Timeline: Evening, April 7th 2008
Ironclaw had ordered the removal — with thanks for their help — of the alien shapeshifters in his territory. This had included Julia, Dark Sun, and Wang Chi. Then of course there was the matter of the three wererat prisoners. Since two of them were townsfolk, this could be a problem.
They were the first thing on Lyla’s mind when Ironclaw made his intentions clear; he would tolerate no other shapeshifters in his territory. She knew it was be the first thing John Beckett would think of too, when he heard. They needed a solution soon, before they became just another casualty listed during the brief but intense war with the Witch Rats.
John was at the house when Lyla arrived. The rest of the pack was at the locus resting and even Jill had been ordered to remain there. The first thing she did was set the first prisoner free. He’d been one that Dark Sun had captured, who had never been one of the townsfolk. With sharp words, Lyla told the half-starved ratling he needed to leave the area immediately. If any of the other pack found him, they’d kill him for sure now that his brethren had been slain. The wererat had taken off and left the house at practically a run.
That’s what had awoken Dr. Beckett from his fitful nap. Realizing he heard noises coming from the basement, he rushed downstairs, worried for the safety of the infected townsfolk there. He found only Lyla there pacing back and forth while the two townies watched with attentive expressions.
“What’s going to happen to us?” asked the girl. Her name was Amy Framington. She in her mid-thirties and worked at the day-care center. She was also the only one of the two that could spread their disease like a plague through the town.
Lyla looked up as she saw Beckett walk down the stairs. “Doctor. Good evening. Trouble sleeping?”
“Evening,” he replied. “Yes and no, with all thats been happening, I sort of slipped back into old habits. I sleep really lightly and wake up fast. It’s what always happens when I am in a combat zone. Where’s the other guy, there should be three?” John sounded a little snappish, probably from lack of sleep.
“I let him go,” Lyla said softly. “His people have been defeated. The pack is victorious. What remains of them have fled so there was little point in him remaining here. And I doubt my alpha would suffer his presence here much longer.”
She smiled coolly, but continued in her same, soft tone. “He has already dismissed Dark Sun, Julia, and Wang Chi from our territory. I doubt his expulsion of our captive here would have been so pleasant, so I took care of it.”
Her silver, predatory eyes slipped back toward the infected townsfolk. Specifically, she was looking at Amy Framington. Amy flinched as if she’d been stuck with needle.
“Well on the plus side, maybe he’ll spread the word to others not to fuck with Eldonwell, on the bad side I get the feeling that he’s not going to be reasonable about … non-Uratha, why don’t we go somewhere more comfortable and talk about options.”
“I’d rather not… upset the other guests,” Lyla said with a slight curl of her lip.
“She was about to tell us when we could go home,” Paul put in hopefully. “Right?”
“I would be against anything that hurt them, and while he has the right to rule his pack his way, these are not his. They need time to learn and understand. Amy. Its Paul isn’t it? You have some hard choices to make and unless I miss my guess not a lot of time to make them. I think Lyla is about to explain your options as she sees them and try and help you adjust to what awaits you in this new phase of your life. Lyla?”
Lyla, dressed in her tight-fitting but plain low-rider jeans and simple baby-tee, began to pace. It wasn’t so much a pace of impatience or anxiety, or even that of a lecturer. Rather, it was the pacing of a predator barely held in check and it showed in her eyes. The effect caused both Amy and Paul to take a step back toward the wall.
Then Lyla began to explain. “You’re both fucked. People will dance around the issue, but that’s the truth,” she said in a soft, calm, but deadly earnest voice. “What those monsters did to you was to make them one of them. Any of those others that had been infected and dragged off by the Benesharu that did this to you were made to fight and kill and now they are dead, themselves. We killed them because they couldn’t help themselves.
“Most likely what’s going to happen to you is that you’re going to lose control of yourselves. You, Paul, could kill your new wife in a fit of anxiety or fear that just suddenly overwhelms you. Amy, you can do far worse. You can make more people just like you. And if you ever do this to anyone else, I’ll come for you and hunt you down and kill you for it. Because you work at a daycare center. You’re dangerous. And potentially very violent.
“But it’s not my place to judge you. You haven’t done anything. But I’m telling you right now, well ahead of time, so that you know what’s coming. If you behave in a way that threatens this town, we’ll all come down you.”
