marie had melted away the instant he had stared into those gold-flecked eyes and heard her heartfelt apology. "That's okay," he said with a smile. "Let's just say that both our ideas are equally crazy."
"That's being intellectually dishonest," Marie replied. "Your idea that some kind of shadow government or Illuminati organization is helping Goldstein is far more likely."
Freeman finally noticed that Marie was manipulative. With a few words, she could win over anybody, even with her drastically inhuman appearance. Before she had come to Goldstein's clinic, she may have been a politician or somebody high up in the media. Then again, he thought, her appearance wasn't so horrible. It was simply an amalgam of many mammalian creatures carefully arranged in an aesthetically-pleasing manner. She was probably only dissimilar to him, in terms of genetics, by somewhere between ninety and ninety-nine percent. The changes to her body were only changes in certain physical areas, and even then the genetic changes were probably minute, even with large-scale ramifications. Didn't humans and bacteria share most of the same DNA? As Freeman continued to observe Marie's body, he noted that, in a strictly non-human way, she was beautiful-
"Would you mind taking me on a tour?" Freeman pleasantly asked. "I'm sure this place has more to offer than a café."
The sun shone brightly in a pale blue sky, utterly devoid of clouds. Green plants of all kinds sprouted up to Freeman's waist and stretched nearly to infinity. Mighty trees dotted the gently rolling hills.
"It's a very clever optical illusion," Marie told him as he looked on the scenery in astonishment. "This room is only a cubic mile. The ceiling is a very large, concave, hemispherical, high-definition television screen recording the sky above the mountain. The plants are nourished by a carefully measured system of underground irrigation and by natural levels of ultraviolet radiation. If you turn behind you you will see that this seemingly-real approximation of an outside environment is nothing more than smoke and mirrors-although the plants are very real."
Freeman jumped in surprise as the grass next to him rustled. "And local fauna, too," he noted.
Freeman turned around and saw that behind him was the doorway he had stepped out of, seeming to pop out of nowhere. "The energy requirements must be enormous," he said. "And these plants-are all real?"
"There are biomes like this for just about every environment. Except, of course, the places nobody wants to go to." Marie gently grabbed his arm. Freeman noticed that every action she took was slow, methodical, and, above all, gentle. It was as if she was trying her hardest not to frighten him. "If you'd like, I could show you the other biomes. There's a beach, a mountain, a tundra, even a rainforest."
"And what are these biomes used for?" They began walking together, almost aimlessly.
"For when we get homesick." Marie sighed. "You'd be surprised at how often it happens. This place is a classy resort with every luxury one could desire except sunlight, fresh air, and untamed wilderness. And then there's the 'back to nature' idea, too. It's the idea that psychologically, we adopt these forms because the combination of human and animal images symbolizes a strong desire to connect with nature. If you want to go deeper into that idea, you could say that the animal parts-the muzzle, ears, tail, and fur, for example-symbolizes nature and a sort of primal element, while the human parts-erect, bipedal, stature; speech; cognition-symbolize the, well, human element that separates and raises us above the animals."
"That's a very astute theory."
They walked through the grass to a doorway on the opposite side of the biome, which stood out of apparent nothingness like the entry door. "Why isn't anybody in here?" Freeman inquired.
"This is a boring environment," Marie explained. "Most of us prefer places like the rainforest, the beach, and the mountain. After all, who takes a vacation to the plains? Back when I was human I could have seen this out of my backyard."
As they neared the door, Freeman saw a wooden sign with handwritten letters sticking up from the ground:
This is a replication of a natural environment.
THIS IS NOT A ZOO.
Feel free to interact with the animals and the plants, but
DO NOT DIG UP THE IRRIGATION SYSTEM
OR THROW ROCKS AT THE SKY.
GIANT TELEVISION SCREENS DO NOT COME CHEAP.
"I like this sign," Marie said. "It reminds me that we're still human on the inside. What other creatures would be dumb enough to throw rocks at a giant television screen?"
Freeman laughed. "So," he said, "what else is here, apart from a café and a bunch of bio-domes?"
"There's a thirty-screen theater. I wouldn't really recommend it though, the floors are sticky."
"Just like a real theater."
"I guess you're right. Even heaven can't be perfect."
