|HEA: Erosion Index||HEA: Erosion 1|
Copyright (c) 1998 Oren the Otter; All rights reserved
(Note from Phaedrus: This is the excellent story that started the HEA shared universe. It's included here to put Erosion in the proper context; once Oren sets up his HEA archive, I'll remove this.)
The opinions of the characters in this story are not those of the author.
Eric heaved a heavy sigh as he stared at the stack of papers in his hands. It was a difficult thing he had to decide... very difficult. Unfortunately, if he did not make the decision now, it would be too late to make any difference.
There was a knock at the door. Not moving his eyes from the papers, Eric moved and opened the door. It was Shawna. The first thing she said was "that must be good readin'."
Eric finally looked up. He saw Shawna's attractive form, so much thinner these days than it had been. Her hair had changed from dark brown to amber, which matched the color of the two triangular ears topping her head. The sight of the ears made Eric's dilemma all the more poignant. "Sorry. Come in, please."
"Are you ready?" asked Shawna.
"Almost." Eric replied. He momentarily disappeared into the bathroom to run a brush through his hair. He didn't need to. He no longer had human hair. Instead, a fine coat of fur covered his head from his eyebrows back, including the ears which were now just a little too round. Eric put his hand to his head, noticing the curved, black claws which his fingernails had become. He could not suppress a saddened shudder.
Shawna came up behind Eric and placed her similarly clawed hand on his shoulder. "Eric, are you going to be all right?" She asked.
Eric shook his furry head and sobbed. "I don't mind losing my humanity, Shawna... but..."
"Shawna, I need to make a stop on the way out of town, okay?"
"Anything you need to do is okay."
He gave her a hug and picked his papers up off of the vanity. "I guess I'm ready." he said.
Eric and Shawna managed to get a pretty good parking space in front of the H.E.A. building. It still gave them both a chill to read those three letters, knowing what they stood for. It was still difficult going inside, but they knew they had to. The alternative was unthinkable.
A shimmering purple cloud greeted them at the door. "Good morning." said the cloud. "I am )( and I will be your helper today."
"Hello..." Eric attempted to reproduce the noise. "Hoongwmm... mind if I call you Fred?"
"You may do as it pleases you."
"Good morning Fred. Eric Vary and Shawna Edison here by appointment."
The cloud seemed to turn inward for a moment, as if checking notes or something. "I see that you are slightly late." said )(. "I will inform processing that you have arrived, lest they decide on a forfeiture."
Shawna gasped at the word. Eric felt his heart skip a beat. "Now, now, don't worry." said )(. "We nacalites are more forgiving than you give us credit for."
Eric shook his head. If the nacalites were forgiving, they wouldn't BE here.
)( paused at a window where another nacalite, a smaller, green one hovered. "**.// Vary %% Edison \\+" he said. The other being flashed an electrical arc in response.
"I will now take you to doctor (*." said )(. "Which of you wishes to go first?"
"I will." said Shawna.
"I see also that you have business with the property department today." said )(. "After I escort Ms. Edison to Dr. (*'s office, I will escort you there, Mr. Vary."
Eric was more than a little annoyed with the pink nacalite before him. She acted like she hated having to deal with him, and she probably did. "Is this the list of all clothing you own, including shoes, outerwear, underwear, jewelry, accessories, ornamentation and recreational apparel?" she asked mechanically.
"Except for a flea collar I'm saving." Eric responded.
The vapors comprising the nacalite female seemed to become agitated. "Is that a joke, Mr. Vary?" She inquired.
"Hardly." Eric replied. "I can at least own THAT, can't I?"
Had the gaseous entity been human, she would have been glaring at him. Of course, if she were human, she might have been more understanding. After all, humans had been wearing clothes for six thousand years. They were expected to give it up in five?
"A pickup team will be at your home on Wednesday at 4 PM to collect your clothing all articles must be accounted for any withholding will result in forfeiture do you understand?"
"You will need to return to this office in six months to discuss the termination of your employment you will receive notice in five months failure to respond will result in forfeiture do you understand?"
"I'm self employed." replied Eric.
The nacalite arced electrically and said "like I give a ##+."
Eric thought about the stack of papers in the car. Time was growing short to get them taken care of.
As he was leaving, an anthropomorphic dog came walking in. She paused upon seeing Eric. Eric did not recognize the face, but knew her clothing immediately. "Sherri?" he said. "Is that you?"
"Yeah." said the dog. "Hi Eric."
"Um... you look... good." said Eric.
"Thanks." said Sherri.
Eric fidgeted uncomfortably as he gazed at his friend, once a lovely human woman, now covered in golden brown fur and sporting a muzzle and a tail. "So..." he said. "Come to hand over your clothing?" He asked.
"More or less." Sherri replied. "They already did the pickup. I just have to turn in what I'm wearing now."
"Okay." said Eric. "I won't stay around to watch you undress then."