She stopped pacing and folded her arms as she stared at the two of them. “But you still have a chance to have a real life of your own because there are two of you. That’s all there ever better be! But right now the two of you are the best defense you have against falling prey to the disease and becoming no more than a rampaging beast.
“Congratulations, you two are your newest best friends,” she said drily. “The best chance you have of keeping on top of this is to rely on one another, to figure it out together. You’re going to have urges, to shift. Don’t suppress that for too long. You’re both half rat and the sooner you come to terms with it, the better off you’ll be.”
Lyla shrugged. She was already tired of her own monologue. “The rest you’ll figure out for yourselves. For now we are going to the major. I’m going to be there and together we’re going to tell her what happened to you and what the facts are. Then Amy, you’re going to quit your job. And maybe the both of you should think about moving out of town in the near future.”
Amy stared at Lyla, but Paul reacted more strongly. His face was first pale as she spoke, then flushed red as anger overwhelmed him. “This is total bullshit! Amy and I — we just had a fever. Maybe we freaked out, huh? Maybe we just had a delusion from the fever. Well that’s over now! You can’t make me leave my wife, my home!”
“Paul,” John said in a quiet voice, “do you know who and what I am?”
“‘Course I do, doc! So you tell her. We just had a little infection. It’d gone now, right?”
“Two of the patients in the sick ward that caught the disease, jumped through a two story window and landed unharmed then started to roam through the orchards south west of town, some people were out hunting them so they didn’t hurt themselves and when they got to close, the patients attacked. They had their first change and were out of control, acting on instinct.
If it had been your wife she would be dead now.
“You have been exposed to what is known as a retro-virus, it changed your DNA. Has the virus run its course? Yes. Are you safe to be around? No, not until you come to terms with what as happened and what can set you off. Amy you have the added burden of being a Typhoid Mary, you are a carrier of the disease.
“Do you know of a comic book character call the incredible Hulk? Rage would cause him to change form, and when he was in that form he was better and stronger, fast and more stupid. Right now thats you, both of you, and you need to understand what sets it off and how to deal with it when it happens. I am willing to help you however I can but there is only so much I can do the rest will be up to you.”
“So… what, we turn into monsters when we’re angry?” Amy asked.
“Maybe,” Lyla answered. “But I you aren’t predators. Not really. I believe what’s likely to set off your instinctive change is fear. But you’ll be able to change at will eventually.”
“If I’m a carrier, how does it spread? I have children to think about,” Amy said worriedly.
“The truth is this specific form of the disease is new to me, so I don’t know but at a guess I don’t think you breath it out, I don’t think sweat will carry it. Don’t give blood and don’t let people use the same glass you use, don’t sneeze on people and don’t use your spit to clean a child’s face. For now kissing is right out until I run some tests. I don’t think sex itself will do it but I do know you may have to be more careful when you have sex sometimes the chemical released in your body during intercourse will trigger a change.
“I would say both of you should take a couple weeks vacation while you sort things out, I can even give you a Doctor’s note, both of you are suffering from the effects of a disease. It’s a disease with some perks and some drawbacks, it’s not curable but it is survivable. Your other form will feel great, you will feel more alive, and to emphasize what Lyla said earlier you have to change, its not good for you if you don’t. I can get you some counseling to help you adjust, I can help talk to those that are close to you and need to know.
“All this assumes that you want to go back to your old life. Right now you are missing presumed dead. I will tell you that most people that get some form of this disease don’t fit in well with normal society and after a while they seek similarly affected people that really understand what it’s like to be them.”
Paul shook his head. “But I don’t feel sick, doc. In fact, I feel better than I have my entire life!”
Amy spoke almost on top of Paul’s voice, “And why do I carry this… disease when Paul doesn’t?”
“Like I said Paul, the disease does have its perks, you probably won’t get sick as often as you used to you and your body will repair itself faster. Amy, I don’t know why I just know that its the way this disease operates, it carried in the females.”
Lyla broke in, “You need to understand that this disease is not entirely physical. You now have reflections of spirit, carrying a shadow of your true forms that you will learn to shift to at will — and maybe sometimes when you don’t mean to.”
Neither of them understood what she was talking about at all.