This must be heaven, Freeman realized upon hearing this statement. The coffee is unmatched in excellence, the service is superb, and you can look like whatever you want. Presumably, with Goldstein's fantastic leaps and bounds in the fields of genetics, some semblance of immortality could be achieved. An eternity of life in paradise with no cares or worries-!
"There's also a massive ballroom/banquet hall, a football field, a baseball diamond, a general-purpose gym, three conference rooms, and the biggest library in the world."
Freeman considered the options while a completely autonomous part of his brain decided on a new option, bypassed the rest of his brain, and relayed the option to his mouth. "Why don't you show me your living quarters?"
Dear God, he thought. I'm hitting on a woman that isn't even my species. Now I know how Captain Kirk feels. How many episodes of Star Trek involved, in some small way at least, the Enterprise's captain romancing some alien woman?
Marie simply laughed and Freeman's embarrassment vanished.
Marie's room was the size of a small apartment. It was decorated in the same manner as the hallways, with red velvet carpet on the floor and white walls with gilded edges. A T-shaped wall divided it into three separate areas. The first area had a thin television screen affixed to the wall at a right angle to the wall with the door to the hallway and a couch in front of the wall opposite the wall with the television. A wooden cabinet next to the television screen held an impressive collection of books.
The second room was taken up by a bed large enough for one person. It had a powder-blue blanket that draped over the mattress. In the corner was a small desk with a computer and in another corner was a closet that contained robes similar to the one that Marie was already wearing, but in different colors. There was a hole in the wall that Marie pointed out was a laundry chute.
"Who does the laundry?" Freeman asked.
"It's all automated," Marie explained. "All menial tasks, such as cleaning, are automated. Except for cooking. Robots cannot make good food. Speaking of cooking..."
The third room was a kitchen. There was a small table at one end, a sink, a stove, cupboards filled with necessary cooking equipment built into a counter, and a large white refrigerator at another end. Set in one wall was a door that Freeman assumed led to the bathroom, but he wasn't rude enough to inquire if that was so.
"All of the rooms are basically set up in the same way," Marie told him, "but the personal touches of every room are different."
"This is a nice place," Freeman complimented.
"I couldn't ask for more than this," Marie replied. "I never understood how people could actually live in gigantic mansions. All anybody needs is a few rooms to themselves."
Freeman absentmindedly nodded in agreement.
"You can sleep on the couch in here tonight," Marie offered. "That is, if you're staying for a few days. You probably have things to do back wherever you came from. Do you have a family?"
"No," Freeman replied. "After I graduated, I generally lost touch with my parents and relatives. I'm between jobs right now, too...so, yes, I think I'll stay here for a few more days."
Marie smiled. "Tomorrow, Goldstein will probably find an empty room of your own for you. Just remember to visit-and tell me if you decide to have any alterations done. If you do, try to make yourself unique, so I can find you-"
"Let's not think about stuff like that, yet," Freeman quickly responded. It wasn't that he found the idea of changing his body into some unique creature so repulsive, but he felt that he still couldn't comprehend the enormity of such a change in his lifestyle. In fact, the more time he spent with Marie, the more he realized how beautiful creatures of her sort were. A part of him wanted to run toward Goldstein at that moment and ask for the works, but most of him was content with being human for the time being. "How about dinner?" he asked.
Freeman was in the café once again, sipping another cup of coffee. This café never quite seemed to be particularly crowded; there were, at any given time, only a handful of creatures occupying it.
Sitting around the circular table at the far corner of the room were five anthropomorphic canine amalgams, most of them featuring fur patterns taken from creatures like tigers and cheetahs, drinking what appeared to be beer. Stripes and spots seemed quite popular. Dotting the room here and there were creatures with so many components of so many different creatures that defining an exact species of animal that they appeared to be was practically impossible. Some of them had bizarre-colored fur, such as blue or green.
Marie was at a table near Freeman's, talking animatedly with an anthropomorphic fox with black fur and a skunk-like white double stripe running up his back. She appeared to be telling a joke; they both laughed. Freeman felt no desire to introduce himself or enter the conversation.
"These guys got you down?"
Freeman turned his head to face the direction of the voice. Moving into the chair across from him was a small, thin man with a bald patch. He had short, graying ginger hair, round glasses, and a mustache-beard; and his voice had a noticeable touch of cynicism to it. "Aldous Wells," he said, extending his hand. "And you are...?"
"Jonathan Freeman," Freeman replied.
Section 2 coming.