"Are you going to get your stage two?" asked Sherri.
"Yeah." replied Eric. "Shawna is getting it now."
Sherri smiled reassuringly. "Stage two isn't so bad. For one thing, you get a built in fur coat."
Eric nodded and smiled, then made his way into the hall.
The wait in front of the Doctor's office was interminable. Eric sat for what felt like forever, which was probably mere minutes. He watched people stroll by him, both human and nacalite. He even found himself staring at a nacalite at a drinking fountain.
"What?" the cloud asked.
"Hmm? Oh, sorry." said Eric. "I didn't mean to stare. I just didn't know that you guys drank water."
"Well, not 'drink' per se." said the cloud as he floated closer. "But despite what you may have heard, we do need water to survive, just like you."
"Name's (%). How do you do?"
"Eric Vary. I'm nervous. Getting stage 2 today."
"I understand how you feel." said (%).
"I know, you think that because we're gaseous life forms we don't understand transformation. But we do. Why once, I was caught dealing peroxide..."
"It's to us like alcohol is to humans. As punishment, I had to spend a month as a liquid."
"Yeah. Be grateful you get to remain in your original state of matter."
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that. Oh, there I go again, always saying something wrong. I meant to say that you are fortunate. I don't mean that you owe anything to those '*''s who are doing this to you."
"That would be you." Said Eric.
"Not me." replied the cloud. "I'm just a gofer. I run errands around here. I certainly don't carry enough weight to decide the fate of a species."
Eric was going to reply, but at that moment, the doctor's door opened, and out came Shawna.
She wasn't recognizable as Shawna. She was a humanoid Marten, with the head and tail of that weasel-like animal, as well as the fur and claws.
"Shawna?" Eric exclaimed.
"Mr. Vary," said the doctor as he floated around the door jamb. "Please come in."
Shawna and Eric exchanged sorrowful glances as he obeyed.
Dr. (* was not a thoroughly unpleasant being. His vapors were white with age, (at least Eric assumed it was age, as (* projected the authority of one advanced in years.) And he showed a genuine concern for his "patient".
"Have you been enjoying stage one?" asked the doctor.
"Enjoying?" Eric echoed. "I'm supposed to enjoy this?"
"Some humans do. Some look forward to the transformation. In fact, one of your human doctors, I believe his name was Stein, made a deliberate forfeiture so that he could go straight to stage six. Said all he ever wanted was to be a horse. Now then, are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
Dr. (* moved across the room and enveloped him. Eric's body went limp and he soon found himself hanging in space, suspended by the doctor's living strands of smoke.
"Why?" he croaked weakly. "Why do we have to do this?"
"You asked me that last time, Mr. Vary, and the reason is the same. The human race must become extinct."
Eric's eyelids fluttered shut, and he began to dream.
In his dream, Eric sat in a chair next to Boutros Boutros Ghalli, the leader of the United Nations. Normally, anyone would be very pleased to meet such a prominent figure, but Eric knew this moment in history too well to be pleased. Everyone did.
"You are the leader of your people?" asked a powerful looking nacalite.
"My people?" Ghalli echoed, terror on his features.
"The people of Earth."
"We have no one leader."
"You are the leader of the United Nations" said a more pedantic cloud. "An organization binding the government of 183 out of 197 nations on your planet."
"This is true."
"As the leader of your people, we wish you to deliver them a message." said the first alien. "The human race is to become extinct."
"What?" Ghalli squeaked. "Why?"
A third nacalite, whose mists were a soft pink, spoke to him in a motherly voice. "For a number of millennia, we have been acting as the overseers of this planet." she said. "We have carefully maintained the balance of the ecosystem. There have been occasions when one species threatens the rest of the system, and it must be removed."
"To do this," said the second one. "We have employed certain seemingly natural phenomena. Comets, floods, disease..."
"But we are talking about six billion people!" said Ghalli. "You can't kill them in cold blood!"
"That's the problem." said the pink one. "Your species is the first sentient one that ever required extinction."
"And make no mistake." said the first nacalite. "It will be extincted."
Eric emerged from his dream in a groggy stupor. He could see his shoes floating away from his feet, followed by his socks. He would no longer be able to wear them anyway. His feet were growing immense, growing into the enormous webbed flippers of an otter.
His view of his feet became obstructed as a muzzle pushed out from his face. He could feel an itching sensation as fur grew from his skin and brushed his clothing.
"The feet..." he said weakly. "I thought... the feet... came with... stage three..." And then... Pain raced through his body. He could feel the bones shifting in his face, and multiplying in what was now his tail. It was a searing, hot pain that felt like a million fire ants tearing him apart from the inside.
"You are awake!" Said (* with alarm. "Do not panic. I am applying additional nerve dampening now."
Eric sagged with blessed relief as he drifted back into the mire of his dreams.