Lyla rolled her eyes. “You’ll figure that out, too.”
“But, how?” Amy asked. “How do we even know where to start? Isn’t there someone to teach us?”
Lyla hesitated. She’d come here before Ironclaw did, to save them and give them options before Ironclaw decided it was better or safer for them to be out of the picture. She hadn’t intended to hold their hands through this.
“Well your best teacher just ran out of here like a scared rabbit, and I don’t blame him” John said with a wry grin. “You might be able to catch him if you hurry, but you have to bear in mind that he was part of the group that didn’t mind destroying the town, trying to infect everyone, and ruining your lives, not really the kind of teacher I would want but he has lived under your curse for longer than you have and he seemed adjusted to it. You would also have to keep in mind that if you want him as a teacher you would have to find him and you would be leaving Eldon Well, because the longer he hangs around the shorter his life expectancy. He made some very unforgiving enemies.
“I can’t offer to let you stay here but I can put you both up at the hospital or a motel or my niece went out of town for a couple weeks. I don’t think she would mind if you stayed at her house. She has a big hole in her cellar though, like a lot of places in town. Or if you want you can go home. I don’t mean to rush you but some of the people that helped save the town are impulsive and well right now you feel like the people they were just fighting.”
Lyla reminded John, “Don’t forget about Jesse. She was staying at your niece’s house and I’m not sure she’d like someone else borrowing her bed and room there. And I’m not sure your niece would appreciate it, either.”
“We won’t put anyone out for us. We’ll figure out what to do and where to go.” Amy spoke for herself and Paul. Surprisingly, Paul wasn’t bothered by it. In fact, it seemed somehow natural that she should be the spokesperson.
“Paul,” continued Amy, “I think we should both take an immediate vacation. My cousin has a nice little cabin in the woods and I know that your new wife isn’t going to like it, but we have little choice. We both have to figure this out before risk those we care about.”
Paul didn’t like that idea at all. Flushed, he seemed ready to raise his voice in protest, but Amy just looked sharply at him, like she might a child that got out of line at day care and he choked back his words and simply nodded.
“Are you going to need supplies? Would you like for me to call anyone for you?” John asked.
Amy the wererat frowned for a moment as she considered. “No, we’ll go home first and get what we need. We need to say goodbye. It won’t be easy since we can’t really explain, but I’m not a coward. Even if we can’t literally tell them what’s going on, we need that one day.” Paul looked satisfied with Amy’s decision.
Lyla looked at them, as she considered, then nodded curtly, once. “You both are free to leave. Don’t take too long and if you decide to come back, see me at the Blood and Brew.”
“Amy, Paul, if you need any help let me know, OK? For now I wish you well.” John looked worried and concerned but also puzzled.
Lyla noticed. She touched John’s elbow to get his attention. “Is there something troubling you?”
After Amy and Paul leave John will say, “Did you notice anything strange about the interaction between Amy and Paul?”
Lyla hesitated. “Did you see something?”
“Do you know very much about Paul or Amy?” John asked.
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“Well who would you say took charge of that meeting?”
“Amy did.” Lyla grinned. “Naturally.”
John looked at her. “Naturally, why naturally?”
“Well, I’d say that of course the woman is going to be best leader, but that’s just biased,” Lyla joked. “From a realistic point of view I see two reasons Amy is taking the initiative. For one, she’s older and seems less freaked out by all this, even though it will destroy her career. For another, when we fought the Witch Rats, it seemed only the females did any kind of leading. So, it may simply be instinctive for male Witch Rats to be differential toward the females,” Lyla said.
John smiled at her quip, “I guess each rat its own cat. So do you think its pheromones or something else?”
Lyla shook her head slightly. “I haven’t the slightest. Compared to my other forms, I’m pretty much scent blind and deaf in human form and I didn’t think of looking for that. It could be something simple just wired into their brains. When a male recognizes he is in the presence of a female Witch Rat, listen up. I bet that if there were several females present, though, the fighting among them for dominance would get just as vicious as it can get for us Uratha.”
“Well Lyla,” John said, “I hope this works out but I got the bad feeling right now watching them interact. Of course it’s not like I am psychic or anything. I am going to try and get back to sleep if anyone needs anything, let me know.”
Lyla chuckled. “Rest well, doc.”