"We do not kill sentient beings." said the first of the aliens. The creature no longer appeared as a cloud. This time, it appeared in Eric's dream as a white skinned man in a hooded robe. The specter of death.
"As you can imagine, this has presented us a problem." said the second nacalite, who was also translated. His form was that of an old man in a white robe, his garb being almost a photo negative of death's. Father time, Eric mused.
"It took us approximately half a century to decide." said the third, who appeared as a woman dressed in an unusual array of living plants and animals. Mother nature, it seemed. "It was determined that your species should be extincted not by killing its members, but by relocating them into other species."
"Relocating?" asked Ghalli, who seemed also to have been translated. He was no longer an individual, but an amalgam of the entire race. He must have been the spirit of mankind, Eric thought. "Relocating how?"
Father Time wiped his brow. "To put it into terms you can understand, Everyone will be turned into animals."
"Here's the deal." said Death. "You have five years. Over the course of those five years, each individual will be required to submit to a series of six transformations, set ten months apart. They will be allowed to choose their own species, or if they refuse, one will be chosen for them."
"During this period," said Time. "They will be assisted in parting from their human lives, in matters such as becoming accustomed to nudity, disposing of property, leaving their jobs, and learning new forms of communication."
"We will help your people as much as we can to adjust to their new lives." said Nature.
Yet even as she spoke soothingly, Nature drew a wicked looking scythe from the ether. Death and time produced similar looking weapons and advanced on the spirit of mankind. Mankind tried to struggle, but found his arms and legs pinned by some invisible force.
"You cannot resist us." said Time.
"We are more powerful than you can possibly imagine." said Death.
"We are here to help you." said Nature.
Eric tried to intercept the three specters, but found that he could not. He moved as if through pea soup, at a speed that would make a sloth seem panicked.
"Five years!" exclaimed Time as he ripped into the spirit of mankind with his scythe.
"Extinction!" Death proclaimed as he followed suit.
"Animals!" Nature hooted, opening the belly of her prey. When they were finished, the spirit of man splintered into a million pieces, leaving behind nothing but a bewildered looking little otter.
"Why?" asked the beast.
"No more pollution." said Nature.
"No more nukes." said Death.
"And best of all," said Time. "No more techno-industrial clutter."
Eric looked down at the poor pitiful creature and realized for the first time that this was no longer the leader of the human race.
Those were his own eyes.
Eric stepped out into the hall to find Shawna patiently waiting for him. "Eric?" she said. "How are you?"
"I feel pretty good, actually." he replied. "Though I had some pretty strange dreams while I was out."
"Was it about first contact with the nacalites?"
"Yeah... how did you know?"
"I think they implant that dream into our heads as some sort of propaganda." said Shawna.
"Are we ready to go?" Eric asked.
"Whenever you're ready."
"We just need to make one more stop before home."
They wasted no time leaving the halls of the Human Extinction Agency.
Eric waited calmly in the seat provided for him in Mr. Hassan's office. He tried not to fidget, despite his excitement, coupled with the discomfort his newly acquired tail was giving him. Hassan sat at his desk, leafing through the stack of paper Eric had given him several minutes before. "This is good." he said finally. "This is really good."
"You really like it?"
"This is some of the best fiction I have ever seen. You are a talented writer, Eric, and I don't hand out compliments lightly."
"Then you'll publish them in your magazine?"
Eric looked as though he had been stabbed in the liver. "No? Why not?"
"This is good stuff, but there's one problem. In this one here... you've got a boy turning into the Easter bunny. In this one, an optometrist turns into a raccoon. In this one here, I assume you based this on yourself, you have a guy turning into an otter to fight evil rats. This is all transformation theme."
"But... that's what I do."
Hassan removed a fedora from his head revealing a set of equine ears which turned themselves toward Eric. "There is nobody left on the planet who doesn't have a pair of these." He said. "Whether cat or horse or dog or whatever. In less than four years, we are all going to BE animals. Eric, nobody wants to read about animal transformations. They want to FORGET about them."
Eric began to cry. He couldn't help it. The tears flowed unbidden.
"Now now, don't take it so hard. You're a talented kid. I'm sure you can come up with a nice science fiction novella about space exploration or robots or something."
"I have only six months left to write." said Eric. "This was my last chance to get any of my work published. Before too long, there will be no one left who can read, and then my life's work will come to nothing."
Hassan simply nodded sadly and said "I'm sorry."
Shawna had been waiting in the car. When she saw Eric emerge, she climbed out and asked him "How did it go."
Eric did not answer. He simply shook his head and dropped his manuscripts into a sidewalk wastebasket.
That was what the nacalites wanted. He said farewell to his human career, and with it, all of his dreams and passions.
Eric still walked on two legs, still wore clothing for a few more days, still spoke English... but he had been stripped of the one thing that defined him. He was now just another animal.
-Oren the Otter
|HEA: Erosion Index||HEA: Erosion 1|